Monday, July 19, 2010

The NYC triathlon.

Yesterday was a great day. The NYC triathlon, also known as the National Championships for the sport of Paratriathlon was the qualifying race for Paratriathlon Worlds taking place in Budapest later this year. With a total of 70, this was a record year for the number of paratriathletes that competed in the race and hopefully a great continuation of the ever-populating sport of paratriathlon. These athletes include amputees, paraplegics, visually impaired and any other disability out there.
For a little background, Paratriathlon is currently not a Paralympic sport but is working towards inclusion in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, and perhaps as an exhibition sport in London 2012. The more athletes we have, the better chance we have to get that spot and 70 was a great start.

I got to NYC on Friday and had to be classified into my Paratri classification. Similar to swimming, each athlete is classified based on their disability. There are a total of 6 classifications, instead of the 13 with swimming, and they try to make the competition as fair as possible. As an above the knee amputee, my classification is pretty cut and dry (my leg s not growing back) and I was classified into the Tri 2 category to compete against other above the knee amputees. There were 5 of us that would be competing against each other in NY and there was some pretty decent competition among all of us.

This was my second full Olympic distance triathlon with Chicago being my first last August. If you need a reminder an Olympic distance tri includes a 1500m swim, a 40K (26 mile) bike and a 10K (6.2 mile) run. The golden time needed to qualify for Worlds was 4 hours. Complete all 3 events in under 4 hours, and you’d earn a spot to Budapest. So going into the race, that was my goal. Or one of them at least. I also wanted to get under a 3:44, which was my time from Chicago last year and would give me a personal best. A time of 3:30 was going to make me a very very happy girl. Some say it’s unfair to compare race times from race to race as no course is the same. For example, Chicago is completely flat, where NY can be quite hilly so the bike and run times can vary considerably. However, the swim in NY is known to be one of the fastest since we swim in the crystal clear Hudson river (that’s a joke) and with the current. In my mind, this meant everything evened out and since I’m a numbers girl and always way more concerned about my times than I should be, I wanted to beat my Chicago time pretty bad.

I was once again lucky enough to have an awesome support crew at the race. My boss, prosthetist and good friend, Dave Rotter had come to NY to cheer us on with his girlfriend and of course, my lovely husband had flown in for a combined total of 18 hours to be there for the race. Yes, I’m a lucky girl. Not to mention the awesome Susan Katz, who was also competing, and her family who would be cheering us on along the way. The night before the race we all went to dinner and to say I was pumped for the race when I went to bed would be an understatement.

Transition opened at 4:30am and I tend to be a little paranoid about getting there on time and getting my things set up so the alarm was set for 3:15. It came early, but I wasn’t sleeping much anyways so I guess the time didn’t really matter. We got to transition around 4:45 and I met up with my handler Jen who was helping me with my equipment and really anything I needed before, during and after the race. Jen is well, awesome, and I was honored to have her help. The high of the day was a solid 94 degrees (barf) with way too much humidity so she made sure I stayed hydrated before the race as it was going to be quite hot by the time the run came along.

I left transition about 5:20 to get on a boat that brought us down to the start. The swim is a point-to-point swim so you have to get down a mile to the start before you jump in. As I mentioned before, this was a swim in none other than the Hudson River. Imagine some of the dirtiest, nastiest water you can and that’s the Hudson. Trash is a frequent sighting and it’s not unusual to come out of the swim with dirt all over your face and 1 or 2 random pieces of trash stuck to you. Trash and all, our wave was set to go off at 7am sharp. It’s an in water start and before you jump in everyone lines the dock to get their place in the group. The Hudson is known for its especially strong current, which is much stronger the further you get from the sea wall. It was visibly stronger on Sunday and as we lined up, we were all crowded by the outer dock hoping to get that extra push from the current.
7 came around, the horn started and we were off. My attempt at staying away from the sea wall and with the current failed early on and I soon found myself right next to the sea wall in the ‘calm’ area of the river. I could see swimmers to my right with the current but at that point it was too late and I just swam as hard as I could. I was the 2nd female out of the water in a time of 19 min. I had help getting my wetsuit off, Jen handed me my running leg and I was off to T1. T1 went smoothly as I put my biking leg on and as I left transition I was right on track.

