Sunday, September 8, 2013

Prior To Worlds 2013

My friend, Dan Bernstein, afternoon radio personality on Chicago's WSCR, has said many times that the best time to be a fan of a team is when the team is building towards a championship. Those moments as individuals develop into superstars and display growth in the ability to execute at a very high level are the moments which fans experience only as their favorite team is becoming a champion. Once that has been experienced, fans can never capture that until another team develops similarly into a champion.

When I race in London at the Paratriathlon World Championship, it will be a very special experience for me. It is the first time I will compete in an international event. It will be the first time I will represent the United States Of America in any form of competition on any level. It will be the first time ever in which I will race with a world championship on the line. The truth is, I never expected this to happen to me. I did not grow up dreaming of the day I would compete internationally for a Paratriathlon championship. A few short years ago, I was not even dreaming of racing for a US National title. I was not an elite athlete. I could never have imagined I would write this entry as the 2013 Tri6A US National Champion for Totally Blind Male in the sport of Paratriathlon. Yet, here that is exactly what I am doing. I am feeling the pressure of racing in such a major event. I am worried of not performing to the best of my ability. I am worried I will have an aquatics anxiety attack which will make it a long miserable experience for my race guide. I am nervous about failing and disappointing family, friends, and coaches. Yet, I find myself reflecting on this journey. I usually do not reflect on the journey until it is complete, but this time I wanted to make a point of going back to how it is possible that I could find myself on the verge of such a race against the twelve fastest totally blind men in the world.

I believe this journey began almost two years ago when I ran a half marathon with my friend, Jen Pfaff. On that day, Jen was my eyes as I broke my personal best for 13.1 miles by twenty-seven minutes. I had never run a half marathon under two hours, but on that day, Jen had helped me do just that. I started the race faster than I wanted to and found myself doubting whether I could maintain that pace. I became tired late in the race and began to slow down. Jen kept pushing me. I was able to fight through it and regain the speed, but eventually, my fears were realized as I began to labor in the final three miles. As it turns out, I ran the final three miles faster than I thought, however, I did in fact struggle and fade down the stretch. Where the great athletes get stronger and faster, I let my fears get the better of me. I was furious! I started well, but had once again faded at the end. The truth is, I did not know how to train. I did not have a coach. I looked over some online resources, but could never commit to any of them. I had my own way of training. I knew it was not any good. I knew I needed help. That half marathon had proved it to me once and for all. I hated being mentally soft. I hated fading. I hated feeling miserable. I hated falling short of personal expectations. I hated that I was not faster. Almost immediately upon returning home from the race, I reached out to the beautiful, talented, and accomplished pro triathlete, model, and actress, Jenna Parker. I needed help. Who better than an amazing athlete, a gifted triathlete, and a tremendously talented person from a family of athletics royalty. Jenna was an elite who had experienced so much at a very high level for a very long time. I knew that I was not elite, but I wanted to learn from someone who was so that I may improve. I also mentioned to my friends, Ironman triathlete, Kimberly Shah and elite marathoner, Jen Pfaff that I was done with simply participating in events. I was ready to race.

I still remember some of those very early workouts I did under Jenna's guidance. The memories of those workouts will forever stay with me. I was so out of shape that even what I now consider warmups were extremely tough on me. I was huffing and puffing gasping for air while my legs felt like jello and I experienced side stitches which would not go away. I had a long road to travel. With Jenna show me the way and Kimberly and Jen always being supportive, I found myself slowly improving. The tough workouts became easier as my body adapted. My race performances showed minor improvements. I was on the right path. Where I might struggle on the bike portion of a duathlon or triathlon 20K to be around forty-five minutes, I found myself under forty minutes. I improved my twenty mile runs by fifteen minutes and saw I was fighting through tired legs to push harder down the home stretch. I was amazed that I had shattered my marathon personal best by fifty-two minutes. My physique was changing. I was carving out a lean one.

In 2013, I was scared to attempt to qualify for US Nationals in Paratriathlon, but Jenna, Kimberly, Jen, and others stated their belief in my ability. I wrestled with registering for a race, but ultimately I decided to try. I was not surprised to be last out of the water in my division, however I was stunned at how masterfully I chased down the competition and within a few miles on the bike, I had seized command of the division. When my guide, TV producer and Ironman triathlete, Justin Sternberg told me I was in the lead, I felt so proud. For the first time ever, I was leading my division in a triathlon. I thought, I am truly racing! As I raced on the bike, I thanked Jenna because I knew it was her doing. As I began the run, I felt so confident in my ability. I rolled to the first place finish and qualified for US Nationals. At that race, I was surprised to be out of the swim in the lead. Once again, Justin was my guide and he helped me deliver the fastest bike time in my racing life. With him as my eyes, I ran my second fastest run time. The best part was reaching a point on the run when it looked like I was fading, but instead of folding, I decided it was time to go take the US title with a strong finish. Because of the work Jenna had done with me and the support from Kimberly and Jen, I was ready to race on the biggest stage of my triathlon life.

As I enter the final race of my triathlon season, I realize I have accomplish plenty this season. I also know that this journey did not begin this year. It began on the day I reached out to Jenna to help me. It began on the day I told Kimberly and Jen I wanted to race. Deep down inside I knew I had the ability to be special. I had not a clue that I was good enough to be the fastest Tri6A US male for 2013 nor good enough to race at Worlds, but I knew I could perform better than I had up to that point. On some level, Worlds is a celebration of this journey. It does not symbolize the end of said journey. It is merely another experience along this journey called life. I wanted to simply take the moment to appreciate what I have achieved in a short amount of time. Mainly, I wanted to say thank you to Jenna Parker, Kimberly Shah, and Jen Pfaff for the roles they have played and hopefully, they will continue to play as I achieve more than I ever thought possible. I will do my best to make Jenna, Kimberly, and Jen proud in London. I hope to represent the USA in the best manner possible. I hope the organizations and companies which support me will be proud of my race. Dare2Tri Chicago, C Different Foundation, NJOY Racing, and Pinnacle Performance Company. Thank you to all for standing by me and helping me achieve beyond my greatest dreams.

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