Tuesday, November 8, 2011

ROMP, Orange Crush and Marathons.

Well, hello there. 

There's been two big events since I last wrote so I'll start with those.  The first being the annual trip to Guatamala with the Range of Motion Project and having the opportunity to fit Guatemalans with artificial limbs. This was my second trip but just as rewarding as the first. Many of us who went last year made the same trip, so it was good to see familiar faces and to meet all the new ones. The trip was a total of 8 days and we stayed in a hotel in Zacapa, Guatelama. The entire trip was 60+ people from Hearts in Motion but every morning there were about 12 of us in the ROMP group who headed over the the prosthetic lab. Similar to last year, we pulled up and there are Guatemalans piling up outside the door waiting to get cast and fit and go home with a prosthetic arm, a leg, or sometimes one of both. It is a fully functioning prosthetic lab managed year round by the always smiling Luis. So the patients that are fit by us have continuous care throughout the year if needed, but it's our job to have as many successful fits as we can in a week. The first 2 days were spent casting the patients and I was able to get my hands in on 6 above the knee amputee castings and 1 hip disarticulation. There are all types of amputations, many upper extremity, but I had decided that my focus that week was going to be on the above the knees, as I wanted to get some good practice in.

A trip highlight is a patient that returned from last year, the 84yo man in this picture who we made a below elbow prosthesis for last year. He resembles Gandhi with a cowboy hat and I quickly adopted him as my Guatemelan grandpa. Speaking very little spanish I would often just sit or stand next to him with no words spoken and just hang out. He was still wearing and using the arm we gave him last year which was extremely rewarding to see. He got many hugs (mostly from me) and it was great to see some of the toothless smiles he gave. He may just keep me going back year after year!

After the 2 day castings, we have 2 days to modify those casts and then 2 days of fitting. I modified 4 of my own and I seemed to get better as I went. There were two woman who were both in their early 40's, a 14 year old boy and the most memorable, a 3 year old girl. With some modifications and a few changes all the sockets fit pretty well and after finding appropriate feet and knees, all the patients were up and walking with an assistive device before they left the lab. The little girl was not a fan of me at first. And every time I got near her she would cry and glare at me with as much anger as she could muster. At one point when I was putting her leg on she reached out and took a swipe so I got a good hit on the head. This isn't uncommon for kids, especially when you are trying to put a piece of hard plastic on a leg they are used to having nothing on. But what made this little girl so great is that even through the crying a hitting, she would stand up and take small steps. And by the end of the day she was walking, holding only her mom's hand, with a huge smile on her face. She even gave me a kiss on the cheek when we left. So to go from the crying anf hitting, to the walking and laughing was so rewarding and was one of the many instances of the week that reminded me why we do this. 
So I left 8 days later, having fit 5 patients myself and the team fitting a total of 30. A once again humbling experience and I came back so thankful for what I have. It's a trip I hope to back to year after year as the novelty of it never gets old. An fun addition to this years' trip was that a bunch of us woke up early many mornings and would go on these morning runs through this back road that led up to a waterfall. It was so cool to see the local Guatemalans starting their day by making tortillas on the fire, walking to work with their machetes, herding cows and just being immersed in some of the culture. Not to mention the awesome waterfall we saw a few times. So it was an overall awesome trip and I can't wait for next year! Oh, and I can't forget the Orange Crush. It's delicious and even more so out of a glass, recycled bottle after a long day at the lab. Yum!

The second big event was just 2 days ago where I completed my first marathon on foot, the NYC marathon. I signed up for te race many many months ago knowing that it was on the heels of Paratriathlon Worlds. In typical Melissa fashion, I figured I would worry about that later and who really needs to train for a marathon anyways, right? I had done the NYC marathon on a handcycle in 2004 and 2005 and I wanted it to be the first one I did on foot. the hard part was the timing as after Paratri Worlds the last thing I wanted to do was get out there and do longer 13+ mile runs. So I did a 'few' longer runs, only one over 14 miles and a bunch of short ones just knowing that all 26.2 was going to hurt. So last Fri I flew to NYC, not really prepared to 26.2 miles but knowing I'd make it to the finish with whatever it took to make it there. I was part of the Achilles group and they put us up in the accommodating Union League Club who donates rooms and food to all the Freedom team members for the marathon weekend. They really go above and beyond and since Brian had flown in for the race, we all had a great few days before the race hanging around the city, meeting the other veterans taking in the excitement leading up to the race.

