Friday, June 22, 2012

Competition, Motivation, Determination

Shari Lynne: Sean and I returned to our Thursday practices at Northerly Island this week. We weren't 100% sure the Northerly Island practices were happening last week because of the big weekend previously, but we also wanted to make sure we were healed enough (from sunburns, massive bruises, and sores) and got a workout routine down, somewhat, before returning.

It was rough on Coach Stacee because she didn't have as many volunteers as usual because more than half the group was preparing for races that evening and others preparing/anticipating the Pleasant Prairie Triathlon on Sunday. So, Coach Stacee was also pulling double-duty, helping load up a truck to transport all the necessary adaptive equipment. So, it took us a little extra time getting set up to use the handcycle.

Sean: I decided to try out a handcycle for the first time yesterday. It was pretty cool. I had to get used to some parts of it, since it wasn't fitted for me, the way my everyday chair is. My elbows kept hitting the back tires, for example.

Shari Lynne: I got to break-in a newly donated handcycle, which was obvious barely used. It fit me better as far as the foot-plates were concerned, but the hand cranks were set too far in, so they kept hitting my legs at every rotation. I now have an extra bruise on my right thigh. It was still fun, though. Coach Stacee encouraged Sean and I to race, saying, "Now go chase her, Sean!", and that's all the motivation I needed to spark my competitive edge.

Sean: I ended up using the handcycle Shari Lynne was originally going to use. I'm taller, so I didn't have as many problems stabilizing my lower extremities. I had a problem with the foot-plate, and I removed my cheetah leg from my left. My right leg is pretty strong, so I was able to just use it without my leg strapped in because it's less difficult for me to turn.

Shari Lynne: Sean picked up steering and maneuvering the handcycle pretty quickly. He can even turn really well. I'm still working on tight turns, but I made all the turns around the route this time! So, yes, I'm a little jealous, but at the same time, I'm really proud of him and excited that it means, if he ever has a problem with his C-leg and can't use his regular bike, he can use a handcycle and not miss a beat while competing in a triathlon/dualthon, etc.

We haven't even gotten to the part about how we were "behaving" on the trail:

Before we even made it to the trail, I was trying to out-bike Sean, yelling and trash-talking on the way.

Sean:  I would pedal hard enough to either get right alongside of Shari Lynne or ahead of her, knowing that it would tick her off. I knew it would motivate her to go faster, getting alongside me, or pass me. Plus, it was hilarious because of all her trash-talking and yelling. Anytime I made progress enough to pass her, she would scream, "NO!" at the top of her lungs, and it was hilarious.

Shari Lynne: Several times, I threatened to run him off the road by merging into his lane/space, but I knew what I was doing, and I merged back before crashing. At one point, just after one of these Grease-esque race tactics, Sean told me he hit some of the brush on the border of the paved trail. I asked, "Was that my fault?!"

Sean: I said that if she meant by running me into the brush, then yes! It was hilarious! I could tell she was blocking me from moving forward because I could see her  moving into the middle of the road to prevent me from passing several times.

Shari Lynne: As it turns out, I learned a lot how to keep control of the handcycle while I was at the Training Camp, and I was careful to not actually hit Sean because I knew the handcycle was new.

Sean:  It was definitely a fun first attempt at the handcycle. It reminded us of playing on go-carts.  We were acting so much like we were kids, it made it so much more fun!

Shari Lynne: I promise we'll be careful every time, but it'll be nice to compete and motivate each other like that again. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dare2Tri Training Camp (Sean's Reflections)

This last weekend Shari Lynne & I went to Pleasant Prairie, WI, for the Dare2tri Chicago Paratriathlon Club's weekend training camp. Shari Lynne & I were given scholarships which covered most of the costs and we were (and are) so thankful and grateful we were provided the opportunity to participate.

After we arrived on the first day, the first item on the agenda was the meet & greet, which, as many events go, I did not know and was very unfamiliar with most of the people at the training camp and knew, obviously, Shari Lynne and, probably, only a handful of others. In fact, Shari Lynne and I met one person whom we were on the train ride with to the camp, knew about a half-dozen acquaintances before our arrival, and knew a couple of people, whom we count as friends, two people whom I know from the prosthetists' company I'm a client of. Of these two friends, both are certified prosthetists, of which, one is a “nondisabled” person who is my primary prosthetist who teaches and, the other, is an LAK (left above-knee) amputee who's not only a vet from the war in Iraq but is, also, a national para-triathlete champion.

