So here I am on a beautiful Friday night indoors staring in longing at my bed. My eyes are sore, painful and tired, my legs ache and my stomach growls with hunger. My email pings. It’s my coach. It reads like this, “Hope you’re feeling better. We’re focusing on bricks from now to Rio.” My heart somersaults and my stomach turns. I flip open the drawer that contains my new USA Triathlon ‘Elite’ member card and turn it over in my suntanned hands. So this is what being an elite athlete is all about.
It’s been exactly two years from yesterday that I completed my first sprint distance triathlon. I never knew anything about schedules, recovery, bricks and hydration until this past season. I was ‘winging it’ with some guidance from some local friends and guides and figuring it out along the way. When I began being coached, I started to surprise myself with more speed, better results and less pain. When I teamed up with coach Ray Kelly back in December, the temperature in the room suddenly changed. I started believing what people were telling me. I could actually be good at this. I dared to begin daydreaming about where I could possibly go with this.
After me and guide Lindsey Cook had our spectacular first race in Mexico this year, I finally saw what others had seen. I was willing to put in the work, and the results were showing. I am fitter, faster, and more mentally prepared to do this than I could have ever possibly imagined. I can finally say I’m ready to compete with the ‘big girls’. Workouts are now vomit-inducing, near passing-out efforts of blazing speed on the run, wattage on the indoor bike trainer, and shoulder-searing-pain in the pool. Food is no longer a source of sheer pleasure and choice. It is a mind-boggling juggling act of looking at how much fuel I need and how to best reduce inflammation and increase hydration and build muscle post workout. Don’t get me wrong. There are still a significant amount of cookies involved. There will ALWAYS be a significant amount of cookies involved.
Organizing appearance and training schedules and travel with my guide has become a feat of acrobatics. With her busy career as an associate professor in Indiana and her incredible philanthropic nature to volunteer for new paratriathletes a camps across the nation, she is a moving target who herself manages to juggle and probably stares at her bed at 7pm on many a night during our season. Her can-do attitude and incredible generosity has enabled us to see the podium in many races together in one year. I simply couldn’t do this without her. Our intense training has brought us closer than family, and we know each other intuitively on a very deep and personal level. It’s a bond I may have only experienced with my Guiding Eyes for the Blind Labrador Elvis. In fact, the two of them are a lot alike! They’re both blonde, sweet, loyal, goofy, strong, smart and brave. They also take it on as their job to keep me safe when we’re together. To say she’s special is an understatement.
My days are filled with a constant stream of emails regarding speaking engagements, chasing potential sponsors, looking for unique grants to fund our races, traveling to the 4 or more doctors’ appointments I have each week, or planning my guides locally for the workouts I need to conduct outdoors. I juggle. A lot. I never imagined 5 years ago when I sat in my office for the wine company, tasting dozens of wines each day, buying, selling and writing sales spreadsheets and budgets that I would ever have an athletic career as I was approaching 40 years of age as a blind woman. But it’s happening.
I have been so blessed through the generosity of friends, family, local businesses, the Challenged Athlete’s Foundation and the Lion’s Clubs of Greenwich and Brookfield to be able to afford training, travel and equipment for two blondes on a serious budget. I now have LITERALLY one of the nicest, fastest lightest and best-handling tandem racing bikes ever built by hand thanks to everyone mentioned above. It hangs in my apartment in a place of honor, and each morning as I walk to the kitchen for my coffee at 4:45 am, I stop and PET her, and say, “Good morning Bomber- looking fast today!” My dog thinks I’m nuts. But honestly, she’s the nicest thing I’ve ever owned, and each day she sits proudly on her rack, I get goose bumps and thank God for how lucky I am to own and ride her when I am able to secure a female pilot locally or Lindsey is in town to train. It is an honor.
So with fancy bikes, an international race-travel calendar that includes Mexico, Canada and Brazil this year, along with a few weeks in California at the Olympic Training Center Chula Vista, one would think that I have it all figured out as an elite full-time paratriathlete. But I have a long way to go. The Rio 2016 games will be next September. There are at least 6 important races on the calendar between now and then involving travel costing in the thousands per race in order to qualify for the Paralympics. There are countless hours of massage, acupuncture, eye surgeries, doctor’s appointments and procedures to keep me out of pain and functioning with an aggressive autoimmune disease that is trying to steal my remaining sight and claim my digestive tract. There are busted helmets to buy, supplements to purchase, glaucoma medications to order, meals to carefully plan and pack.
I look at the toll it’s taken on my Guiding Eyes Guide dog and realize that he didn’t sign up for this life. When he and I were matched, I was 56 pounds overweight, going through chemotherapy to combat my autoimmune eye disease, and my greatest exercise was walking from my apartment a half mile to the bus stop. Now he guides me all over town and we are on planes every two weeks, staying in strange hotels and on sofas around the U.S. Some days start with a 4am gym workout and end with a midnight train ride home from a speaking engagement in the city. It’s no wonder he’s retiring in 6 months at the young age of 8 and a half.
And there will be these Friday nights at 7pm, on a gorgeous summer evening to sit outside with friends and sip Rose’ wine that I will instead be home staring at my bed, challenging myself to stay awake just one more hour until it begins to get dark. Where I have to force myself to eat something so the morning run doesn’t go poorly, but my stomach isn’t receptive to food. Or trying to sneak in a 3 day weekend at my family’s vacation house in Rhode Island so I can say that I spent some quality time with them that did NOT involve a ‘race-cation’. Is my life extremely glamorous when I’m taking selfies with Eli Manning and hanging with the NHL Commissioner? You BET it is.
But it’s these moments when I realize there’s a great deal that I miss out on- family birthday parties, concerts, the wine business I have so adored for 20 years; moments when my chest is so sore that lifting a coffee cup is too difficult. When I have to walk down the stairway backwards because my thighs are too sore, that I wonder if I’m crazy to do this triathlon ‘thing’. And then I look at my email from coach Ray, and re-read the line, “bricks until Rio” and almost fall out of my chair in amazement. I’m going to RIO to represent my country in an international race! And I’m BLIND! And I’m going to be 40 in 6 months! What the heck? And I say, “Suck it up buttercup. Welcome to the big leagues.” And THEN I go to bed. Goodnight y’all! And THANK YOU for supporting team #blondesonbikes – please go to amydixonusa.com/donate if you want to be part of this journey.