Monday, August 26, 2013

Boston Strong.

April 15th, 2013. A day many of us will never forget. A marathon. A bomb. And too many victims. A day that I promised myself that at some point I would make it out to Boston and meet those affected by them. Whether it would make a difference to them, I didn't know. But to me it would, and I needed it, to make things seem OK. I got my chance last week and it was a trip I won't soon forget.

The Semper Fi fund is a non profit that financially supports the needs of wounded sailors and marines. They recently started America's Fund which helps anyone wounded post 9-11, regardless of their branch. I had heard great things about the Semper Fi fund and was thrilled to see them in action for a few days.

I have had the good fortune of getting to know Bobby Donnelly, a fellow veteran who lost his leg below the knee a few years ago. He works for the Semper Fi fund and they have been active with the Boston survivors from the beginning. He and others, to include my good friend Hailey,  have been multiple times and developed a strong relationship with many of the survivors. Bobby was generous to ask me to accompany them to Boston the past 2 times they've gone, but it's never worked out. Until now.

We got to Boston on Monday afternoon for a wine event with the Boston victims scheduled for Tues night. Myself, 4 other wounded veterans and the staff from Semper Fi. A Monday night dinner and getting to know the group solidified why I've heard such great things about the organization. They are a team that is truly dedicated to their mission and I was honored to be there.

On Tues morning, I got a run in along the St Charles river and stopped on my way back at Boylston Street and the exact place the bombings took place. As I stood there, across from the library, in front of the running store, it was all I could do not to breakdown and scream as some people in this world truly suck. And so often those that are affected by their acts are always the ones that deserve it the least. I saw the infamous finish line painted on the street and thought about all those that should have finished that race and weren't able too. I made my way back to the hotel angry at the thought of someone wanting to destroy all that we have here. All that makes up America.

A few hours later, we were headed to the Boston Winery and I was nervously excited to finally meet some of the new amputees. As we got out of the van we were greeted by Roseann, a new above the knee amputee from the bombings. She had on her prosthetic leg, was walking with a cane, had her toenails painted and was wearing a flip flop type shoe. She was off to a great start. We chatted for a long while, about her prosthetic, about life and whatever else came up. She was there with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend that was one of the firefighters that brought her to the hospital that fateful day. Talk about a Lifetime movie in the making..
As we were talking, Celeste walked in. Celeste lost one leg above the knee and the other below the knee. Her daughter was also wounded and they were there together with Celeste's husband. Roseann got up, walked over and gave her a hug, exclaiming how great she looked. She was walking un- assisted. No crutches, no cane, nothing. Just her and her new prosthetics. And then came Jessica and her husband Patrick. The young, married couple, that would be celebrating their one year anniversary that weekend. Both below the knee amputees, and Jessica with some severe damage on her right side. If Jessica and I would have met on the street we would have been fast friend. Their story is a tear jerker, both wounded, brought to different hospitals, rehabbing together and the obvious love that they share. We talked most of the evening about that day, life since then and what the future looked like. Both of their families were there, moms, dads and siblings and you could tell that they were strong together. Just like Boston strong, they were a family strong.

As I got up in the middle of the event, I looked over and saw all these once strangers, with this common bond all sitting together. We saw Celeste take off her BK and pass it around, we saw laughs, smiles and some concern when talking about the struggles they have. It was this moment that I realized these people were no longer victims of the bombings, but they were survivors. Survivors of a tragic day that forever changed their lives. And it's their attitudes and their perseverance that makes them the heroes that they are. It's not what happened to them, but how they handle themselves after. Will there be tough days, absolutely. But their strength is what makes Boston Strong, and that's what makes America strong and the great country that we are.

As the event ended, numbers were exchanged and I truly hope that I will be in touch with some of them in the months to come. Since I've gotten back to Chicago, I've shared the stories of all of these survivors with anyone that will listen. I've thought of them, of Celeste and Roseann and Jessica and Patrick and all that they share and it moves me. As much as some people in this world suck, there are always more people that come out on top and shove that suckiness in the face.

