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:  https://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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AlyssaBella
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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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Race Results: 2015-2017

 

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Kirsten Sass

Race Resume 2017

 

Date               Race                      Place        

 

4/9           Los Locos Duathlon Sprint                      1-F

4/29         Long Course Duathlon Nationals           1- AG 

5/20         Memphis In May Sprint Tri                     1 - AF

5/21          Memphis in May Olympic Tri                 1 - AF

6/17          Duathlon Nationals Standard                2 -F, 1 - AG

6/17          Duathlon Nationals Sprint                    1 - AG

6/25         Chattanooga Waterfront Tri                 1 - F

7/8           Paris Landing Sprint Tri                   1-F

7/23        Music City Tri                                      1 -F  

7/28 - Edmonton ITU Paratriathlon

             (Guiding Amy Dixon)

8/6 - Riverbluff Olympic Distance                1 - OA


8/12 - USAT Olympic Distance Nationals    1 - F


8/13 - USAT Sprint Nationals                          1 - F

8/19-27:  Penticton 2017 ITU Multisport World Champion Festival

8/19 -  Sprint Duathlon, draft-legal               1 - AF
8/21 - Standard Duathlon, non-draft            1 - AF
8/25 - Aquathlon                                               4 - AG
8/27 - Aquabike                                                 2 - AG (3 - AF)

9/9 - 70.3 World Championship, Chattanooga     6 - AG

9/17 -  ITU Standard Dist Tri World Championship     2- AG

10/14  - Ironman World Championships, Kona         38 - AG
11/4  - Ironman Florida                                                   4 - AG

11/12 -  Aquabike National Championship                   2 - AG
                Long Course Tri Natl Championship             1 - F

 

F: Overall Female
AF: Amateur Female (for races which included professionals)
AG: Age Group
OA: Overall (Male and Female)

 

Awards:

Age Group National Championships -6

Long Course, Sprint and Standard Duathlon

Sprint, Olympic, and Long Distance Triathlon

 

ITU World Championship Age Group - 2 Gold, 2 Silver

Sprint and Standard Duathlon (Overall Female)

Aquabike (Silver)

Standard Distance Triathlon (Silver)

 

2016:

 

4/10     Los Locos Duathlon Sprint                                1-F

4/24     Cape Girardeau Tri Sprint                                 1-F

5/14     Long Course Duathlon Nationals               4-F, 2-AG

5/21     Memphis in May Tri Sprint                         2-F, 1-AG

5/22     Memphis in May Tri Olympic                     3-F, 1-AG

6/5     ITU Duathlon World Championship            1-AF

          (standard distance)

6/25     USAT Duathlon Nationals - Standard           1-AF
              USAT Duathlon Nationals - Sprint                 3-F, 1-AG

7/9    Muncie 70.3                                                            1-F

7/24  Music City Tri - Nashville Olympic                   1-F

8/13  USAT Nationals Olympic                                    2-F, 1-AG

8/14   USAT Nationals Sprint                                       1-F

9/15  ITU Age Group World Chmp - Sprint              2 - AG

9/18 ITU Age Group World Chmp - Standard         1 - AG

9/24 ITU Age Group World Chmp - Long                1 - AF

10/9 Ironman Louisville                                               1 - F (no pros)

11/13 USAT Aquabike Nationals                                 2 - F, 1 - AG

           USAT Long Course Tri Nationals                    2 - F, 1 - AG

 

Awards:

USA Triathlon Female Amateur Triathlete of the Year, 2016
USA Triathlon Female Amateur Duathlete of the Year, 2016

Age Group National Championships - 6,

ITU World Championship Age Group - 3 gold, 1 silver  

 

2015

 

3/28     Whistlestop Duathlon 10k/40k/2mile     2-F

4/12     Los Locos Duathlon 2mi/15mi/2mile        1-F

4/26     Cape Girardeau Tri                                         1-F

4/19     New Orleans 70.3 1/2 Ironman                    1-AF

5/16     Memphis In May Tri Sprint                           1-F

5/17     Memphis In May Tri Olympic                       1-F

6/6     Duathlon National Sprint                                1-F

6/6     Duathlon Nationals Standard                         1-F

6/7     Escape from Alcatraz Olympic                 1-AG, 2-AF

7/11     Paris Landing Tri, TN Sprint                         1-OA

7/25     Music City Tri, TN Olympic                             1-F

8/8     USAT Nationals Olympic                             2-F, 1AG

8/9     USAT Nationals Sprint                                     2-AG

9/17     ITU Worlds Tri Sprint                                     1-AG

9/19     ITU Worlds Tri Olympic                                 1-AF

9/27     USAT Nationals Tri 1/2 Ironman                 1-AF

11/7     Draft Legal Tri Sprint                                        1-F

11/8     Draft Legal Duathlon Sprint                             1-F

11/14     Long Course Duathlon Nationals                   1-F

Awards:

USA Triathlon Female Amateur Triathlete of the Year, 2015
USA Triathlon Female Amateur Duathlete of the Year, 2015

Age Group National Championships - 5

ITU World Championship Age Group - 2 gold 

 


Giving Thanks and Second Chances

Thanksgiving is long gone, but here are some updates (I'll keep it brief). . .  

 

The ‘Turkey Trot" has been a long-standing tradition in my family. Over the years more and more Thanksgiving-day races have appeared, but our standard is the Gold’s Gym Turkey Trot in Jackson, TN. Last year we decided to have a ‘non-traditional’ Thanksgiving at the beach…and managed to stop and do the race on the way (not all of my family members were terribly impressed by that decision - but it is hosted by a gym so there were showers after….)
This year it appeared to just be my father and I upholding the tradition - but my sister Robyn and brother Ty actually made it as well. And - it was great. Met up with friends and local competition - and was so thankful to be able to take part.

 

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#756 is my sister Robyn...

 

     When my dad dropped me off at home, my children came charging out of the house all fired up. Sometime that morning, they went outside and found Waylon, right on the front porch. Lean, haggard, barely walking, but alive!!!!!!!

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The vet reported he would be fine, just some serious arthritis.  That night when my family gathered together for Thanksgiving dinner, we went around the table each saying what we were thankful for.  When Sebastian's turn came, he just whispered, "Waylon".  

 

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So, Waylon and my Dixie now have some super plush pillows just inside the front door.  These days when I head out for a run they sometimes come with me to the end of the driveway, other days they make it out the front door, and some days they shake their heads and pretend to keep sleeping. And, I am perfectly fine with any of those scenarios. Although the road remains empty beside me as I run, the ache in my heart is gone, and it is enough to have them at home to greet me when I return.   Not very often life hands you a second chance - I am beyond thankful.

 

And, with that, it seems the year is about complete. Here’ s a pretty good summary:

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I have a soccer player, a pirate, an Elvis, a Merckx….and my Waylon. Can’t ask for more than that.

Hope you are as blessed. Merry, Merry Christmas. Life is Good.

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(However, let me just add that if skunks are involved, that front door spot may have to be renegotiated).


A Tribute To My Running Partner

One of the most frequent questions I am asked is, ‘How do you fit it all in? How do you balance training/work/family/etc?’. My ‘easy’ answer is, “I get up really early”. And - I do. As such, I am very limited in training partners - especially for running. However, I have four who - no matter the hour, weather, distance, or duration, are ALWAYS ready before me, and ALWAYS excited to run. My dogs. (*disclaimer, two are ‘mine’ and the other two belong to other family members but are a little confused about that and live with, and run with, me - hence I will call them mine).

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Let me share with you a little history. My husband (Jeff) and I received our first dog in 2006 as a gift from a girl at work - an early wedding present and our first ‘baby’ - a Border Collie we named Dixie (as in the Chicks). My parents long ago started naming our dogs after bands/musicians and we continued the tradition. Over the years our family has had: Ringo, Fiona, Alanis, Conway and Merle (both bloodhounds - and my father currently has a Loretta - one of the owner confused dogs who runs with me), and - of course - Elvis.