For the run I was assigned 2 guides. one my friend Becca and the other my friend Marc. Their jobs were to first, keep me company and keep me moving forward and second, to make sure no one got real close on my left side so I didn't trip them and they didn't trip on my running leg.

The morning started early with a 4am wake- up to get on a bus and over to the Verazzano bridge where we waited until or 8:55 start time. At 8:55 the horn started and we were off, on a beautiful fall NY day. Since we had an early start we almost had the bridge to ourselves and took in every sight we could. As we came down off the bridge we felt the excitement of the crowd for the first time and realized how powerful it was. The cheers, coming from a crown a 5+ deep were even better than I imagined. And as the day went on, those cheers are what pushed me to the end. But we took it all in and moved forward. At mile 4 we saw the pro women as they passed us a sub 6 min miles. At mile 8, we saw Brian and my friend Jen and Jake and a big hug and a kiss gave me some added encouragement. Mile, 9, 10, 11, and we were moving. Slowly yes, but always forward. At mile 13.1 I couldn't believe we were only halfway. This was going to be tough. My left leg was having some issues with a neuroma that was causing some pain, but at the 14 mile point I realized that it was just going to hurt, so there was no need to focus on it. Mile 15 was up and over the very long 59th street bridge, mile 16 leads you onto 1st Ave and the crowd was once again electric. At mile 18 we saw Brian and Jen again, and the realization that we still had so far to go would set in and i had to hold the tears back becasue it was just so dang hard. We walked a minute, then ran 3 minutes, or 2 minutes, or 4 minutes and we stayed strong. Mile 19, mile 20, each mile feeling like they were 5 miles apart. The crowd though, wow, the crowd. They chanted Melissa, they chanted USA as we passed and I felt it down in every bone of my body. They inspired me. Becca and Marc kept me moving and got me water when I needed it, chapstick, the motivation necessary to get to the end. And when we had slowly made ourselves till the 25 mile mark, it was so overwhelming. I understood why marathoners have such bragging rights as 26.2 miles is long. And it's hard. And it takes every ounce of physical and mental determination to keep moving forward. But the crowd cheered, Becca and Marc stayed at my side and we crossed hands held high, me having conquered one of the hardest things I have ever done. We saw Brian and Jen and Jake and it was a proud moment to realize that we had crossed that finish line. There was laughter, there was tears, we took in the sights of NY and the cheers of the crowds and we did it!  5 years ago, a marathon was a joke. 26.2 miles, no way. But on Sunday it was made a reality, and thanks to my guides, thanks to Achilles and thanks to all the others that helped this dream unfold made it happen. I once again realized the importance of training, knowing that it would have been that much easier if I was prepared for it. But that will be for next time and I'll be able to look forward to a big PR. But for now, I'm a marathoner, a true, real- life marathoner and I'm so proud. And there's no where else to go but up, so I'm excited for what the next one will bring!

So there you have it, 2 big, exciting adventures since I last wrote. There's been speaking stuff, working, a few small trips, my first Michigan State game with Brian (Go Green!) and really just enjoying life. With Veterans day coming up on Fri remember all our past and present men and woman that allow us to live a lief so free. Thank the veterans you see, not just on Friday but everyday. And fly your flags high and proud as usual.

The next few months keep me busy. Some skiing, a little more speaking and the holidays where I'm looking forward to seeing family. Oh, and running a 1/2 marathon with my sister in Charleston, SC which will be her first and a great time.

But until next time, remember all you have, hug your loved ones and Peace Out!


Thursday, September 22, 2011

World Champion. x 2.

Based on the title of this post, you may have already assumed this next statement. But I won, I won! Yes, making me a two time World Champion which is still a little surreal at the moment.
The race went as well as it could have. We woke up to the first actually clear day we’d had in China. We could actually see the sun, and the humidity was down. The race wasn’t until 3pm so the morning was spent with my roommate Danielle, sitting around going over and over our race, packing and re- packing our transition bags and trying not to be too nervous. We got to the race site around 1 to check in, get our equipment checked and set up transition. There was a big question of whether to wear a wetsuit or not. The water temp was 80 degrees so it wasn’t needed. And trying to figure out if the extra minute I would gain by wearing it would accommodate for the time it took to get it off. I decided to wear it which, in the end, proved to be the right decision and possibly got me that top podium spot.

