Saturday, August 31, 2013

Justin's Team Refuel Video

In March of this year, I agreed to fly to Houston and spend a week preparing to compete in the second annual C Different Triathlon at Telfair Challenge. If I finished in under 1:45:00, I would qualify for Paratriathlon US Nationals to be held in Austin on Memorial Day as part of the CapTex Triathlon. David Adame, then the Executive Director for the C Different Foundation, insisted I do the race. I was unsure. I turned to pro triathlete, Jenna Parker, for guidance. I explained how my swim was not up to par and would be my weakest link and reason for not doing the race. Jenna all but demanded I put aside my swim fear and insecurity to go do the C Different Triathlon. Almost immediately after hearing that, I called David and told him I would race in the event. He informed me that TV producer and Ironman triathlete, Justin Sternberg would most likely be my guide. It turns out, he was my race guide. I met Justin a few days prior to the race and did a brick workout with him. A few days later, he and I enjoyed a twenty mile bike ride. We did the race. With Justin's help, I made it through the swim, hammered the bike, and coasted to my best run time ever to finish in 1:17. A couple months later, Justin met me in austin as he guided me to a Paratriathlon US National title in the Tri6A category (Male Totally Blind).

Last week, just hours before I was to race in the Paratriathlon Mideast Championships at the Chicago Triathlon, my guide was injured and could not do the race with me. Luckily, an Ironman triathlete working the race expo for Newton Running stepped in at the last minute to take me the distance. With my guide going down, this meant he could not be my eyes when I race at the Paratriathlon World Championships in London. I needed to find someone else. Once more I turned to Justin Sternberg who had to make sure he could go. Once everything checked out, he called me to say, "I'm in!!" In just over a week, I will see him again. In just under two weeks, Justin will guide me for the third time in a triathlon. thank you to Justin for being my eyes at some very special races for me. In fact, Justin is the reason those events have been so special. Whatever happens, I know Justin and I will work together and give the best performance of my triathlon racing career. Looking back on it, had Jenna not insisted I go do the qualifying race, I would have never met Mr. Sternberg, so thank you very much to Jenna for making me go do the race. Of course, Jenna did force me to go do it, but Jenna's confidence and belief in me enabled me to have confidence in myself that I could get out of my comfort zone for a little over an hour to swim, bike, run very fast.

Here is a one minute video featuring the TV producer and Ironman who will be my eyes at Worlds

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Chicago Triathlon 2013: Paratriathlon Mideast Regional Championship

"Where's Melissa? I hope to meet Melissa.", said my six year old niece as we walked around the Chicago Hilton Hotel on Saturday at the Chicago Triathlon Expo and packet pickup. My niece adores the talented, amazing, and beautiful Melissa Stockwell. I told my niece about Melissa once and it is a story which stayed with her to the point she often asks me to tell it again as her bedtime story. A young woman wrote my wave number on my leg. My niece expressed how she desired to have her body marked too. The young woman marked my niece's leg. My niece was so happy. After getting all my goodies, I headed home to connect with Daniel Tun, Ironman Triathlete, co-founder of Dare2Tri Chicago, and coach, who would guide me in Sunday's triathlon.

Upon arriving home I learned that Dan had unfortunately been injured that morning and would not be able to be my eyes. He was searching for a replacement. I did not have anyone to whom I could turn on such short notice so I had to wait for word. Dan told me a friend reached out to a talented accomplished Ironman triathlete named Don Reichlet who jumped at the chance to step in as my guide. I was so moved. After all, Don had never guided and he did not know me yet he was willing to say yes without hesitation. Don and I spoke on the phone and we planned to meet in the morning.

2:15a.m. came very fast and it was time to get up and prepare for the day. By 3:00a.m. I was ready waiting for Dan to pick me up and head to the Chicago Triathlon. At exactly 4:15a.m. a young woman named Amy walked me into transition. shortly afterwards, Don introduced himself. With help from Lauren Wong and others, Don and I prepared for the race. Shortly after five o'clock we made our way toward the swim start. The race would begin at six o'clock and our wave, the Paratriathlon Mideast Regional Championship Wave, would go off four minutes later. Minutes before the race, I put on my wet suit. I was nervous. The main goal heading into the race was to race along side Dan in preparation for when he and I would race along side each other in London at the Paratriathlon World Championships. I was a bit nervous that it was Don's first attempt at guiding. What if he has a bad experience? What if he finds me too difficult of an athlete with whom to deal and it causes him to never wish to guide or help out Dare2Tri? What if my aquatics anxiety is too much for him to handle? After the first wave went off, our wave slid into the water. Don told me to relax. He said he was there for me and would ensure I would be fine. He said not to worry about it as this was my race. The gun sounded. It was time to swim.

