I don’t know where to begin. The month of sleepless nights and pre-race anxiety? The daily torturous workouts from Coach Ray Kelly?? Or the feeling of standing on the podium and crying while the National Anthem played? Or how about the feeling of flying past some of the fastest triathletes in the world on a blazing fast bike course?
Guide Lindsey and I had prepared in every possible way for this race, saving penny after penny to get ourselves down to Clermont Florida two weeks prior to test out our abilities on the new bike and to acclimate ourselves to the potentially race-killing heat of Monterrey Mexico. Lindsey flew up to Connecticut to get a final ‘fit’ on the bike and to give her our maiden voyage back in April. Every day, we texted before, during and after our workouts prescribed by coach Kelly to compare data, and commiserate over the mutual suffering we endured, encouraging each other, and whining endlessly about how tired or sore we were.
The final piece of the puzzle came in introducing ourselves to sports psychologist Simon Marshall, who helped me move past my awful pre-race anxiety and the intense pressure we faced to perform at our very best on race day. We had all the tools we needed for success. The financial support of our friends and family who donated funds, a fast new bike to obliterate the competition, the miles and hours of training with our coach, the mental skills to stay focused, and the heart and friendship to compete as a team at our very peak of fitness. Now for the test.
The race venue was like something out of a magazine. The jagged, majestic mountains loomed overhead, the chlorinated, crystal blue waters of the canal invited us to swim, the bike course was a series of technical twists and turns looping around a picturesque park, and the run took us past stunning steel sculptures in this re-purposed industrial steel mill area. Inspiring music was piped in through speakers at every corner of the park, and folks whizzed by on rented or purchased bikes, smiling and laughing in the fresh mountain air. We were honored to be here.
We caught up with dozens of friends, teammates and their families who came to support at our host hotel, and excitedly talked about the course, the venue and the competition. Our first meeting with Team USA Coach Mark Sortino and Christine Palmquist was inspiring, and we tucked ourselves in for the night to get out for our swim and bike preview the next day.
The bike course rode like a Formula One car racing course. S-turns, chicanes, and narrow spots, combined with a LOT of athlete traffic, made for a very technical, precise ride. I was getting excited, as I new that Lindsey was by far the best bike pilot on the course with the most experience. Cornering and focus and gear selection would be critical to our success, and I knew I had the right ‘horse’ so-to-speak. We totally had this.
After pep talks with Ray and Simon, we wrote down our race plan. All our training had been really hard intervals, and the 6 loop bike course lent itself to precisely riding it that way. We’d get some ‘recovery’ on the turns, and hammer on the straight-aways, with a mandatory slow down at the end of each lap due to pedestrian crossings and a super narrow barricade that forced everyone to be single file. This would work perfectly to catch our breath on race day. For the swim, we planned to be smooth and relaxed, and the run would be aggressive for 800 meter sets, with ten seconds of backing off to catch my breath, then hard again. With this in mind, we slept better than I had in months the night before our big dance.
Race morning was cool and dark, and we arrived at the athlete check-in without too much incident. I managed to forget our swim tether back in the hotel shower where it was drying, and Lindsey got a good run warmup in by going back to retrieve it. Upon inspection of our bodies, bikes, tethers, and uniforms by the ITU (International Triathlon Union) officials, it was discovered that my BLONDE sighted guide, Miss Lindsey, had placed my race id # tattoos both upside down and backwards on both of my arms. After a brief moment of panic, everyone laughed and they cleared us to go ahead and race. Lindsey and I giggled and blamed it on the pre-coffee tattoo attempt.
Our only concern for the race was the safety involved in running from the water to the transition area where our bike awaited us on an uneven grassy area. We had to run down a slick, wet, ramp with bare feet as fast as we could safely go. I was terrified of falling but knew I needed to go fast. The grass presented a challenge with potholes and bumps where tree roots stuck up. This would require a lot of help from Lindsey to get us there in one piece.
Lindsey and I had one final hug and hopped into the clear, cool water. We wished our friends waiting behind us for their wave to start ‘good luck’ and pulled our goggles down over our race caps. It was go time. The air horn blasted and we took off. The current #1 female visually impaired triathlete in the USA was given a 3 minute and 48 second head start on me, as I have partial vision. I was determined to use my swim to gain on her as fast as possible. While I knew she had a fantastic run, the swim and bike were our strengths, and we should be focusing there.
In order to keep from blowing up, I remembered something my friend and guide Patty had told me. She’s a Colonel in the Army, and they use a phrase that helps when using a rifle to shoot straight. ‘Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” I painfully focused on having the perfect stroke, breathing and body rotation to make myself as long and efficient as possible. Within minutes we were out of the water in first place for our swim.