The swim felt great and I was out of the water in 12:30. As I moved to transition my handler Caroline helped me strip the wetsuit and I got my biking leg on and was off on the bike. Now the bike course was no easy feat. A two loop course which was probably the hilliest and most technical course I’d ever been on. It started with this killer hill that went up, and up, and steep, and gradual and then steep again, and for most of it I was sub 5 mph which isn’t the best confident booster. But the benefit of being out first on the swim and out on the bike has an extreme mental advantage. I knew that the bike was my weak point so I pumped my legs as fast and as strong as they would let me with a keen eye out on who was passing me. I knew I was doing OK, as I didn’t get passed by some of my faster teammates until mile 9 or 10 when this usually happens much earlier on. As I got into transition I was pumped that I was still the lead Tri 2 female. But that quickly faded as I put on my running leg and saw my competition come into transition. After a quick panic, I made the decision that this was my race and set off on the run. The run was unique as it was 4 laps in front of the spectator stands and the announcer so you could hear the crowd, the announcer and more importantly see your competition the whole time. My plan of descending each lap quickly passed as I sprinted the first lap to try and get a good lead. Around every turn I would gauge where she was in hopes that she wasn’t closing the gap. At one point the announcer called out that I was only 2 min ahead of her and this caused a noticeable increase in cadence as the gap slightly closed. But as I rounded the corner to the finish, with a new 5K PR,  I knew that this race was mine. I pumped my arms a bit before the finish and threw 2 big peace signs up as I crossed the finish. I could feel the love from Jimi showering down knowing I had made him proud.
Team USA sweep!

Turns out I won by a mere 59 seconds making it quite the race and I couldn’t have been prouder. I was beaming with pride knowing I had won, and not only that, but my teammates came in 2nd and 3rd making it a 1-2-3 sweep by USA. It can’t get much sweeter than that. And as we stood on that podium, watching 3 American flags go up hearing the national anthem, it was a moment I had long dreamed of. Back to my days as a gymnast and dreaming of the 1996 Olympics, to the Paralympics in 2008 and now back in Beijing, finally achieving something I’d dreamed of since I was a child. Oh what a moment it was. A proud American once again.

Team USA won a total of 8 medals. Danielle won her category as well so we went back to our room after the race, the room of World Champions, as proud as ever of each other and representing the USA.

The remainder of the trip in Beijing was spent with my teammates enjoying our accomplishments and each others company. Some sights, some tasty Peking duck, lots of walking, lots of laughing and good times that won’t soon be forgotten. After Beijing 5 of us made the trip to Shanghai for a few days. We stayed in a hostel and spent a few days exploring the much more modern city. Lots of shopping, bartering, taxi rides, cheap massages and good laughs made for another memorable trip. My favorite place was this beautiful park that had old, cute Chinese men sitting on every bench, and women dancing and doing Tai- Chi and playing cards. The looks we got being a group of 5 Americans, 3 of us with 1 leg, was pretty hilarious. The language barrier would make us laugh as they would come up to us, gesture to our legs and talk to us like we understood. We would respond with a friendly ‘Ne- how’, meaning hello, and they would look up, smile and continue chatting like we understood as we said Ne’how over and over again because we didn’t know how to say anything else.
After 6 days in Beijing and 4 in Shanghai, I was ready to go home and after some logistical trouble making that happen, I’d never been happier to touch down on American soil and sleep in my bed. Of course made even better with my new purses, sunglasses, watches and scarves that I brought with me from the silk market…
Keri the Iroman, coach Stacee and a World Champ. What a team.

My homecoming was made that much sweeter as my boyfriend (yes, I have a boyfriend) Brian planned a welcome home congratulatory surprise party. So he led me by the hand to our local pizza place where 20 friends were waiting to celebrate with me. Such a thoughtful and memorable way to come home. And once again, as I laid in bed that night, exhausted from the travel I thought about what a lucky girl I was.

Things haven’t slowed much since then. Dare2tri put on our own triathlon last weekend and ABC was there to film it, which took up most of the weekend. The following day I flew to Vegas to be the keynote speaker at the Prosthetic AOPA conference and now, I’m finally flying home. Again. It’s only been a week since returning from China but it feels like it was months ago. 