I did my best to take deep calming breaths. I moved my arms. I kicked my feet. I thought off all the races I had ever done. New York's Hudson River entered my mind. Denver. Austin. Sugar land. I remembered the nervous feeling prior to and during those races. I remembered how it felt to be done with the swim. I kept moving my arms and legs. I listened for Don's voice. He shouted encouragement. He told me how well I was doing. I thought of his words just before we started when he told me how proud he was of me and how much of an inspiration I was to him for being right there in that moment. I pushed hard through the water wanting to make him proud. I wondered if I was even moving. I asked Don. He said we were moving. I could hear fans cheering. I could hear the public address announcer. As we made our way, Don yelled out, "Hey Israel, we're coming up on some fans of yours." Just then I heard some female voices screaming my name. I had not a clue who they were. I paused for a moment curious who it could be. I knew I had to keep stroking along. In front of these women would not be the best place to struggle. Don kept shouting encouragement. He kept saying how proud he was. I was nervous. My legs were tired. I started bicycle kicking. I told Don how worried I was and he asked, "Do you want me to pull you out?" I assumed that meant out of the race so I quickly said, "No, but please keep an eye on it." He assured me he would. Truthfully, I did not know what exactly I wanted him to do. I just wanted to voice the fear I was feeling in the moment. I took some deep breaths. I straightened out my legs. They floated to the top. I was relaxed. I would be fine. A bit later, I was tired again. My legs were dragging. I relaxed and my legs floated to the top of the water. Don once again told me how proud he was and told me that we were about 125 meters from the finish. That was not long at all. I had already gone 625 meters. I gained confidence. I found myself even more relaxed. I stroked my arms with a purpose. I was on a mission to finish. For the first time all swim long, I felt successful. I felt that I belonged. Less than 100 meters to go. Don was happy. I heard him laugh as he told me I could finish strong. seventy-five meters to go. I kicked with a purpose. About fifty meters left. Swimmers kept gliding by now and Don said we were entering a very crowded area so as to not be alarmed if I were to get buzzed. twenty-five meters left in the swim portion. Then, volunteers grabbed me. It was over. They lifted me out of the water. One discipline was complete.

Don and I headed towards transition. We switched into our bike gear and moved our tandem towards the bike course. I clipped in on my right side after a couple attempts, but struggled for a while with my left. Finally, I was in. Don was ready and off we went for twenty-two kilometers. This was the fun part. I smiled and pushed hard. Don laughed at how quickly we moved. That was just the beginning. Throughout the bike portion Don laughed at how hard we pushed and how fast we moved. In very short time, Don told me we were making a U-turn. Was that the turn-around? Apparently, yes. We were halfway done. Within minutes, he told me we were at mile eight. We were certainly flying. Suddenly, we were at mile ten. Just under four miles to go. I made it a point to push even harder. I wanted to leave it out on the course. I was certainly doing that. Don was doing a great job warning me of bumps or cracks in the road so as the bike crossed over them I would not be surprised. We made one final turn and we coasted into transition.

As I took off my bike shoes and switched into my running shoes, I felt a sharp pain in my right leg. It was cramping. Almost immediately, I felt the same pain in my left. I laid on the ground in pain. "Oh God. Oh God. Please make it stop." I took in fluids. The pain was miserable. I wondered whether it was a case of not taking in enough fluids up to that point or whether I could chalk it up to having pushed so hard on the bike that I had not a thing left in my legs to begin the run portion.

I put on my Newton Running hat and we made the long job out of transition and on to the run course. It usually takes me a mile to get my legs under me, but after those cramps, I wondered how long it would take me. Surprisingly, I had my running legs under me very quickly. Don did a tremendous job navigating the bad footing, narrow course, and mass of humanity to help zig zag me through the 3.1 miles. I wanted to open it up and show Don how fast I could sprint, but we could never find the proper place. Just when we had open space, the footing would change or an obstacle would cause me to have to slow down. An opportunity to truly let it all hang out never materialized. We made our way through the crowds as Don joyously expressed how we kept passing people left and right. We neared the end of the race. I found a chance to push a bit so I did. It was not the kind of mad dash I wanted to test out in preparation for London, but it was enough to speed up and cross the finish line with a nice gallop.

Thank you Don Reichlet for guiding me on such short notice. I will forever have the great privilege of saying that Don was my guide when I won the Tri6A Paratriathlon Mideast Regional Championship at Chicago Triathlon 2013. Thank you to the wonderful individuals at Dare2Tri Chicago. Thank you to the good folks at Pinnacle Performance Company for their continued support and sponsorship of my athletic ventures. Thank you Jenna Parker for always supporting and encouraging me. Thank you to the kind folks at the Chicago Triathlon for a splendid event and for the splendid way in which they treated all of us fortunate enough to race in the Paratriathlon Championship Wave.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Pre Chicago Triathlon 2013

