Towards the end of 2012, I started to tell my friends, Jennifer Pfaff and Jenna Parker that I had long passed the point of participating in road races and triathlons being fun. I had long stared at other magnificent athletes standing on the podium wishing I was there. I had long passed the moment where simply receiving a finisher's medal was not good enough. I was burning with a desire to race!
When Jen guiding me for another 20 miler in September 2012, I had my best performance to that point when I kept getting stronger and faster throughout the final ten miles. Usually I would fade and hang on for dear life, but on that day, I was picking up steam at the end. I closed the day with my fastest mile of the day which also happened to be my fastest race mile. Three weeks later, I set a fifty-two minute personal best when Jen and Kimberly Shah helped me break the four hour mark at the Chicago Marathon. I was very happy. I wanted more. The joy I felt when I crossed the finish as a result of how strong I finished was something I wanted to feel all the time. I wanted to push myself and my limits. No regrets no apologies.
In 2012, I had shown improvement. I had shown myself that I could get stronger instead of fading. The major difference between that year and every other year was Jenna Parker! I had been a fan of Jenna the pro triathlete, model, and actress for several years. I had been fortunate enough to send her one of my screenplays. I had been lucky enough to befriend her. Jenna had become my guiding light teaching me to train smarter and race better. The changes had begun to pay off and were only going to pay off even more in 2013.
In January, Jen and I flew to Houston where I managed to run a thirteen minute personal best on a miserable cold and rainy day which saw me get injured less than half a mile into the half marathon, but Jen was not about to let me struggle. Prior to that January day my fastest race mile was eight minutes at Chicago Marathon the previous October. In Houston, starting with the third mile, I began running 7:40 per mile. I maintained 7:40-7:45 through mile nine. Miles ten and eleven were tough against a stiff headwind, but the moment we turned out of that wind, I raced like never before rocking mile twelve in 7:36 and mile thirteen in 7:29 on route to a thirteen minute personal best.
A month later I was offered a chance to go qualify for Paratriathlon US Nationals to be held as part of CapTex Triathlon in Austin, Texas on Memorial Day. I needed to finish a sprint triathlon in under one hour forty-five minutes. I could attempt this at the C Different Triathlon in Sugar land, Texas. I was not certain I could, but Jenna insisted there was no reason to not at least attempt to know for sure. I agreed and headed to Sugar land where I met and befriended Ironman triathlete and TV producer, Justin Sternberg who guided me to a stunning one hour and seventeen minute finish. that was one hour and five minutes faster than I had ever finished a sprint distance triathlon. I was last out of the water, but my strength on the bike and especially the run helped me storm back to win first place in convincing fashion. My first ever top of the podium finish!
In April, I received word that I had been selected to join the Dare2Tri Chicago Paratriathlon Club's Elite Team. A group of world champions and national champions would welcome me into their club. I had to live up to the selection by doing well at Paratriathlon Nationals at CapTex. Justin agreed to meet me in Austin. I came out of the water in first place by mere seconds and I opened up a lead on the bike. Unfortunately, I faded on the run. It is my favorite and best discipline, but I struggled through the first mile. Then I remembered all the time and effort Jenna had put into making me the athlete I am and I know I owed it to her to not disappoint. I was in a position to win a title and I would not lose it. Not on that day during my favorite discipline. In the final two miles of the run, I seized control to pull away and win my first ever Paratriathlon US Nationals championship as a Tri6A male. This meant I would get the opportunity to represent the United States on a global stage.
In June, I received word from amanda Duke, Program manager for USA Triathlon, that I had been selected to the Team USA Worlds squad which would race at the Grand Finals in London.
One of my goals had always been to break twenty-five minutes in a stand-alone 5K. My best race performance was 25:36 which I achieved in 2010. I wanted to break 25. I needed to break 25. I turned to my friend, Elizabeth Bilitz, one of the fastest women in Chicago to guide me at the Chinatown 5K in July. We started out slow, but managed to kick it into gear the back half of the race as Elizabeth pushed me to run my fastest ever race mile with a 6:47 to close the event with a 22:32. A three minute personal best.
August saw me race in my first ever Chicago Triathlon which hosted the Mideast Regional Championships. Don Reichelt guided me as I took home the first place finish and Mideast Regional Championship for Tri6A males.
In September, I met Justin Sternberg in London where he guided me in my first ever international race as a representative of the United States of America. It was such a wonderful experience spending the week with elite athletes from the USA and other countries. It was such a thrill to be around the Dare2Tri Elite Team athletes during the entire trip. My favorite part of the race was leaving the second transition and beginning the run portion. Usually, it takes me almost a mile to get my run legs under me after the bike portion, but on this day, it took me only a few steps or about twenty meters to find my run legs and crank out my fastest ever 5K in 21:32.
Over the last couple Octobers I have become comfortable with Jen and Kimberly guiding me through the Chicago Marathon. this year, I had to call upon two new individuals. Elizabeth and I worked so well in Chinatown that I turned to her to help run me in at Chicago. I then reached out to Lindsey Cook who had just guided a woman through the Ironman in Louisville. I knew the race would be tough because I had spent the entire season working on my sprint and very few miles were spent preparing for longer distances. With Lindsey and Elizabeth keep me on a steady pace then forcing me to push when it was time, I rolled through my fourth marathon completing it with an eight minute personal best!
That was certainly quite a way to cap off the most successful season for me to date. I can not say enough about the wonderful individuals who are willing to volunteer to be my eyes. I most appreciate that they are my friends. One of the aspects of my friendship with each one of them which I most respect and appreciate is that these wonderful individuals view me as a person first, an athlete second, and never do they view me as a disability. I have always stated, I will never use the word blind as an adjective to describe who I am. I am a person, friend, lover, writer, athlete, but never a disability. Whether Jenna, Jen, Justin, Don, Lindsey, or Elizabeth, I would run through a brick wall for each of them. Another person for which I would do the same is Amanda Marcheschi. She, a long time friend, model, actress, singer, dancer, and teacher has always been so supportive. In fact, before Jenna ever talked me into attempting to qualify for Nationals, amanda had already insisted I should try it because she believed it was a no brainer that I would qualify and I would have a strong possibility to win. She was right! She felt I owed it to myself to win and travel to London. I did and I thank her for believing in me. 2013 was a very special year because Pinnacle Performance Company continued to sponsor and support me too. Dare2Tri Chicago, C Different Foundation, and Imerman Angels showed their support throughout the year too.
I wanted to share my athletic highlights this year and say thank you to every person who helped, cheered, or made it possible for me to race at the elite level for the first time in my life. This year was one of many first time occurrences. It was also a year of many personal best times. With the help of the individuals and companies as well as support from what I hope will be new organizations or companies in 2014, I will continue to improve in order to show that this year was an awakening and an arrival. May your new year bring with it blessings beyond your wildest dreams. I know that because of you my friends and supporters, this coming year will be greater than I could ever dream.