The next couple months don’t slow down too much either. I’m in and out a few random days for some speaking, a week in Guatemala for the Prosthetic Humanitarian trip with the Range of Motion Project and a little thing called the NYC marathon. I say this and I don’t think people realize the extent of that statement as never have I run over 13 miles, even with 2 legs and here I am signed up to run 26 in a little over a month. I was focused on training for the sprint tri in Worlds so my focus was short and fast training. Now that that’s over, I’m attempting my 1st longer than 13 mile run this weekend. My friend Becca is going to be my guide in NYC so she’ll be doing it with me but I think I might be crazy for signing up for this one. In 2004 and 2005, I did the NYC marathon on a handcycle and always told myself I’d go back and run that as my first marathon. And apparently this is the year.. I’m doing it with the group Achilles, as they supported me on my days on the handcycle and want to show them my thanks back.
As my coach Stacee told me, it’s gonna hurt and it may take you 8 hours, but you’ll get to that finish line. And so it goes. But if I get through this, and am still alive to talk about it, I may, just may, think about an Ironman in the near future. There, I said it.

And I can’t sign out until I brag that Brian is competing in his very 1st triathlon this weekend. This time I’ll be the one cheering at the finish line, thankful that he is in my life.

Until then, life goes on. A charmed life that I am proud to live.

My awesome boyfriend Brian.
Peace Out!


Thursday, September 8, 2011

A World Away. Again.

So, I’m over 2 months from writing my last entry but forgive me if I focus on what’s happening today instead of what’s happened in the past. You see, I’m in Beijing China, yes, again, and competing at the Paratriathlon World Championships in about 6 hours. Am I nervous? Yes. Am I excited? Yes. Do I want to win? Yes. But more importantly I will do my best, trust in my training and see how far that can get me. This race today is dedicated to my late swim coach Jimi Flowers. 3 years ago I was here with him for the 2008 Paralympics. As I swam in the water cube it was a moment of my life that I will never forget. The crowds, the meaning behind it all, my family and friends but my performance was not what it should have been. And as I left Beijing with no best times, no finals qualifications, it was hard not to think that I had let this man, my mentor and my coach down. So today I am here with Jimi in mind. And regardless of the place, I will cross that finish line, holding up my peace signs (and my flag)  as high as I can, knowing that he is looking down with a smile on his face. A chance to redeem myself, to him and for myself. Today will be the day.
I got here 4 days ago, along with about 13 other Team USA teammates. To say I love my team is an understatement. We have such a fun time together as we travel to these strange countries and explore them together, compete together and wish each other well along the way. I am rooming with Danielle, a below the knee amputee who lost her leg to cancer about 7 years ago. After starting triathlons less than a year ago, she is the national champion and today she will become and world champion. We are staying close to the race site with many of our other teammates. Not at the same hotel but close enough to eat together and hang out when we choose too.
On Tuesday we went to the Great Wall of China. For the second time, I was amazed at the magnitude of it. It really is a wonder of the world. It turned out to be quite the day when we got on the wrong express bus which took us farther from hotel than any of us would have preferred. We saw lots of pigs, locals selling unrecognizable objects, lots of people staring as 5 Americans with shorts on and no legs go sauntering by laughing at any possible thing we see. After finding the right bus and making it back, it’s something we’ll laugh about for years to come.
Yesterday was down to business. We went to the race site, got to swim on the course, bike the hard, hilly course and take in the beauty of the course. We are competing today on the same course that the 2008 Olympics used. The setting is gorgeous and there are these grandstands that all 4 loops of the run, run by and if they are filled, it will be quite inspiring. I’m a little nervous about the bike course, as hills are not my thing. But those hills are for everyone and I’ll just go at them my hardest and hope for the best.
So today after a 750m swim, a 22K bike and a 5K run, I hope to write tomorrow and say that I am the reigning world champion. How cool is that gonna be!
So let’s see, the past 2 months. I’m going to be brief. There’s been some racing. Some 5K’s including a new PR, some triathlons, including a first place finish in NY where I became the 2011 Paratri National Champion, my 2nd full ½ Ironman in Racine, WI, which I did with my friend Keri. A hot day and a few IV’s. but a new PR as well. And after Worlds today, I’ll have a little over a month to train for my first full marathon which is early NOV in NYC. Am I crazy to attempt a marathon with a month to train and only 13 miles in the books so far? Probably. But it’s what I thrive off of, so I’ll get to that finish line, even if it takes me 9 hours! And then I’ll finish out the season with a 1/2marathon with my sister in Charleston, SC. I’m extremely proud of her as she made this as a goal for herself after having 4 kids and is sticking to the plan. I can’t wait to be there with her for it.
Dare2tri has continued to expand well beyond what we ever imagined. National exposure, an ever increasing athlete and volunteer list and our last race of the season on Sep 18 which is being profiled by ABC and will be shown later this year nation wide. We are pretty pumped and amazed as what it’s become and love that we are getting athletes with disabilities doing things they never imagined.
The Challenged Athletes Foundation also continues to be a big part of my life as they have sponsored me to a number of races and I am so thankful for their support. There was a camp in San Diego I went to as the camp mentor and I fall in love with the organization every time I participate in one of their events. So a big shout out to them for all they do and the athletes they support.
There’s been days spent at work, which I still love, a great Chicago summer, think tennis, kayaking, camping, the Air and Water show and  just enjoying the company around me. There’s been some speaking stuff, hours spent throwing the ball to Jake, and really just living the good life.
I forgot about the ESPY’s. I did not win but that didn’t take away from the star studded, fun and memorable weekend that was hard. The pre and post parties, the awards show, the first class trip and accommodations, it was fantastic. An experience that I was honored to be a part of and won’t soon forget.
So there you go. My life over the past few months leading up to today. So here we are. Wish me luck as I compete today, and I’ll keep you posted on the results sooner rather than later. Until then,