On the first day, the first event/training I had to work on was swimming. The length of the pool was that of an Olympic-size swimming pool, if I'm not mistaken. That Friday, the first event I worked on was swimming, and the techniques involved were not that of the average swimmer as we were to employ the techniques of professional swimmers. Upon going into this practice, I must say that I had no idea what I was in for. I knew I had to build up stamina. I knew the different ways one could swim, even with one leg, but I had no idea how much technique was involved if one were a professional at swimming. For example, its best one knows which side is best for them to breathe in between strokes, that its best for one to only breathe out through their nose while underwater between breathes, and that one should not raise their head up to high while not only breathing but while swimming.

After lunch, the next event on the first day for me was ambulatory biking in the cycling studio. I have to say that this was both easy and difficult. It was easy for me in the sense that there was no set time limit or distance on the odometer which one has to meet. However, it was difficult for me since the stationary bike did not have a pedal which was adapted on the left side which would have made it a lot easier for me to bike. Don't get me wrong, I did not expect there to be... it just made cycling, for me, that much more a pain and difficult. The following day we did not use the stationary bikes which were in the exercise room of the fitness center we used. Instead, we were outside using the bikes which were provided for us, or our own personal bikes. Obviously, I brought and, thus, used my own bike not just because I'm used to it but, also, because the left pedal has been adapted for my prosthetic, so my 'foot' would not come loose from the pedal. (Note: For those who may wish to know, Chicago's Rapid Transit Cycle Shop not just sold me the bike I own but they also provided the adaptive equipment I use to ride my bike.)

The last activity for me on the first day was running in the gym. The group which I was a part of was ambulatory and primarily consisted of different types of leg amps, a visually impaired man, and TAB people. (Note: A TAB person is someone who is temporarily able-bodied, or someone who is commonly referred to as “nondisabled”). We did sprints of various types. Some of these sprints reminded me of some of the types of sprints/exercises football players do in training camp. The easiest for me were straight-forward sprints since I have been getting better and faster at them since I acquired my cheetah leg. The most difficult ones for me were the sprints we did running around cones moving either backwards or side-to-side.

On the second day, the first two exercises my group did before lunch was running and biking in the parking lot of the fitness facility we used. The sprinting we did in pairs. We did a fair amount of these sprints not just to build up speed but, also, to build up our stamina. The latter of which I am more in need of. The biking part for me was easy. It was easy since we were biking outside and not on stationary bikes but, also, because I was able to use my own bike. Sufficed to say, I was very much in my comfort zone during this activity.

After lunch, the two activities which we worked on were swimming in the open water of Lake Andrea, and learning how to transition between the three events for the triathlon. I did not find the open water swim to be too much different from swimming in the Aqua arena at the Recplex (fitness center). In fact, I did not find the transitioning to be greatly difficult either, with exception of ambulating from the lake over to where my prosthetic and bike were. Otherwise, I knew the logistics of getting on and off my bike, putting on my prosthetic, and switching from my c-leg to my cheetah leg, which I use for running.

The final day was, of course, the triathlon. In our case, since many of us are beginners, it was a 'mini-triathlon'. The pros had larger distances to cover in all three areas in the triathlon while the rest of us had smaller distances in each part of the event. It started at 8:30a and began with swimming. I was lucky enough to get out of the lake first but what held me up as far as time after this was trying to put my prosthetic on. I believe the distance we swam was probably around ¼ of a mile.. After spending close to five minutes putting on my leg and walking over to where my bike was at, I started biking, of course. I went around the lake twice and I believe the distance per lap was 2.3 miles, so the distance I covered was 4.6 miles. Finally, there was the running. By that point I was pretty tired but I was able to run about a mile. Looking back, I'm not sure if I could have swam or ran more than I did but I know I could have biked more. However, I know I could have biked more but the distances set were not so much chosen by me but, rather, my trainer. I believe he had picked the distances I did and I believe he did that because I am a beginner and we both were unsure of my endurance level.

