Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I'm havin' a baby. And It's a triathlete.

The title says it all. We (as in Brian and I) are having a baby. Our baby. A planned baby. And we are thrilled. Or scared. Or maybe a little of both.

How about a little backstory..

At the beginning of this year, Brian and I decided that this year would be the perfect year for a baby. We both want kids and with hopes of Rio in 2016 and the fact that we aren’t getting any younger, this year just made sense. The window of opportunity was from Jan- early April as if I got pregnant after that, it would make any sort of athletics and the possibility of Rio in 2016 less likely. That window came and went, with all sorts of other drama (both good and bad) in there. A house fire, an engagement and the purchase or our first house.  Come mid April, all signs were pointing to no and that a baby just wasn’t going to happen this year, the window had passed.
As April continued I knew there was something going on, I just couldn’t figure out what. I was exhausted all the time, I was starving and had no energy. Since all the usual signs were still pointing to no baby, I called my doctor to order some blood work. When I lost my leg, I was anemic and I thought maybe that was the case again. Under the advice of my friend Keri, who is due herself in Aug and was probably sick of my constant complaining about how I felt, she suggested I take a pregnancy test. I was apprehensive, there was no way I was pregnant, but three days before my blood work I did just that. Imagine my surprise when the results came back as not negative, but somewhere in between. The next day, the same thing. And then a confirmed test a few days later in early May at the VA that I was in fact pregnant! As most mothers can probably relate, the news doesn’t really set in right away, but it made sense with how I was feeling and I felt a little silly, as at 34 years old I should know if I’m pregnant. But apparently that’s not always the case.
We timed it back and figured that I was 7 weeks along and due in mid Jan. Not bad as that is only a few weeks into the new year. Brian and I celebrated as our plan had worked, we were going to be parents!

This story continues, but a side note here that in the end of May, I was registered for a big triathlon down in Dallas. At the time I thought I was 7 weeks along and a triathlon would be fine. Might as well start this kid out in world of sports early! So the plans continued for Dallas and that I would race with this little triathlete to be.

Fast forward to the day before we were supposed to leave for Dallas. Some complications and a trip to the ER thinking that I might be loosing this baby which led to my first ultrasound making sure the baby was OK. Before the ultrasound the ER doctor said being only 7 weeks along, they probably couldn’t see much but it was worth a try. As they started the doctors eyes got real big and Brian, also looking at the screen, got this strange expression on his face. I couldn’t help but laugh and ask if everything was OK. The wide eyed doctor looked over and said ‘ummm, I think you’re a little further along than 7 weeks.’ He turned the screen and there was this baby, kicking and waving at us saying here I am! A real baby. In MY belly. After some measurements they concluded that I was not 7 weeks along, but a whopping 14 weeks along! I was in my 2nd trimester already, how insanely crazy.
We left the ER with a mission to find an OBGYN the following day and see if this was for real. After some searching we found an office that would get us in and they confirmed that yes, I was 14 weeks along and due on Nov 28. Because of the complications, I was instructed not to do any physical activity for the next week to make sure everything was OK so the race in Dallas was out. I made her repeat it a few times before it sunk in, my life was about to change big time. Instead of being all about me, I had a baby to think about.
As we thought back to the past 14 weeks the realization of what this kid has already done set in. It had been to Napa, enjoyed many glasses of wine, eaten plenty of sushi, skied in CO, mountain biked with the President, been to Disney World, to Boston, to DC, celebrated Little Leg’s 10th birthday and even danced on the bar. They were starting their life out with adventure and we hoped then that the baby would be a healthy one. I know everyone says that, but after a 14 weeks of all that, the worry was genuine. Thankfully all looked fine and the complications have not returned.

We still ended up going to Dallas as Brian was racing and it was a great chance to watch my teammates race. As we flew down there we were that cliché couple that was reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting and Brian reading, what to Expect when your wife is expanding. We had a lot of catching up to do.

Dallas went well although it was strange to be on the other side of things and not racing. A bit of bragging that Brian got 2nd in the Clysdale division and got to stand on that podium. I was proud.

Back in Chicago, it still really hadn’t set in. Everyone knew, my belly was growing a little but it was still so surreal. Luckily I have Brian to convince me that I don't look fat and that you can't even tell I have a bigger belly....right...
There was a big international triathlon coming up at the end of June and I decided that I was going to race it. Slowly of course, as I was instructed not to get my heart rate about 140 (I heard 150 :)), but I couldn’t pass up a race in my backyard. Plus, I wanted the chance to get these much needed points that could help me on the Road to Rio in 2016.
I did little training. Swimming and biking felt OK but the run wasn’t. I felt so heavy, so slow and on my practice triathlon a week before Chicago, I ended up having to walk the whole run. Spectators would encourage me along the way and I wanted to yell back, I am pregnant, leave me alone!

