Thursday, June 28, 2012

Melissa Stockwell: ESPYS Nominee

I wrote earlier this week that one of the major reasons I participated in last year's Pleasant Prairie Duathlon then again this year was because of the opportunity to be on the same team as Melissa Stockwell. Melissa defended this country as a soldier in Iraq. three weeks after arriving, the vehicle in which she was riding while on patrol was hit by a roadside bomb. The explosion resulted in Melissa losing her left leg. After, surgery and medical rehabilitation, she was able to stand proudly as an above the knee amputee. The long road back from that moment eventually lead Melissa to dive into the swimming pool. As the soldier that she is, she began to compete and perform at a very high level of success. Before long, Melissa was introduced to triathlons. Of course, she took to it instantly dominating her way to the Physically Challenged National Championship. As only Melissa could, she won! This lead to representing the United States at the World Championship. Few sights are better than Melissa carrying the American flag high above her and fans yelled out "USA. USA." She stormed her way to the victory. Once was so nice, she had to do it twice. As the two time defending national and world champion, Melissa dares to be great. She dares to try and achieve. Melissa is one of the founders of Dare2Tri Chicago Paratriathlon Club where the motto is One Inspires Many. Melissa Stockwell is one who has inspired many over the last decade. I hope you will show her your appreciation as I have by logging on to the following site and voting for her to win an ESPYS Award. She is nominated as Female Athlete With A Disability Of The Year. You can vote once a day over various platforms until when the winners will be announced on July 11 on ESPN.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Lauren Runs

A few days prior to Pleasant Prairie, I began to feel anxious due to the fact that I did not have a way to get to and from the race. Thankfully, Keri Schindler of GLASA and Dare2Tri Chicago sent out an e-mail in which she notified others that Israel needed a ride. After a day, I did not see any responses. I was scared. What if I had to simply not show up? I kept thinking to myself that everything would work out for the best. Someone would come through. In fact, just to be on the safe side, I would craft a note to thank Keri while reaching out to the rest of the Dare2Tri members. Less than twenty hours before the race, I sent out my note. Within a few minutes, I received a response from a gentleman informing me that he would be glad to give me a ride from the event. An hour later, I received a phone call from another man offering to give me a ride to the race. Yes!! Everything had indeed worked out. In truth, it was better than I realized. I had a wonderful time riding up with a man named Luke while the trip back saw me enjoy a pleasant time with two fabulous individuals, Mike and Lauren. In each case, I had the privilege to trade racing stories with them while learning a bit more about them as people. I am so grateful these individuals opened their cars and hearts to me. I look forward to getting to know all of them and spending more time at various races with them too.

One of those individuals who was so kind, warm, and welcoming to me was Lauren. I wish to share more about her by asking you to please visit her blog site. I am fascinated by her writing and reflections. I have read several entries and know I will be a regular reader of her work.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Pleasant Prairie 2012

It was three years ago when I was looking to join a local running club I sent out a couple e-mails to introduce myself to those in charge of some of these clubs. One of those e-mails was sent on to Keri Schindler of Great Lakes Adaptive Sports in Lake Forest, Il. I became friends with Keri and ran in some events for GLASA. Then a little over a year ago, Keri informed me that she and a few friends had joined forces to create Dare2Tri Chicago Paratriathlon Club. One of those friends was Melissa Stockwell who had been in Iraq for only three weeks when a roadside bomb hit her convoy resulting in her losing her leg. Melissa could no longer be a combat warrior, but as a wounded warrior, she could begin the next chapter of her life towards inspiring others. After being introduced to the sport of triathlon, she dominate the Chicago event, won the PC National event at the New York City Triathlon, and raced home in first place while carrying high the American Flag at the World Championship. For Melissa, the next year was a photo copy of the previous one as she was the national then world champion. So the opportunity to be Melissa's teammate on the Dare2Tri Chicago team was a great thrill. When I participated in the 2011 Pleasant Prairie Duathlon it was mainly to have the chance to finally meet Melissa and thank her in person for the service she gave this country and for the bravery she has displayed since losing her leg. It is one thing to lose one's sight over night and overcome, it is another to lose one's leg yet come back stronger and live an extraordinary life!!