Friday, July 1, 2011

ESPY award, needing your vote!

Hello again! Twice in a week, I'm sure you are all impressed!

I found out late last week that I am nominated for this year's ESPN's ESPY award for a female athlete with a disability. For those of you unfamiliar with the ESPY's, it's like the Oscars for athletes and the winners are determined by popular vote, just like American Idol! I had no idea that I was in the running as a nominee and was pretty shocked to find out.

To vote, go to http://espn.go.com/espys/#!/voting/ click on vote by category, female athlete with a disability and you'll see my picture there. You can only vote once from every computer so if you have 2 computers, or a cell phone with internet, you can vote on all 3! The voting closes on July 9 and the awards show is July 13th in LA. Whatever the outcome, I am honored to be nominated for this prestigious award. It is a competitive category with other female athletes with disabilities that have had incredible careers and athletic achievements.

Please vote and pass this on to your family and friends.
And since July 4th is only a few days away, Happy 4th and fly those flags high and proud!

Peace Out!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Galas, and bike rides and plane rides, oh my!

It’s been so long, where do I even start. Maybe it’s best to go grab a cup of coffee before you keep reading as this may be a long one. If it’s possible to say, theses past few months have been some of the busiest I’ve ever had. I’ve traveled the nation, and some of the world, and as much as the travel can get a little much sometime, I am beyond thankful for all the opportunities I have. So know that my lack of writing here is not about the lack of activity, but the abundance of it. I am happy to say that currently, I am home for 3 full weeks and have the time to sit down and write. And even buy groceries! Although I could barely even remember where the grocery store was anymore, ha!

First off, I should have posted this long ago, but in March/ April timeframe there was a frenzy of media surrounding the Hartford commercial I posted in my last blog. A few weeks after, I humbly graced the cover of USA Triathlon, which is shown here. If you know me, you know I’m not one to show myself off, but as I am representing all the female amputees out there, I was especially proud of this one. So there you have it.

