Here's the story . . .

"KMF - Do you know what that stands for?" my father asked me.  We had just finished the Long Course Duathlon National Championship in Texas (2015).  Nope.  No idea.  As it turns out, on the second run there was a guy in front of my dad with "KMF" on the back of his shirt.  Try as he might, my dad couldn't catch up with him to ask what it meant, and it was driving him crazy.  He said that he kept his eye on him after the finish, and tracked him down to find out.  "Keep Moving Forward".  As well talked about it, we decided it was a great motto - for life and triathlon.  Especially during an Ironman race when the overwhelming tendency is to want to slow down, to take a break, to stop - just for a second; but you have to just keep moving (preferably forward).  Same with life - when things get crazy or don't necessarily go the way you hope or plan - break it down into smaller pieces and, well, KMF!

     ....and Smile.  There are oh so many reasons for this.  I have been sidelined by many things - I have fallen off my bike (a lot) - I have taken corners too fast, been taken out by others who have taken a corner too fast, I have been hit by a car, I have failed to unclip and hit the ground; I have had a stress fracture (and later a broken foot . . . ); I have had two children - there have been times I just could not race - or even just go for a swim/bike/run.  If you have been there, you know, there is nothing that makes racing or training more appealing than NOT being able to do it.  I have friends who would give anything to be able to race.  A long-time family friend battled tonsillar cancer a few years ago.  He would come to our monthly time trials wearing his chemo pump - and he would be so happy just to be able to be out there.  The next year he was in remission and had one of the best Ironman races of his life.  Another close friend of mine who is a long-time swimmer found a few years ago that his times were getting slower and he was having difficulty with arm fatigue while swimming.  The verdict - ALS.      There are so many people who would give anything to be able to do what we take for granted most of the time. I try to keep that in perspective - especially while racing.  It is easy to get caught up in the race, to set high goals and expectations - and sometimes things just don't go as planned.  I try to truly enjoy the process - even when it hurts - and just be thankful I am able to do what I do.  Push yourself, test your limits, but remember to have fun!  With all that in mind, I figure there is nothing left to do - but smile, smile, smile.

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Balance, and the Lack Thereof....

Balance

Penticton - Part Two

“Everything in Life is About Balance”
and
“The Key to Keeping Your Balance is Knowing When You’ve Lost it.”

 

ITU Multisport World Championship Festival. What exactly is that? Here’s the scoop: 5 events over 8 days. Multiple event racing encouraged. Anyone racing in 4 or more events considered a “Multisport Legend”. All-in-all, my kind of racing! This was the lineup:

Saturday (8/19) - Draft Legal Sprint Duathlon (5k run/ 20k bike / 2.5k run)
Monday (8/21) - Standard (Nondraft) Duathlon (10k run/ 40k bike/ 5k run)
Wed (8/23) - Cross Triathlon (1.5k swim / 31k bike / 8k run) - off road
Friday (8/25) - Aquathlon (1k swim / 5k run)
Sunday (8/27) - Aquabike/Long Course Triathlon (3k swim / 120k bike)
(Long course triathlon adds a 30k run)

So, I raced Saturday, Monday, Friday and Sunday (the aquabike). And between the races I did some training, some eating, some meeting up with old friends and making new ones, and a LOT of catching up on sleep. It was interesting to stay in Penticton from the beginning of the racing to the end. There were a good number of other athletes doing the ‘Legend Challenge’ who were also there for the duration. But for the most part, the athletes came and went. The duathlon crowd. The cross crowd (a whole different kinda racing - my hat’s off to them, just wow). The aquathletes. And the long distance folks.

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Aquathlon Team

Aquathlon morning was - chilly. And the swim - was choppy. Although I was happy with my swim I came out of the water quite a bit behind the lead women. I put down the best run that I could, and ended up 4th in my age group, 10th female overall. And you know, I am very happy with that. I like to say that, as long as I race to the extent of my abilities that is all I can do -and I feel that is what I did. I grabbed my USA flag from Tim Yount, and proudly carried it across that finish line. No matter what, I enjoy every finish line - each one is the summation of countless hours of training and dedication, and each one should be treated as a treasure!

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Aquabike Team

Aquabike. 3k swim. At least the water was smooth and calm. This was an interesting change because all the other races up to this point were relatively short. Standing on the lake shore looking out at the buoy line, the turn buoy was not even visible. Enter the mental game. I caught myself before I even dwelled on that, and instead turned my focus to the swim training I had put in, finding a steady pace, and making each stroke count. Exit the swim, onto my favorite, the bike.

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A beautiful morning for a swim...

The first stretch of the bike was flat - a good opportunity to get the legs going. Then there were 2 loops that were just absolutely beautiful, around a lake and through some countryside, complete with some climbs. I confess, I did take it in. I raced hard, but had to appreciate the absolute beauty of seeing the racers in front of me winding down this road through an absolutely gorgeous day in such a picturesque setting. How lucky to be able to be a part of it. By the time the hills came around on the second loop, my legs were starting to feel it. I got a couple of those ‘warning twinges’ in my quads that caught my attention and I knew if I pushed them too hard they would end up in full-blown cramps, not my favorite.

 

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Absolutely gorgeous bike course around this lake

The aqua bikers started after all the long course athletes, so although I passed a fair number of women, a lot were those who still had to run afterwards, and I had no idea where I was as far as my division went. So, I went as hard as I could, without cramping. One of my long standing mantras is, “Every second counts.” I say that to myself and think, if someone finishes one second ahead of you, can you be satisfied knowing you gave all you had and did not have another second in you? Up the last climb, I passed an aquabike girl. She passed me back. I had to fall back the required distance, then she slowed and I passed her back. Just before the downhill I passed another aquabike girl. At the bottom of the hill she passed me back. I again fell back. I knew we had one more uphill and then it was downhill to the finish. What I did not know was whether I could push as hard as I needed to without cramping. Well - one way to find out. I passed her at the bottom and gave everything I had left to the top of the hill. The aquabike finish line was actually on the road before transition. So, bottom of the hill, sharp right hand turn, then maybe 50 meters or so to the finish. I rounded the corner, went as hard as I could, and finished 2 seconds behind the winner of my age group. Yep. 2 seconds. But, you know, I did all I could to make every second count. That’s racing.

A couple really cool things about that aqua bike race though . . . the overall female winner was over 50 years old. That just rocks. And, even though our race finished on the road, we were still able to go put on running shoes and do a token run through the finish line. So, the top three of us ran in across the finish line, together. I thought that was really special. So, second age group, third overall, world chamionship multisport legend status achieved. I really could not ask for more.

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Aquabike Finish!

The courses were great. The competition was fierce. It was everything a World Championship Festival should be. I like to race, and I like to race a lot - but by the time Sunday rolled around (despite all my catching up on sleep), I’ll admit I was tired. And, for me, it was a little too long to be without my family. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret doing it, it tested me and presented me with new challenges to focus on, I learned a lot, and I really enjoyed getting to spend time with Team USA staff and racers.

Congrats to all who raced, be it one event or ‘Legend’ status. I truly enjoyed meeting many of you, and racing alongside all of you. The time and dedication and courage involved in participating in a World Championship is not to be taken lightly, and is certainly something to be proud of. I hope to see you and race with you again soon. And if it is ever something you have dared to dream of - I encourage you to try!

In closing, I do have to say that one of the most important things I came away with after this adventure was this: For me racing is about balance - the racing with my family and the rest of my life. In this case the balance got tipped towards the racing side, and my heart really started aching around Thursday. Initially my father was to meet me in Penticton and do the aquabike race with me - and for a number of reasons he was unable to.  Without him, and without my husband and kids, there was just a big ‘something missing’. I was too gone for too long I guess you could say. So, be forewarned - the next Multisport World Championship Festival I certainly hope to attend, with 2 little kids and an Elvis in tow. Bring it on.

 

There are too many people to name, but for everyone who took the time to chat with me, share a meal, a bike ride, or just give a high five or a hug after a race - thank you. My ‘Team USA’ family certainly helped get me through while I was missing my other family. And here are some pics of a few of those people:

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Pam Tate - I'll say it again I just LOVED having you here!

 

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Kimee Armour - "The Dancing Queen'

 

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Leslie Battle, who I feel like I have known forever but only just now met in real life!

 

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Rachel Carter - also feel like I have known forever and finally got to meet!

 

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And with Ashley Miller!
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Kevin Elmore took it easy on me....
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Marc from Raceday Transport - I just can't say enough good things about this guy....

 

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Lucky to dine with the 'Who's Who' of Team USA Support Staff!

 

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The TN Aquabike Contingency (Koz we will let you be an honorary member)! Rick Kozlowski, David Price, Gary Mappin, and Maday and John Lines (who has helped me tremendously with my racing - much appreciated!)
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I just love this pic - I am surrounded by greatness!!!

I failed to get a picture with a few people that deserve a mention  . . . Kate, Emily and Josh I really enjoyed hanging out with you guys after the race Sunday (for those of you who keep up, Kate is my friend I see EVERYWHERE and was mentioned in one of my stories about the Memphis in May race this year; I found her at the swim start and tried really hard to stay on her feet unsuccessfully, lol).

