A World Championship in the Windy City

Last Friday I competed in my fourth Paratriathlon World Championship, a race that turned out to be the most dramatic and challenging ITU event that I’ve experienced yet. This year I was lucky enough for Worlds to take place in Chicago, the beloved city that I have called home for the last six years. I had come off the Test Event in Rio feeling good and ready to spend the next six weeks building for my final race of the year. With an undefeated record in 2015, I was determined to keep my streak alive through Chicago.

The weeks leading up to Worlds felt like a series of setback after setback. After staying relatively healthy all year, my body seemed to decide to fall apart at the worst possible time. Between ongoing hamstring issues in my good leg, fitting issues with my running leg, and a stomach virus that hijacked a week of training, my coach Kimberly and I had to alter my workouts in the weeks before Worlds, including my taper. It was not the ideal peak phase by any means, but we were still confident that things would come together the way we wanted them to. I had some real breakthrough running workouts in the midst of all of this, and my times on all my track workouts and long runs started dropping substantially. After failing to put together a solid 5K race all year, I was hopeful that all of that new speed would manifest itself on the run course in Chicago.

The two days before the race were an absolute whirlwind. It turns out that having a World Championship race in your own town is even more complicated than traveling to one. Wednesday and Thursday were jam-packed with meetings, course review, strategizing with coach, precovery at Edge, and valuable time with my teammates.

12015188_10205097279295765_1360898867798597582_oI awoke race morning to the massive thunderstorm that they had been predicting all week. There was still lightning at 4am when I walked across the street from my hotel to Kimberly’s house. Going above and beyond standard coaching duties, she made me breakfast, threw my equipment on her back, and rode her bike over to Buckingham Fountain with me to help me set up.

Miraculously, an hour before my 7am start, the storm subsided and the sky opened up, revealing the sunshine that stayed there through the duration of the race. As we walked down to the swim start, we ran into Team Hailstorm, a rowdy crew made up of family and friends from every corner of my life, complete with glow-in-the-dark signs, Hailstorm t-shirts, and cowbells. It meant the world to know that I would have so many people cheering for me on the course, and was the perfect sendoff before getting into the water.

The swim was uneventful, and I came out of the water fifth out of seven, 2 and a half minutes down from the leader. It was slightly less than the gap I’ve had in previous races this season, and was comfortable with the distance I needed to make up.

12019905_10205094915596674_1119230741501655124_nThe first lap of the 4.5-lap bike was all about feeling out the course, especially the three 180-degree turns on each lap. Although I have ridden the course before, the wet roads changed the conditions pretty dramatically. On my second 180-degree turn of the first lap, I took the corner at a decent speed with near perfect lines. But there was a strip of hard plastic along the intersection that was slicker than the rest of the road, and as I was coming out of the turn, my rear wheel caught the plastic and skidded out. The bike and I went down, with my right hip absorbing most of the blow. I recovered quickly and got back on the bike, only losing about 20 seconds. But I was shaken, and I ended up riding the rest of the course much more conservatively that I would have liked. As an aggressive rider who likes to take turns with a lot of speed, that crash took away one of my secret weapons.

Nevertheless, I kept pounding through the bike, making up ground on my competitors with each lap. I ended up passing Rakel from Spain and Allysa from the US, moving from fifth to third place. When I made it into T2 to transition to the run, Liisa from Finland and Melissa from the US were putting on their running legs. We all left within 30 seconds of each other, and as we started the 3-lap run course I knew that it was anybody’s race.

Within the first few hundred meters, I could tell that my legs did not have that fresh feeling that would be required if I wanted to pull off a breakthrough run. I was aware of the tightness in my hamstring with every takeoff, and my legs just felt heavy and flat. That first lap was a serious struggle. I had Melissa in my sight about 100 meters in front of me, and knew that Liisa was not far behind. But my body was fatigued, my form was suffering, and I was having a hard time making up ground.

Then at the beginning of the second lap, Allysa blew passed me. She looked stronger than ever, and I knew there was no way I’d be able to hang with her. Now in third place with two more competitors not far behind, my mind and body were right on the verge of checking out. I went into the race hoping to win, and now I might not even make the podium.

11219691_10207473830142093_5263992517806265519_nBut then a minute or two later, I reached Kimberly, who was standing along the course with her watch in hand. “You’re 20 seconds behind Melissa,” she shouted. “It’s time to pick it up.” I don’t know why I actually listened to her, but somehow, that was all I needed. I picked my pace up ever so slightly, but it was enough to start to see the distance between me and Melissa shorten.