The Chicago race came and at 4.5 months pregnant I got mixed reviews. Some thought it was silly to risk it, others thought it was great. I promised myself to go easy and I wore a HR monitor to make sure I didn’t go too hard. That morning I struggled to get into my too tight one piece spandex race suit. My handler Keri who is very pregnant and I were quite a sight in transition. Eating whatever was around and lying on the carpet not doing much at all. My goal for the race was to simply not walk the run. This was a big race, there was a blue carpet at Buckingham Fountain that we got to finish at and I wanted to at least have a reasonable finish. The swim started and of course I was off like a cannon, not being able to hold myself back. I got out of the water knowing I had to slow down. On the bike, my HR went down slightly but I realized that once it’s up, its really hard to get down unless you stop. And that wasn’t going to happen. Plus, my competitive side was out. Knowing I was tri’ing for 2 but still wanting to push myself. I got of the bike and was able to run through till to the end. I got lots of ‘Go Mamma’ cheers from friends and tried to unsuccessfully suck my belly in as I went by. I crossed with a time of 1:38 and I was pumped. It was a great day, a great race, I didn’t walk and I was thrilled. I got to stand on the podium in 2nd place with Hailey on top and give myself a silent shout out that I had done it. Plus I had earned some points. We still aren’t sure what that all means, but if I needed them, at least I had some. After the race one of my favorite articles was posted on the relationship and good sportsmanship between Hailey and I. You can read it here,

Looking at race data after the race I realized  that my heart rate got up Much higher than it should have and for safety for all involved, that would be my last competitive race until the baby was born. It’s too hard to not push myself and go hard. There might be an easy 5K or two but no more triathlons. Plus I don’t think I could get into that spandex suit anymore. But.. I am proud that our baby is already living the multisport lifestyle, maybe it will come out running? And in case anyone was wondering, a Garmin heart rate monitor cannot pick up the heart rate of a baby that’s still in your belly.

To answer some common questions we get:

1. We will find out the gender. We actually have it in an envelope at home but are waiting until Aug 2 when we will have a gender release part where the inside of a cake is either blue or pink. Cheesy, probably, but I’m excited.
2. Wedding plans haven’t changed and we will be getting married next year, most likely in May. We are just doing things a little backwards. A house, a baby and then a wedding. Although in 2014, there isn’t really a right way to do things.
3. And yes, Jake is thrilled. He says he’ll be a great big brother as long as the kid doesn’t touch his tennis balls.

So there you go, that’s the big news. Other than that, things continue as usual. Work, speaking, Dare2tri in full swing with racing and our hugely successful 3 day camp.

 It is strange to be around my teammates knowing I won’t be racing anymore this year. No nationals, no worlds and the hope that I can come back stronger next year and be successful post baby. There is still the question of if my category will be included at Rio but we should know in a few months and here’s to hoping it’s a yes. That and a wedding will give me great motivation to get back into shape quick after the baby is born. And rumor is that you get stronger after a baby. Or maybe I just made that up.

We’ve had some great trips these past few months. A favorite was a trip to my parents in SC on July 4, which is our usual destination to see the fireworks. Lots of games, golf, a celebratory bottle of Bourbon (for the guys) and much needed time with my awesome family. With my sister and her 5 kids, I have all the resources I need if I ever have any questions.

And in breaking news, I got a new car! Although the Element will be sorely missed, I love my new Subaru Forester, with embroidered flag headrests and all.

 Until Nov, it’s more of the same. Traveling to speak until I can’t fly anymore, work and visiting friends knowing that things will change come Nov. Although how hard can it really be to change a few diapers… (that’s sarcasm people)

It’s been quite the exciting few months and just when you think things slow down, you realize they might get busier than ever. What a life it is!
So cheers to a new life and the start of our own family. I can’t think of a better father than Brian and hoping I can be just as good of a mother.

Until next time,


Monday, May 26, 2014

A birthday, a President, a mountain bike and America.

How to even begins this one, it's been a jam packed two months and of course, I'm behind in writing any of it down. To avoid anything too lengthy, I'll do a highlight of some of the top events and fill in the rest as I go.

But first, before I go any further, I must start with a Happy Memorial Day to you all. I hope among the BBQ's and picnics and friends, you all took some time to reflect on what this day is all about. It's about giving thanks to those that gave the ultimate sacrifice, that allow us to enjoy those BBQ's and good times we continue to have. Freedom is not free. We should remember that everyday, but today we give some extra thanks. America is the best country in the world and life is good. To that I cheers to you all, in a debt of gratitude for those who gave their lives for our
freedom. Always remember those that gave all.