Also my racing soulmate Ellen Hart - she not only achieved legend status, but LEGENDARY status for racing in 4 events and was undefeated in her category for ALL FOUR.  Incredible.   

 

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And...Balance RESTORED!!!!!!

 

 

Thanks for reading!

 


Feed the Good Wolf

Feed the Good Wolf

Penticton - Part One

A friend of mine recently posted about this, and it has been on my mind since, so bear with me as I begin with a story . . .

There is an old Cherokee legend known as the tale of two wolves A grandfather explains to his warrior grandson that there are two wolves within each of us: One wolf is positive and beneficial, while the other wolf is negative and destructive. These two wolves fight for control over us. The grandson is curious and asks, “Which wolf will win?” The grandfather replies, “The one you feed.”

I am going to be honest, my “Bad Wolf” was howling loudly as I took off for Penticton. I got home around 3am on Monday morning after driving with my father straight from Omaha and USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals. I unpacked, cleaned, and repacked my race gear. I worked. I tried to get some training in. And I spent as much time as I possibly could with my family. Similar to the majority of people who traveled to Penticton, my travel arrangements were a little crazy. What sounded perfect months ago when I made them - not so much in reality. I left my house at 1:30 am, drove 2 hours to Nashville, flew to Atlanta making it just in time to board for Salt Lake City, was sitting on the runway in Salt Lake as my flight boarded to Vancouver, did the classic ‘run through the airport’ (because of course my flight was on the opposite end) and somehow made the flight, found my way to pick up my rental car, drove 4 1/2 hours to Penticton getting in around 6pm, and found my way down to the event venue where thank heavens Marc from Raceday Transport was still there and graciously let me pick up my road bike so I could do the course ride the next day. Whew.

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With Marc from Raceday (actually in Bend, but one of my favorite pics)


     Meanwhile the howls went something like this. . . “Really? You are going away for 11 days?” “You should be home with your family.” “Can you really afford to take that much time off work?” “Why are you traveling all that way to race?” “Why do you feel the need to do four races?” “And why are you going by yourself when no one in your family is traveling with you?” “Are you really going to be able to find your way around and figure out what you are supposed to do?” etc. etc. etc. Yep, it was howling LOUD.
Thankfully, enter the good wolf. “Yes, I am going for 11 days.” “My family understands, they know that I love them, they respect my passion for racing, and they support me wholeheartedly. Yes, I will miss them and they will miss me, but we will be fine and it just makes us value our time together that much more.” “My work understands and supports me as well, and I will make it up by working longer hours when I am home.” “I am traveling to Penticton because I have always wanted to go there (my father and I had hoped to do Ironman Canada there together but alas it was discontinued before we were able to do so), and because it is the first Multisport World Championship - and I WANT to do it, and I’m doing four races because I CAN and I LOVE to race.” And, “I know other people who will be there, Team USA is hugely supportive, and I will figure things out eventually.” Scared? Slightly. But you know the saying:

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So - Exit Zone

 

    At risk of being annoyingly repetitive, I have to say this again. Whenever the bad wolf howls and I allow myself to worry about what people think about me and my racing (bad mother, doesn’t work, races too much, etc etc), my good wolf’s reply always comes back to the same thing . . . You just never know. I see it so often - at work and on a personal level. You just never know when everything could change. Nothing is a given. I have a friend who loves to swim more than anything and one day received a diagnosis of ALS and is no longer able. I have friends who have been hit by cars while riding their bikes - or even running. I have a friend who had an earache that ended up being tonsillar cancer. I know people who had planned on coming to Penticton to race and were unable due to illness or injury.  You just never know. There very well may come a day when, heaven forbid, I am not able to race. When that day comes I want to look back and know that I seized every opportunity I had when it was presented. It is my passion, it balances me out, and it makes me very happy. Yes, I took time off and time away and spent money I probably should have saved, but it is the memories of the races and the people I shared them with, and knowing that I dared to put myself out there and toed that line, that I will remember. And I hope if that day ever comes, that will be enough.

OK - enough of that. PENTICTON!!!!! Beautiful Penticton. I was really excited because a friend of mine from Memphis who I know through bike racing, was here to do the draft legal race - Pam Tate. We met up for the Team Ride of the sprint course Friday morning, and she and her husband Byron let me tag along with them and join them for meals.

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USA triathlon goes above and beyond for the athletes at these events - there are team massage therapists, bike mechanics, and a chiropractor (all of which were just amazing). There are coaches who talked us through the courses, rode the bike course with us, gave us tips on what to do (and not to do) to ensure a good race. Five star treatment all around.

The duathlon was Saturday morning - a 5k run, 20k bike, and then a 2.5k run. The run was along the lake which has a distinct ‘beach’ atmosphere with restaurants lining the way. The bike was 2 loops including a pretty good climb, and then a fast descent which looped around for a view across a beautiful vineyard and down across the lake - absolutely stunning.

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I was very fortunate to have a great race Saturday. And it was very special to see so many other Team USA members have great races as well. I spent about as lazy of a Sunday as I could, and had a beyond amazing race on Monday doing the Standard distance duathlon - 10k run, 40k bike, 5k run (no drafting). The course was flat, fast, and fun - the crowds were fantastic, and by the time I rounded the last corner to the finish line I had given it all I had. Just an incredible experience.

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There is something about a world championship race that makes it like no other. Perhaps it is all the travel involved in getting to the race, or just being in another country racing. Perhaps it is being out there racing for Team USA and encouraging each other throughout the race. I always try to take a moment to give thanks, “How cool is it that I am in Penticton, and able to race?”. And always, ALWAYS the crowds are unbelievable. Nothing like cheers of “Go USA”, and “Go Sass”, to make me smile a little bigger and dig a little deeper. And, of course, the BEST part of the race is grabbing that USA flag from Tim Yount or Lauren Rios, or any of the other Team USA members and carrying it proudly across that finish line. That is just the best.

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Tim Yount - ALWAYS makes me dig deeper...

If you ever, ever have a chance to participate in a world championship event, it is so, so worth it. All the doubts, worries, and howls will disappear - I promise. The experience is just priceless.

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And remember - always, ALWAYS feed the good wolf.

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Omaha - It's the heart that matters...and MY DAD WAS THERE!

Omaha
Somewhere in middle America
Get right to the heart of matters
It’s the heart that matters more…

 

     Thanks to Tami Winston who sent me the link to that Counting Crows song - this was on ‘repeat’ in my mind for most of the weekend. Oh, Omaha. It was good to me last year, landing me on the podium for my first ever overall win at a USA Triathlon National Championship, in the Sprint distance. That was especially sweet because (apart from being totally unexpected) my coach, Suzanne Atkinson, had made the journey to come watch my races - so it was very cool to have her there for that! This year I was excited to have my hometown friends - the aforementioned Tami, and Gwin Anderson coming to race, and my father was meeting us there as well. However, I honestly had no hopes of repeating an overall win this year. While my training was going well I had a number of setbacks basically all summer which meant my ‘5k’ pace in training was more like my ‘10k’ pace. It was improving, but I was out of time. Plus there are always girls who show up for nationals that are just so, so fast; I had raced one of them at the Duathlon nationals this year - and my bets were on her to sweep both races. And, I was ok with that. I had already decided that I would race as hard as I could, but would be very happy just to podium in my age group - there are plenty of speedy girls in that division!

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Race day for the olympic distance was just beautiful. Last year's blistering heat had given way this year to very mild temperatures. I was lucky to be in one of the early waves to start (in years past I’ve waited for hours to start - so I was very happy to start early!), and took my place on the dock. I just love how friendly triathletes are. Here we are, lined up on this dock at a national championship race, and everyone still takes a moment to give a high five and wish each other good luck. Just awesome. And - the race began.

I was happy with my swim, and headed out onto my favorite part - the bike. Oh yeah. The highlight of my ride was coming in and spotting my friend Gwin heading out. Now, there is one pretty good hill on the course, and when I met Gwin he was coming down the other side, but interestingly enough there was a guy wearing a red-white-and blue speedo riding one of those fat-tire bikes (I mean really fat tire bikes) just in front of him. Hmmmmm - surely that guy didn’t pass Gwin going up that hill?!?!?! I filed that away to be explored later….

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Off the bike, onto the run - and there was my dad about 1/4 mile in cheering me on! That made me pick it up - let me tell you! It is very seldom we race together, but even less often that he is there spectating (neither one of us willingly chooses to spectate - we do much better racing as well), so that was such a special thing for me. I managed to have a solid run, and was thrilled to cross the finish line and hold up that banner. There were a couple interviews and a trip to the USADA tent for testing (which I love doing because I want that on my record at EVERY opportunity), and the whole time I was kind of laughing because I knew those girls in the later waves were going to beat my time handily. Regardless, I was really happy with my race because I felt I gave it everything I could have based on my training leading up to it. And - my dad was there.

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Back at the hotel, my dad was on his tracker watching the rest of the race. "Oh, it’s going to be close", he told me. He started scribbling numbers and calculating - "I think you may have it". No way. Not a chance. But he was so excited to think so, I just kind of shook my head.