One of the most exciting things I’ve done was in Landsthul, Germany with the Wounded Warrior Project. Every year, WWP brings 4 wounded veterans over there as part of their Resiliency Program. A little background so you understand: Every soldier injured in Afghanistan or Iraq, goes through the hospital at Landsthul. The serious injuries, go through in 3-5 days before being sent to the states for care, and the less serious stay there for treatment, and then get shipped back downrange. The goal of our trip was to go over and say thank you to the hospital staff who get our recovery off to a good start. When these doctors, nurses, surgeons and other staff work on us, is often at the lowest point in our lives. Some are on comas, others come straight from the sands of Iraq, loosing limbs just hours before. They do their job, and do it incredibly well, but they never get to see what comes of us. Until now. Until every May, 4 of us show up, successful after are amputation and show them what their care did for us. We walk the hospital wards, see Ramstein air force base, the whole process of off- loading and loading these newly injured soldier from downrange into the hospital. We even got to get on the flight line and say thank you and good luck to 10+ newly injured personnel that were headed back stateside. For all of us, it closed a circle in the wonder of our recovery and what happened at the first stages of our treatment and was a moving, emotional trip and one that will not be forgotten. Not only is it healing for us, but we got stopped multiple times, to be told that us being there lifted the morale of the staff to see what could come of all they do.
We got the chance to interact with many of the soldiers that were over in Germany just for a brief stay before they headed back to the Middle East. My favorite story was an Army guy who got hit when an RPG hit his dining hall in Afghanistan. He came to Germany, thinking he was going to be sent back over in a matter of days. During his surgery, they found cancer, which had already spread to his lungs. You may wonder why this morbid story could be my favorite, but it’s the simple fact that if he hadn’t of been hit, he may have died from the cancer. Being hit by an RPG saved this man’s life as by the end of our trip they had removed most of it and were confident chemo would stop the rest. And his spirit was unbreakable. Just like many others, he walked around thankful for all he had, instead of what he lost, looking to move on with his life. And that is just one of the stories that you hear and look at your own life and realize how lucky we all are. As I flew back to the states at the end of the week, I reflected back on the wonderful life I live and how I want to live for those that no longer can. If only that man, over 7 years ago now, would have known that instead of taking my life, he was giving birth to a new one, with a renewed love of life, I think he would have thought twice. So as usual, thank the soldiers who keep us safe at night, but also the medical staff that allow us to keep on living as we do.

Lee Greenwood
WWP Gala
LaGuardia seems like it’s my second home for the summer. I’ve been 4 times in the past 2 months. There’s been a number of gala’s, CAF, WWP, Tower of Hope and an event for US Paralympics where I got to bike around central park with Olympic Triathlete Hunter Kemper and a number of other supporters. Nevermind that I got dropped on the first hill, as my fastest pace can’t remotely begin to keep up with Hunter’s leisure pace. But luckily a few stayed back and we had a great ride. At the Tower of Hope gala, the organization where I got Jake from, Lee Greenwood was the guest performer. Any of you that know me, know that ‘God Bless the USA’ is one of my favorites and I get chills and often tear up when it’s played. To hear him sing it in person left me in a state of emotional shock at how powerful it was. It got even better at the end, when he sat down at a piano, sat a chair for myself and 2 other veterans next to the piano and played it again as we all sang along. It really couldn’t get any better than that and in the 7 years since loosing my leg, it was one of the most meaningful moments.

The Coaches
If you recall, I wrote about our dare2tri Paratriathlon club that was co-founded by myself and my good friends Keri and Dan. Since I last wrote, we have only grown in both experience, motivation and numbers. We put on a highly successful 3 day camp where we had 5 amputee athletes and 5 in wheelchairs. After a major financial sponsor backed out at the last minute we had to struggle to pull it off, but it couldn’t have gone any better. We had 2 days of instruction in swim, bike and run and then the last day we put on our very own super sprint triathlon and 8 of these 10 athletes completed their very 1st triathlon. We couldn’t have done it without the volunteers and coaches and everything came together wonderfully. Since then, we have started weekly run and bike practices and have our first full triathlon with the club this Sunday. What we thought was gonna be a club of 20 athletes, we currently have over 65 registered for the club. We couldn’t be more excited. Check out www.dare2trichicago.com to learn more about it and you can see us on facebook too for those that are on it.

As far as my own training, it’s not easy to keep it up as much as I would like with all the traveling. And I was admittedly in a workout rut for a month or so since I’ve written. Whether it was all the events that have happened in the past 8 months, the traveling, or just the motivation level, I was struggling to enjoy any part of it. Luckily, that has come full circle and I’m back in the groove. Before the downward fall, I was competed at the Oceanside 70.3 with CAF’s Operation Rebound. I did the swim and the run only, no bike this year, but it was my fastest 13.1 mile run by a full 20 minutes and was super pumped. In the past month, my runs have gotten increasingly better and I competed in this crazy all night running race from Madison, WI to Chicago. Think 12 people, 3 legs of running each, 197 miles and what turned out to be 28 hours. I was on the Elite Athletic Development team with my friend Becca and 11 others who I had never met before. We had 2 vans, comprised of 6 people each and throughout the night we would rotate running and hang out in the van in between runs. We each ran 3 separate times and my total combined mileage was 15.5 miles. My favorite part was my second run as it was at 1am on an unsupported course, meaning we had no van support. It was a misty/ rainy type of night and it was me, all alone, on a desolate bike path, with this headlamp on ant tunnel vision through the misty night. I didn’t bring my ipod in fear I wouldn’t hear some hungry animal running up from behind so all I heard was my breathing and let me tell you something, I felt badass. I felt like I was the last finisher in Kona and running through the night to make the official finish time. It was definitely a trace highlight for me. But 28 hours of running, smelly vans and little sleep turned out to be an incredibly fun time, especially because I met 11 new friends along the way. I’m hoping to make it that way again next year..