All right, where to begin. How about with one of the most important events of the year, LITTLE LEG TURNED 10! Can you believe it? 10 whole years since I lost my leg. Sometimes it feels like yesterday, other days I think back on all that's happened since then, and it feels like 10 years. Like every year, a big bash was to be had to celebrate Little Leg's life and all of us. It's a day of being thankful for what we have instead of mourning what we no longer have. A day of celebrating life and all it has to offer. This years slogan was an appropriate, 'A Decade to Remember' and that it's been. When I think back and reflect on the past 10 years I can hardly believe all that's happened. There's been ups and downs, there's been some serious highs and athletic accomplishments and being able to travel all over the world. I've met some of my very best friends that have only known me with one leg and their friendship is as true as they come. I've been able to give back with the Wounded Warrior Project and Dare2tri, hoping that this next generation of wounded warriors or athletes with disabilities can be inspired to dream big and to follow their dreams, whatever they are. I've found a home in Chicago with my trusty 4 legged best friend Jake by my side, and now a fiance that I am beyond thankful to have found and to have in my life. To say life has been good is an understatement, it's amazing. And this year's party reflected just how amazing it's been. It was extra special this year as my parents and my sister Amanda and her husband Gavin came into town. This was a rare weekend for Amanda and Gavin to get away from their family of 5 kids and I know getting here was no easy feat. My faithful Little Leg fans Brandi, Molly, Joe and Lauren came from out of town along with my cousins Tim and Annette who all have made the trip countless years to help celebrate. All of them along
with so many others, at 6 degrees,
our favorite neighborhood bar. Think lots of drinks, lots of dancing on the bar (dad too!), lots of laughs, some serious drinks out of the socket and a good time had by all. I am so thankful. If this next decade is half of what this one is, then I'm in for a treat. And Little Leg, 10 already?! She's growing up fast..  

Next was a trip to Florida with Brian's family.
The whole family. Mom dad, both brothers, grandma and both nieces. A day at Disney World, one at Sea World and then a few back at Brian's mom's spent by the pool. Now we have been to Disney 3 times in the past year and a half and it's safe to say we are Disney'd out. But to be there with Maddie and Laney, and to see their faces when seeing all the characters and the fireworks show, and to watch them on Dumbo,  and seeing Shamu, it really does put Disney in a whole new light. I feel so lucky that I will have in-laws that I truly enjoy being around. Brian's family is so warm and inviting and included me in everything from the start. Once again, a lucky girl I am.

Now the third main event, but a highlight of the year. The W100. 3 days of mountain biking with President Bush and 20 other wounded veterans. I did this ride 2 years ago with Keri, and this year was just as amazing. To have Brian with me and to show him off to the President and all the staff and volunteers that we knew from the years past.. what a week it was. The trip started out the first morning with all of us ready and the President showing up and saying his hellos. He shakes all of our hands, he gets to me and says, 'Melissa I hear your fiance is with you'  I said, 'yes, sir, he's right back there'. At this point Brian waves and says 'Hi sir'. The President didn't skip a beat and yelled out, 'hey Big Bri, stay in the back would ya!' A fun moment and a new nickname that Brian was affectionately called the rest of the weekend.
Once again, there was a dedicated Team
Melissa, that rode in front and behind me and
helped he up the hills if I needed it. Brian was there and always a bike behind and jumped in to help me more than once. Trek was beyond generous and gave all of us wounded veterans sweet new mountain bikes that we got to bring home with us. The trails of his ranch are amazing and even
more so to think that it is his backyard. There were some good falls and road rash to be had, but what's a mountain bike trip without a few bruises. This was a trip to re-enforce that President Bush is a great man. Here, he brings 20 wounded veterans and invites them to his backyard and his home. Literally. He  shows up and eats dinner with us, he makes sure he spends time and talks with all of us, and he tells us that he feels he is the one with the most responsibility to make sure we are all taken care of. A man and a President that is acutely aware of the decisions he made and the impact they had. A great man, always quick with a witty comment, a quick laugh and a stud of a mountain biker. Not to mention a dog lover and now a new friend for Jake. We are still on a high from the trip. The teamwork and camaraderie of the warriors, staff and volunteers. The generosity of the President and Mrs. Bush allowing us to ride our bikes through their backyard and inviting us into their home. A trip I feel so fortunate to be a part of and once again, a proud American. Thank you Mr. President for your continued support and belief in all of us. Oh happy days.

 And last, but certainly not least, a trip to Washington DC for some sightseeing and a wedding of Jen and Jen, some friends we have met through the small world of triathlon and CAF. This was Brian's first time DC and I was anxious to show him around a city I loved. We walked 7 miles the first day, all over that city, and saw almost everything. The whole mall, Thomas Jefferson, MLK, Iwo Jima and Arlington Cemetery. The next morning we got up for an early morning run on the mall. One I had talked about for months and how peaceful it was to run among the monuments as the sun came up. We didn't know it but we were joined by thousands of other walkers and runners doing the Susan Koman 5K, so not quite like I planned, but still an experience. And then a quick drive to Oxford, MD where we got to be a part of the great love of Jen and Jenn and dancing the night away.  

An eventful couple of months it's been. Our new 
home has come together so well and we love it and calling it home. All the generosity from everyone after the fire helped make it home faster than we ever thought it would. Our home, for our new life together. As usual, things always work out.

