September 11th a day the country will never forget. I remember the day a short sixteen years ago. I was in middle school and woke up like it was any other day, but I soon learned it was not just any other day. It was a day the nation’s heart broke and the spirit of a nation. A day where a small group of people tried to break us, but instead brought us together. Fifteen years later I stood adorned in the the Stars and Stripes with my last name and three little letters U.S.A. Across my chest as flags waved.
I can’t believe it has been one year since I was in Rio represnting Team USA in the inaugural Paralympic triathlon. That day I was apart of history. The first triathlon team, the first gold medal and a USA sweep. It is a day I will cherish forever. I will never forget the many people who sood along side me through training and racing, the messages and videos of support I was sent while I was there, those who were there cheering me on in person. I will never forget my sister running all along the course to bring live video to so many watching at home, my brother running along the finishing shoot yelling “you did it! It is yours, go get it!” And “that is my sister” as he tripped over people and barricades, the hugs I shared with Hailey and Melissa as they crossed the finish line behind me, the cheers from the stands, the looks on my parents faces and standing atop that medal stand with a gold medal draped around my neck as the national anthem played.
Every year on September 11th we have an opportunity to remeber how strong we are as a country and this day demonstrated that strength.
As I refelct on the past year there has been many changes I am happy to share with all of you. After Rio I took some time off, began a few months process of interviewing new coaches and really began to reframe the team I was working with and that I am confident will be the right fit as we work towards Tokyo 2020. In December I headed to Colorado for a few months to work more closely with those I trusted and begin testing the waters with a new coach. Things started off a bit slow as I got used to the altitude, the weather and being in a new place, but it took off from there. I can confidently say I have found where I fit in and in July I made the move official (don’t worry Arizona friends I will be back every winter) Over the past two months I have been settling into a new house with my two dogs.
As many of you know through out July and August I hit a major road block when my chronic medical condition and ensuing complications spiraled out of control. Five surgeries in four weeks and the doctors gave me no hope that I would be making it to World Championships in September when they gave me a twelve week timeline to heal. Little did they know they were not working with just anyone. With the doctors clearance and working very closely with my coaches, Ken Axford and Misty Hyman, we began getting back to work with the mindset of being safe, smart and making it happen. We began with biking, after sometime added running and just a few days ago got back in the pool. With each step there has been pain and frustration, but I wasn’t going to be beaten by my body this time. I am well accustomed to chronic pain, but this was a new pain to work through and to this day I can’t say I am used to it. With each step it aches, with each bump it it shoots and with each twist and turn of my body it tears at the incisions. There have been tears of frustration, tears of anger and sadness, but it hasn’t stopped me. Many days I was ready to throw in the towel, but had Ken there to reminder me that I was not a quitter and to keep going. His guidance through the highs and lows in training have been immeasurable.
One week ago we knew it was decision time. In my mind the decision had already been made. I was struggling to maintain energy, I had swam twice and my times on the run and swim were no where near competitive, let alone times that would live up to my self imposed standards. In my mind as I set out for the testing sets coach had prepared this was all just to prove to him and myself that I didn’t have it in me. That it wasn’t meant to be and this time it wouldn’t happen. That morning I swam the race in the pool wanting to quit at least three times as I had not swam that far in two months. I got to the end hit the stop watch and looked at my time preparing to be upset, but surprisingly it was not what I had expected. Seeing that I was catastrophsizing my losses brightened my spirit no matter what decision was made. That afternoon it was time to put together some bike and run intervals at race pace. After much deliberation, I am excited to share, that we came to the decision to toe the start line.
This decision, although excitng, made my head spin. Twelve hours ago I was doing these workouts to prove I wasn’t ready and now I was preparing to get on a plane in six days for the biggest race of the year. Over the course of the week I had to change my mindset and my outlook. I was going to toe the start line at less than 100%. I was going to have to focus on doing what I could in each step of the race without comparing my present fitness to my past fitness, I was going to have to push through the pain of my scar tissue tearing as I moved, I was going to have to do everything I could on the race course and know at the end of the day it may not be the result I had trained for all year and I was going to have to find peace in that.
As I sit on the plane headed to Rotterdam I know I have the support of my coaches, my sponsors, my friends and my family and no matter the result of the race I am lucky to be alive, to have the chance to step up to the line once again to give everything I have in a sport that I love. And most importantly to race for the love of the sport.
The past three weeks have been anything but a fairytale.
Two weeks ago it was planned that I would race in Edmonton, for the final World Paratriathlon Series event of the season. The race would be my final tune up before Worlds in September; it was a goal of mine to be the first to sweep the series. But putting that aside, I was excited to make my way back to Edmonton for the race that holds a special part of my career.