We met Gwin and Tami for lunch - unofficial results came through - "You did it!!!!!!" my dad told me. No way. I have a hard time believing any results until awards are announced . . . but according to the race timing - I had the fastest time. NO.WAY. How very ironic - there were years in the past that I felt like I had a chance at standing on that top step - but not this year. I hadn’t even contemplated it. But, it happened. And the best part? My dad was there.

Sunday morning. Parking is always crazy, and I am one of those people who much prefer to be an hour early and drive in by myself than sit in traffic for an hour worrying. So I was at the venue super early, laid my seat back, turned on some tunes, and just hung out. When transition opened I went in and got my tires pumped, but it started raining so back to the car I went with my gear. I didn’t even know it was supposed to rain?!?!? I was tired, and stiff, and sore, but today was like a ‘celebration’ race - and there is something about racing back-to-back days that I really like. It’s a test of the mind probably more so than the body - and I just like the challenge of seeing how I can overcome that. Gwin and Tami were heading home, and my dad was unable to race today for a number of reasons. With the race schedule and the drive home, I calculated I wouldn’t be home until 2am the next day, and he was supposed to ride with me - but I messaged him that if he would rather ride with Gwin and Tami I understood - it would be much more civil for him.

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Gwin and Tami

As the rain continued to drizzle on, I finally put the rest of my stuff in transition and made my way to swim start. My swim start was later this time, with the younger girls finishing about the time I started. And, once again, far from hot it was closer to chilly waiting to start. Finally made it to the swim start, and again I was happy with my swim. Out on the bike, a little extra cautious around the corners on the wet roads, just gave it what was left in my legs. Off the bike, out onto the run - and there was my dad, right where he was the day before! That made my heart leap and put a spring in my step. "You gotta go, Kirsten" he called. "Every second counts", and then something about 20 seconds but I couldn’t hear. Well, ok. I didn’t have much left, but I gave it all I had. I turned off my mind, focused on my Bobby McGee run form - and just ran with everything I had for as long as I could. Coming back in there he was again, "GO, GO, GO!" he cried - and I went. I came into the finish line stretch - and I will never forget it. The crowds were going crazy, the announcer was saying, "It’s going to come down to the line, to the second" - and let me tell you, that’s as close to falling across a finish line as I have ever come. Once I crossed the announcer had me wait to do an interview - but refused to tell me the final result. He had me tell about my race and how I felt, and after it was all over told me that, indeed, I had won - by a matter of seconds. And, my dad was there. And he was SOOOOOO excited. And - I was just in disbelief.

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I am 38 years old. I have 2 kids. I work. I had setback after setback this summer largely because I fell off my bike multiple times and had to take time to recover. I even got to the point that, for the first time ever, I sent my coach a desperate plea to help me through and keep me going. I came into these races knowing I was not where I wanted to be, but determined to give what I had. And - somehow, that was enough. What an amazing sport that a person can still find success against the odds. It just really blows me away. But you know, the best part is - my dad was there. The.Best.Part.  

 

Oh - and for the record, that guy on the fat tire bike? He passed Gwin….going up that hill.  However, Gwin assured me that he passed him back shortly thereafter....

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Gwin Anderson - finishing it up strong!

 

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Somehow I managed to NOT get a SINGLE picture of my dad and I together.  However, I have to share with you what was going on back home while I was racing . . . it seems that the National Championships fall the same weekend as the Elvis Presley 5k at Graceland, and in my household that seems to be the priority...

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My husband, Jeff (right) and his buddy Troy (left) - Elvis 5k
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My Sebastian

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Meanwhile my amazing sister, Robyn, was sharing adventures with Bella!


 As always, thanks for reading! 


Memphis In May Triathlon Weekend

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Ahhhhh Memphis in May. Triathlon weekend. One of my very favorite race weekends. Although I feel this story is getting worn out - I still want to share it again. You see, this is where my triathlon story begins. My first triathlon. 1999. 19 years old. My father excitedly signed me up. I rode on his old bike - and didn’t get in the aerobars at all. At that time there were over a thousand racers - and most of them passed me. And - most of them encouraged me on. The finish stretch of that race is across a grassy levee that overlooks the swim course, then down a little hill to cross the finish line - and I was SO proud to make it to that line! And - the after party… Live music. Memphis BBQ (of course). Beer trucks. Elvis. People everywhere - swapping race stories, tales of past races and those planned for the future - all ages and abilities. Suddenly a roar arose from the crowd - there was the final finisher, crossing the levee - escorted by Elvis himself, complete with a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Everyone stopped to cheer as they crossed that finish line. I was inspired - I decided I liked this triathlon stuff. Maybe if I worked at it, I could even get a little faster.

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My dad framed my race pics from that 1999 race - and I have them hanging in my 'tri room' - and still look at them every day.

I have done the Memphis in May triathlon every year since then, except for two. In 2007 my father, my husband, our good friend Jimmy Crossett and I all went to do Ironman Lanzarote, which fell the same weekend as Memphis. And in 2011 I was about 8 1/2 months pregnant - I’m pretty sure the race management was relieved I decided not to race. The Memphis in May Triathlon has been a big part of our lives. Jeff and I even used the DJ from the race (appropriately named Elvis - I kid you not), at our wedding party.

The race itself has seen some ups and downs. It changed locations from Millington, TN (just outside Memphis), to Tunica, Mississippi for a few years. Then, for a number of reasons, it ended up back in Millington. While the number of competitors has decreased, the quality of the competition certainly has not - and the race continues to draw amazingly talented athletes from the region. Driving home on Sunday after the race, I pondered what exactly it is that makes Memphis in May so unique . . . so here are the top 5 reasons why I would recommend coming to race . . .

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1.  Elvis. I mean - it is Memphis you know.
I can remember when I first started racing, I was in University up in Canada at the time, and managed to convince a group of my friends to come down and do the race. The guys all grew out their ‘Elvis chops’ - then had the race Elvis judge who had the best. Funny story - one guy was so proud that he painstakingly shaved his chops into Elvis’s logo - unfortunately he ended up with TLC (vs TCB). Now, in a funny twist of fate, my husband has been the ‘Elvis’ for a couple years - and my pre-race anxiety only involves him remembering all the words to the National Anthem . . .


2. The Amateur Challenge
It is no secret that I like to race a lot. So, it is right down my alley that this race offers the opportunity to race a sprint distance on Saturday, followed by the Olympic Distance on Sunday - take the combined time from the two, and split a prize of $5,000 between the top 10 males and top 10 females. And - the competition is pretty serious.

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2017 Edition

3. T-shirts
Every year the race pays tribute to a different country, and designs a t-shirt accordingly. They are always unique, good quality, and are some of my favorite, most worn race shirts. This year was Columbia.

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The awards...
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Bella is as excited as I am...

4. The Awards
For the award winners of the Olympic Distance race on Sunday, the prize is a glass pyramid with the design from the country of the year in the center. To receive one of those has always been an honor - and they are the lone trophies that my father proudly keeps on display in his office at work. 

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I didn't get the 'big picture' of post-race celebration - but this is what mine looked like!

5. Post-race Celebration
The race has continued the tradition of live music, BBQ, and beer. We jokingly say that we first set up our ‘race transition’ but equally important is our ‘post-race transition’ of blanket and chairs in the shade near the band and food (and some years that has even been set up before the race transition . . . ). Over the years I have come to know more and more of the racers, and enjoy catching up with them afterwards - swapping race stories, tales of past races, and those planned for the future. And - we all stop to cheer as Elvis runs in across that levee with the final finisher.

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The "King and Queen" of Memphis in May - Elvis with race director Pam Routh

I can’t tell you that the swim is in pristine waters - because it’s not. The roads are rough in places, and tend to flood if it rains too much. It can be hot and humid. The run is deceptively challenging. But the race is very well directed, the volunteers are fabulous, and it has a true family, grass-roots feel to it. It certainly has character, and continues to be one of my very favorite races that I make a point to do every year.

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This year I am VERY excited to be racing on my first ever DISC WHEEL! I feel like I have graduated into a select club . . . Thank You Frank Rehnelt!


So - the races this year had some added challenges for me. However, I was able to complete both days, and I gave it the best I had. I enjoyed seeing my friends out on the course - and of course Elvis and my kids cheering me on always makes my heart happy. There were some faces missing this year that I closely associate with Memphis in May . . . my father was racing Chattanooga 70.3 with Gwin Anderson, Tami Winston, and Jimmy Crossett. I always think about Shane Long, Jack Dawson, and my dear friend Ron Turney (Ron - you would have beat me handily on both swims this weekend).

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(L-R): My dad (Volker), Jack, Ron, Shane, and Lance - back in the day!

My sister Robyn and her husband Fred were missing as well. And, I always, always think of my Canadian friends who for many, many years loaded up, drove through the night, and spent the weekend with my family. On the flip side - it was really cool to know so many people racing - and share words (or nods, or just thumb’s up) of encouragement along the way. As I crossed that levee on Sunday, I took a moment to take it all in. The crowds, the finish, the memories - and I was just so incredibly happy to be right where I was, in that moment, back where my triathlon story began.

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Out to the run!
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Finish line - with my good friend George!

