Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I Dare2Tri In London

Who dares to be great? Who dares to face fear in the face? I can say that for a long time, I have said I wanted to be great. I wanted to be a hall of fame sports talk show host and reporter. I wanted millions of people to listen to my daily program and respect my questions at press conferences. After very early immediate success, that dream hit a bump in the road. I struggled to find another avenue down which to take my life. In the meantime, I started watching Gina Lombardi hosting her show, Fit Nation on Fit TV. Her knowledge and passion about fitness was inspiring. I was motivated to get more into fitness. As a boy, I adored Bruce Lee's physique. As an adult, I found myself pursuing a different type of physique until eventually, I stopped pursuing any fitness goals what so ever. When Gina's show entered my life, my desire was brought to life. I had not a clue what I was doing, but I was going to exercise my heart out and reclaim my fitness life. I then watched another show on Fit TV called Insider Training. The episode I kept watching was the one featuring Ironman triathlete, model, and TV personality, Lokelani McMichael discussing her training and racing since becoming the youngest person to complete the Ironman triathlon when she was eighteen years old. After seeing Loke, I decided I wanted to do an Ironman. My only exposure to triathlons had been the video of Julie Moss crawling to the finish line in 1982 which was used as part of the opening credits for ABC network's Wide World Of Sports. I had never learned to swim yet I wanted the challenge of completing 140.6 miles.

Thanks to the trusty internet, I looked for evidence that other blind people had completed races. After losing my eyesight, I was one of the only ones in the state competing in high school track against all sighted competition. I did not know if blind individuals were allowed to compete in road races and triathlons. I needed to learn about other athletes so that I would have proof in case race directors refused or insisted blind people had not competed elsewhere. As a result of my research, I learned about triathlete, actor, model, roofer, film producer, Matt Miller who had founded the C Different Foundation. Within an hour of sending him an e-mail, Matt responded by welcoming me to the CDF family. Within a few months of meeting Matt, I had run my first ever half marathon and then my first ever triathlon. I marveled at the pros who raced the New York City Triathlon. I marveled at the age groupers and athletes with disabilities who made it look so easy as I struggled to reach the finish line. A woman along the run course said what turned out to change my life forever when she said, "For the rest of us this is work. For you, this is fun because you're a triathlete." It was at that very moment that I realized I was not having fun. I was so scared of the swim I was so worried about not knowing how to train properly that by the time the race came along, I was too busy worried about not embarrassing myself not letting my guide down that I had lost sight of the joy I felt when I was first inspired to participate in athletic events.

I needed to get more involved with local running clubs. I reached out to my local Fleet Feet and Universal Sole. Someone at Universal Sole apparently send my e-mail to someone else who sent it on to Keri Schindler, then of Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association. Keri immediately reached out to me and invited me to take part in a 5K. She offered to guide me for the race too. Shortly afterwards, Keri invited me to join GLASA's team for the next year's Chicago Marathon. Ever since Paula Radcliffe had run into the records books first in Chicago then on the streets of London, I had always wanted to run 26.2. I jumped at the chance to run Chicago.

After running my first 26.2, I wanted to run more. Thanks to a woman on Twitter, I learned about Imerman Angels. Jessica Hiltner insisted I join the IA family for my next race. I did and was introduced to professional Ironman Triathlete, Kimberly Shah. She had never guided a blind person, but she offered to guide me for a training run. Within the first mile, Kimberly offered to be my guide for my next marathon. Just the previous day, elite marathoner, Jennifer Pfaff, had offered to guide me for half of it so I had secured both of my race guides within a day of each other.

Keri began to mention the starting of a new group which she co-founded with friends. The group was Dare2Tri Chicago Paratriathlon Club. I heard that there were at least four wonderful individuals who had decided to start the group with the motto, One Inspires Many. Paratriathletes in and around Chicago would have a place to call home. The club would help them with guides and handlers as well as equipment and races. one of the other founders was Melissa Stockwell, an Iraq War Veteran who was the first American woman injured in the war when a roadside bomb exploded the result of the battle was that Melissa lost a leg. Life did not end for her. It was merely altered. She started racing triathlons. In fact, almost immediately, Melissa was a dominant athlete. Qualifying for Nationals, winning said race, then racing at Worlds where this three time defending champion is often tested, but never defeated. After learning about her and knowing how much I respected Keri, I jumped at the opportunity to be on the Dare2Tri team.

