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 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!