 

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One more flashback - post-race party - my dear friend Colleen, Gwin, my dad, and Ron


If you are perchance interested in hearing more about my ‘challenges’ since returning home from Japan, and those that arose during the weekend’s races . . . I debated long and hard about recording them. However, the ‘rest of the story’ (seems my favorite phrase these days - anyone remember Paul Harvey news? I always listened to that with my dad when he drove me to school as a kid . . . but I digress) is available. You will have to go to my website -
www.kirsten-sass.com  and scroll down - it will be just below the Memphis in May post and is titled - 

“A Series of Misfortunate Events - May The Light Shine”.

Read at your own risk . . .


A Series of Misfortunate Events - Let The Light Shine

It seems I seldom have/make time to read, but am currently reading a book called, “Daring Greatly” written by Brene Brown. In it the author discusses being vulnerable - a word that still makes me cringe, and something we (or I) learned at an early age to avoid being at all costs. Yet, every time I write one of these stories, or even toe the line at a race, I feel I am being vulnerable to an extent - putting myself out there, testing my limits, sharing my thoughts and feelings. In the book she quotes a Leonard Cohen lyric from the song “Anthem”, which really resonated with me (I love quotes you know) . . .

There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

I just love that.
Well - here’s me being vulnerable and sharing a few of my many ‘cracks’…


I hate hitting the ground. I also seldom use the word hate, but I really do hate getting hurt - especially doing dumb stuff. In fact, I go to great lengths to pay attention to avoid doing just that, because I can be somewhat clumsy - and I do (usually) learn through experience. I’m also not terribly superstitious, but it has been said that things happen in 3’s….

Number One. Backtrack to Yokohama. Amy and I met at the airport and took a shuttle bus to our hotel, which took about an hour. After a long day of traveling and a significant time-change - I was exhausted. We finally reached our destination, and while getting off the bus (which was filled with all these elite athletes including some Australian pros and Javier Gomez himself . . . ), I tripped down the stairs of the bus with my suitcase and crashed my left knee into the bus door, toppling down onto the road. Yep. Right on my kneecap. Gashed it. I was not impressed, at all. It really was more embarrassing and annoying than anything. It was swollen and hurt, but it was only superficial and (thankfully) would not affect the race. Fortunately, that was the only fall for the weekend, so it certainly could have been much worse. In fact, I wrote a whole story largely celebrating the fact that Amy and I managed to avoid hitting the ground. Well…

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One of my favorite photos - finish line with Amy


 Number Two. I got home from Japan around midnight Sunday night. Monday night was the ‘local’ time trial my family puts on. It was a beautiful day - and I was pretty excited to meet up with my multisport and cycling friends and share some stories. My coach and I decided it would be good to ride for about an hour and do some intervals before the time trial, then do the time trial and follow it up with a brick run - a good solid training day to get back on track. The time came to get on my bike, and I was ‘slightly’ tired. In fact, it took some serious mental talk (maybe including a Rule #5 moment) to get myself off the couch and onto my bike. But - it was a beautiful day, and I love to ride my bike, and I knew I would feel better for doing it. Heading out I could not get over how weird it felt to be on my bike. After riding a tandem for the past few days, I felt really wobbly by myself. However, things seemed to get better as I kept going - I did my intervals, and was heading to the medical clinic where I work before the time trial when things started feeling ‘off’ again. Now, I had a flat on my rear wheel that I changed prior to Japan, and I never discovered what caused it, so my impression was that it was going flat again causing the unstable feeling. I was less than 1/4 mile from the clinic, so decided to just ride easy (as it was not completely flat, just low), and change it when I got there. I was turning into clinic drive from the highway when suddenly I found myself skidding along the asphalt. Just like that. Fortunately - I was not run over. Unfortunately, I broke the shifter from the end of my aerobar and had road rash all down my left arm and leg. But - no broken bones. I called Jeff who was just leaving the house, and asked him to bring my other bike for me. I got my chain back on, got back on my bike, limped my way to the clinic, showered and scrubbed the asphalt out of my wounds, put on some tegaderm, got back in my kit (which fortunately only had a small hole in the side), and showed up for the time trial trying like hell to pretend nothing had happened (of course, cyclists are pretty good at spotting road rash…).

 

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Time Trial lineup - good turnout!

I made it through the 12.6 mile time trial (not surprisingly it was not my finest effort), and even did a short brick run after. (For the record, none of this was the smartest decision, but I can be slightly stubborn, and I did notify my coach before said time trial, who advised me to eat ice cream and sent me a picture including beer and guacomole, and told me the the time trial might be therapeutic but I could skip the brick run if I wanted to - might I add I absolutely love my coach, she is awesome - thank you Suzanne Atkinson!). So - what caused my wipe-out? Probably a combination of many things. When I later checked the bike my front tire (not the rear after all) was low, and my back wheel was not secure. Bottom line - it happened, it sucks, but gotta just keep moving forward and deal with it (I will spare you the photographic evidence....).

As I really do not like making a fuss, I tried like crazy to pretend everything was ok at work the next few days. I wore long sleeves to cover my skinned up arm, and stood as much as I could. Road rash never happens in great places you know - it’s areas that you need to apply pressure - like your butt, or your forearm right where it rests in the aerobars. Of course. I also managed to continue my training - although it brought new meaning to making deposits in the ‘pain account’. And then it was time for my FAVORITE race weekend - Memphis in May.

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With Elvis, Pam Routh (race director), and one of my all-time favorite race announcers....

Number Three. So - there is just no way to hide road rash in a tri suit. Period. I was just praying for a non-wetsuit swim Saturday morning - and that was granted. I figured the worst part of the race would be getting through the swim without anyone crashing into my left side . . . and that worked out too. Sweet. Through transition, onto my favorite part of the race - the bike. Just as I am mounting my bike something hits me hard from behind . . . and just like that I am on the ground. Again. Right foot and right palm bloody from the asphalt. Again. Someone had run into me from behind - OK, not much I could do, get on my bike to go, but something was wrong. Rear wheel was off. Usually I can deal with setbacks pretty calmly and keep my composure - but I can’t say that I did very well this go-round. Something about so recently hitting the ground, hurting like crazy already, then going down again, plus a bike mechanical on top of it - well, it was a bit much. However, I was able to get the bike sorted, and try again. Headed out on the course, shifted gears - to find that the bike shifted all the way into my hardest gear, and stayed. Right. There. I tried multiple times throughout the race to shift gears - with the same result, nothing. So, what could I do? I rode it. Good thing I like to mash gears. I just had to laugh. Especially at the turn arounds, heading back up hill - standing and mashing, just trying to make the best of the situation. And - I made it through. And - I made it through the run. And - everything hurt. But that finish line sure was an accomplishment!

Sunday morning. My five year old son, Sebastian, asks me before the race, “Mama, do you think you can ride your bike today without falling down?”. Sounded good to me, and I promised him I would try. The swim - wetsuit legal. Yep. And I wore one. Might have been the toughest part of the race, putting that thing on. But I did - and I made it through the swim.

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Surveying what was to come...

Thanks to Josh Jacobs of Bike Peddlar, my bike was back in working order, and I was very thankful to him every time I switched gears on that ride. And I knew the run was really going to hurt, so I just rode as hard as I could - ‘cause I really do love to ride my bike, despite everything. And - I managed NOT to fall off.

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Have I mentioned how much I love my bike? And my disc wheel?

Headed out on the run - a solid 30 seconds slower than my ideal pace . . . but I was running. I figure every race has about 3 goals: 1) an exceeds all expectations, everything-goes-right, best-case-scenario goal 2) a more realistic, ideal, training-pays-off goal and 3) an “I’m just gonna be happy to finish”, rule #5, make the best of it goal. Well - today was a #3 type of day. I focused on all the run form tips from my coach and from the great Bobby McGee. I thought about all the things I said to Amy last week in Yokohama, encouraging her on. I gave thumbs up to my fellow racers out there digging deep and testing their limits.

At the turn around I caught sight of my friend and competition - Kate. Interesting thing about Kate - I see that girl everywhere. I’ll be at a random race on the other side of the country, and she will be there. In the pre-dawn darkness before the start of the Vuelta Puerto Rico I look over, and there she is. Be it a triathlon or a bike race - I end up racing with her all over the place. So - she started before me in the race, and she was running strong, but I could tell she was digging deep too. I would feel a little better and reel her in, then she would feel better and pull away again. At the 5 mile mark she really picked it up and I thought, “Oh geez, she is going to sprint this last mile” - so I tried to pick it up a little, and kept her in sight. We reached that long grassy levee to the finish, and I finally catch up with her. A number of thoughts raced through my mind . . . “We could run in together, that would be pretty cool”, “I don’t really think I have it in me to beat her across the levee”, “I think she has more left to give, she should go for it” . . . and so, that’s what I told her. Something along the lines of - ‘you’ve got this. go for it. just across the levee. give it what you have left’. - probably not exactly, but that was the gist of it. And - she did. And, I couldn’t stay with her. But - it was a beautiful thing to see. We’ve all been there - testing our limits, and being able to find that extra strength to push past what we think we can do - it was so, so awesome. So, I watched Kate race across that levee and I continued to push myself with whatever I had left. I took in the crowds, the announcer, Elvis, my kids cheering me on - and I was so incredibly happy to be right where I was, in that moment, back where my triathlon story began.