My 6 month old post- Ironman blues are still there some days but going away slowly. There or not, I have my first race in Dallas this Sunday. Admittedly, I started getting back into things and hard training a solid 2 months later than I should have. Trying to get back up to par and happy with my workouts has been tough. I'm not sure Dallas will be my best race but I'll do the best I can and be happy with it. At least it will be a good benchmark to see how much work I need to do. 
This year is a little different in the triathlon world as we are moving to a new system of elite athletics and an attempt to make it a fair system. While all new systems always have issues, the basic idea is that we all have to acquire points, which we get by racing in certain races and the better we do, the more points we get. Those points will qualify us for Worlds this year and then half of our points carry over to next year on the path to Rio. While there is still a lot to be decided on, you could say the Road to Rio starts this year. An exciting venture and crazy to think it can be so close. So Dallas will be whatever it is, and then a race in Chicago a month later which I hope to be fully back for. 

Wedding plans have yet to start, but they will soon enough. Can't someone just plan it for us and we can show up and it's amazing?
And as always, Jake always makes our days better. A young six and a half years old with multiple promises by him that he's never going to get old. Or have bad hips. And why would he lie?

I think that's it for now. A busy, exciting life it is. Until next time,


Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Diamond in the Rough.

Brace yourself, the last 3 months have been, well, eventful to say the least. This is a long one.

At the end of last year Brian and I began looking for homes to buy in the Chicago area, close to where we currently lived. After a few months of looking we found a great condo, 3 bed, 2.5ba, in a great location and fell in love with it. It was early Jan, we saw the place midday, and on a flight delay hours later, while sitting in Midway airport on our way to Orlando, we made the offer. A big and exciting day in the lives of Brian and Melissa.
We continued onto Orlando and our trip to Disney World to once again push our way to the front of Space Mountain and enjoy our times with the great folks from Achilles, Cigna and run in the Disney ½ marathon. Suffering still from the so-called, post Ironman blues, the race was less than stellar but we tried as best we could to make it fun. We made many welcomed stops at ALL the Disney characters to wait in line and snap some pictures. I’ve never been so thrilled to see Woody from Toy Story, among others. In the meantime, we found out that our offer for the condo was accepted, and we started the loan and approval process with a closing date of mid March. Exciting times indeed.

From FL, I flew to San Francisco where I got to hang with one of my besties, Stephanie, for a few days. Sitting outside with our tea in the CA sunshine with her two boys was nothing short of amazing. A second trip to San Francisco happened in early Feb, with a long overdue trip to wine country with two of my other besties, Lauren and Tiffany. Three more days in the CA sun, only this time it included a trip to Napa and Sonoma, too much wine, Chinatown, seafood, walks along the bay and some pretty good laughs with good friends.

Back to Chicago for a few weeks, making sure things were still being set for our new home. The inspection, the VA condo approval, etc. Mid March was still the goal and as we traveled out to Vail, CO for one of our favorite weeks of the year with the Vail Veterans Program, we knew that our days were limited at our old place and we would soon be home owners!

We got the Vail with a small bump along the way, in that United lost our bags to include my skis and everything else we had with us. We got to Vail bag less but thanks to Cheryl Jensen and all the other fine folks at the Vail Veterans Program, we got to ski our first day with borrowed equipment and clothes and enjoy the 30+, sunny days of Vail with 30 other newly injured veterans. This week is a special one, as you literally see lives transform. Newly injured vets that thought they might never ski again, are out proving to themselves what they are capable of. A week or moving and inspiring moments, of meeting new vets, this time my new friend, and fellow AK Rebecca, and remembering to be thankful for what we have.

The first afternoon in Vail, we got an email that no one ever expects to get. To sum it up, it went like this.
“Brian and Melissa, we are so sorry to hear about the fire. The firefighters said they couldn’t find Jake and we hope he is with you. If you need a place to stay, or any clothes, you’re welcome at our place. From, your neighbors.”

Um, what? As expected, this started quite a panic and a brief heart palpitation. First, thinking it had to be spam, but then seeing Jake’s name and realizing these were in fact, our neighbors. Brian made a quick call to our landlord who was sobbing and we knew that this was no joke. A quick call to Alison and Keri, two of my Chicago friends, who made the drive to verify that there was in fact, a fire. They got to our place, saw the damage, were allowed inside to get out my valuable military medals and paperwork and told us that things didn’t look good. The ceiling had caved in, the windows were boarded up, most of our belongings were most likely gone and we could no longer live there. Wow. How to take all this in. Still bag less and now homeless and thinking of all the things we may have lost. 

 Back in our hotel room, we made some calls and decided that since there was nowhere to go home too, we would stay in Vail for the remainder of the trip. After some serious pouting on my part, Brian recommended we go meet up with the group we were there with instead of moping around in our hotel room. So we did just that. We went and met the rest of the Vail Vets program at the bowling alley where we ended up sharing a lane with a guy missing both his legs and an arm. He had given so much of himself for our country and here I was worried about all this stuff we lost. Talk about a lesson in perspective. As much as it was our ‘stuff’, it’s just ‘stuff’. We had our lives and Jake (thank god) and lead a pretty great life. Knowing things might be a little tough when we got back, we made the decision to stay in Vail and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of our trip. We got 2 more sunny days with great snow, learned to ski bike, got to ski with Tiff and Tim, hang out with multiple cardboard Melissa's, slide down the pole at the Vail firehouse and meet some pretty great people. In the meantime, there were many calls to my insurance provider, USAA, which immediately put me at ease. They gave us the steps on how to get our renters insurance money and set us up with a hotel to stay at once we got back. There was truly no better place to be than in Vail, with the Vail Veterans Program, when hearing such difficult news. We eventually got our bags from United and had a stellar few days in Vail before making the trip back to Chicago.