The excitement for being able to spend time with Keri and Melissa at Pleasant Prairie once more kept building as race day neared. Thank you to the wonderful people at Dare2Tri who ensured I would have a sighted guide to take me through the run and pilot the tandem bike for me. Not owning one myself, Dare2Tri would provide one for my use at Pleasant Prairie. Everything set, I laid down on Saturday night. Unlike previous race where I could not sleep due to anxiety, this time, I could not sleep due to excitement. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was as ready as I had ever been going into a race. I was filled with confidence that so long as everything fell into place, I would rock and roll my way through this duathlon. I tossed and turned. I could not sleep. For good measure, I tossed and turned some more. I kept sleeping then waking. Finally, it was 3:00a.m. forty-five minutes before I had intended to get up, but I figured I might as well get the party started. A gentleman by the name of Luke, had offered to give me a ride to the race sight. He arrived at half passed four o'clock and off we went to the cheese state.

After finding parking, we made our way to the Dare2Tri Chicago tent in transition. I was shivering. Luke asked if I was cold. Usually, I would be cold and anxious, but this time, I was relaxed and a bit chilly. I met Mike Wong who would be racing the duathlon and be giving me a ride home from the event. As I stood there, I was informed that there was a sweet sleek racing bike right in front of me which I should use for the race. I was excited. The racing gods were smiling on me. Then I was told that that bike was already marked for someone else. I would instead be riding a heavy duty mountain bike. My heart sank. I squeezed my quads and said to myself, "Well buddy, there's a reason you've been training as hard as you have. today, you'll display why." Volunteers came over to mark up my body with the number 4. That is the lowest number I have ever had for a race. Tom Miller arrived. He was the man who would be my sighted guide for the event. It turns out I was incorrect in writing that he is training for his first Ironman in Arizona later this year. It will be his fourth. After all preparations were made, we left transition and made our way to the start line for the sprint and olympic distance triathlons. We wanted to cheer on some of the folks we knew including Melissa and her boyfriend, Brian. I ran into a friend, Randy Egge. We wished each other luck. Randy would be putting on a show at the olympic distance. Tom had never been a sighted guide before so we did a practice jog in the parking lot as we waited for the duathlon to start. Finally, it was time to line up. I went over my final thoughts and goals. I wanted to improve from last year's performance. I would be happy if I could improve in the opening 2.5 miles by three minutes, 20K bike by at least two and a half minutes, and by four minutes in the final 5K run. In order to achieve this, I calculated that I'd simply need to stay at about an 8:30 pace for the run, about 20 MPH on the ride, then about 8:30 on the second run with an eye towards spending everything I had left in the final mile to possibly near eight minute pace. Of course, I would feel how I felt. Being with Tom for the first time, I may have to start slower, get confident with him as my eyes, then finally find my zone. I may feel strong enough to go faster than those speeds I listed. If so, do not fight it. Embrace it. Feel the pain and race through it. Gun sounded. It was time to go!

We started slow. I listened to get a feel for Tom's cues. As I have always stated, I admire those who volunteer to guide for they must be able to relay information as quickly as possible in real time. I could never do that. I did not feel comfortable. I was trying to find my level of ease. Tom informed me we were running at just over nine minutes per mile. I need to find my comfort. We reached a water station. I took some water. We worked our way back into the running. We were slipping behind my goal. I said to myself, enough is enough. Time to do this. I started building my speed. Within seconds, I was feeling great. We were moving. I felt strong. I felt happy. We were passing people. I heard footsteps nearing in front of me then quickly falling back behind me. From the moment we left that water station, we were flying. I waited for Tom's instructions. He suggested we slow down in order to conserve energy for the bike and run. I debated, but kept pressing. I was feeling good and I did not want to lose this. Finally, I realized that it did not seem like he was comfortable with running, breathing, and shouting out instructions to me so I pulled back. I asked if we had crossed one mile. "Oh yeah", Tom replied. "Way back there." As I eased up, he informed me that when he was contacted by Dare2Tri to guide me, he was told to expect me to run at a ten minute per mile pace so this was much faster than he thought we would run. How fast were we running? Tom said, 7:41 pace. Instantly, I felt bad. He was not expecting this. If we kept this up, would he have it in him to push at the end? We settled into a slower pace. We reached the end of the first run leg which is when Tom informed me that we had closed at an 8:15 pace.