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That would be Kate - charging to the finish! Thanks BPC for capturing that moment!

After the race we all congratulated each other on surviving a tough race, then gradually dispersed, but a few minutes later Kate came back over to me. She said, “I just have to give you one more hug. I just got my results, and that was my fastest run - ever”. Well, I have to tell you, every night before my kids go to bed I ask them what the best part of their day was. I can tell you right now, in a weekend full of great memories, THAT was the best part of my weekend.

So, I am now battered, bruised, and sore all over. If misfortune does indeed come in 3’s hopefully I have that out of the way for a while - make that a VERY LONG while. I will confess I stopped on the way home, and I bought ice cream. And I enjoyed every bite (except the couple Jeff managed to sneak). And - that’s the story of a few of my cracks. I hope the light shines through . . . or, better yet, I hope it shines some light for someone else.

“And now you know the rest of the story”

Thanks for reading.

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Women's podium from Saturday's sprint race: Kate, myself, Lesley, and Elizabeth - oh, and Elvis

Jumping In With Both Feet

Saturday, April 29. I am driving home from Cary, North Carolina, after racing the Long Course Duathlon National Championship. Just as I’m stopping for food and a stretch, my phone rings. To my surprise, it is Ivonne, the girl I guided for in a triathlon earlier this spring. I hadn’t heard from her since the race - so I was very excited that she was calling. As it turns out, she was calling to inquire whether I would be interested in guiding for another visually impaired athlete - Amy Dixon. Well, sure! No sooner did I get off the phone with her, I received an email from Helen Phipps (who helped connect me with Ivonne and the world of guiding in the first place) - making the same request. Hmmmmm - interesting. Within the next ten minutes Amy herself contacted me. And here’s the story . . . this girl has been training like crazy in preparation for a race taking place in 2 weeks. Then she was notified that her current guide would not be allowed to guide her (part of the guiding regulations are that you cannot race as a professional triathlete in any ITU sanctioned race within the past 12 months - and her current guide had). Her backup guide had an unfortunate bike crash in Ironman Texas and was awaiting an MRI on her ankle. Basically, any other guide she had used in the past was unavailable - and she was faced with the possibility of not being able to race . . . simply because she had no one to guide her. Can you imagine? There was one slight logistical challenge . . . she was scheduled to leave for the race in 9 days - the location, Japan.

Wow. What a situation. I have to say, I am a big believer that things happen for a reason. I knew immediately that - if I had no obligations (i.e. a family with two little kids and a job) - I would have told her yes immediately, without hesitation. There is just something about guiding that I am very passionate about, and although I readily admit I am very inexperienced, I am willing to put in the effort and work to change that. However, I needed to clear it with family and work, so I told Amy I would let her know by the end of the weekend. I also let her know in no uncertain terms about my newness to guiding, and asked her to use me as a last resort - if any of her other guides could possibly help her their experience would definitely be more of an advantage.

     I am blessed with the most incredibly supportive husband. No sooner did I explain the situation to Jeff he was behind it 100%. Without a moment’s hesitation he told me I absolutely should go. He is amazing, and I don’t take for granted how lucky I am. Now, what to do about work? Again, I am fortunate that my job (and boss) is also supportive of my racing and opportunities - so we managed to schedule some extra hours of work in the week coming up in order to get the next week off. It indeed takes (more than) a village - let me tell you. I owe big thanks to my work scheduling department and my absolutely wonderful, hard-working, never-complaining, go-the-extra-mile nurses who helped me through the week. I gave Amy the green light, and as she had found no other guides available, on Tuesday I found myself with a ticket to fly to Japan in 6 days. Pretty crazy.

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    So, as I have mentioned, I am still very new to guiding. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times I have been on a tandem. And - I’m not a fan of doing things half-way. If I was going to fly across the world to help someone with a serious race, I wanted to be as prepared as I could be. All accounts said that the course in Japan was very technical on the bike. That was fine - except for my concerns with handling a tandem. I needed to find SOMEONE to ride a tandem with, to work on some handling skills. My brave sister, Robyn, was kind enough to ride with me before I went to race with Ivonne - and might I add that when she trusted me enough to ride with me it was the first time EITHER of us had ever been on a tandem. I knew I could count on her to help me, but what I really needed was someone experienced with handling a tandem who could teach me. I contemplated driving to Chattanooga (a 5 hour drive one way for me) to ride with one of Amy’s teammates - but the weather was iffy and time too valuable. Suddenly, I had another idea . . . a long-time family friend lives an hour from me, has a tandem, and is an experienced bike racer - maybe he could help me. So, I messaged Shane Long. This was Wednesday night - and incredibly it worked with both our schedules to meet the next morning. The day dawned grey and rainy, which was actually just what I needed to practice in. Shane was amazing - he took me around (and might I add he is the first person I have been brave enough to ride a tandem with as pilot), and I was able to appreciate the back-seat perspective. As we switched positions and I practiced cornering and turn-arounds I had to laugh as Shane made my favorite comment of the day . . . “Woah, it’s scary back here”. Let me add that was just when we first started, and he was more comfortable (at least I hope) by the time we finished. However, it still makes me laugh . . .


    And before I knew it, I was landing in Japan. Amy and I arrived on Tuesday night, checked into our hotel - and slept. Wednesday morning we did a little run together - which went really well. After breakfast my lack of bike mechanic skills were again blatantly obvious as I watched her put together her tandem.

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And - let me tell you about her bike. It.Is.Amazing. She calls her ‘Bomber’ - she is a sleek, black, custom designed Calfee with Di2 shifting, and race wheels. A cadillac of bikes to put it mildly. Beautiful. And fast. We did our first ride together, appropriately enough, in the rain. Not only that, the practice course was on a cobble-stone type surface, slippery, and was probably less than 1/2 mile long with 3 turn arounds. For those of you who don’t like to do a turnaround on your bike in the middle of a 2 lane road by yourself - I want you to picture this: Raining. Wet. Slippery. Tight corners. Other riders in front of and behind you. Officials at every turn watching you. Barricades. On a tandem. With someone visually impaired trusting you. Now flip that and imagine the same scenario except you are on the back - and you are visually impaired. Riding with someone you have never ridden with before and don’t even know if they can handle a bike. I hope you get the picture.

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    However, once again it was just the type of conditions we needed to practice in. And - we did not go down, or even come close to it. And, we felt a lot better having practiced. In fact, on Friday morning when we did our actual course preview, none of the turns seemed like a big deal at all.


    Amy and I hit it off right from the start. She too has an amazing story. She grew up in Connecticut, and by the time she was in her 20s she was a pharmacy student at the University of Connecticut by day and waiting tables by night. Then, things started to change. One evening, as she went to pour a glass of wine, she missed the glass. She found herself bumping into objects she simply didn’t see. At first it was easy to chalk it up to being overtired, “burning the candle at both ends” - school, work, studying, and little sleep. But things continued to progress - she started tripping without knowing why, and even missed steps taking several tumbles down flights of stairs. This seemed to get worse at night or when the lighting was poor. Her mother visited and was alarmed by the number of bruises covering her body, and knew something was amiss. Since childhood Amy had suffered from migraines, and as fate would have it, her neurologist refused to refill her medication without seeing her for a check-up. During the visit, Amy mentioned her strange vision issues, and when her neurologist tested her visual fields found her peripheral vision was absent. He immediately recommended that she see an opthalmologist. Amy stalled, her busy schedule with work and school did not leave time for another appointment, and she had no health insurance and really could not afford to pay another bill. Sensing that she would not follow through, her neurologist cleared the rest of his schedule for the day and personally escorted her to the specialist. What followed were a series of tests and consults ending with a diagnosis of multifocal choroiditis - a very rare, progressive eye disease that generally results in complete vision loss…blindness.

    Again, imagine the situation. You are 22 years old. You are in school, have a great job, a full and busy life . . . and suddenly out of the blue someone tells you that you are losing your ability to see and that within the next few years you will be blind. How do you think you would react? No. No way. Not me. I’m fine. I’ve always been fine. You must have me confused with someone else. There’s no way that’s happening to me. That can’t happen to me. You guys must be crazy. You’re wasting my time. I’m outta here.

    And, that’s what happened. Except, things didn’t get better. In fact, they continued to get worse. More spilled wine. Collisions with waiters whom she just couldn’t see. More bruises and falls and even a few broken ribs. Finally, Amy decided to seek the opinion of her long-time family doc (aka her pediatrician). She gave him the whole story, and he encouraged her to go back to the specialist. Still with no money and no health insurance, she saved all her tips and paychecks for the next 6 weeks, and made an appointment. The verdict was still the same. And, the treatments began. Numerous eye surgeries over the span of a few years. Medications and side-effects. Some left her sick. Some left her unable to move - resulting in her lying on her office floor until the security guards came to check on her. Some - lead to malignancy, melanoma, resulting in further medications and treatments. Yet, through all this she persevered. When the steroid treatments resulted in weight gain, she knew she had to take action. She started swimming and running - lost 60lbs, and found triathlon.