Back in Chicago, the next 10 days were a bit of a blur. Seeing our place boarded up and realizing that we did in fact lose most of our belongings. Whether it was the fire itself, the smoke or the water damage, there was little to be saved. We saved what we could, wearing masks to go into what had been our home for the past 2 years. Trying to wash clothes 2-3 times, dry clean them, soak them in vinegar and realizing that the smoke smell is a stubborn one. Being thankful for having at least some renters insurance but wishing we had more to cover what we lost. It’s something you never think you’ll have to use, and if you rent, I recommend you stop reading this and increase your coverage now! Fortunately, we were able to get out many of our valuable items to be restored. An expensive process, but one that was needed on things that could not be replaced. So thankfully, military medals and papers were saved. We were living in a one room hotel room for 10 days, checking over bank accounts and on pins and needles waiting for our VA loan to go through and  
waiting for the news that we could close on our new place, start fresh and have a home again. We would sit at dinner and stare aimlessly at each other wondering what had happened, to joking about the silver linings of all this and that we would no longer need a moving truck, or didn’t have to paint the place back to it’s original color. And who doesn’t want a complete wardrobe update? A full mix of emotions day in and day out, and to be candidly honest, a great relationship tester.
Also a time of realizing how great our family and friends are. I always knew we were lucky, but a tragic event makes you realize just how lucky you are. I will never be able to say thank you enough to all that helped us. From Alison and Keri, who dropped everything to go check on our place, Diana and Hailey who showed up at our door after a facebook request asking for help to get stuff out, Dave Zaro, who came over after a red eye flight and a 13 mile run to help move some heavy items, to Nico and Keri, who insisted that we make a housewarming registry that was resisted at first but has helped immensely. To our friends and people we don’t even know that have bought items off of the registry, or let us keep things in their garage, or the Wounded Warrior Project who sent us boxes of clothes to help start our new wardrobe. And the list goes on. People are so kind and so generous, words will never be enough. Thank you.
March 13 was a great day as we got the exciting news that the loan had gone through and we had a closing date of March 17! We were ecstatic. We did some early furniture shopping, fired up the utilities and prepared for a fresh start in our new home that Brian and I bought together.
March 17. We signed too many papers, wrote a check that was too big but were finally given the keys to our brand new home and we were no longer homeless. We. Were. Homeowners! It was already a big day.
We got to our new home, opened the door to our new place, empty and perfect and all ours. Brian had a big box with him and asked me to follow him into the bedroom and open the box. I opened it and saw a box filled with picnic items thinking how sweet it was that we were going to have a picnic on the floor of our new, empty house. As I turned around, I watched in disbelief as Brian got down on one knee, told me he wanted to have a million picnics with me, and asked me to marry him! It was an incredible moment followed by lots of hugs, lots of dancing around our new, empty house and lots of ecstatic phone calls to our family and friends. Of course I said yes, I loved this man!
After weeks of stress and uncertainty, the moment couldn’t have been sweeter. Together for almost 3 years, we had made it through a fire, lost most of our belongings, lived in a small hotel room and bought a home together. If we could make it through that, the sky was the limit. I had a new home and a new fiancé and the opportunity to start this new life with this perfect man that I will soon be able to call my husband. Not to mention a beautiful ring on my finger. It was magical. I still have to pinch myself.

It’s been over a week in our new place and there is a long way to go to make our place really ‘our’ place. Walls to be painted, furniture to be bought, and the list goes on. What I do know is that our place is beautiful, I get to share it with my best friend and soon to be husband and that things can only go up from here. I know they are on their way up because of all things to make it through the fire, my stuffed animal, Woodles the bear was resilient and made it through. After being on my bed for 25 years, not only did he survive, but he smells better than ever and looks like new. Sometimes it’s the little things that matter the most. Long Live Woodles the bear.

This has been long enough and I will end here. With the closing thoughts that perspective and life is a funny thing. We have to except the unexpected and know that things never go as planned. We have to have the strength to overcome hard times and know that it is OK to ask for help. Lean on family and friends knowing that you would do the same for them. Count your blessings and be thankful for what you have, instead of worrying about what you don’t. As we come up on almost 10 years since I lost my leg, these truths ring louder than ever and the small things I find myself worrying about seem so trivial. Life is good, with or without those items I no longer have because I have my life. Life really is good. And I’m going to marry Brian J

Peace Out!


Monday, December 30, 2013

The post Ironman blues and a Happy New Year.

As we are about to embark on a new year, there is much to reflect on. As the title suggests, it only seems right to split this blog into 2 sections. The Ironman Blues and a Happy New Year.