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Sebastian and Loretta

 

Later that year Jeff came home with a ‘Walmart Dog’ - you know, the kind someone is giving away from a cardboard box outside the supermarket. He was a lab/cocker spaniel mix - looked just like a little yellow lab. His brother came with him, as a gift to my brother (another of the dogs who currently runs with me). So - this little pup wailed like nobody’s business every night, for the longest time. No surprise, the perfect name for him was . . . Waylon. And his brother became - Willie. Well, not only did Waylon wail at night, when he started running with me and we would happen across a deer or rabbit in the early morning hours - he would take off after it - wailing and whimpering the entire way. Needless to say - none of the wildlife was ever in danger, and I had a lot of good laughs. The other thing Waylon had an affinity for were - skunks. At first, it was kinda funny. We thought maybe he was confused - Dixie had the same coloration and was about the same size at that time as a skunk - and we laughed that he was just after her and ended up with a skunk instead. But, he never did grow out of it. It would never fail, I would be about 1/2 mile into a 20 mile run, and that dog would get good and sprayed, then proceed to run right in front of me for the next three hours - and I mean directly in front of me. Of course, this was a lot more funny when it happened to my father on the occasion I was not running with him . . . .

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(L-R): Willie, Waylon, and Dixie

 

So - my faithful running partners. My runs generally begin long before dawn - and often finish before that as well. We have shared springtime mornings anxiously awaiting the sound of the first spring peepers, and then whippoorwills (two of my FAVORITE sounds in the world), which give way to the muggy summertime sounds of bullfrogs and crickets, then cool crisp fall and winter as the mornings fall silent again except for the occasional yipping of coyotes in the distance (at least I hope). We have run through crazy thunderstorms with lightening racing across the sky, and under star-filled skies watching as the occasional shooting start darts across above us. The moon is generally our source of light - so the brightness of a full moon has always been one of my favorites. Together we have shared countless miles and witnessed numerous sunrises. From short recovery runs, to faster interval sessions, hill repeats, and long ‘Ironman / Marathon training’ runs - they are always there, always excited, always ready, and always happy.

 

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As the years have passed, the dynamics of our little group has changed. My partners who once forged far ahead of me or ran countless extra miles through fields chasing whatever moved, now tend to lag behind. They know all my turn around spots, and often can be found waiting patiently for me to return - or are already heading home waiting for me to catch back up. They get really excited when we happen across my father running, and wave me off to run with him instead. All of them, that is, except Waylon. Waylon has always been my most loyal of partners. Any of the neighborhood dogs who dared step out in the road as we passed by were met with a stern look, but wagging tail (the most non-aggressive, aggressive dog ever) - warning them to stay put. No matter how slowly he was moving, nor how far or fast I was running, he never turned back until I circled back . . . only then would he turn to head home with me.

I know very well that time is passing. Dixie is moving more slowly every day - and though she still makes it down the driveway with me, there are days that is as far as she goes. In the week leading up to my race in New Orleans, I noticed that Waylon was noticeably slower as well. When I returned home from racing and went for my run on Tuesday - there was no Waylon. Jeff informed me he had disappeared over the weekend. I held out hope - we live in the country, maybe he was at my dad’s? or out back? or hanging with the chickens? But when he was not there Wednesday I knew. My Waylon will never run with me again.

For over ten years that dog was with me.  How many training partners do you have that - no matter the time, the weather, or the distance, are never late, never make excuses, never complain, are always ready, waiting, and excited to run?  It didn't matter if he stayed up too late the night before (i.e. barking), if he was sore, or stiff, or hadn't really planned on running, he was always at the door when I stepped out, tail wagging, enthusiastic, begging to go run.

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Waylon

 

In my heart of hearts I know, it was a good way for him to go. No suffering. No long, drawn out illness. No having to put him up to watch as I went off for a run without him. And, reflecting on it, it only serves to reinforce my convictions - that we never really know what tomorrow may bring. It is so, so, SO very important to make the most of every day we have. Hold your loved ones close, tell your friends what they mean to you, do random acts of kindness, turn your ‘one’-days, and ‘some’-days into TODAY, be the calm in the sea of torment and turmoil that our world can be and be the best you can possibly be. Dare to dream, chase your dreams, walk that line - whatever it may be. Live you life to it’s fullest. And - hug your training partners every chance you get. ;)

Running is usually my consolation - my therapy. I will not lie - this time it has been more difficult. You see, there is this empty space in the road beside me, and an ache in my heart. However, somewhere, I know, my Waylon is running - he is running young, and spry, and carefree - and above all, he is running happy. And…probably still getting sprayed by skunks.

Thanks for reading.

