Tuesday, September 21, 2010

World Champ!

I'm way overdue. It's been over two weeks since Worlds and I haven't even shared the good the news yet. Brace yourself... I WON! I came home with a gold medal around my neck and a new title of World Champion. How sweet is that you may ask? Very.

My plan was to tell you all about the trip to Budapest, the details of both the trip and the race. Since it's been a few weeks I will keep it to what I remember most when I look back. The first being, of course, the race.

As I mentioned before, the race was a sprint distance triathlon. There was a total of 88 paratriathletes which was a record and very exciting. My category had a total of 4 above the knee amputees. Compared to last year's 1, that was pretty exciting too. The race was on Saturday Sep 11th and the days before were wet and rainy and we all braced ourselves for a rainy race day. The day before the race we (meaning me and my other 15+ teammates) went down to check out the transition area. We were required to drop our bikes off the day before the race and a few of us opted to ride down to transition from our hotel instead of jumping in a cab with our bike. Now let me tell you, riding a bike through the streets of Budapest = precarious, dangerous and thrilling all at the same time. Somehow, we all made it down there alive and began the process of setting up our bikes. Did I mention the rain? Um, yeah, trying to keep our bikes dry then and overnight was almost a joke, but we put plastic bags on the seat and the gears and headed back to the hotel. Unlike the previous nights of 2+ hour dinners with 20 people, we had a quick dinner and was back in the room by 8pm to get ready for the race the next day.

Trying to sleep before a big race is always a struggle. I was kept awake by ideas of how I could be just seconds faster, and the idea of finishing first and the meaning behind doing it on Sep. 11th. So when the alarm went off at 3:30am, it wasn't a big surprise as I had been watching the minutes tick by throughout the night.

Dick and I met my teammates in the lobby and we were off to the races. Let me throw in here that my teammates are beyond awesome, all 20 of them. And awesome is an understatement. I got to know so many wonderful people on this trip and really, really enjoyed hanging out with everyone. Jon Beeson and Justin Model acted as our honrary team managers and we couldn't have been there without them. They helped us in every aspect, from getting to Budapest, figuring out what to do once we got there, the race itself, etc, etc. Two very kind and incredible people and a big thanks to them. As a team we were together constantly and shared many laughs and good memories. I really felt honored and proud to be a part of the team.

Back to the race. We got to transition and got set up. There seemed no hope that the rain would let up and everything was so soaked that it really didn't matter anymore. Instead of trying to keep dry, i just put it all out there. This race was going to happen, rain or not.

The swim was an in water start and we started promptly at 6:30am. The water was, um, cold. Like take your breath away kind of cold. When the gun went off to start, it was a struggle to keep my face in the water and keep moving. As usual, people were kicking each other in the madness that occurs at the start. I eventually got moving and tried to keep a pace. It was a 750 meter swim that I believe I did in about 15 min. Coming out of the water is always somewhat confusing as you're not sure where to go, or where your handlers will be. But I was assisted out of the water, carried up to Dick, Justin Model and Jon Beeson (the fabulous 3) and they helped me strip my wetsuit, get on my running leg and I was off to T1.

In T1 I saw that of the other 3 above the knee amputees, I was the first out of the water. This is always a huge mental advantage and I felt confident as I got onto the bike. The bike was a 2 loop, 13 mile course. It was set up in a way where you could see your competition 5 times depending on where you were on the course. I picked a good pace, a high rpm as not to wear my leg out for the run, and went on my way. On the first turn around I took not that I was a few miles ahead of my nearest competitor and I was thrilled. I was feeling great and was confident I could keep it up to post a good, final bike time.
Let me mention here that one of my favorite competitors, Sarah Reinersten, had gotten sick during the swim and had pulled out of the race. I knew that something must have gone wrong when I didn't see her, as she was the one I was keeping my eye on. When I pulled into T2 and was told she wasn't going to finish I was heartbroken. Knowing the training, time, money and effort to get to Budapest in the first place, and to be stopped early on by getting sick is not a happy thing. I wished more than anything that she was out on the course with the rest of us. Especially knowing that she was not only my best competition, but her actions throughout the years had motivated me to be there in the first place. I owed and owe a lot to her and I would have love to be finishing the race out with her.