Lastly, even though it was a "mini-triathlon" I am both proud that I did it and that I finished (in under an hour!). I am so proud of myself for finishing and even more proud of Shari Lynne for the same reasons. We both plan on keeping these activities up to better our health. However, it must be stated that Shari Lynne and I are not doing these activities to be “super-crips”. We find the idea in itself to be repugnant and offensive if one were to assume we are doing it for that very reason. Along with the health benefits, our other reasons are that it’s something we're both genuinely enjoying doing together and because we've developed an acute interest in para-triathlons.

Dare2Tri Training Camp (Shari's Reflections)

I knew this weekend would be life changing. I just didn’t realize how much. This past weekend, Sean and I participated in Dare2Tri’s (Chicago Paratriathlon Club) Paratriathlon Training Camp.

A triathlon consists of a Swim, Bike, and Run. As a “wheelchair athlete,” I use a handcycle for the Bike part, a Racing chair for the run, and I went back to basics learning how to swim. Oh, and transitions. The unofficial fourth category! In some ways, transitions are the most exciting part of the whole thing!
Jenn and Eugene with me in the racing chair!

Here’s what my schedule looked like…
Friday, June 8, 2012
                                                Wheelchair Racing
                                                Dinner on our own  
Saturday, June 9, 2012
                                                Wheelchair Racing
                                                Open Water Swim in Lake Andrea
                                                Transitions Training/Planning
                                                Pre-Race Dinner/Celebration
Sunday, June 10, 2012
                                    Super Sprint Triathlon (adapted to level of athlete as needed)
                                                Closing BBQ

When we first got there, we signed waivers and jumped right into introductions and straight into training. I introduced myself as “Sean’s fiancĂ©.” Why be bashful about that? We’ve been through a ton of changes as a couple in the past year, and we’re proud to find ourselves doing something so powerful and inspiring together. Yes, you read that right, I said inspiring! Yes, normally, I hate that word and how flimsy it comes across. In this case, when you’re talking about one disabled athlete inspiring another, I LOVE IT! The motto for Dare2Tri is “One Inspires Many.” It is SO true! I mean, Sean got into this first because he had a Cheetah leg donated to him. I saw him run, caught his enthusiasm about running and biking again, and I had to do it, too. If Sean can do it, why not me, right?! Besides, half the point of Dare2Tri existing is because there are so many people who want to be able to finish triathlons, marathons, or biking trails, but they don’t have the resources. The equipment is 2-3x more expensive than what most people pay. I’ve wanted to try Wheelchair Racing since at least high school, but I never had any way of trying the equipment. I don’t have anything sized to me yet, but it’s a start! I’ve literally already had a dream come true just because the adaptive equipment is within reach.

Well, after group introductions, I was introduced to my coach/handler. As I beginner, I was assigned someone to help coach me through every part of the triathlon and help keep me motivated and on-track. As a handler, that means she was also the person to assist in transitions, helping me transfer from water to wheelchair to handcycle to racing chair and back to my day chair again. Her name was Jenn, and I LOVE her! She was a great coach, and she stuck with me through the whole weekend!!! I am a big believer, regardless of confidence level, in continuity, so it was a relief I didn’t have to try to trust a new person later in the weekend. I think it helped that during the 1st swim training, we were cracking each other up most of the time. She literally had to go back-to-basics with me, figure out what I can do and still needed to learn, and go from there. It’s good to know that there’s hope for me becoming a better swimmer despite only having a doggy paddle and floating down pat. She even believes I could use my legs to swim, which I usually have out straight behind me for lack of understanding of how to maneuver them. I did revert back to the doggy paddle a little bit during the triathlon on Sunday, but I think that was panicking, more out of the unfamiliarity of the circumstances and fear of crashing into those who were also struggling in front of me than because I was scared of anything. I do need to get used to functioning underwater and NOT holding my breath. Who knew holding your breath was a bad idea while swimming? Competitive, long-distance swimmers, I guess. J

It turns out, handcycling is the one area I didn’t need a ton of coaching, I mean, yes, I needed some encouragement at some times and challenges thrown at me at other times to keep me motivated so it didn’t turn into some leisurely stroll through the RecPlex grounds, but I’d practiced a few times at Northerly Island (Chicago) prior to attending, and I figured out the gear shifts within a few minutes. Good to know my brain works! So glad I have ONE area of strength where I don’t have to learn/relearn everything. It’s good for my ego and will help keep me sticking with it. I can’t wait to get in the gym to buff up my arms to improve my speed.  