The last time our race calendar made a stop in Edmonton was in 2015 and it served as my final race before taking on World Championships. I went into the race with a busy race calendar that had taken me all over the world. I walked away from each race on the calendar without having put together a solid swim, bike AND run. All season I had not put together a single race that I knew I was capable of, and I started questioning my ability.
Back in 2015 the race in Edmonton was pretty low key. Many top competitors sat it out to focus on Worlds just a few weeks away. I previously competed on the course, the bike course favored my climbing abilities and a great group of Americans were racing by my side. When I got in the water it was a shock to my system, but as the gun went off I focused on my plan. I came through T1 and onto the bike playing my cycling plan over and over in my head, but as the end of the first lap neared and I could no longer feel my hands I questioned if I could go on. I turned my focus as quickly as I could from the cold to the race plan I had in place. Through the run I held my heart rate as I negative split each mile and when I crossed the finish line I knew I had won. What I didn’t know is that race would be the first win of a two-year streak. More importantly than the win was what I learned that day in Edmonton. That cold July day I garnered confidence in my abilities and myself. I stopped focusing on my competitors and I began to trust my race plan. That day I learned I could become an unstoppable athlete if instead of focusing on my competition I redirected my focus within.
I was excited to return to Edmonton with an open mind ready to learn, to dust the cobwebs off and to try my new Avow bike fit before heading to World Championships. But instead of toeing the start line I had to drop from the start list after gastroparesis resulting from my chronic illness EDS made it very difficult to maintain my weight and fuel my body properly to train and race. I thought not stepping on the plane to head towards Edmonton would be the hardest decision I had to make this season.
Unfortunately it wasn’t
With Edmonton dropped from my race calendar I focused on my health. After speaking with my healthcare providers and coaches we felt it would be best to move forward with a set plan. It would require taking a few days off of trianing but would allow me a better grasp on controlling my gastroparesis in both the short and long term. It wouald also allow me to go into World Championships with the ability to effectively fuel my body.
After two weeks it became apparent plans do not always turn out as, well, as planned. After multiple hospital stays and surgeries it was looking more and more like World Championships was not going to happen this year.
When I got a moment to speak with the surgeon I was relieved that with some time and healing my career would likely not be over, but I was crushed when I heard healing time would be eight to twelve weeks.
My heart broke as I knew I did not have twelve weeks before Worlds. I didn’t even have eight weeks until the gun went off. I had 44 days. Tears kept forming as the words replayed over and over in my head. Eight to twelve weeks, no swimming.
Over the next day or two I would go back and forth between being angry, feeling betrayed, and being sad. I was ready to take on World Championships but the chance to race was being stolen by my chronic illness. Defending my 2x World Champion title was my biggest goal of the season and I knew I was in the mix, until all of thishappened. The day the words “you will not make it in time” were uttered I was not ready to believe it and still today I am not ready to accept it. If there is any chance of being there I am going to find it. If there is anyway to step up to that start line I am going to take it. The odds are overwhelmingly not in my favor and I am going to have to rely almost entirely on my past fitness, but this will not be the first time I have defied doctors’ odds. I am going to safely give it everything I have to get to Rotterdam. I am going to recover more and work smarter than I everhave all with a new hope – the hope to race.
I will be chronicling my road to recovery with a daily count down until race day. Please join me over the next 39 days on Facebook and Instagram. Feel free to send words of encouragement, positive thoughts, prayers or anything you see fit as I once again try to take on the impossible.
This past Saturday I toed the line for my first race under a new head coach, my first race of the season, and my first race of the new quadrenium. I stepped up to the start line along side my competitors for the Continental Americas Championship (CAM Tri Championship) in Sarasota, FL. a race I won one year ago securing my spot for the Paralympic Games. This year the race just happened to fall exactly six months from the day of my win in Rio de Janeiro.
I left my second home—the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs—on Tuesday and schlepped five pieces of luggage, Mowgli my service dog and myself to the other end of the country. It was a pretty uneventful day as a whole. I met a teammate in Houston and another in Tampa where we rented a minivan, played Tetris as we fit four sets of wheels, three bikes, two wheelchairs, a few suitcases and a dog before climbing in and beginning the hour drive to Sarasota. The week leading to the race consisted of classification—the process by which they sort adaptive athletes to ensure fair competition—bike repair, training, a beach day and an abundance of laughs.
Friday was the busiest day leading up to race day, per usual. The day started with an early breakfast and heading to the race course to meet with my Peak Multisport team. As a group we took a few laps on the bike course, ran a portion of the run course and got a warm up swim in the lake all before noon. I headed back for lunch, a few bike adjustments and had time to catch a quick nap before the race briefing that night and a small group dinner. The day went smoothly and quickly. Before I knew I was crawling into bed.