Part 1: The post- Ironman blues.

Since that glorious finish line on Nov 17, I've gotten the proverbial question, 'So, what's next'? approximately 1,235 times. I'm sure others that have done an Ironman can relate, as if 140.6 miles isn't enough, there always has to be something more..right?

After the Ironman I thought I was invincible. In the days after I thought I would do a marathon in the coming months and it would be the easiest thing ever. I did, afterall, do a marathon after a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike..doing one on it's own would be nothing. I thought about how I couldn't wait for my next 1/2 IM and how it would be a breeze. I was an Ironman and I could do anything!
I promised my coach I would take 2 weeks off which was no doubt, the smart thing to do. I did just that, other than two 5K 'musts'. The Turkey Trot and the Santa Hustle with the Blade Runners. Both turned into 'fun' runs and I posted my slowest 5K times in years. I chalked it up to a tough day, some cold temps and my muscles still needing to recover. I was an Ironman, how could a 5K be that hard?
I got sick, and 2 recovery weeks turned into 3 weeks. And being the holidays, I was continuing to eat everything in sight. Plus some. In the meantime, needing a 'next', I had signed up for the Disney 1/2 marathon on Jan 12...more on that later.

Week 3 came and I was ready. I had my 2014 schedule planned out, I needed to learn to sprint again. There was nationals and worlds and a possible Paralympic Games in a few years. This is what I was supposed to be doing. So, I got on the bike, I put my running leg on and I started again. Only something was different. My legs said no. Spinning my legs on a bike seemed like the hardest thing ever, trying to run a 12m mile for 3 straight miles was a daunting task. Everything from my hip flexor down flat out said no, when I tried to make it do anything. People told me it was that time of year, or my muscles still hadn't recovered or give it time. So I kept at it and gave it time. 6 weeks it's been, and without many changes it's been frustrating to say the least. The most damaging part about it is, I have stopped enjoying the workouts. I pride myself on racing and competing becasue I enjoy it. If that ever stopped, I was going to need to re-evaluate my goals in life. Maybe it's not the nationals and the worlds, but it's traveling, or spending more time with old friends, coaching, or doing something different to re-invigorate the joy and the challenge in all of this. I've dabbled in the thought of a year off and then force myself back on the bike, or back on the road on another workout becasue I think that's what I'm 'supposed' to do. And that time really will make it all better.

So, what's next? Your guess is as good as mine. I'm sure I'll continue on in hopes that it does get better. There are some big goals at stake but goals can and do change. The questions of why it's taking this long to recover, when will I enjoy it again and if my running days are over will remain. If anyone has any suggestions on how to get rid of these post- Ironman blues, feel free to pipe in. In the meantime, maybe I'll just go climb a mountain. Or swim the English Channel. Or something cool like that.

In 2 weeks, Brian and I are once again registered for the Disney 1/2 marathon with Achilles. As you can imagine,  my training has been sub-par and for the first time ever, I am thinking of backing out. To save both the physical and the mental pain of what 13.1 miles might do. What I thought would be a breeze 6 weeks ago, is turning into a daunting event. As a woman always after the next PR, I need to conclude that this will not be my fastest race and maybe I should stop and take some pictures with Cinderella and Goofy along the way. If only I had more time, because time fixes everything right?

Part 2: A Happy New Year

Ok, I'm done being a debbie downer. 2014 is a day away and I can look back on 2013 and say it's been one heck of a year. From winning races and loosing races, from the Pledge of Allegiance at 'W''s library opening, to seeing a best friend get married, to PR's, to the ever thriving Dare2tri, new babies,
to the sights of Paris, and London, becoming an Ironman, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, new friendships, enjoying my healthy, lovely family and boyfriend, throwing endless tennis balls to Jake, and most importantly, living. It's been a good year and it will be tough to top. Below are some of my favorite pictures of the year to reflect back on.

Tomorrow night I will raise my glass with you to another year. So here's to another good one, to doing whatever it is that makes us happy and to living and enjoying this great country we all live in. HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all. Life is good.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013


The title says it all. I AM AN IRONMAN! I think it's set in
today, as I sit here, letting the sore muscles recover and looking at pictures over and over. A day I will never forget, a day with so many ups and downs and the culmination of those epic words, 'Melissa Stockwell, You are an Ironman!'

You can end here if you like, that is after all, the end result of the day. If you want to hear how it all went down, read on, keeping in mind that is was 140.6 miles, so it's a long one...

The day started early. 420am wake up call with Brian. Down to the lobby to
the smiling faces of Keri, Katz, MaryKate and an excited walk over to transitions. Pumped the tires, got body marked, dropped off special needs bags, put on the wetsuit and waited for that 640 mark when we could get in the water. I saw Jean and Nick, reveled in the amount of people about to take this journey with us and the knowledge that we would all be Ironman by the end of the day.
We were able to start with the pro men, the first swim wave. If you've seen an IM or done one, you know what a huge advantage this is. Instead of starting with 2500 of your best friends in what is called the washing machine, as everyone goes at once, we only had about 50 others and plenty of space to get those arms going.

