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,