The ramp proved as slippery as anticipated, so we took teeny small steps down the hill and held onto each other tightly. Lindsey called out the path to me as we ran into the transition area. We were ready simultaneously and sprinted with our bike out of T1 (transition 1). I was gassed for the first lap, and managed to catch my breath on the second after our mandatory slow down. Lindsey handled the turns like a pro, gearing down in advance, leaning the bike over, and hammering out of the apex. We were having FUN! THIS was what racing should be like. We blew past bike after bike, even lapping several folks, smiling, fist-pumping and enjoying the agility and speed of Bomber, our beloved new bike. 6 laps flew by in little more than 32 minutes- nearly 2 minutes faster than any race I had done prior.
We had nearly a 5 minute lead over 3rd place going into the run, so I actually felt a smile cross my face for a brief second. Until I realized that I pulled a blonde move and didn’t set my watch up properly for the run in Multisport mode. I had no idea of my pace. Lindsey was having the same difficulty. As we climbed the first incline, coach Mark yelled to us to check the penalty board. Our number was there! We scooted to the right of the course, and served our ten second penalty. Something must have fallen on the ground in our transition area or perhaps a drafting or speeding penalty in the ‘slow zone’ on the bike. I immediately started talking to Lindsey, as I KNEW she’d start to beat herself up over it. “Shit happens girl. We’re fine, it’s behind us, let’s just get this thing done and move forward. There’s nothing we can do about it, and you did everything by the book. Don’t give it another thought.” And with that, we took off after the race leader.
Within 8 minutes, I was suffering. I slowed to a brisk walk for 5 steps, took three deep breaths, and got back to work. I was getting frustrated with my lungs and anxious about not knowing what pace I was at. Within 50 yards, I spotted the leader headed out on her second lap. I realized that I was actually within striking distance of catching her if I just got my act together. As my coach said, it was time to ‘Go For It!”. We ran the twisty, bumpy route through the end of the first lap, passing the finish chute and the bike course to our left. I knew in less than 10 minutes, I’d be passing under that magnificent arch and claiming either gold or silver. I could suddenly see it happening.
We caught up to my friend, and a former guide Patty Collins out on the course. She was digging deep on the run, and was running the perfect pace to keep me moving forward to the finish I wanted. Her prosthetic leg clicked like a perfectly-timed metronome on the pavement, and I smiled to myself knowing that she was so close by. It was a really special moment to share with her, even though I was so breathless I couldn’t talk to her. It was comforting to know she was there. I spotted the number three athlete on our return lap, and realized she was gaining on me. It was time to test out my legs. With that, a sharp pain appeared in my left thigh.
I looked down at my wrist, where the words ‘Exhale’ and ‘Geno’ were written in black Sharpie marker. “Geno’ is my ‘alter ego’, my inner fighter that is a scrappy little Italian guy who is your best friend when you need him, but a total psychopath and fighter when he’s backed into a corner. I called on Geno to get my leg back to working properly. I told my legs to ‘Shut the ‘f’ up!” It worked. The pain became a dull nuisance, and I forced my arms to push my body forward, faster and faster with each step. I said to Lindsey, ‘Let’s GO!” and go, we did. We hugged for what seemed like ten minutes in the finish chute as they placed our medals around our necks and we laughed, cried and chugged Gatorade. Amanda Duke, the head of USA Paratriathlon was there to celebrate with us, making the 2nd place finish even sweeter.
Standing on the podium as the #6 visually impaired triathlete in the world alongside two fierce and talented competitors while our National Anthem played is something I will dream of every night for months. Lindsey and I refused to let it sink in until we were assured that we had no further penalties, and that it did, in fact, actually just happen. We had just done what we set out to do. Medal in our first Continental Championships as a team.
The following days went by so fast. We dined and celebrated with our teammates, who took home 6 gold medals at the race and multiple silver and bronze. We rode a Ferris Wheel high above the park, and fed parrots and rode a zip line across a wide gorge. Leave it to us blondes to accidentally eat the peanuts they gave each of us for the birds. I remember thinking how lovely it was for them to give us a snack for our walk in the zoo…. Oh lord- Hungry and BLONDE triathletes! What can you do? This week is filled with so many happy memories, blonde moments, and triumphs. It feels so good to showcase our abilities on such a big stage, and to know that we can execute a great race plan when we work as a team. I can’t imagine a better partner than Lindsey to laugh until we cried (literally) or push each other past our perceived physical limits.
Next up for Team #blondesonbikes? Paracycling National Championships in Chattanooga Tennessee in two weeks. Today is back to training, and this week is all about cycling and some nice recovery swims and runs. Thank you all for being a part of our journey. We are honored to represent the USA and can’t wait for our next big triathlon race in Rio at the Paralympic Test Event ITU race on August 1st. As you can imagine, all of this comes at a great price, and we are entirely self-funded. If you or your company wish to make a tax deductible donation to our racing and training efforts, please click here. Thank you all! LOVE and GRATITUDE.
Silver Medals with a Mexican twist! Love it!