Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: From Boston To Chicago Through Fort Wayne

I entered 2014 with a couple important athletic goals. I wanted to repeat as the USA Triathlon Paratriathlon National Champion in the category for blind and visually impaired men. I wanted to run my final marathon by breaking three hours and thirty minutes. Along the way I would make more memories than I even dreamed possible. As it turned out, I made plenty of memories with some of the most wonderful individuals. As for achieving those goals? 2014 proved to be a year to expect the unexpected.

The lovely Jen Pfaff insisted she and I travel to Boston to run the marathon. What better year to do so than this one. Two months before race day, I suffered one of the first major injuries I have ever had to endure which made training difficult until one month prior to Boston Marathon. Still, my friend and coach, pro triathlete, model, and actress, Jenna Parker insisted I should go. Thank you to Jen Pfaff for being my eyes all weekend long. We had the joy of running with former New Kids On The Block members Joe McIntyre and Danny Wood who encouraged me while back slapping Jen. I met and had lunch with the lovely, Sarah Koenig. I qualified for Boston for the fourth consecutive time. It was not the time goal I had hoped, but it was a race to remember.

In June, I attended the Dare2Tri Triathlon Camp where I met some tremendous individuals who have gone on to be some of my dearest friends. A week before I was to race in the ITU Worlds Chicago Open Wave I learned that I had been moved to the Elite Wave and would represent the USA once more in an international race. Daniel Tun guided me as I struggled in the water and on the technical bike course, however the highlight of the day was when fabulous announcer, Dave Kappas, told the spectators, “Coming out of T2 is Chicagoan Israel Antonio. Israel dominates these streets every year in the marathon so he knows these streets like the back of his hand. I’ll be interested to see his mile splits because he is fast so keep an eye on him.”

In July, I had one of my best bike performances at the Wauconda Triathlon. It was hilly, but my guide, Todd Nelson said I was like the little engine that could where I just kept coming. It was a tough race because a few days prior I had fallen down the stairs then was later injured when my arm smashed into a gate. I managed to get through the race and was set for a return trip to the Mideast Regional Championships.

In August, I raced in fort Wayne for the first time at the Fox Island Triathlon host of the Paratriathlon Mideast Regional. I had won my division in 2013 when the race was part of the Chicago Triathlon. Daniel Tun once again agreed to be my eyes. I met and spent time with the beautiful, Amanda. for the first time ever in the swim, I stayed on my stomach the entire time never resorting to the back stroke. It was the most satisfying swim leg I had ever experienced on route to my second consecutive championship. Before August came to an end, I appeared on a segment of the ABC Chicago news. The second time I had appeared as in June, I was interviewed after the ITU Worlds race. this time it was for the Chicago Triathlon at the end of the month.

In September, I was set to race at Paratriathlon Nationals for the second straight year. Could I repeat as a Nationals Champion? Could I improve on my time from a year ago? A week before Life Time Tempe, I warmed up with my guide, Todd Smith by tackling North Shore Triathlon. 400 meters from the finish, I took a tumble bruising my ribs and forearm. For days I could not run. Three days before Life Time Triathlon in Tempe, I made the tough choice to back out of the National Championship. I hoped doing so would allow me to heal for my next shot at 3:30:00 at the Chicago Marathon. A third segment featuring me air on ABC7 Chicago at the end of September.

In October, Wendy Jaehn and Erica Alansari volunteered to be my eyes for the Chicago Marathon. These beautiful and fast women helped me qualify for Boston for the fifth consecutive time, but my ribs were still so injured that I could only run my third fastest 26.2.

The athletic season concluded having not seen me achieve the goals I set out. I did repeat at the Mideast Regionals, but the other two goals of nationals and marathon eluded me. Injuries and other circumstances prevented me from my goals, but there is always 2015. There is more to do, but I want to thank all those who helped make this year very wonderful. Special thanks to Jenna Parker for always being the fabulous amazing leader who prepares me. Thank you Pinnacle Performance Company for your continued sponsorship. Dare2Tri and Base Performance provided great support too. Thank you to those wonderful friends who guided me during races. There are big things in store for my racing in 2015. There are also pending big announcements for my plays, screenplays, and entrepreneurial ventures which I will share early in January. for now, thank you for reading this post. I hope you will join me for my adventures next year!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Life Time Tempe: Paratriathlon US Nationals

An overdue post on how my 2014 triathlon season concluded the week of September 14-21.

After completing the North Shore Triathlon along side Ironman triathlete, Todd Smith, I took my bruised ribs home to recover. In seven days, I would toe the start line at Paratriathlon US Nationals at Life Time Triathlon Tempe. Breathing, laughing, and coughing were tough. I struggled even more to find my breath in the pool. I could not even run. I warmed up at a ten minute per mile pace. Sharp pain traveled from my foot up to my shoulder. I could not handle the pain for more than one minute. I tried 6:30 pace. For a moment, the pain was less, but soon it proved to be too much. How would I expect to run that fast for 3.1 miles? Would I even make it through 750 meters in the water?

