Sunday, June 17, 2012

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 fiancé.” 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!!!

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