    And - that is the short version. Visually impaired, still plagued with migraines, and with bowel disease that has surfaced along the way (she suffered a bowel obstruction just days before leaving for Japan, ending up with a hospital stay), it makes “just” swimming/biking/running sound easy. Yet this girl refuses to be stopped. She trains hard, remains upbeat and positive, and is a true example of perseverance. There’s a gatorade quote I love that states, “You can throw in the towel or use it to wipe the sweat from your face” - well if anyone ever had an excuse (or 20) to throw in the towel, it is Amy Dixon - yet she continues to hold on fiercely and sweat it out.

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    Race morning. Grey. Windy. Rainy. But - spirits were high. Really, at the end of the day, we were here. Racing was better than not. We had nothing to lose. Our goals - stay safe, have fun, race hard. And - we did. We had a smooth, steady swim. We stayed on course.

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At swim course preview


 

We exited to transition feeling good. Onto the bike. During the first lap (it was a 4 lap course), coming around a corner we hit a slick spot and the back wheel slipped - it caught just fine, but it did get our attention. Then on the back of the course there was a really tight chicane of right-left-right, lined with barricades, and as I went to brake . . . we barely slowed. Hmmmmmm. “Amy - we don’t have much in the way of brakes. I’m just gonna warn you. So - the turns are going to be slow and cautious.” But - we did just fine. Every lap got a little better. We went hard when it was safe, and we kept the turns conservative. I got really good at avoiding paint and manhole covers - let me tell you. And - then it was on to the run. Just out of transition, Amy’s stomach cramped into knots. We had a 3 lap run, and despite the added challenge, Amy ran strong. She never gave in, never slowed, kept it strong and steady - and kept moving forward. She accelerated all the way down the blue carpet to the finish line - and crossed as a champion. Officially she finished 4th - but it was a win on so many different levels. We stayed safe. We raced hard. And - we had FUN.

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I met so many incredible athletes over the 5 days I spent in Japan. People who fate has dealt a hard hand to - and who have persevered and overcome - who have made the best out of tough situations. I don’t know all the stories, and I certainly cannot begin to imagine all the day-to-day challenges - much less how those challenges are multiplied by doing a triathlon (think different prosthesis needed from bike to run, different chairs from bike to run, needing a ‘handler’ or someone to help you, the list goes on).

I am so very thankful to Amy for giving me this incredible opportunity, and trusting me to be her eyes. To all those who I met, and who raced in Yokohama - I have nothing but respect. Thank you for letting me be a part of it. I cannot even begin to tell you how much it affected me. Inspired. Humbled. Honored.

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We seldom know why things happen the way they do. Sometimes we are given opportunities or challenges - and accepting them is not always the easy answer. But, sometimes you just have to trust your instincts, take a leap of faith, and… jump in with both feet.

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For more about Amy Dixon check out her website:  http://www.amydixonusa.com

 

And some randomness...

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Incredible floral display on the run course

 

 

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Pretty serious about umbrellas....
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...and their toilets. First place I've ever returned home from and been disappointed by our bathrooms....
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And - also serious about bikes!


 

 

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The beautiful red brick warehouse district - part of the bike course


 

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The "Garden Necklace" - beautiful run course


 

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Couldn't resist adding in my soccer players :)

 

 


Venturing Into New Waters...

Please allow me to introduce you to an incredible woman. Her name is Ivonne Mosquera-Schmidt. At age 1 she was diagnosed with retinoblastoma (retinal cancer), curable but with a steep price, the loss of both of her eyes. Despite this fact, she has tackled more challenges than most of us with both eyes and full sight. Growing up in New York City, she learned to dance tap, ballet and jazz with the National Dance Institute - and performed at places like the Lincoln Center, Madison Square Garden (NYC), and the JFK Center (Washington D.C.). She can rock-climb, cross-country ski, downhill ski, and hike (she has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro). In 2001 Ivonne started running, and excelled. She has done 14 marathons (including a 3:22 in the 2008 Boston Marathon), and currently holds the American record for Totally Blind Women in the 1,500, 3,000, and 5,000 meters.
Eventually she ventured into the world of triathlon, and again excelled winning the Visually Impaired Female Triathlon USA National Championship in the Olympic Distance from 2007-2010, and she also holds Paratriathlon World Championship gold medals in both the sprint and olympic distances.

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Ivonne with her husband, John

When paratriathlon was excluded from the Paralympic games in London (2012), she switched gears and focused on her strength and passion - running. With her goal of making it to Rio (2016) she encountered a major setback . . . . experiencing extreme fatigue and other troublesome symptoms, she was diagnosed with a rare bladder cancer in May of 2014. She started chemo in July, and had surgery in November. Still not deterred, she went through her treatments and kept her dream alive, returning to running and competing in the 1500 meter finals World Championship in October of 2015. Yet another challenge reared its head when she began having pain in her left foot – and ended up with a stress fracture. Time was ticking, there were still races on the line leading up for a slot to Rio and a decision had to be made - run the race and chance the foot? The answer was yes - but sometimes a chance taken does not have the desired result, in this case Ivonne’s body had other plans and the stressed bone broke during the 2016 National Trials with 60 meters to go – but she completed the race and secured her spot on the Paralympic Track & Field Team for Rio.

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Ivonne had to wear 2 boots because one threw her off balance too much - especially with trying to juggle crutches!

 Intensive rehab followed yet again, and in her tenacious way she refused to throw in the towel. Her efforts paid off - Ivonne made it to Rio and finished 6th at the Paralympic Games for the 1500 meters!!!!!!

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After Rio, for a number of reasons, Ivonne decided to test the waters of triathlon again. Which is how our paths converged. She needed a guide, started asking some other guides, and eventually I was asked if I would be interested. This is something I have actually been contemplating for a while, and I tend to believe everything happens for a reason, so I jumped at the opportunity. Now, granted, at this time I had never been on a tandem bike (I have to admit, as much as I LOVE to bike, there just aren’t many people I trust with me on a tandem…..), and I sure had no idea what all being a guide would entail. That didn’t phase Ivonne one bit. She assured me I would be fine - and the race was on. I was still pretty nervous, and was kindly directed to a long-time guide, Caroline Gaynor, who took the time to chat with me at length, and gave me some valuable insight and tips - which made me feel much, much better.  (Check out https://carolinebikes.com )

So, the race? The CAMTRI in Sarasota, Florida. Saturday, March 11. My friend, Justin Lowe, lent me his tandem, and my sister, Robyn, was brave enough to ride it with me. We rode it twice - and it was time to head to Florida. I met Ivonne and her husband (John Schmidt) the Thursday before the race. I confess, I have never been around anyone completely blind before, and I learned a lot. The tandem they brought for the race broke down into 30 pieces. Now, my other confession is, I am no bike mechanic. I can clean my bike, I can change my tires, but for anything much more extensive than that I am more than happy to utilize my wonderful Gran Fondo Bicycles shop - or beg a bike mechanically inclined friend to help me with. So here is John telling me about how he taught Ivonne to put this bike together. Even taking pictures of all the different pieces so that if he wasn’t with her she could call him and he could look at his pictures, see what stage she was at, and help guide her through it. Yep, I was super impressed. And I witnessed it. And - I guess I have no excuses now. None.

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So, Friday was our first chance to actually practice together. Riding the tandem. Running. Swimming. Let me tell you, paratriathlon was like entering a whole different world. For the swim, you have a tether between the guide and athlete. The rule is no further than a meter apart. But - there are no standard tethers, so the athletes are left to come up with their own device that meets the regulations. Ivonne and John basically used small dog collars (easy to adjust) which were attached just between the top of the calf and below the knee, and were joined together by several elastic shoestrings. We practiced a couple hundred yards out and around a buoy, me trying to match her stroke - her left arm with my right, and keep us on course. It was all good until we turned around the buoy and I had to figure out how to get her to turn with me - the tether being on our legs meant when I turned left it pulled her leg and turned her right. Good thing we practiced!

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The tandem riding went well - kind of like a group ride where you point out the bumps and rough spots - except I was just talking her through it. “Bump coming up, curve to the right, turning left in 25 yards, uphill coming up, unclipping right foot, stopping in 3-2-1”, that sort of thing. We also had a slight uphill start - so we practiced that.

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Then, the run. So, you also have to have a tether on the run, and can be no further than half a meter apart. We used race belts and Ivonne just clipped a carabiner to mine, with the tether joining the two. It was easy to see running is where she was most comfortable. All I had to do was help guide her through the turns, make sure to warn her where the bumps or rough spots were, and make sure she didn’t get too close to the edge of the pavement. Whew. I felt better having practiced - but I was still pretty nervous. I mean, it’s one thing if you’re racing for yourself and something happens – but I wanted to make sure Ivonne had a great race (and had FUN) - and I could only hope that my inexperience wouldn’t jeopardize that.