Considering the racing chair was the thing I was most looking forward to trying out, due in part to my past desire to compete in the Paralympics in track/road racing, it was quite a crush to my ego that it’s so difficult for me to operate the thing. Jenn had to remind me, in more than one scenario, I’m not expected to learn how to do everything perfectly in two days. I know that, I just wish the racing chair came easier to me. I felt like I was barely moving! The good news, I should have access to a racing chair at “practices” at Northerly Island, so I can get used to steering and maneuvering it. My overall plan is to get stronger, lose weight, improve my skill in all areas, and eventually write a grant to the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) to get my own racing chair. I’ll be even more confident when I have my own chair that I know fits me, but I want to make sure I can prove to the Foundation that I’m a committed athlete first.

I’ll have a handcycle before that happens, I hope. It’ll really suck if I only get to ride three months out of the year!

For the actual triathlon, yes, it was altered to fit [my and Sean’s] skill levels as beginners, but the point is to pull every category of a triathlon together and become an official triathlete! (I know Sean could have done more in all areas than he did, but his lack of confidence and quirks precede his athletics.) I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I burst into tears on my way across the finish line. My immediate family might dispute this fact, but I’m not that much of a crier. I grew up playing street hockey, basketball, and football with a bunch of boys, so I taught myself to not cry so easily. It took seven months for Sean to see me full-out cry. I’m still not sure why I cried, I guess there are a few reasons. Jenn kept saying it was from being overjoyed, and I think that’s correct. I was also in a lot of pain, though. Seriously, though, I did more in three days than I ever thought I could do in my entire life. It’s justifiably overwhelming. In fact, I don’t remember very much about the moment I crossed the finish line, but I remember looking at Melissa Stockwell, one of the coaches and the one who got Sean and I into Dare2Tri, she said to me, “You’re officially a triathlete now!” and I just cried harder. I was really excited! I just wish Sean could have watched me cross the finish line. L

Overall, I think deciding to go to this training camp was the best decision I have ever made in my life. For once, I’ve made a good decision for myself. Everyone was so supportive and friendly. Everyone treated me like a fellow athlete, no one made comments about my weight. I just keep telling myself, “I have to start somewhere.” Sometimes you just gotta stop making excuses and just do it. Yes, I realize I just quoted Nike, oh well. So they have a point. J 

I feel like my spirit has been lifted in a way that I thought I was getting by being involved in ADAPT and other organizations in the past, but there is nothing like pushing your body to its limit and keeping on going! I never once said "I can't!"... There was a point I wanted to quit early, but Jenn was there to remind me where the finish line is. Thanks, girl!

Thank you to those who donated so we could have a scholarship to be a part of this training camp!

Thank you D2T coaches and volunteers! You are all just as inspiring as the athletes!

Congratulations Dare2Tri Training Camp coordinators on a job well done!

On the way home, one of the coaches/organizers dropped us off at the Metra station in Kenosha. A guy was sitting on a bench outside the station and asked, "Are you guys from a group home or something" to Sean and me. My response was, "No, we just finished a Triathlon!" BEST. ANSWER. EVER. and it was TRUE!!!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

LONG Hiatus... We're Back!!!

Hey Fans and Followers:

We are definitely aware of how long we've been away. We've been through many "trials and tribulations" as is often said, some good, some bad. We'll share some of these stories as becomes appropriate, but for now, we'll start where we are. This past weekend,  we attended the Dare2Tri (Chicago Paratriathlon Club) Training Camp in Pleasant Prairie/Kenosha, WI. It was a life changing experience, and our next two blogs will be our individual reflections on it.

This time, for sure, we will be posting on a regular basis!!!

We hope you all are enjoying your summer so far. We will be back tomorrow. Stay Tuned!