Oceanside 70.3
Other than that, there have been a few running races in Chicago, a few 5K’s with our Blade Runners running group which is always inspiring. I have my first triathlon of the season this weekend and then am attempting my 2nd full 70.3 in July. My goal there will be to not come in as the last official finisher as I did last time, and to find one person I can beat.
My big race is Paratri nationals in NYC on August and if all goes well there I’ll be headed back to Beijing for the Paratriathlon World Championship where I am hoping to defend my title as World Champion. Many swim, bike and run practices will happen before then so no need to get too ahead of myself. But it sure would be nice!

Blade Runners

There was another trip in there with the Wounded Warrior Amputee softball team, which took place in DC in May. It was another inspiring weekend to watch these wounded soldiers get out on the ball field and play some softball. They inspire myself and all of the crowd that gathers to watch these heroes play.

And lastly, for those tat are wondering, I do still have a job! I am incredibly lucky that Scheck and Siress have supported me over the years and allow me the opportunities to continue to do these things I am passionate about. When I am home, I am in the office and working with patients or getting my leg worked on. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t think about how lucky I am to work at such an incredible, supportive company. I love the patient contact and the rewarding sight of seeing a patient stand up on one of the legs I have made for them. It really doesn’t get much better than that.

I think I’ve hit on all the major events that took place these past few months. As usual, I need to give a shout out to so many organizations and people that make my life stay as great as it is. Even through some continued ups and downs of what the past many months have brought, I am a happy girl. Thankful for so much and the ability to live my life to the fullest. To all of you that have any impact in that, thank you.

And one last thing I almost forgot (thanks Jessie)! On Memorial Day I was asked to come back to Eden Prairie to speak and be honored at the Eden Prairie Veterans Memorial. It was wonderful to be back at a place I can call home and see so many familiar faces in the crowd. As much as I've moved and traveled around,  I get this calm, reassuring feeling when I am in MN. It was great to be back and catch up with many old friends.

As we reach the end of June, we are closing in on the day where my swim coach and mentor Jimi Flowers passed away 2 years ago. This weekend there is a swim meet in CO in honor of him and although I am unable to attend, I am there in spirit. And as Jimi often said when things didn’t go our way, ‘it is what it is’ and that holds true everyday of my life. He taught me that we have the ability to change our lives to move in the direction we want them too and I hope we can all live like that in his honor.

I’m sure by now you are all sick of reading about my where- abouts so I’m going to sign off. Until next time, as Jimi often said,

Peace Out!

Friday, March 25, 2011

CP and TV

Dear World:
I passed.
Love, Melissa Stockwell, CP

See the Hartford's commercial here and throughout the NCAA basketball tournament through April 4th. To support US Paralympic athletes like myself, go to the The Hartford facebook page and click 'like'. Every click will donate $1 to US Paralympics to help Paralympic athletes achieve their dreams!


And lastly, check out the CNN interview from earlier this week:


Wow, life is good.

Peace Out!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A certified, single, well- traveled triathlon coach!

To avoid a way too long of a post, I'm going to recap the most exciting things that have happened over the past few months.

First, Megan Briese got married!! A trip to MN and a beautiful New Years Eve wedding turned Megan from Briese into a Mrs. Aaron Soper! The wedding was gorgeous and I couldn't think of a better way to ring in 2011 than with my parents and friends dancing the night away. Congrats to the Sopers!

Next there was a trip to TX to take my 3rd and final board exam to become a certified prosthetist. The make you wait a long, grueling 2 months before they give you the results so I'm still waiting. And waiting. In the meantime I'm continuing my job at Scheck and Siress and love it. My patients, the people I work with, the skills I learn, it may just be the best job ever. That will of course be made that mush sweeter if I could put that CP at the end of my name. Stay tuned for that one...