 

Race day. We didn’t race until after 2:30. Talk about a leisurely start. It was a beautiful day - upper 70s, slight wind, blue skies. We went through all the check-in procedures, set up transition, and were ready to go. So the visually impaired category is divided into totals and partials. There was one other athlete/guide in our “total” category, and several racing in the “partial” category. All still compete against each other, but the totals got to start first. Ivonne was called to the line, we took our place, and off we went. Things went really well - there were no sharp buoy turns, we stayed on course, and I was pretty well able to match her strokes. 750 meter swim down. Out of the swim, unhook the tether, and into transition. I put Ivonne’s hand on her bike handlebars and she knew where all her gear was. Then it was out on the bike. We made it up the hill (yay), and it was a 3 loop course (18K) with a winding section on the far side of the lake, and a straight highway, headwind section back towards transition. We made it through uneventfully, made our dismount before the line (yay), and back into transition. Change into running shoes, hook tether, out on the run which was a one loop 5K.

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About 3/4 of the way to the turnaround Ivonne started to slow a bit. She mentioned maybe needing to walk. We were almost to the turnaround - so I told her. Now, yet another confession, I am not the greatest judge of distance. She - being a track runner, knows much better than I the distance covered. But - I could see the turnaround, so I made my best guess. I figured it worked, ‘cause she kept running to the turnaround, and even picked it up afterwards. Then she asked about a water stop. Well, there was one up ahead, so I made my best guess again. I tried to distract her by talking about some things I had seen during the race, but then she asked, “OK, but I’m wondering where that water stop is” - and I made my next best guess, then told her how close we would be to the finish when we reached it. We finally DID make it to the water stop, and then we were 1/2 mile out, so I just kept talking her through the course. She did amazing (and never did walk) – and crossed the finish line strong. She did call me out on my distance guessing afterwards, and we got a pretty good laugh out of it.

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Ivonne ended up 4th, and we were both happy with that. It was her first tri back in several years, our first time racing together, and the whole goal was to test things out and have fun. I think we did both successfully. I have to say, I have the utmost respect for all those athletes. For those of us who race and get caught up in our pre-race nerves, and think our training is so tough - it is easy to take what we have for granted. For those facing obstacles that make every-day life a challenge and yet are undeterred, unstoppable, and refuse to be limited - that I find extremely humbling. Think about it, next time you go out to swim, bike, run, or walk; think about it when you wake up in the morning and it is completely dark and you try to get out of the bedroom and down the hall without turning on any lights and waking up the family. Imagine the courage needed to swim in unknown waters, bike without seeing the course, run without knowing how much farther you have to go - and the absolute trust you have to put in someone who is guiding you. That is pretty freaking brave. And that’s just my experience with Ivonne. My hat’s off to all those parathletes out there - doing what they do, triathlon and otherwise. You are incredibly inspiring and reinforce the belief that Anything.Is.Possible.
Thank you.

As a side-note, it seems there is always a need for guides - so if you are willing I would highly, highly recommend it. It’s an incredible experience. You will be inspired, humbled, awed, and grateful - in a number of ways.

Thanks for reading.

And thank you, Ivonne, for trusting me to be your "guide" - although it was really you who were guiding me.

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Team WE Spring Camp

I have to tell you - I had such an amazingly fun, inspiring, good-for-the-soul weekend. You see, I am fortunate enough to be a part of a women’s cycling team . . . Team WE.

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This past weekend WE gathered together for our ‘Spring Camp’ - but more importantly it was a chance to celebrate friendship, family, and, of course, cycling. In reflection, I think one of the main reasons the weekend was so special is that it went beyond a pure ‘training’ camp and reaffirmed the knowledge that it is possible to train hard, have fun, and be family friendly. Because - WE did.

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WE rode, we ran, we swam, we cycled, and we did yoga. WE had husbands who helped watch the kids and cooked fantastic meals. WE had a mom who brought her daughters, and who took photos and helped with the sag stop. WE had kids who played hard, gave hugs, kept GrandPapa busy, and were happy to snuggle on the couch at the end of the day.

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WE had dogs to run with (even when they shouldn't have), cats, and ‘baby bunnies that will fit in the palm of your hand’ (just ask Bella).

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WE shared stories and laughs, we rode hard and spun easy, we had headwinds and tailwinds, uphills and down - and, for a few days, we embraced the luxury of letting the rest of the world go by and just enjoyed the freedom to do what we love to do.

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It is hard to carve out the time to make a weekend like that happen - so I don’t take it for granted when it all comes together. I am so very honored to know such strong, beautiful, supportive women and to call you my teammates. Thank you all for taking the time to spend your weekend with me, to Jeff for being over-the-top amazing, and to Lynn Greer at Gran Fondo for sending all kinds of goodies for us!  #BeyondBlessed

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 And . . . as usual, pictures tell the stories SO much better . . . 

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Sunday's ride with some extras - my sister and her husband, and my father (otherwise known as GrandPapa) :) - oh, and Ringo (the German Shepherd) really wanted to come...

 

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This is how we check on GrandPapa...
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My amazing husband - did all the cooking and route marking for us!

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Oh - and we had a puppy come visit too!
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Rolling on....

 

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The flip side - the brothers and neighbors checking on Jeff
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Loretta. Enough said.
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And . . . my Waylon


 

 


La Vuelta Puerto Rico

La Vuelta Puerto Rico

3 Days. 375 Miles. 1 Island. Oh yeah - in January.

Honestly, I was not sure I could do it. My goal was to try to hang with the fast group - the ‘A’ group, but the first day was around 150 miles . . . the farthest I had ever gone in one stretch was 116 miles at Ironman Chattanooga. My friend, Justin Lowe, had started trying to convince me to do the ride back in September. It sounded like a good challenge - but I was still racing and was more focused on finishing up the season. Then came December. And cold. And gray. I had taken some time off the bike and when I started back I immediately was reminded of just how much I really, really, love to ride my bike. But the cold and gray - not so much. About that time Justin sends me this beautiful beach pic - you know the kind, blue skies, sunshine, palm trees - and the caption read “But this in January!”.

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Something like this . . .

And - I was sold. Within 24 hrs I had registered and booked flights. Jeff and the kids were going to come, and two of my brothers (for the destination not the ride). Justin and his wife (my teammate Martha) have gone the past 3 years, (this was their 4th time) and another cycling friend of ours (Tom Gee) has been eight times. Our friend Mark Green was making his first trip there too - so we would have a good group.

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Thursday fun ride - with Justin and Mark, and a whole group from Texas

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Nothing like signing up to ride that much mileage in that short of time to inspire you to ride your bike - let me tell you. Cold and gray paled in comparison to not being able to complete the distance. Granted, I had a late start, and still felt I had nowhere near the miles I really needed to have a solid ride there - but I was going to give it my best shot.

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Let the adventure begin! With Mark, Justin, Martha, myself, and Tom

Friday morning’s ride started in the dark. The ride was divided into ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ riders based on ability. We all rode together as a group for the first 16 miles at an easy pace, and then the groups divided. There was another girl in the ‘A’ group - my friend Jennifer Assali whom I have raced with as a teammate, and we have competed against each other. Let me tell you, I was SO excited to see her there! Her husband, Said, also rode with the ‘A’ group. When the group divided, the pace went from super easy social, to fast and furious. My goals were - to stay safe (ie avoid potholes and sketchy riders), stay out of everyone’s way, to hang with the ‘A’ group as long as I could, and - to have fun. I managed to stay with the group to the next stop - breakfast. And, so it went - stopping every 20-30 miles or so for a break, and then off we would go again. There were some ‘easy’ pace moments - and some ‘race’ pace moments. There were times I wondered if I could hang, and there were times I wondered if I should - ie. by going so hard was I going to be able to make it the entire distance? And - how would tomorrow go? My decision was just that I wanted to see how long I could stay with the group - worse case scenario I would have to drop back . . . but I would face that when it happened.

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We had such a fantastic group of riders. There were a group of Puerto Ricans that rode for a local bike shop - “The Bike Shack”. Included in the group was Xavi - a world champion triathlete. Then there was my buddy, Angel. He told me, “My name is Angel, but I am called ‘Velcro’ - ‘cause when a gap opens up, I’m the one who pulls it back together”. And - he could. He took care of me throughout the weekend - often looking back to make sure I was on his wheel, and giving a nod of approval when he saw I was.

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With "Velcro"

Justin was one of the team captains, as was Bobby Lea (a 3 time Olympian in track cycling, and multi-time national champion) and one of the nicest and most humble champions I have ever met.

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With Bobby Lea

Everyone in the group was safe, supportive, and all were excellent riders. I got dropped on a few of the climbs, but was able to find someone riding my pace and we would chase until we all regrouped. One - Miguel - I found was my climbing buddy - he was a little stronger than me so I always tried to just hang with him as long as I could.

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My climbing buddy - Miguel

The scenary was beautiful. We went past sandy beaches, winding roads through small towns, farmlands, and roads lined with trees like tunnels. There were hills to climb, and some fun descents, a lunch at a lighthouse overlooking the ocean, and a night in the surfer town of Rincon.

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Justin and I at our lunch stop on the first day. Not bad for January, let me tell you.
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Our TN group upon arrival in Rincon

The last morning our ‘A’ group was down from around 40 riders to about 18. We took a pic with the ocean background, and as everyone was heading down to start Bobby Lea tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Look, there is a whale out there”. As we paused and watched, there it was - surfacing for a brief moment . . . what an amazing sight.