I reached out to Jenna Parker to inform her of my condition. She was understanding and supportive. Still, I felt that I would let down Dare2Tri, Pinnacle Performance, Base Performance, Todd Smith, and Jenna Parker. I could fly to Tempe and see how I felt race morning. I could race and go as far as my bruised ribs and broken body would allow. I could opt to not get on the plane and set my sights on healing up for the Chicago Marathon which I would run in three weeks for Children’s Oncology Team One Step. I wrestled with my emotions. I listened to what Jenna, Todd, and others said as to why I should go or why I should not go. I wanted to defend my title from 2013. I owed it to myself. I could not even jog in place without pain bringing me to the verge of tears. I was stressed out. Thursday morning. One day before I would have to board a plane. I followed Jenna’s instructions. I knew I had her support no matter my choice. Several friends attempted to shame me into “manning up” and racing. After days of pushing and pulling, I informed Jenna that I would not race in Tempe. Even after I told her, I continued debating. I told Todd and the folks at Dare2Tri. I told Paratriathlon Program Manager at USA Triathlon, Amanda Duke Boulet. I was at peace. I was empty.

I woke up in my bed on race morning. I was in plenty of pain. I knew instantly that I had made the correct decision. I could not help, but still think that I let people down by not even trying to race. Yet, I knew in my heart, I was content with pulling out of the race. I had not an ounce of regret. I had Jenna’s full support. In the end, outside of my own opinion, hers was the only other which mattered. It did help that Todd, while disappointed he would not guide me, fully agreed with my decision.

My 2014 triathlon season began abruptly when I was moved from the open wave to the elite start wave for ITU Worlds Chicago in June and it concluded similarly when I was injured at North Shore Triathlon thus unable to compete against the best of the best in the USA. The year’s memories were filled with great highs and with disheartening lows. I am honored that I was able to experience all of them while having Jenna Parker, Dare2Tri, Pinnacle Performance Company, Base Performance, and Team USA on my side. Here is hoping 2015 will bring more special memories of swim, bike, run moments.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

North Shore Triathlon 2014

Fresh off my second Paratriathlon Mideast Regional Championships win, I was excited to team up with Todd Smith for my next two races. As a warmup for his XTERRA World Championship in Hawaii, Todd offered to guide me for the Paratriathlon US Nationals Championships in Tempe, Arizona. Having not raced together in a couple years, we agreed to race the North Shore Triathlon on September 14.

Cold temperatures in the high thirties greeted me race morning. If I could freestyle 750 meters at Fox island, I could swim 500 meters at North Shore. Todd and I agreed to treat this as a training session. Water temperature was in the low forties. Rumor was the swim would be cancelled. I was happy yet, I needed the swim. Todd needed to see how I react in the open water as preparation for Tempe. Water temperature was in the low fifties. Swim was a go.

Wearing my XTERRA wet suit, I walked to the swim start where Todd and I jogged back and forth on the beach as a warmup. We performed pushups. I dip my face in the water and let some of it fill my wet suit. We were the first wave. Horn sounded. Todd and I began. It was cold. I was scared. My heart rate was fast. I could not breathe. Todd said I could stand. I stayed horizontal. Off to my left, a female volunteer moved with us. I slowed down my breathing. I started to relax. “There he goes. He’s fine.” I only had to get through 500 meters. I swallowed water. I could not breathe. Todd had me hold on to him. “You got this, buddy. All day every day. You’re the national champion.” I kept swimming. Within a few meters, I gasped. I screamed for Todd. I wanted out. “However long it takes, we’re getting through this together.” Every so often, as I would take a breath, a wave would swallow me. I would panic and scream for Todd. I would clutch to his arm, relax, then resume. “Halfway home, Is.” My arms, chest, and legs hurt. I could not find my motorboat rhythm as in Fort Wayne. “We’re turning, Is.” Loud screams. “Fifty meters to go!” I powered my way to the finish. Todd and volunteers lifted me up.

I put on my bike shoes. Stacee Seay of Dare2Tri and Todd agreed we should wear our XTERRA wet suits for warmth. We mounted. “Don’t be a hero, Is. On a scale of one to a hundred, give me seventy-five to start.” Wind howled. I buried my head behind Todd. Although not maximum effort, we were flying. First loop complete. “You are much stronger than I remember. One loop. give me eighty on the scale.” Soon the bike was done.

I put on my Brooks Running shoes, run tether, Pinnacle Performance hat, and Dare2Tri jacket. “You don’t need to prove how fast you are today. Save it for Tempe.” I found a comfortable pace. Ground felt slippery. “Israel, you’ve made up plenty of time on the bike and run,” said Nicole Williams Keston as she ran ahead of me. Footing changed under me. From concrete to marvel and back to stone. It was slippery. One mile left. Cold, wind, and rain made it a rough day. We ran a pickup. Half a mile, I shut it down and coasted. 400 meters to the finish. Forty-five degree turn. I slipped. I fell. To avoid face planting, I put out my forearm and twisted my body. I landed on my ribs. Female spectator yelled, “Oh my God, he fell!” I bounced up. Todd asked if I was okay? I nodded. We jogged. Same woman, “Way to bounce up. You’re a warrior.” We finished.