It is the night before my first ever attempt at the Chicago Triathlon. It will be a 750 meter swim, 22 meter bike, and 5K run. It is the largest triathlon with more triathletes racing in this event than any other. I get to race in front of friends and family. I get to race along side some of the best pros, para-athletes, and age groupers in the world. I was excited to use this as a warmup to London Worlds Championship taking place in a few weeks. I would race along side Ironman triathlete, Daniel Tun, who would also be my eyes in London. This morning, I received word that Dan was injured while volunteering with the kids' dash and super sprint events thus can not line up next to me tomorrow morning. Instead Don Riechlet, accomplished Ironman triathlete, has volunteered to take me the distance. I was so worried about my short coming in the swim that I did not anticipate other possible obstacles. Having to switch guides last minute sure is one, but thankfully, Don and I have spoken so he knows about the challenge which is in store for him during my swim portion. Once I get through the swim, I can crush the bike and the run as I know I can. I am looking forward to that. Again, I just need to make it through the toughest portion for me then let the game begin.

I thank all the wonderful people who have supported me throughout this season. Thank you to those who have helped me as I enter another race. Kimberly shah and Jenna Parker top the list. Thank you to the good folks at Dare2Tri Chicago. Thank you to Pinnacle Performance Company for all their support. thank you to my friends, family, and readers for always encouraging me as I walk on this journey. May I make all of you proud tomorrow!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Kimberly Chief World Explorer

Vacation matchmaker, Juantaroo seeks someone to be their Chief World Explorer. This reminds me of a show I use to watch on TV called The Thirsty Traveller. This seems like a fun job. Someone gets to travel the world bring all the sights and sounds back to us. The best person for this is Kimberly Shah! Kimberly loves to travel. As a professional triathlete, she has plenty of experiences which she has documented on her Iron Insanity site. In picking a race, Kimberly tells people to pick a destination to visit which happens to have a triathlon, marathon, or race taking place. It is always fascinating reading her reflections and experience from visiting various cities and countries. Kimberly is the perfect person to be Juantaroo Chief World Explorer. You can help Kimberly become so by voting for her. I have voted and will continue to do so until the voting period ends. Please do the same. As readers have learned over the years, Kimberly changed my life years ago when she opened her heart to me by volunteering to be my guide for a training run on the very first day we met. Within a mile or two of running with her, I was left speechless when she offered to be my eyes for the Chicago Marathon which was only a couple months away. Since that day, Kimberly has been a wonderful friend. I am so honored to know her. She has sure changed and redefined my life. Please follow this link below and help Kimberly get this wonderful job.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Worlds Welcomes The Thirteen Fastest Tri6A Males

On September 13, there will be thirteen male triathletes lining up at the start line of the Paratriathlon World Championships in London to see who is the fastest Tri6A male athlete in the world. Of those men, two will be representing the United States Of America. One of those individuals is Israel Antonio. I can not begin to express how excited I am to be one of those who will race on the streets of London at Worlds. I am scared, nervous, and excited. Thank you to all those who have supported me along this journey from what I call a triathlon also-rand to a contender for the world title. It feels like a storybook journey. It feels like a dream. Thank you for coming along on this incredible road with me wherever it may lead. If you wish to take a look at the entire list of the thirteen fastest Tri6A males in the world, here is the link.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Dare2Tri Fundraising Final Push

When 2013 began, I had not a clue that I would be selected to the Dare2Tri Chicago Elite Team. I had participated in races with and for Dare2Tri, but the Elite Team was far from being a reality. I have admired various members of the squad especially the talented, amazing, and beautiful Iraq War veteran and three time defending world champion, Melissa Stockwell. To receive word that I had been place on the Elite Team for 2013 was overwhelming. I did not expect to break down and cry upon learning of my selection, but that is exactly what I did. Since then, I have experienced quite a ride along side some of the most amazing teammates in the world. Of the twelve athletes who made the team and competed at Paratriathlon Nationals this past May in Austin, Tx, seven of us were fortunate to finish on the podium. Three of us were crowned national champions in our division. We will have the great privilege to represent the United States Of America as members of Team USA at the World Championships in London this coming September.

As a member of Dare2Tri Chicago and Team USA, I am honored to be in a position to race for a world championship. I would have never imagined that I would be in this position. I ask my family members, friends, and readers to this blog to please help me give back to the wonderful individuals of Dare2Tri Chicago through some donations which will assist me in reaching my fundraising goal for the organization. Dare2Tri Chicago has been a splendid group whose coaches, athletes, and volunteers have supported and encouraged me every step of the way along this journey. Dare2Tri Chicago is made up of athletes with different degrees of disabilities who strive to be the best they can be while along the way inspiring countless other athletes who are able bodied and disabled. Please help Dare2Tri Chicago continue their mission of ensuring they can provide services, equipment, and encouragement to various athletes who chase after their individual dreams. Your gift will also help my teammates and I get to London to race on your behalf as we represent this beautiful country at Paratriathlon Worlds.

The deadline to reach my fundraising goal is August 15. Please follow the link to my personal page. Thank you.