I was certainly beginning to experience more fun within the athletic world. Matt Miller had always told me that if I remained in athletics long enough to become successful, I would see that my athletic achievements would cross paths with my artistic work as a playwright, screenwriter, and actor. Nowhere was this more evident than when I first learned about professional triathlete, model, and actress, Jenna Parker. I was inspired by the articles I read. I was intrigued by her childhood dream of wanting to be the first person to win a Olympic gold medal and an Academy Award. The more I read and watched, the more I wanted to meet Jenna. I first became aware of Jenna due to her triathlon success, but it was her talent as an actress which first motivated me to reach out to her. I had become so intrigued by her acting that I had rewritten the screenplay which I had adapted from my autobiographical theater piece. I had been given notes on areas to tighten or improve, but I had taken my rewrites a step to a different place when I decided to rewrite one of main characters specifically to hopefully attract Jenna to the project. The result of doing that not only strengthened my screenplay, but I was able to begin to look to Jenna for guidance. After all, who better to teach me how to achieve beyond my dreams and limits than one of the most amazingly talented triathletes not only in the United States, but in the world.

For all the struggles I have endured in my life even before I lost my eyesight, I believe I am not a mentally strong individual. I do not meet challenges head-on as often as people might think. At least, that is my perception of myself. Over the years, I have seen a change in that attitude and mentality. Have I become tougher? I believe yes. I credit my friendship with tremendous individuals such as; Matt, Melissa, Kimberly, Jennifer, and Jenna. These individuals have taught me to push beyond my limits. I have always strived to be faster because I feel I owe it to those who guide me. If those athletes are willing to volunteer to be my eyes, then I better do my part to make the experience worth it for them so they may wish to return. All these wonderful people have given me such help. All these people believe in me when I do not believe in myself. When I was given a chance to race in order to qualify for Paratriathlon Nationals, it was support from others which lead me to agree to it. It was Jenna believing so strongly in my ability which motivated me to go try it. I knew I had room for error since the qualifying time I needed to beat was 1:45:00 for a sprint distance triathlon. However, I had never finished one in under 2:20. The moment I left the water at the C Different Triathlon, I knew I had a real shot. When I reached T2 and my guide, Justin Sternberg, said we could walk the entire run portion and I would still qualify, I knew I was on the verge of something special. When I crossed the end in 1:17, I could not even begin to express the excitement and gratitude that Jenna had believed in me so much that I had earned a trip to Nationals in Austin as part of CapTex Triathlon. A trip to London would be much more difficult, but to think I would actually be racing at the National Championship race left me speechless. On top of that, Keri informed me that for the 2013 season, I had been named to the Dare2Tri Chicago Elite Team! Why not race with the man who helped me get there? I was overjoyed when Justin agreed to meet me in Austin. As I entered the water, he said, "Is, let's go get you to London." As I neared the second mile marker on the run portion, it hit me, I was one mile from my first ever national title! I remembered that woman on the streets of New York in my first ever triathlon, as I often do, and I smiled because yes, I was a triathlete and yes, I was having fun.

I have now earned a spot on Team USA and will compete in London this September at Paratriathlon Worlds. It has been a very long journey. It has been one with many high moments and very low moments. I have had races where I wanted to die and races where I never wanted the excitement to ever end. I could have never imagined I would represent the USA in international competition. I would have never guessed my swim, bike, run would ever be good enough to earn me a spot on the global stage. There are so many people who have played small roles and big roles which enable me to perform my best. My family, friends, and loved ones unwavering support is unmatched. The Dare2Tri motto that one inspires many is so true. I have seen people inspired by what other athletes have done. I do not think of myself as an inspiration yet when I reflect like I have done in this post, I do step back and admire the long journey on which I have traveled. It certainly has been a very special one and it will continue to be. My friends often insist I should be more selfish and embrace my accomplishments as my own, but I know I have not done any of this alone. I can not take full credit because there are so many volunteers, coaches, organizations which have played a part in getting me as far as I have come. As I prepare for London, I know it will be because of the support from family, friends, and loved ones which will get me to Worlds. I am grateful to the Dare2Tri organization for naming me to their elite team for 2013. I am saying thank you by agreeing to fundraise a minimum of $500 over the next couple months. D2T is one of the organizations whose support has enable me to achieve. Through contributions and donations to my fundraising page, people can help Dare2Tri Elite Team members get to London. Donations will also help Dare2Tri continue their mission of helping athletes with physical and visual disabilities compete in races. Please help me give back to Dare2Tri. Please help me get to London by giving to my fundraising page. As I have mentioned to some people, I wish I was more creative so I could find ways to hold a fun and exciting fundraising event where I could get artists friends to show off their paintings, singing talents, musical stylings, acting chops through a couple monologues, storytelling skills, or other fun filled evenings of entertainment, raffles, or auction with proceeds going to my fundraising efforts. If I could bake, I would hold a bake sale. I can make brownies and Rice Krispies Treats, but if history is evidence, people do not always like to eat my goodies. If I can think of ways for folks to get involved, I will post. I am open to suggestions as I do not want to fall short of my Dare2Tri goal especially if it means the difference between going or not going to London.

The journey has been long. The journey is far from over. I hope you have enjoyed this pause and reflection as I discuss how it is that I arrived to this point. For those interested, the link to my Dare2Tri Chicago fundraising page is below. Please feel free to support my efforts as well as sharing with others.