Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A President, a First Lady, a new roommate and a National Championship.

How the heck do I start this one? I should start by saying, go grab some coffee, this is gonna be long, but I’m going to do my best to make it short, touching on the highlights of the past few INCREDIBLE months. But this time it’s official; I’ve waited way too long.
 1. The W100

Back in April, I was one of the lucky 19 veterans that got to go on a mountain biking trip in Amarillo, TX with President Bush. I was a bit hesitant at first, as I had never mountain biked, even with 2 legs, and 60 miles seemed a bit daunting. But never one to turn down a challenge and a great experience, I borrowed a friend’s bike, grabbed my friend Keri to come along as my +1 (and to push me up the hills) and headed to Palo Duro Canyon in the wonderful city of Amarillo, TX to take part in the 2nd annual W100.
Here’s how it worked: Every morning the 19 veterans and their guests were bused to the canyon. We’d get all set up with our bikes, President Bush would show up, we’d start riding with the mileage depending on the day, finish, change and have a wonderful dinner alongside our former commander in chief. The rides were far from easy and what even experienced riders would call technical, as we rode up large inclines with rocks and roots, over rocks that acted as cliffs, over bridges spanning canyons at the end of a descent. Scary, yes, especially for myself as the one- legged, inexperienced mountain biker that I was. But. I had this team. This incredible team we called Team Melissa made up of many bikers that biked with the President weekly and they helped me through. We had this great leapfrog system and they would ride ahead until a technical spot, jump off their bikes, push me up, jump back on and repeat. It was teamwork at it’s finest and if it weren’t for them and Keri’s constant encouragement behind me, I think I’d still be out there. The last day the President rode along with Team Melissa and there he was himself, on my back wheel shouting ‘Thatta girl Meliss’ and ‘That’s what I’m talking about’ as loud as he could. Pair that, all the teamwork and mountain bike adventures with being out there with fellow wounded vets, the President (who is a stud of a mountain biker) and I was left with such a high that kept me up for weeks after the event, feeling like the luckiest girl alive. And the President, wow. Politics aside, he is one of the most wonderful people I have met. Truly affected and emotional about the choices he made and how they’ve affected all of us, a witty man, a great athlete, quite the fine dancer and a true American. I left with a few bruises, some cactus in my behind and such memories of the ride, the people I met that I truly hope to see again and even more pride for America and all that it offers. And pictures, I have 100’s, but these are my favorite.

2. The First Lady 

I left the W100, had 1 night at home and headed off
to Colorado Springs for the Warrior Games which is a week long event where wounded veterans in all branches of the military compete against each other, trying to prove that they are the ‘best’ branch of service out there. Go Army! I was unable to stay and compete, but I was named as the honorary torchbearer and was lucky enough to be able to attend opening ceremonies. A few days prior to the event, it was announced that Michelle Obama was going to be a special guest and as the torchbearer, I was going to escort her off stage and stand with her while the torch made it’s way to us, where I would then walk it up and light the flame that is typically only lit during the Olympic and Paralympic games. So days after my time with President Bush, I got to escort the First Lady off the stage, exchange a few words and light the torch in front of these men and women in uniform. It was a quick trip but again, one that I will remember often in hopes that I can one day compete alongside these fine Americans at the Warrior Games.

3. A new roommate

Ah yes, you’ve guessed it, Brian and I moved in together! Quite the big step I know, but after dating for almost a year, it is a very exciting one. So among all the above excitement and what you’ll read about next, I was busy packing up my place on Wood Street while we busily painted our new place together. I’ve always wanted to paint my own place and I got my wish. Two weeks of painting, 12 gallons of paint, too many paintbrushes and rolls of tape, but now we live on the first floor of a 3 floor building in a place that truly feels like home. I didn’t go far from my old place, only about ¼ mile, so I still see the same restaurants and shops that Bucktown has to offer and am really really happy. We’ve been traveling so much, we haven’t been able to enjoy the new digs too much quite yet, but to walk in and have him there, the dog and all our stuff in one place together is a great feeling. And did I mention I’m happy?

4. A National Championship

A day after the big move, we took off to Austin, TX with the rest of our first ever dare2tri elite team, where 9 of us would compete among the other 62 athletes in the Paratriathlon National Championship. In the past years, this race was the NYC tri but it was changed this year to the CapTex Tri that was taking place in Austin on Memorial Day.
We left Chicago on Friday to have a few days to prepare before the race on Monday which given the heat, the time was needed. We had the typical race meetings, the fun of seeing all the Paratriathletes that come from around the nation, a reunion that should happen more, time to ride and bike the race course, time to have some tasty dinners and prepare for the race. But the most exciting part of the pre- race days is that Brian and Jake did their very first doggie duathlon! Imagine 4 divisions based on weight category, the Scooby, snoopy, underdog and Marmaduke divisions. A total of 100 dogs that would compete in each division with a 200m swim and a mile run. Jake was a proud member of the Marmaduke division and as they jumped off the dock, while other dogs were scrambling to get back on it and unsure what to do, Jake swam his big heart out, thinking it was play time and try to jump up on Brian leaving Brian with many scratch marks as he exited the water. But onto the run they went, doing so well that they crossed fast enough to be in 2nd place. Milo, the dog that won, came in a mere 60 seconds faster but as he was obviously a doggie duathlon veteran, with the shirt to prove it, and a potential doggie doper and/or cheater (Brian swears he skipped the buoy) we’ll just go ahead and say they won. But a great time by all and it’s safe to assume there will be more doggie du’s in their future.

The real race on Monday had a start time of 7am to beat the TX sun. The typical sprint distance, a 750m swim, 13 mile bike and 5K run, my goal was, well, to do my best. And to hopefully defend my title as national champion.
The gun went off promptly and off we went. The swim turned out to be one of my best, the bike was better than expected and my run, although not my best effort, put me through the finish line at 1:33, a 6 minute PR, and 1st! It was a thrilling finish, as I happened to find an American Flag along the course, so I sprinted through the line, flag held high, into the arms of both Keri and Brian who were at the finish with my favorite hugs ever, the finish line ones. My competitor and great friend from dare2tri, Hailey, crossed next, and this being her first national race and only her 5th triathlon ever, I couldn’t have been prouder. More hugs. Next was another friend and competitor, Jennifer, who crossed with a huge smile and there you had it, the Tri2 ladies of the day! Mary Kate and Diana, two other dare2tri athletes fought it in for the 2nd and 3rd place finish and the rest of the team all finished quickly and proud to represent the sport and our team. I may be a bit bias, but I am truly proud to be a part of the dare2tri team, both on the elite level and back here at home. I feel we pave the way for many athletes, showing them what is possible. We couldn’t do it without the help from many, with organizations like the Challenged Athletes Foundation and DSUSA to name a few, and all that continue to support us.
So I left Austin as a 2x national Champion, a great boyfriend by my side, in the company of a phenomenal group of athletes that I am proud to call my team. We will all compete again throughout the summer at races around Chicago and then many of us will make the trip to New Zealand for Worlds in October. It’s gonna be a good year.

So. There you are. To say the past few months have been busy, is a little bit of an understatement. And things don’t slow down too much for the rest of the summer. More races (a ½ IM in there that will be Brian’s 1st), an elite level Paratriathlon camp in CO, dare2tri events, a few fun trips scheduled, family time, plus more. And oh yeah, work. Which if you’re wondering about it, I still do work at Scheck and Siress and it is their flexibility and support that allows me to keep going. Yes, I am a lucky lucky girl. And not a day goes by that I don’t realize how fortunate I am.

Until the next adventures, Peace Out!