As I jumped in and swam a 100m to the start I stopped and took it all in. The morning light was coming up, the bridge above the start was jam packed with people, the big Ironman logo was an easy spot and I smiled, thinking, this is it. Today is the day. At 645 the cannon went off, and off we went. 2.4 miles is not a short swim. It felt like forever until we got to the turnaround. The 63 degree water turned out to feel nice after a cool start. Buoy after buoy we swam, on an extremely well marked swim course. I did the last turn and could see the swim exit. As I neared, the volunteers worked their way down, put an arm on either side and as I came up the stairs there they were, Keri and Brian, Mark and others, waiting at the exit. I was so ecstatic, this was the day and I was going to make it a good one. My time was a solid 1:07 and I was thrilled with it and smiles came easy. The wetsuit came off, the running leg went on and I was off to T1. Along the way the crowd was deafening, I have never heard anything like it. I got to see and give my parents a hug (highlight #1), I took in the cheers and it was truly unbelievable. My smile was so big, a few chuckles thinking about the moment and thinking about how lucky I was. We got my special needs bag, went into the changing tent, changed into bike shorts, put some suntan lotion on and Keri and Brian helped me off on the bike. I got on the bike ready for a 'short' ride of 112 miles, gave Brian a big smile and I was off.

The bike course was a 3 loop course. While I didn't want to put times to anything, I really wanted to average around 15mph. The way out, before the turnaround was a little rough. A headwind, a false flat and at the first turnaround I was averaging only about 14mph and was pretty discouraged. I made the turn and hellooo tailwind! I quickly made up the time I lost enjoying the push of the wind and the slight downhill. I got to the first turnaround and loved the cheers and the familar faces of Team Melissa. Dan, Basia (another surprise!), Keri, Katz, Alyssa, Brian, Mom, Dad, Rob, Mark Sortino, many happy familiar faces. I gave a thumbs up, a smile and was off on lap 2. The wind had shifted and there was a tailwind this time and it continued to shift all day. On my 2nd lap I got my special needs bag and dug into some cookies from Casey's general store, direct from IL,  and another PB&J. I was doing pretty well at staying on my nutrition plan, eat every 40 min, drink water, UR and repeat. My best lap was the second one. By the 3rd, I was just ready to be done. 112 miles is just a lot of miles to be on a bike. I got to see the family and friends, and Jake! on the 2nd turn. I got many encouraging words as other riders passed and was a friendly rider, even uncharacteristically chatting with a few people. As I pulled into T2 I had an avg of 15.2mph and was so happy. I saw Brian and Keri there waiting for me, they took my bike and I hobbled into the changing tent and T2.

These transitions are so unlike what I am used too. Usually it's a scramble for how fast you can get in and out. But here, I took the time to stretch, I changed, I put on more sunscreen and took about 10 min to get myself situated. I knew I had a big run ahead of me. As I left T2, I gave a wave and a smile and knew I was 2/3 of the way there, but the hardest was yet to come..

My first step of the run was a bit worrisome. I have this weird throat issue and when I overexert myself, or get too excited, I have a hard time swallowing which leads to all sorts of other issues. A throat spasm of sorts. I don't need to name these issues here, but let's just say it is not comfortable. It becomes difficult to drink or eat anything and can cause some deep breathing issues. A few years ago I almost wrote off an IM knowing this could happen and as I started off, the feeling was there.
But, nothing to do than to keep going, so that I did. Step by step right?

In my training I was starting off the bike at 10-11min miles and was hoping for just that. As I started and kept moving I was easily in the 11-12 min miles from the start and wasn't that thrilled with it. The run was a 2 loop course, out and back along the lake and great for spectators. I kept thinking my pace would pick up and when it didn't I was bummed and not in the best of moods when I got to Team Melissa cheer spot #1. I smiled weakly (maybe) and Keri jumped in to run with me for a bit. Keri has run with me a lot. A whole lot. She knows my run, she knows when to talk and when not to talk. She has seen me at my worst. And contrary to popular belief, I can be a serious downer on the run. My goal of being a happy runner was slipping away and anyone that passed with an encouraging word was lucky to get a small wave or anything at all. If anyone is reading this that saw me out there, thank you. I truly did appreciate all the cheers, but in the ups and downs of an Ironman, I was down. Keri was doing her usual great job of cheering on all the runners and encouraging me as much as she could.
That girl, always with a smile.
Miles 6-12 didn't get much better. With this throat issue, I could only manage a few grapes at each water stop. So 4-5 grapes, a cup of water and I was off to the next one. I saw Dan and Basia around mile 8 and was once again Ms downer. A little wave and that was it. When Brian tried to cheer me up with a funny face I turned it down and was visibly pretty miserable. What had I gotten myself into. I was only at mile 10!