Thanks to Semper Fi for making this trip possible. And maybe, just maybe, someday I'll cross that infamous finish line on Boylston street. And maybe some of them will too. Because in the end, mean people never win. But survivors do.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Time for some more triathlon talk. The last 2 months have been quite race heavy. A month span of 2 sprints, 1 Olympic, 1 ½ IM relay, a full 70.3, and multiple running races means it’s race season. No need to go into all of them, but my 3 favorites are worth a quick write up.

One of my favorite weekends of the year thus far was up in Door County, WI. They put on a sprint and a 70.3 distance race. Last year Brian and I did the 70.3 and it was Brian’s debut into the longer distance racing. This year we decided to be a little more laid back and made the trip up north with Keri and Dan (the other dare2tri co-founders) and their spouses. We camped with Keri and Larry at Peninsula State Park and had a picture perfect campsite on the water. Worthy enough for a write up in Outdoor magazine. We cooked chicken, steak, corn and mushrooms paired with wine and smores and the beautiful backdrop of the Lake Michigan sunset. Perfect weather, perfect company. It. Was. Perfect.
Brian and I did the sprint distance race on Sat. It was nice and there was no pressure, just a short swim, an 18-mile bike and a 5K. I started with my age group, which is a rarity, as I usually start first with my other paratriathlete friends. In this race, I was the only paratriathlete. Other than some slow transition times I was pretty pleased with how I did. I guess there’s something to be said about going into a race laid back. And I somehow managed to come out of the water 1st in my age group! Brian had a great race too and we were happy campers. Literally. The 6 of us spent that day out on a pontoon boat soaking up the sun and tubing around the lake.
The next day was the 70.3 and Keri, Dan and I were a relay. I swam, Keri biked and Dan ran. The Dare2tri dream team as we called it. We went into it for fun but realizing that we might actually be competitive and our usual competitive nature, we were soon going after a podium spot. We came up about a minute short and ended up on 4th but had a blast and will be back next year. I recommend Door County tri to any triathletes. A smaller race, great people and a beautiful area.

The next weekend was the NYC triathlon and my 5th time at the race. I love this race. It’s not the easiest logistically, it’s a tougher course and always hot. But it’s the CAF championship meaning that there are 50+ challenged athletes and we all compete against each other based on a factor system and our disability for a prize purse. The year before I had a time of 3:06 and was really gunning for first, a sub 3 hour time, and second, a sub 3:03, as that was the previous fastest time for a female above the knee amputee.
The Hudson was remarkably ‘clean’ this year and it’s fast current got me off on a good start. My bike along the Henry Hudson is always hillier than I remember but I was able to keep up a decent speed. I knew coming into T2 that a sub 3 hour was going to be tough, as I’d never managed a 10K under an hour in a race and that was what was needed. The run started off a little rough. It was hot, I was tired and it was as struggle to keep the legs going. I briefly thought of walking, ok, I thought of walking many times, but was proud of myself for keeping the feet moving. I came in with a 3:02.36 and was thrilled with the race. Not a sub 3-hour race, but a new course record for an AK female and an overall 2nd place for the prize purse. A great race and a fun one racing alongside other Challenged athletes and the people I’ve met along the way.