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Miami Man - Finishing Up The Season With My Dad

It was SO fun to finish off my racing season, in Miami, racing with my father! He was doing the Aquabike in hopes of getting a Worlds slot - but I think mostly the two of us were just happy to be racing together. Last year I finished off my season racing the Duathlon Long Course Nationals with him - so it was nice to finish off this year with him too.

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The weather was absolutely perfect. Not too hot, or humid, or windy - just perfect. And, once again, it seemed there were a lot of people I knew that were racing - which always makes it really fun.

The 1/2 Ironman and Aquabike nationals were both being held as part of the Miami Man - and after much back and forth with the race management, I was entered to race both. The 1/2 Ironman racers went first, and as I was doing the Aquabike I started almost an hour behind them with the Aquabike wave - which combined the men and women. Now, I have done a lot of races, in a lot of places, and a lot of mass starts - but for whatever reason, this one was one of the most challenging for me. I got dunked, pulled, punched, elbowed, swam over - you name it. I very nearly pulled to the side to let the masses go by just so I could swim - but I managed to hang in there until I got some space. It was a two loop swim, and going in on the first loop was straight into the sun - my goggles fogged and I could see nothing. I just tried to follow the splashes ahead of me and hope they were going the right way. There was a short run before starting the second lap, so I took some time to clean my goggles - and the second lap was SO much better (probably because everyone was ahead of me, but at least I could swim, and see). Suffice it to say - it was not my best of swims.

Bring on the bike. Which was absolutely fantastic. Flat, and fast. I enjoyed it - too much. There were a lot of girls ahead of me after that swim, so I knew I would have to put in a good solid bike to be in contention for the aquabike. So - I rode as hard as I could, and then some. But, it was great. I couldn’t catch the lead girl, but she’s a solid athlete and I am happy that she had a fantastic race!  Great way to end up the season.

So, in all my bright ideas, I really wanted to do the 1/2 Ironman as well - largely because the run went through the zoo. However, digging that deep on the bike left a toll - starting that run I knew I was in trouble. But - the zoo was awesome. The first lap there were about 10 giraffes all running alongside the fence right beside me. Of course, on the second lap they were gone and there was a tortoise who was moving faster than me . . .
For about the last mile and a half I found a guy running about my speed and we pushed each other on to the finish - that helped (and hurt) immensely.

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By the finish my calves and feet were cramping so badly - I honestly have to say that I gave that race everything I had left after a long, crazy racing season. I was 5 seconds off the top women’s finisher for the half. It is one of the things I constantly say to myself when I’m racing: “Every second counts”. I said that while I was out there running, and knew I was slowing down. Did I have another 5 seconds in there somewhere? Maybe. But - it is equally true that had I tried to push any harder my calves would have completely locked up and I would have lost a lot more time. So, I have to conclude that I gave what I had at that time, I raced as hard as my mind and body would allow, I got to race with my dad, and - I got to run through the zoo!!!!  I really can’t ask for too much more than that!

That evening we met up with a group of friends in South Beach for a little dinner and post-race celebration. My dad (and most everyone in the group) got a slot for Worlds. And - that pretty well sums it up. Race hard, test yourself, spend time with your family, meet up with old friends, and make new ones...and when given the opportunity - run through a zoo.   It has been a great year. Life is good.


And . . . I am already excited for Penticton!!!!

 

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California meets Tennessee - in Florida

 

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John and Maday Lines - I owe most of my racing season to John's assistance - and...he beat me in the swim

 

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My friend, Kevin Elmore (and his wife), who I raced with last weekend in New Orleans, also made the trek to Miami

 


New Orleans and The Thin Line Between Amazing and Crazy

NEW ORLEANS DRAFT LEGAL TRI/DU TURNED ‘DOUBLE DU’
THE THIN LINE BETWEEN AMAZING AND CRAZY

I would like to share a story with you. It is about a girl, named Kimee Armour. You see, Kimee has a burning desire to compete in the World Championship for Duathlon to be held in Penticton, Canada, in 2017. At the Duathlon National Championship qualifier which was in Bend, Oregon in June, she missed qualifying. Her only other chance was going to be at the Draft Legal race in New Orleans on November 6th. The challenge? She was entered to race Ironman Florida the day before… November 5th. Did that stop her? No. She prepared her Ironman gear, and packed a bag for the Duathlon the next day. She set an almost 2 hour PR for her Ironman, and hit the road with her husband driving from Panama City to New Orleans, and raced the Duathlon mere hours after finishing an Ironman. AFTER FINISHING AN IRONMAN. Most of us are doing good just to walk after finishing an Ironman….maybe just stand up. The race announcer recognized her at the starting line - and stated, “There is a thin line between amazing and crazy”.