The halfway point slowly approached. The sun had gone down and I was running with a glow stick. At mile 13 I saw everyone again. This time Jake was there wearing his 'my mom is going to be an Ironman' tshirt along with my parents, MaryKate, Katz, Brian and Keri. I managed a smile and Katz joined me for a bit. Her rolling beside me was pretty special. Katz knows the pure determination it takes to be an Ironman and her encouragement went a long way. Miles 13-18 were my best. Somehow I picked it up. Took my 13/14 min miles and dropped them down to 12m miles. I was smiling once again, I was taking in the excitement, encouraging the other racers, actually thanking people as they passed with kind words. I was in a good place as I came to mile 17, back to my cheering section. I gave them a big smile and said, '9 more miles and I'm an Ironman.' I was still only eating about 4-5 grapes and a cup of water at each aid station. I saw Mark along the course and he told me repeatedly, please eat sugar, drink coke, eat something. The fear or this throat issue kept me from anything except those grapes. Smart? probably not. But it's all I could do,
so that's what it was going to be.
I saw Dan and Basia and Keri about mile 20. Still feeling OK,
 Dan yelled out 'From Walter Reed to Ironman, you've got this Stockwell' Inspiring? yes. I passed mile 20 and things started to go downhill. On to mile 21 and the miles got slower and the exhaustion set in. By mile 23, I was getting to an all time low. Struggling to run at all, I saw Mark again and he begged me to please have some coke. I tried a small sip, and that's all I could get down. 2.5 more miles and I was spent. By mile 24 I was there, the lowest of lows. My body wouldn't work right, it was all I could do to walk. I would try the game of running from light pole to light pole and that failed. Everything hurt. I saw the 15 hour time come and go. I saw Jean run by, looking so strong as she encouraged me to just keep going, I could do this. There were silent tears, the wonderment on what on earth I was doing out there. A marathon on 50 grapes, is that possible? But one foot in front of the other, and the minutes dragged on. And finally. Finally, I got to mile 26, I saw Dan. He had my American flag there for me to get. He got me situated and sent me off as I rounded the corner with .2 miles ot go.

And now, the finish chute. You always imagine yourself here. I had thought so many times what would I do. I wanted to take in the crowd, to give high fives and walk my way down. As I rounded the corner I saw Katz, Alyssa and MaryKate screaming their hearts out. I turned and saw that finish. And it all became a blur. The deafaning noise, the lights, the crowds and that finish line. It was heaven. And suddenly, I could run. A slow run, with that flag over head, and as I got closer, those words I had so longed to hear, Melissa Stockwell, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN. I stood at that finish a wave of emotion. In 15:12, I had completed 140.6 miles. I was in the club. I was an Ironman.

The next minutes were surreal. Brian ran up and put the medal around my neck, I saw Keri there with a bear hug, my parents cheering from the side and then the overwhelming congrats form everyone and from Katz, MaryKate, Alyssa, Mark, oh my. I. was. an. Ironman.

What a crazy, incredible journey. A journey that started almost a year ago. The training, the hard work, it all paid off, another dream come true. Here I was, Nov 17, 2013, and I was an Ironman. Surrounded by my best friends, my family and the cheers of so many of you. Over the next few hours, with the help if Brian, I made myself back to the hotel, got to lay down, take a bath and sleep away my first night as an Ironman.

I woke up, somehow still able to move and even walk. I was and am overwhelmed by how special and loved so many of you made me feel. I truly am the luckiest girl in the world.

Like any IM finisher we made our way down to the finisher expo and I became president of the overbearing Ironman club. With a finisher jacket (thanks Mom and dad), tshirts, a visor, a necklace (thanks B), a pint glass, a coffee mug, an ornament, and a backpack with luggage tag, I think I'm set... I saw Karen and Nick and we had our congratulatory moments. I proudly wore my Arizona IM finisher shirt along with hundreds of others around AZ that day. It was a cool club and as we all struggled to walk with our sore bodies I couldn't help but wonder why we all do this to ourselves, triathetes are crazy.

A question I've gotten, will I do it again?
On sunday night, it was a flat, No. Then it was a not yet, and now it's a maybe. That's the way these things go. And if there is or isn't another IM the big questions is, what's next? If anyone has any ideas send them me way. I'm up for it all. Any challenge is a good challenge. For now the challenge is learning to rest, take some time off, and then learn to sprint again. I think I've forgotten how. And take on nationals and worlds again, and so the journey of a different kind will continue.

I can't sign off without thanking again Cigna and David Cordani, Dare2tri, CAF and Refuel. Becuse of them, I was able to get to that starting line. And to my parents who made the trip and gave me the best surprise ever, the weekend was that much more special with you there. And Dan and Basia, surprise #2. And my sister Amanda, whose call after the race made the day complete and to Brian who always believes in me and puts up with this craziness and to Keri and Katz and MaryKate for being the best team out there. To Elaine for the cheers and the
awesome pictures. And to Coach Stacee who coached me to that finish line and who was there with me in spirit every stroke, pedal and step of the way. And to all of you for believing in me. I'm not sure life can get any better than this.

So there you go. My journey of 140.6 miles and a dream come true.

I am an Ironman.