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"A group" - final day

As Justin, Martha and I rode back in towards Old San Juan together, we glanced up and realized there was a perfect rainbow stretched across the sky in front of us. A pretty appropriate finish to an amazing cycling adventure.

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Heading back to Old San Juan

So - once again, I have been reminded that our limits are there to be tested. That if nothing is ventured, nothing is gained. That I am so thankful to have friends to encourage and push me to have experiences like this. I would never have ventured to Puerto Rico had it not been for Justin’s . . . ‘encouragement’. But, because I did, I have new friends, a new confidence in my cycling abilities, great motivation to continue to work on my cycling, and some wonderful, amazing memories of an incredible adventure in Puerto Rico. Anyone want to join me next year?!?!?

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Fun times - great friends!

And, for the record, I will not give a play-by-play account of the rest of my family's trip, but I'll let the pictures tell the tale.  I think they had a good time, but you can be the judge . . . 

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Heading to the airport. Uncle Roman keeping Sebastian in line . . . or vice versa
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A little pirate ship playground time after a Bioluminescence Night Kayak
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Dinner time
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Sebastian

 

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Roman and Ty


 

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Beach time
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Rincon



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Waterfall trip in the rainforest


 

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Sebastian's style
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A happy girl!

 

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And another happy girl . . . hahahaha

 

 

 


Do The Next Thing

January. Ohio and Tennesse. Swimming. 

100 x 100. Let me say that again. 100 x 100. That’s 10,000 yards. Of swimming. That’s a LOT of 100s.

On an absolutely frigid morning in January, a number of swimmers left their warm beds and homes (or came after working all night), and made the trek - many driving over an hour - to gather at the LIFT center in Jackson, TN. The challenge - 100x100 yards in support and honor of a dear friend of mine, Ron Turney. Many who swam know Ron, some do not. Many swam further than they ever have, some swam more 100's than they ever have, but all swam together for a common cause . . . a challenge of 100 x 100 yards of swimming to celebrate a sport that Ron loves, and to raise awareness for a terrible disease - ALS. A disease that has affected Ron Turney.

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Our first group of swimmers in the pool

I would like to tell you about Ron. First and foremost, Ron loves to swim. LOVES to swim. He started swimming at age 10 in California (1966).  He has three brothers, and he says his mother had them do two things (in hopes of keeping them out of trouble) - swim and play a musical instrument.  While his brothers also swam, it was Ron who developed a passion and talent for the water.  During high school he would swim in the morning from 5:15-6:45, had band practice from 7 - 7:45, school from 8 - 3, and was back in the pool from 3:30-5:30.  (As an aside, Ron's chosen instrument was the trombone, which he also grew to love.  He played in college, and used to play for money while at the Citadel to help with his bills.)  He went on to swim collegiate while at the Citadel, and he became a Navy Pilot in 1979. He remained active with the Navy until 1995.  While at the citadel his 'fondest' swimming-related memory was "Wicked Wednesday" - 18,000 yards, over three pool sessions during the day (and yes, I am being slightly sarcastic).  

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Ron

Ron later went on to get his MBA and eventually he began working as a pharmaceutical drug rep while living in Jackson, TN. Which is how he came into my life. You see, my father is a family doctor. He started getting into triathlons and would swim on his lunch break. One day back in 1989 or 1990 this drug rep noticed a speedo drying in the corner of his office, and they started talking swimming. Then they started swimming together. They discovered Total Immersion and the importance of technique and efficiency when applied to the swim stroke.  Then they started racing triathlons together. And he became a good friend - basically he became family. Ron was always my 'gold standard' to see where I stacked up when we raced together.  If I could come within a couple minutes of his swim time at the Memphis in May Triathlon - I felt like I had a successful race.

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At the Memphis in May Triathlon in the '90s - (L to R): my dad, Jack, Ron, Shane, and Lance

 Ron moved to Ohio the winter of 1999. He continued to swim and race triathlons, and became very active in the swim scene there. He was asked to coach a kids YMCA swim team, which is where he met and became good friends with pro triathlete Amy Javens.  Eventually he went on to start coaching a High School swim team - he basically took a group of kids with no swimming background, taught them to be efficient swimmers using Total Immersion swim technique, and those kids went on to qualify for the district championships.  

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Ron in Ohio

Ron continued to race triathlons pretty competitively, but in 2009-2010 he started having difficulty with his running due to muscle cramps.  At his annual physical he mentioned this and was advised to drink more water, that maybe it was just part of the 'aging process'.  He turned back to swimming to give his legs a rest, and swam pretty competitively with a masters group.  The muscle cramps continued though, affecting his shins even while swimming.  He then started feeling like he was losing some strength - he would do 'pop-ups' (like pushups) onto the pool deck and found them getting increasingly difficult.  Next the muscle cramps started occurring at night as well.  He knew something was really wrong when one day he found he could barely do 5 pushups.  Things finally came to a head around March 2014 when he noticed he could not snap his fingers on his right hand. He had right shoulder surgery in the past and thought that might have something to do with that.  He went to see his doctor who ordered an EMG (a nerve and muscle study) and the results showed a lot of abnormalities...which is when the doctor mentioned ALS was a possibility. Within 3 weeks he was seen by a specialist, Dr. Kolb at Ohio State University, (he also currently sees Dr. Selkirk through the VA) and the official diagnosis was made. 

ALS.  Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.  Lou Gehrig's disease.  A progressive neurodegenerative disease which affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, robbing the brain of it's ability to initiate and control muscle movement until it is completely lost resulting in total paralysis.  For anyone, but especially an athlete, worse than your worst nightmare.

Two years ago, Amy started this swim challenge in Ohio - to honor Ron and bring awareness to this terrible, terrible disease.  I contemplated traveling to Ohio to join in this year, but then thought maybe there would be enough interest locally to do our own challenge here in TN. So, I ‘tested the water’ and found there was, and so - we did. 

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Some of the 2016 Ohio Swimmers - Amy on the left and Ron's son, Ryan, is in the middle

I contacted Amy, and she was 100% on board when I inquired about doing an event the same time and date as hers, but here in TN. I then approached the LIFT Wellness Center, a state of the art facility in Jackson, TN, where I do a fair amount of swimming and training; and they were also 100% on board as soon as I mentioned the idea. They opened early, made sure their staff was available, and donated all proceeds to ALS. My husband, Jeffery M Sass, was a huge help in coordinating everything so I could swim, and was one of the first ones in and the last ones out of the pool at the end (although there was a little hot tub time in there....)

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Just keep swimming . . .

 As I was trying to coordinate the event as well as participate, I did not have an opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to those who came. So - thank you. As a group we swam over 25 miles. Although the challenge is to draw awareness and raise money for ALS, for many it became a personal challenge to test oneself - mentally as much as physically. It is so easy to become complacent and take for granted the things we can do....until we no longer can. I hope this challenge will continue - for ALS as well as to remind us how lucky we are to be able to do what we do, and to test those limits. I would also like to say a huge thank you to Ron. No one knows how many lives they touch, in countless ways. Suffice it too say, you have touched quite a number. On this day, we swam for you. You cross my mind frequently, in so many ways - your strength is an inspiration.

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Ron with his wife Robyn

A few days before the swim, Ron called me. He was very touched that we were doing a swim challenge for him. He proceeded to tell me how he has a saying kind of like the ‘Keep Moving Forward’ idea. His is “Do The Next Thing”. You see, he told me, one day last year he wanted to ride his bike. He tried several times, but kept falling because his muscles and balance just would not let him. Now, there are many different possible reactions Ron could have had. It would have been easy to get angry, or depressed, or give up. But instead, he told me - “So, I just moved on to the next thing I was able to do - “Do The Next Thing”. And, folks, that has got to be one of the bravest, strongest, most optimistic and amazing things I have ever heard. Although I wish I could say I would be so strong I don’t know that I would. I have thought about that a lot in the days since. When the weather is cold, gray, and windy and I need to get out on the bike. When it’s dark and raining and early and I’m heading out to run. And, especially, when I am swimming. Somehow my excuses and lack of motivation evaporate when I reflect back on those words . . . “Do The Next Thing”.

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Ron and Robyn

I spoke to Ron again just before completing this story.  He told me his last triathlon was June of 2015.  He had to do the backstroke for the swim (freestyle was just too difficult), but he still managed to crank out the 15 mile bike at 19mph.  The run, however, is what really hurt - but of course he refused to walk. It took him 2 weeks to  recover. And he knew, that was too much.  His last time in the pool was fall of 2015, and again the fatigue afterwards and  extended recovery-time brought the realization that his swimming days were also over.


Nothing is a given. No one knows what tomorrow may bring. Seize your opportunities and make the most of what you have. Use your talents to their fullest. Chase your dreams. Refuse to settle. And when all else fails - Do The Next Thing.

Thank you Ron for being an inspiration.

I am proud to know you.

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My dad and Ron

 

And . . . more pictures:

 

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Our TN Swimmers

 

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Don and Susan Vaughn

 

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Shane Long
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Dave Wood

 

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Matt Joiner
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Gwin Anderson
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Our swim distance

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