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Pre-Race - with Kimee


 As for me - well, I had a great time in New Orleans. The children are beyond their max allowable days of school missed, so Jeff graciously allowed me to go race. I met up with my friends Bruce Heiser and Dan Hammond from Nashville when I arrived - and they took such good care of me. Between the two of them we found some of the coolest restaurants with the best food off-the-beaten-track that you can imagine! Kevin Elmore and Marc Mone from Cali joined us on Saturday night - and it was a wonderful evening swapping stories and laughs (and a really funky restaurant).

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Bruce, Dan and I after the "Tri" turned Du
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Bruce, myself, Marc, Kevin, and Dan

And the races! So, the weather turned on us Saturday morning and the race mgmt and officials were faced with the tough call of canceling the swim. There were numerous upset folks, but I have to agree with the decision. While the water itself was swimmable, it was more the exit that was the deciding factor (as far as I could tell). With the chop crashing on the concrete embankment, there was a huge risk for getting people out safely. Could it be done? Sure. Could everyone do it safely? No way. It just was not worth the risk. So - the triathlon became a duathlon. 5k run, 20k bike, and 5k run. Ironically, the very same race that was to be held the next day. For all those triathletes that have been hesitant to do a duathlon - there ya go!

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Beautiful morning . . .
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Pre-Race with Rachel Capshaw


Draft legal is just a different type of race. The men raced first and it was fun to cheer on all the guys I knew racing and see how the draft format played out. In my race, running that first 5k there were several girls out in front and my ‘strategy’ was to try to finish with the lead girls and hopefully work together on the bike, then see what was left for the last run. By the end of the 5k there was one girl about 10sec up - I managed to head out of transition ahead of her and called to her to come and let’s work together on the bike. There was a short hill out of transition beginning the bike, and I slowed up to see if she would catch up -when she hadn’t by the top I just decided to go ahead. There was a pretty sweet tailwind for the first mile to the turnaround, and I figured she would catch up there. The turnaround came, and she was still behind me, so I just settled in and decided to ride my race. If she caught me, great - we would be able to work together. If not - well, what would be would be. It was a two loop bike, and there was a stiff headwind as well (the price you pay for a sweet tailwind). A chase pack had formed behind me, and I kept expecting them to catch me at any moment. Somehow I managed to hold them off and had enough of a lead to make it through the last run. Might I add - the crowds were just fantastic! The 2 loop course on the bike meant going by the main staging area several times - and the cheers helped SO much!

 

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The guys - Bruce, Kevin, Marc, and Dan
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My photo bomb attempt on Kevin - was laughing to hard though....

Sunday morning I have to confess, I REALLY enjoyed watching the men’s race. There was a group from Memphis that came down to race together - and I almost forgot I was racing I was so excited to see how it all played out (and they did fantastic)! My race ended up about the same - several girls ahead of me on the run, entered transition with one, hoped to work with her on the bike, didn’t work out, rode as hard as I could, expected to be caught any moment, somehow wasn’t, crowds were even BETTER than Saturday (including the Memphis contingent who stayed to cheer which REALLY made my day, and Tim Yount who I always love to see!), and in some unimaginable way, I managed to defend my win from last year!

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The Memphis BPC guys
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Pre-race with Pam Tate (also from Memphis)

 And, (yes I made you read all that to get to the main point of my story) Kimee Armour raced. She raced with everything she had left. Not only did she race, but she got her slot, by 42 seconds.

 And that, my friends, is what life and sport are all about. You find something you are passionate about. You dedicate yourself to it. You dare to dream, you push yourself, you test your limits, you do what others might deem impossible. And, yes, you may have to walk that fine line between amazing and crazy. Otherwise you might never know . . . nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Walk that line.

Anything.Is.Possible.

 

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And a few more random pics . . . just 'cause:

 

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The 'Best Seat in The House' from the restaurant Saturday night
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Running across the levee
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Saturday's podium

 

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I may have mentioned this . . . but I really love this bike!
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and this is what I came home to . . .