I removed my tether, grabbed my helmet, and we walked the tandem out of transition. I heard screams of "Go 4!" We jumped on and we hit the road for 12.4 miles. Almost immediately, Tom struggled with finding the right gear. Unfortunately, this bike did not come equipment with too many gears so some sections especially the downhills were difficult to manage. I felt so bad for Tom. His first time piloting a tandem and he was not given the best toy to use. We struggled to adjust for the first few miles. I was churning my legs. I asked Tom how far we had gone and he said just over four miles. In that moment, instead of feeling down for doing so much work only to result in four miles, I decided to focus all my energy on positivity. Mountain or road bike, it was not going to matter. I was going to put all my trust in my training, the plan which I did my best to follow to the letter, and let that overcome any and all conditions. I pushed, pressed, and churned my legs. People cheered us on as we passed them. Others rolled by and offered an encouraging word as they passed. many praised Tom for guiding me. One cyclist rolled up and said, "Hey, that's cheating. There are two of you." I smiled and said, "Hey, you're cheating. You're using your sight." He laughed. "You guys are great. Keep it up." He rolled on as did we. Tom yelled out that we had one more hill than a sprint into transition.

We jumped off the bike, grabbed some liquids, and put on my tether. We headed to the final 5K run. This is it. Can Tom and I handle eight minute miles? Once we started rolling, it did not seem possible. I wanted to keep digging. Tom said we were just under nine minutes. I tried to push the pace. It wasn't there. We moved through the crowd. I was trying to will a eight minute pace. It was not to be. I would keep trying. We made it to the two mile mark and it was time to go. We made a slight move. A woman commented how strong we were looking as we raced by her. then I heard someone else ask her why those two men were tethered. I laughed as I heard her say, "You see, the little one is blind." I am the little one. Just then Tom said we were a few hundred meters from the end. We started to sprint. A little kid about six years old yelled out, "You're looking good. Finish strong!" Cheers of "Go 4." We were near the end. Crowd grew louder. I wanted to get faster. Tom did too. We moved then I felt a pull on the tether. It was so strong I had to stop right there. Tom had started to sprint only to have someone step on his heel and he fell. He made it to his feet and we took a few more steps to cross the finish. It was quite an experience.

We walked around talking to others. I met up with Mike, who would give me a ride home. We waited for the award ceremony. As the awards were handed out, I was surprised to hear that there was a paraduathlete division. The public address announcer gave out the third place award then he named the second place winner. Israel Antonio. Wait, what? Me? I went up to get my medal. This was the first time ever that I was at the podium as a top three finish in any division. They put my medal around my neck. Audience cheered. I gave a thumbs up to the crowd. They roared. I love this feeling. I want to experience this more. I need to continue my dedication to my training so I can experience this more frequently in the future. Of course, in my mind, I will have arrived when my times are good enough to win my age group not just a paraathlete division. Whether I can improve enough to get to that point, only time will tell. I will do my best to keep improving and keep growing.

Special thanks to Tom for guiding me. thank you Dare2Tri for helping me get to the start line. A special shout out to the fabulous talented Jenna for preparing me to race. Jenna has been driving and pushing me to improve and I have attempted to do my best to drive myself beyond my limits so that I may make her proud. The more I improve, the better it reflects on her. Thank you for now and I promise to give it my all!!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pre Pleasant Prairie