My next and biggest race since Oceanside 70.3 was Steelhead 70.3 in Benton Harbor, MI. the 2nd ½ IM of the year. This was a key race on my journey to an Ironman and Brian was joining in for the race along with Jean Draper, a below the knee amputee that is also doing IMAZ in Nov. I was a little worried about the race going into it. I hadn’t had any great long runs and that is usually what I struggle with most. I didn’t have a time goal; I just wanted a decent race.
The night before the race, Jean and her family and Brian and I stayed in a ‘less than nice’ Motel 6. Think about the worst hotel you’ve ever stayed in, and go down another 10 notches. We reserved a hotel 2 months before the race but it was all that was left for race weekend. So we slept through the night with one eye open in our sleeping bags on top of the bed, as Jean was on the phone with the cops halfway through the night. Not a place you want to stay the night before a big race but we lived and won’t be back there any time soon.
We started the race with some rough water conditions. Large waves that looked hard to manage. And that they were. It was the toughest swim I’ve done, being unable to sight over the big waves and being pushed into shore for 1.2 miles. I came out of the water about 6 min behind where I should have been and was thinking it wasn’t going to be a good race. A huge thanks to Jean's husband, Robb, and Dave Zaro who helped us up the long sandy part of the beach. The bike was some rolling hills, headwinds and tailwinds, up until the last 15 miles, which was a straight tailwind. I had been going pretty good but at mile 50, my new biking socket became an issue. To the point that I almost just took it off and held the leg while pedaling with one, I tried to get to that finish as quick as I could, just to get it off. I pulled into T2 with a 16.1 avg, my best ever for a bike of that distance. I started out on the run remembering my last ½ in Oceanside when I started too fast and ended with a 13m/mile avg, which is never ideal. This time, I slowed down at the start and tried to keep it that way, one foot in front of the other. There are 3 large hills on the course but the rest is pretty flat. At the ½ way point I couldn’t believe how good I felt. I was actually smiling and talking to people. For those that know me when I run, that is a rarity. The miles kept going, I kept my pace up and as I got near the finish chute I felt this overwhelming sense of joy that only happens when you’ve had a stellar race. I fist pumped so much down the finish chute I almost tripped over myself. A time of 6:38 and an avg mile of 10:23 on the run. I. was thrilled. It’s hard to compare ½ IM times because the courses are different but my best time prior to that was a 7:18 so quite the difference.
This was a big breakthrough in my confidence for IMAZ. As you seasoned Ironmen know, there is a huge difference between a ½ and a full IM but I’ve gained some serious confidence with that race. I have some time goals for the IM and the belief that with the right training, I will do it. It was a good, happy day.
Brian finished about 15 min behind me and I was so proud of him. I spend my days in the mindset of a triathlete. He spends his days on the hockey rink, on the golf course, long work days, and doing the occasional workout. He was out there with me and finished his 2nd ½ IM, time doesn’t matter. And in typical Brian fashion, we drove directly from the race to the hockey rink for him to play his game that night. It’s not your typical brick workout, but what we like to call a blockhead. And I love him for it. Next up for him is the Chicago Marathon, woot!

So there you go, 3 awesome races. The other ones were pretty good as well. We had a Blade Runner running race that had a record number of 23! amputees running it. The Terrapin 5K and its usual awesome time and epic night.

Next up is the Chicago triathlon this weekend, which is the Paratriathlon Regional Championships. Then Paratriathlon World Championships in London on Sep 13th and then the IRONMAN on Nov 17th. To think it’s already Aug 19th is crazy. This summer is flying by.
Last night was our Dare2tri Red, White and Cruise and our fundraiser for the 6 of us elite athletes that will be competing at Worlds on London on Sep 13th. A night full of music, food and giving thanks to those that joined us to support our team as we traveled the waters of Lake Michigan on a cruise ship. If you are interested in donating to our team you can do so here,

In non- triathlon related news (yes, my entire life is not one big triathlon) Brian and I have been up to Michigan for his family reunion, to MN to see my best friend Megan with her new house and baby (when did we all grow up?), a full 18 holes of golf (be impressed), a quick trip to NH and Camp Robinhood where we showed the campers that we can still bike, water-ski and eat smores around a campfire with one leg or by being in a wheelchair.
Another favorite weekend spent in SC to see my family on the 4th of July. The joy of being able to spend 4 whole days with my family and nieces and nephews and the difficulty of saying goodbye knowing I won’t see them for 6 months. It’s times like these I wish I lived closer to be able to see their soccer game or their dance recital and be a part of their everyday lives. But so is life and the different lives we live. And the way time is moving, Christmas will be here before we know it.

Life continues to move fast and stay busy and there is rarely a dull moment. My little family of Brian and Jake keep me a happy girl and so thankful for what I have. Life is so so good.

This was a long one, thanks for reading. Until next time, PEACE OUT!