So much pain. I needed to recover in seven days for Paratriathlon US Nationals at Life Time Triathlon Tempe. Nicole said I finished first in my division. Thank you Todd. Thank you Jenna Parker. Thank you Pinnacle Performance Company, Dare2Tri, and Base Performance. Thank you Amanda Leibovitz for my doing the race. Thank you North Shore Triathlon for a para friendly course.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

2014 Paratriathlon Mideast Regionals

One mile. “Is, if you have a six thirty mile in you, now is the time to run it,” encouraged Don Reichelt, my race guide. I had never met Don until two hours prior to the race. Daniel Tun, my original guide, had been injured one day prior. He posted a Facebook status that an athlete required a last minute replacement guide. His friend, Lore, asked Ironman triathlete, Don Reichelt, working the Newton Running booth at the Chicago Triathlon Expo, if he wished to guide. Don said yes. Don raced me to my first Paratriathlon Mideast Regional Championship.

In 2014, the Paratriathlon Mideast Regional Championships moved to the Fox Island Triathlon in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Daniel Tun would guide me. I arrived in Fort Wayne where I had the privilege to meet Amanda, the beautiful young woman working the front desk. She helped me make my way to the eating area for breakfast. Afterwards, I had the joy of spending the rest of the morning and afternoon with her. It was the highlight of my day. In the afternoon, Dan and I went for an easy ride on our racing tandem. We did not push hard staying at about nineteen miles per hour throughout. We did some pickups reaching thirty miles per hour, but we held it for only a bit before slowing back down. That evening, the members of Dare2Tri went out to dinner at a location recommended by lovely Amanda.

A quarter to five o-clock. Time to prepare. Dan and I had breakfast. Based on some of the drills provided by Jenna parker as well as the work I had been doing with Stacee Seay, I was more confident than I had ever been heading into the swim portion of a triathlon. I was nervous since I am never confident about my aquatics, but I knew that the preparation could help me avoid needing to rely on flipping to my back and resorting to the back stroke as I have always done in every triathlon since I began racing many years ago. I was my usual shivering self as we prepared in the race transition area. I put on my XTERRA wet suit and we made our way to the swim start. A heavy fog rolled in. It was impossible for spectators, athletes, and race officials to see beyond a few feet. Altering to a duathlon was considered, however, the fog was so thick that the bike course would not be safe either. We waited. I forced down some food. Word came that the race would soon begin. Dare2Tri athletes would be the first wave. Dan and I put on our tether and walked into the water. One minute away.

Horn sounded. I put my face in the water. I wanted to vomit. Fear combined with expectations. I was better prepared. I could make it without resorting to the back stroke. Yet, my chest muscles tightened, and doubt settled in. Dan had me take deep breaths. I stroked, but my mind wandered to that point when I would want to flip. I tried relaxing. I wanted to flip. I knew I could not. I should not. I stroked my arms and kicked my legs. “You got it. All day buddy. We can do this all day.” I had a long way to go. that frightened me. The first turn. One third of the way done. I smiled. Each time I exhaled I sounded like a little motorboat. I used that sound and rhythm to my advantage. Dan encouraged me. “You’re halfway to the final turn.” Just then, my chest sank. My legs were tired. I was short of breath. My confidence was gone. Dan grabbed me. “You’re fine. Keep breathing. Keep kicking.” I did not think I could do it. “If you need, flip to your back.” I treaded water for a few seconds. I considered turning to my back. I needed to swim on my stomach. I resumed. The next turn. Just a few hundred meters. A burst of energy lifted my legs. With more confidence and strength than I can ever remember, I powered towards shore. Dan grabbed me. “You just killed it, buddy!”

We jumped out of the water and moved to transition. Stacee cheered us as we prepared for the bike. She and Dan agreed I had finished fifteen to twenty minutes faster than at ITU Worlds Chicago. It was my second fastest swim ever. For the first time ever, I had gone the distance on my stomach. We jumped on the bike. We rolled at twenty-four miles per hour. We pressed by the halfway point of the twenty kilometer course. We pushed hard. the sun beat down. Only minutes away from my favorite discipline. I cramped. We reached a turn. As we made the turn, we stopped pedaling. I flexed my leg and foot. We resumed pedaling after the turn. Feeling better, I pressed hard. Dan told me it was time to pull back as we neared transition. We coasted home.

I put on my Brooks Running shoes, tether, and Pinnacle Performance hat. Run course was hot. My legs hurt. Dan and I rolled through the opening mile. We reached the turn-around. We took liquids. A few steps after the aid station, I cramped up very badly. I ran through the pain. I stumbled to a job almost a skip. I walked for about two steps. I ran. Dan said I was on pace for a triathlon personal best. I needed to go. One mile. We raced home. Fans cheered. I was the 2014 Paratriathlon Mideast Regional Champion!

Thank you Daniel Tun. Thank you Jenna Parker for being my friend and coach. Thank you Dare2Tri, Pinnacle Performance, and Base Performance. Thank you Amanda for being the highlight of my weekend. Thank you Fox Island Triathlon.