I was told the bike course could be pretty hilly and had many areas of false flats, where it looks like it’s flat but it’s actually uphill. The majority of my training was in Chicago so any slight rise in the road felt like a hill. The course started with some good uphill but then gave into some good downhill. Overall, I think it’s a pretty even course, both up and down with a couple of really steep hills. For many of the hills I was in my lowest gear wishing I had a smaller one. I’m double thinking the granny gear for next time. It is an out and back course on the Henry Hudson highway that is very scenic. We were along the river for much of the course, got to ride through a toll way, over a few bridges and other than the real steep hills it was pretty enjoyable. My goal was to average over 15mp but with the hills in there, I only got to a 13.8mph avg making an overall time of 1:48ish. I pulled into transition knowing I was currently second in my category, not really knowing how far ahead or behind me my competitors were. I switched from my biking to running leg and got out of T2 in less than 3 minutes, which is my fast transition time ever. At this time things were heating up a bit and I was anxious to get out on the run course and across the finish line.

The run took us out of transition and into Central Park where we did a 5-mile loop and ended up in the park on Dead Road (ironic). As I ran out of T2 and was making my way into Central Park we ran down a street where the crowd was just awesome. I’m one that benefits significantly from the crowd and those New Yorkers really know how to cheer a girl on. It helped that I was wearing my fancy new tri suit that has my name on it. So I got many many, ‘Go Stockwell’s’ or ‘Go USA’s’, which was very encouraging. I also saw Dave and Dick in the crowd and Dave was going wild cheering me on which was awesome. I gave he and Dick a good thumbs up, as I was feeling great. I had been a little nervous about the run as it’s the last event so you’re obviously tired but I’m also still not fully comfortable running that far. But as I started out and got to mile 1, I was feeling incredibly confident and relaxed. I was right on track with my time and settled into a pace I felt like I could hold for a while. Before I knew it I was at mile 2, mile 3 and still feeling pretty good. Central Park has some decent hills but the benefit to a hill is that there’s always a downhill, so I tried to use those as much as I could. Again, the crowds were awesome. There were thousands of people in the park on a run or bike or walk, and they would stop to cheer as we went by. By mile 4, I was starting to feel the heat a bit and that is usually where things start to go bad. I slowed down and kept telling myself to just keep moving. I was dumping water on my head to try and stay cool as much as I could but was really just ready to be done at mile 4. I kept shuffling along and mile 5 came up slowly. As I kept moving, the crowds were increasing and I knew I had to be close. For the last mile there was a crowd 10 or more people deep and as hot as it was, I got chills as I ran through because I was so inspired by their cheers, their ringing cowbells and all their enthusiasm. I saw Dave and Dick again 100 feet from the finish and decided to sprint it in. I crossed the finish line with a total time of 3:32 with my arms held high and a big smile across my face. I was a happy girl.

Overall, I got 2nd place, behind Sandy Dukat, a phenomenal athlete and person, who I can only hope to someday be as fast as. Since I reached my goal time of under 4 hours, I’ll be headed to Budapest in September to represent the USA in hopes of it someday being a Paralympic sport. This will be my first Worlds competition ever and I’m pretty pumped about it.

So overall, the weekend was a huge success. Not only was it great athletically, but being there with my other teammates and seeing the new faces and the potential of the sport was awesome. The people of New York put on a great race and the crowds and spectators there are like no other. As usual I wouldn’t have been there had it not been for a few certain people. CAF of course with getting me to the starting line. But WWP, CTS, Jen (the best handler ever), Accenture, Dave, Dick, my family and the countless others that have helped my dreams become reality. Thank you.

Until next time, Peace Out!


Anonymous said...

That's amazing! Congrats!

Anonymous said...

Holy cow dude! You were in pretty decent shape when I knew you in college, but that tri is pretty freakin' impressive! Way to go!

Take it easy,
(oh, right; afrotc, upstairs neighbor in the house on the hill :D)

Sarah Shay said...

Congratulations Melissa! Awesome job! I hope you continue to soar!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful to read of your accomplishment. You have come a long way Melissa and know that you will go even further.

Anonymous said...

AMEN! That has got to be the most badass thing I have seen in years. Keep kicking ass!!

Anonymous said...

Melissa your so hardcore! Keep it up, and rock it at the World Championships!
~Peace and blessings

Lyndsay Katauskas, MEd said...

Melissa. I'm sharing your journey with friends and clients. It's inspiring. Thanks for digging deep. We need more people like this in the world, and what you're doing is uplifting and encouraging. Keep it up!

Semper Fidelis,

Lyndsay Katauskas

Lyndsay Katauskas, MEd said...

Oops. Also neglected to mention I was in the Marines, and am on my own journey to run long distances again (and hopefully compete competitively in an ultra??) after an exertional heat stroke that ended my career. Thank you--!