The 3.1 mile run course was on a path along the Danube river. All along I'd hear spectators with their thick accents from around the world, yelling go USA, go Stockwell. Talk about awe inspiring. Here I was running in the World Championship, down the Danube, passing gorgeous bridge after gorgeous bridge, it was almost like a dream. Thankfully, the rain had stopped at this point and the damp air, the meaning of the moment and the race itself took over. I felt like I was running on air not to mention I was making great time.
The race finish was across the Chain bridge which is this huge bridge with lion statues on each end. If you've ever seen pictures of a bridge in Budapest, it is probably this one. As I neared the bridge, I knew that the race was mine, and I would cross that finish line first. It was my time to shine. I stepped onto the bridge and was flooded with emotion. Here, on Sep 11, wearing the USA uniform, and I was going to be a world champions. A freakin' world champion! Could it get any better? Yes, in fact it could. Halfway across the bridge I saw a man handing out American flags. He handed me one and as I took it, held it high and sprinted what was left of the race with tears in my eyes finishing first with a 1:39. It was one of those moments that was so meaningful and so full of emotion that I know I will look back on it frequently and remember all that came with it. What a great day it was.

I stayed at the finish as my teammates came in one by one. We talked and laughed with our stories of the race and tried to keep warm huddled together in our space blankets. I had a permanent smile on my face and it was a moment I will never forget. Me, World Champion, really? Ha. Life really is good.

After that excitement the trip ended on another good note. The next day the rain stopped and it was beautiful. Much of the team went up to the castle overlooking the city and attended a wine and jazz festival on the castle grounds. We could look down
into the city and see the pro athletes competing. Match that with good company, good wine, good weather, overlooking the city of Budapest and it was almost perfect.
To top off the day and make it perfect we went to the awards ceremony and I got to stand on top of the podium and raise my hands and flag high as they called my name out. A gold medal! Nice, of course, but mix that with the red, white and blue and once again, things were perfect. It was a glorious moment and a glorious end to what had been a fantastic, memory making trip.

A huge heartfelt thanks to all that believed in me and helped me get there. My friends and family, the Challenged Athletes Foundation, the Wounded Warrior Project, CTS and many others. I realize now more than ever that surrounding myself with people that believe in me is the only way I can live my life. So thank you.

We got home over two weeks ago now and I've been on the road since. Working out a little, but really wondering what is next for me athletically. I haven't signed up for anything yet and am taking some time to just sit back and figure out what I want to do next. In the meantime, I've been to Seattle, Atlanta, Colorado and Maryland for various things. In a few weeks I'll head off to Guatemala and Ecuador for a prosthetic mission trip with the Range of Motion Project. But not before I head out to CA next week and get to see the wonderful Mrs. Stephanie Doan among others. Jake has become an expert traveler.
On a high point when I was in CO, I climbed my first 14er (14,000 foot mountain for those non- Coloradans) with one leg. It was tough, tougher than I thought, but getting to the top and looking out at what seems like the top of the world made it all worth it. It was awesome and even more awesome that I got to do it with my bff Tiffany and my cousin Katie. I swear the mountain air is good for the soul.

As of now, there doesn't seem to be much slowing down. As far as races, you're guess is as good as mine. The last Blade Runner 5K of the year is this weekend and I'm looking forward to that. But after that, maybe I'll take a break, maybe I'll pick some crazy race to do next year, maybe a half- ironman, maybe an Ironman, who knows. But whatever comes along, I'll be sure to keep you posted along the way.

Peace Out.


George Hodge, LTC, USA (Ret) said...

Awesome job! Congratulations on your finish in a tough race. You're an inspiration to us all! Hope to see you at IM Kansas 70.3 next June!

grammybear said...

Congrats on your great win. You make all of America proud!

We knew Jake had gotten a wonderful, loving owner, but we never knew he would be a world traveler.

Much love to you, your hubby, and, of course, Jake.


Judi & Tom Wines

Patrick Barbary said...

Simply amazing! Keep it up!