A late afternoon race meant not waking before sunrise or rushing around to get ready. It was a nice change of pace for race morning. The race began a few minutes before 3:00pm. My coach and I put a plan in place for race day that I felt confident I could follow. After warm-ups and introductions we jumped in the water and the gun went off. A few meters into the swim I was able to take the lead and maintain it throughout the race. As I hit each of my goals through the swim and the bike I knew no matter how the race ended I would be satisfied with my performance. Coming off the bike my lead had been cut to about 20seconds as we headed out on the run. Quickly the run became very challenging because of the heat. Spending most of the winter months in Colorado left me ill prepared for 90degree temps with humidity and struggling to manage the heat. Being that we were running along side a rowing course there was signs posted every 250m this made it very easy to break the course into a few hundred-meter segments. Mentally I focused on pushing myself through to the next sign. As my pace dropped I became discouraged, not in my effort, or my fitness, but my inability to cool myself. I knew as my body temperature increased my performance decreased. I held onto this discouragement for a mere second before letting it go as I knew I had no control and dwelling would not help me solve anything. As I rounded the corner towards the finish line I did all I could to hold my form together. When I crossed the line there was no excitement, feeling of accomplishment or joy. I felt empty. The only thought creeping into my mind was climbing into an ice bath.
As I have started reflecting on the race, my process, training and everything else that goes into sport. I have come away confused. Executing my plan should be exciting. A win to start of the new quad should feel fulfilling, but something wasn’t there this weekend. Something I will search to retrieve as I continue my training and racing.
After a few quick trips for appearances and speaking engagements I will continue my race calendar in Gold Coast, Australia on April 7th alongside my USA teammates.
As 2016 winds down, my final workouts are complete, the last items on my to do list have been crossed off and there is only one thing left to do, welcome in the New Year. Before the clock strikes midnight each year I find myself reflecting on the past 365 days and the year to come. 2016 has been a year full of excitement, achievement, joys, tears and fears. It has been a year for the record books literally and figuratively. As I reflect there have been a few moments that will forever live on in my mind and in my heart. Here are some of my most memorable happenings (in no particular order) in 2016 explained by some of my favorite childhood quotes.
“It’s opener, out there, in the wide, open air.”
― Dr. Seuss,
“As soon as I saw you I knew an adventure was going to happen.” Winnie the Pooh
“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!”
― Dr. Seuss,
“No act of kindness no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Aessop Fables
“Believing takes practice.”
– A Wrinkle in Time
“So many things are possible, just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.” The Phantom Tollbooth
“The things that make me different are the things that make me, me.” Piglet
8. “You don’t survive in the forest for six years alone.” Pete’s Dragon
“The strength of the wolf is the pack.” Jungle Book
“Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Through the Looking Glass
“‘What day is it?’, asked Winnie the Pooh.
‘It’s today,’ squeaked Piglet.
‘My favorite day,’ said Pooh.”
—The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne
“There is a world where hopes and dreams can last for all time.” Little Mermaid
“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and the jobs a game.” Mary Poppins
3. “Above all watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” The MinPins
“The moment where you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever being able to do it.” Peter Pan
“Listen to the MUSN’TS child, listen to the don’ts Listen to the SHOULDN’TS, the COULDN’TS, the WON’TS Listen to the NEVER HAVES then listen close to me- Anything can happen child, anything can be.” Where the Sidewalk ends
And with that…
2016 has been a year full of adventure. I can’t wait to see what is in store for 2017!
As seasons change so do people. Our hopes, our dreams and everything in between. Choices, even welcomed ones can prove to be difficult, but it is only through choice and change that growth can occur. I will always remember how my past coaches and mentors have influenced me as an athlete and as a person. The lessons I have learned both good and bad will be carried with me over the remainder of my career and my lifetime. As fall turned to winter change was rolling in.
It is with overwhelming excitement that I announce the addition of Ken Axford as my head coach for the 2017 season and beyond. My choice to bring Ken on board reflects my hopes of becoming a stronger cyclist, a better all around triathlete, of defending my World Title in 2017 and my Paralympic Title in four years. Ken comes with a multitude of experience in training athletes to race at the elite level. His extensive knowledge of physiology and of short course training and racing, his strong belief in my abilities, my dreams and my goals along with a great team to train with has made Ken and Peak Multisport a great fit for me. Ken will work closely with my current swim coach Misty Hyman to guide the team to be the best we can be.
I look forward to working with Ken and the team to become the best athlete I can be over the next four years.