It is the night before Pleasant Prairie and I am just about ready. I am staying hydrated and getting ready for dinner. After which it will be time to ensure all my race items are put into my bag then off to bed. Earlier today, I had my hair trimmed and I went to do my last training session prior to the race. It was an easy forty-five minute bike ride followed by an easy twenty minute run. Since about Wednesday, I have been feeling something which I am not use to feeling. I have become use to feeling anxious, nervous, and scared before a staged reading, performance, or race. I guess it is a part of my preparation. Of course, prior to a triathlon, I am scared because I am facing the swim portion. Before the reading or performance of one of my theater pieces, I am worried whether I have printed out the best possible version and if audience members will experience an emotion of any kind and respond. Since earlier this week, I have felt very confident about the duathlon I will race on Sunday. I have been considering what my time goals are for the 2.5 mile opening run, 12.4 mile bike, then 3.1 mile run to close the race. It was at this very race one year ago that I found myself racing at thirty miles per hour on the bike in stretches. I was simply happy with the experience of doing my first ever duathlon that I did not even bother ever looking up my finish time. Going into this week, I started visualizing the times I wanted on each leg. To ensure an improvement over last year's race, I looked up my splits from last year. I had been telling myself that I would be happy with breaking forty minutes on the bike this Sunday. I was shocked to learn that in last year's event, I finished the bike in thirty-seven minutes and a half. So merely breaking forty minutes would be a step backwards. I can do much better! Comparing my training this year to last is like comparing night and day. I am in such tremendous shape this year. Thanks to the amazing Jenna who has been providing me guidance and a plan of attack, I am ready. If I could achieve what I did last year while training on my own without guidance then this year should be so much better. I should perform better than I even imagined at the start of this week. Of course, all conditions have to be right. The race gods must smile on me to provide the proper weather and to ensure my equipment is in fine fashion from start to finish. I just found out a couple days ago that Tom Miller, a triathlete who will attempt his first Ironman this November, will guide me for the race. I know my life will be in great hands as we race as part of the Dare2Tri Chicago team. I am excited to take on this event and improve from last year's race. I completed the race in just over 1:35:00. If I can cut two minutes from each section, I will roll to the end in under 1:30:00. In fact, with the plan Jenna has had me on during my training, I believe I can breeze through that time. I can push my body in a way it has never been pushed to achieve that which I have never. I have never been as physically and mentally prepared as I am heading into this event more confident that I have ever headed into an event. I am actually worried about how confident I am. Whether I can achieve, I will give it my best and hope I will be proud of myself for giving it all. Where normally I start with a conservative approach then attempt to build as I go along, I will do my best to get out fast and maintain throughout the entire time. I want to embrace the pain and bike or run through it!!

Best of luck to my friends who are also racing in Pleasant Prairie on Sunday as well as those competing across the country. A special shout to the fabulous Jenna at at her triathlon event in Philadelphia which is part of the Race To The Toyota Cup!!c

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Caroline's Race Across America

The amazing, talented, and beautiful Caroline Gaynor is at it again! This tremendous athlete, woman, and friend is once again being her usual spectacular self by being a part of Race Across America as she fundraises for a wonderful non profit which works to help military veterans after their service to this country has been complete. Often, we say that we support our troops or that we owe them for all they have done for this country, but few of us remember to do our part to help. Maybe a simple thank you to a military veteran. Maybe this country's representatives in Congress can do more to vote into laws, those which can help veterans after they have given so much to ensure our freedoms. Caroline is cycling across this nation as part of a relay team. She is raising funds to aid programs designed to assist veterans in ways to ensure they are not forgotten.

For more information on this event or to donate, please log on to the following site and read more about what Caroline is doing. Caroline explains her mission much better than I can. Go get 'em Caroline!!

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Sighting

One of the best advice I ever received was from a wonderful friend who supported me through some of the most difficult times in high school, college, and beyond. He is a local on air personality during the afternoon rush hours on a Chicago radio station. He told me, "Read everything. Study everything." He had much more to say, but that is the best part for the purposes of this entry. I did just as he stated. to this day, whenever people ask me for words of wisdom, I often quote Mr. Dan Bernstein. Upon graduating college, he left me with a wonderful quote from George Bernard Shaw which ended up serving me well when I was writing a theater piece which became the first piece from me to be produced. Mainly though, I feel his statement is important. We should always strive to keep learning, keep growing, and keep evolving as individuals. One of the wonderful writers who I enjoy reading and whose work challenges me to grow is the talented, Jen Knox. I do my best to read Jen's work. She is amazing. At every turn, she always makes me think and wonder how can I use my ability to write to produce such pieces? Here is a link to a short story, The Sighting by Jen Knox. I hope it makes you think as it did me.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Robin Hoffman A Woman Out Loud

I have gone to schools, parks, churches over the years as I give speeches or performances to adults and children about taking risks and living life to the fullest. Some days I wonder am I truly qualified to tell people about taking risks? What have I done? What have I accomplished? Then I look to friends and respected people who do dare to take chances and I get inspired. One such person is the talented Robin Hoffman who will get up on a stage tonight to make her standup comedy debut. If you are in Arvada, Co then you have a chance to see this wonderful debut by Robin. Tonight at the D Note located at 7519 Grandview Ave at 8:30p.m. as part of Women Out Loud. Check out the show, cheer her on, and tell her Sexy Isra sent you.