A trip to Steamboat Springs with Adaptive Adventures was a fun filled week and renewed my love of skiing. We did the Nastar course, met fellow skiers with disabilities and went on an incredible back country cat skiing trip. There is a special ski cat (the machine that grooms the ski hill) that has seating in the back of it equipped with heat and a sound system. Imagine riding one of these vehicles up the mountain to a place where no one has skied. It was my first experience in fresh powder and match the snow with the beauty of the mountains and it was an experience I won't forget. Luckily it was a nice day as I fell so much I might of well have been a living snowball but I loved it and hope to get the chance to do it again sometime.

I turned 31! Yes, I am officially in my early 30's. Two of my best friends, Andrew and Keith came into town to help celebrate and it was a birthday to remember. Lots of
dancing, eating and yes, even a few drinks, made for an awesome weekend. Top that off with the annual Chocolatefest and it couldn't have gotten much better. And I have to say, I think the idea that the early 30's are your prime years may be the case. Ive been feeling pretty dang good!

I got the chance to go out to LA for a few days and film a commercial. Such an
experience that was! As a major sponsor for the US Paralympics, the Hartford decided for the first time ever, to use actual Paralympians fr their commercials that will be shown during the march madness football and into the final four. A 10 hour photo shoot for a 30 second commercial that made me feel like a rockstar. We're talking my own trailer, a director chair, a personal assistant. Pair that with Jaunis, the director who filmed Schindler list and Saving Private Ryan, and there was smoke machines, underwater cameras, scuba divers, lights to look like the sun, and more. I did the same thing over and over again with different lenses and angles and they actually had that little device that they push down and say 'action' and 'cut'. I couldn't believe the production that it was! I've seen the rough cut of the commercial and I really like what they did with it. Look for it with the basketball but once the final version is out I'll try to find a way to post it here. The coolest part was just learning all about the process they go through to make everything happen. I can't even begin to imagine how intense a move must be to film!

In some bittersweet news, my divorce was final this week. It was an emotional day just realizing how permanent the event was. I've said before and I'll say again that I know I'll be OK and love will eventually happen again, but its difficult to realize the enormity of the event. I will forever be thankful for all that I gained in my marriage. I'm living my life in a way that would never be possible without the love and support I had from Dick over the years end I wish him nothing but happiness. Even through all the emotional times, I still feel it's better to love even knowing the heartbreak it can bring. It is afterall, what makes the world go round.

I am excited to say that I am an official certified triathlon coach. WooHoo!! Myself and a few others started a Chicago based Paratriathlon club called dare2tri that we are so so excited about. Our motto is 'One inspires Many' as it is out belief that getting these athletes out into the community will inspire all sorts of psopl to do things they never thought possible. You can read all about it on www.dare2trichicago.com but it's a club for athletes with a disability and visual impairments to get them involved with the sport of triathlon. The response has been incredible and we have 40+ athletes in the area that are hoping to compete in their very first triathlon this year. We have planned races, training and even a weekend camp to get these athletes ready. Check out the website if you'd like to help or show your support.

Allright ,I think that hits the major events. Other than that, I've continued the training for some races that are coming up quick. My first one is in Oceanside, CA. The same 1/2 Ironman I did last year but I'm doing it as a relay this year. Other than that, there are many running races in Chicago coming up this summer. My big races of the year will be the Door County 1/2 Ironman in July, triathlon nationals in NY in August and if I qualify there, Worlds will take place in Sep in Beijing. Then if all goes as planned I'll attempt my first marathon in NYC in Nov. A bunch of running races and smaller triathlons and I it's going to be an fun, active season!

The next few weeks are busy ones. A trip to Vail for the annual Vail Veterans ski trip which is always a highlight of my year. Then it's off to Arizona where I am acting as one of the team prosthetists for the first standing, all amputee, all veterans, softball team. From AZ, it's a trip to FL and then, after almost 2 weeks, I'll be back home. well, for a few weeks, until I'm off to CT and then CA and jeez, it just never ends. But I love it and as always, feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunities that I have. I've been doing a little speaking here and there too. There never seems to be a dull moment, that's for sure.

Jake is doing well. I love him more than ever. He still enjoys a good daily tail chasing.

SO there you go, my long overdue update.
Until next time,

Peace Out!