I spent the entire second lap closing the gap, then as we were about to start the final lap, I went in for the pass. Now usually when you pass someone on the run, they fall back pretty quickly. Not Melissa. She picked up her pace to meet mine, then pushed it even faster. For an entire half a lap, there we were, shoulder to shoulder, like two racehorses jockeying for that first position. The pace was a tough one to maintain, and as much as I wanted to surge ahead, I didn’t want to burn my match too quickly. I knew this could very well come down to a sprint finish, and I needed to keep a little gas in the tank if I wanted to kick it at the finish.

Then with about 800m to go, I kicked it up one more gear and slowly started to pull away. By the time I reached the blue carpet that led into the finish chute, I was in the clear but sprinted it out to bring home a second place finish. I ended up coming in 42 seconds behind Allysa, with Melissa 22 seconds after me. It was by far the closest race PT2 women have ever seen.

12038043_10204985794396982_6330115519175630227_nThe medal ceremony that followed was without a doubt that most moving one that I’ve ever been a part of. To stand on that podium with two friends that I love and respect as our national anthem played; to watch three American flags rise against the backdrop of my city’s beautiful skyline; to look out at the grandstand and see my family and friends that traveled from near and far to be a part of this day. It was a moment that I will not soon forget.

The other highlight of the day? Coming out of the finish area and reuniting with the 25+ people that made up my cheering team. Some of them knew each other and others did not, but they somehow managed to meet each other on the course, united by the desire to support me in fulfilling a dream. It felt like walking into a surprise party with everyone that you care about, and the love almost knocked me off my feet. The Road to Rio is not a road that one walks alone, as it truly takes a team of dozens. Seeing so many dedicated members of my team was a reminder of just how lucky I am.

As I reflect on how my day panned out, there are only a couple things that I wish had gone better. While the crash on the bike was obviously not part of my plan, I don’t think it would have changed the outcome of the race. Allysa was on fire that day, and even if I had started the run a minute ahead of her, I’m sure she still would have caught me. My frustration with my race comes from the fact that I was not able to put together the run that I know I am capable of doing. I’m disappointed that my legs weren’t able to deliver on the one day that I really needed them.

12039690_10106709173334790_739686243923729528_nHowever, whatever frustration or disappointment I may have is overshadowed by the pride I feel in knowing that I put up my best effort despite it not being my perfect day. And I almost feel like that is a win in and of itself. When you’re not feeling 100% physically, it is easy to loosen the reigns, to back off the pace, to tell yourself it’s not in the cards and therefore stop trying. But to know that you are not going to have the run of your life and still fight for it as if you are—that is an exercise in mental fortitude that only makes you stronger. I’ll admit that that kind of determination would not have been possible without Melissa forcing me there. She pushed a pace that I never would have maintained on my own, and helped take me to a place that my legs didn’t think they could go. And when I crossed that finish line, I fell to the ground in exhaustion, knowing that I gave that that run absolutely everything that I had. I had put up my best effort on THAT day, and that is really all I could ask for.

With all of that said, I am very much at peace with how everything went. I know that some days you have “it” and sometimes you don’t, and that is just a part of racing. And in this increasingly competitive class, if you want to win, you have to have a near perfect day. In all honesty, I think it’s pretty exciting that the women in our classification are close enough to one another that the results can come down to something as simple as who is having a better day. That is the reality of elite racing, and I think it’s pretty awesome that we have gotten to that point. So yes, I would have loved to have crossed that finish line first—but Allysa earned every last bit of that win, and I seriously could not be happier for her. And while this may not have been one of those days where my stars aligned, I’m at peace knowing that I will have many more great days ahead of me.

12038347_10207460113079175_3996684131363822019_nPerhaps the most exciting thing to come out of this race is the fact that I officially secured my spot in Rio, and became the first US athlete to qualify for the Paralympic Team. After I provisionally qualified at the Test Event in Rio last month, we just needed to earn a country spot in order to make my qualification official, which we got by Allysa winning Worlds. Allysa and Melissa will spend the first half of 2016 trying to secure their spots as well, and all three of us are hopeful that we will all be competing alongside each other in Rio next year.

This race marks the end of my 2015 triathlon season, and I’ll be honest in saying that I’m ready for a little R&R. I’ll be taking it easy for the next few weeks, allowing my body to recover before we kickstart the offseason and do it all again. September 2016 may sound like a long way off, but time seems to be flying so fast these days that it will be here before I know it. I know what I need to work on heading into the Paralypmic year, and I am excited to get even faster in 2016. And if Worlds this year was any indication, 2016 is going to be a fast one for all of us.

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Posted by on September 21, 2015 in Uncategorized


ITU Rio Test Event

Another race, another race report. This is a big one. Last month, I went down to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the ITU Paralympic Test Event. A lot of big words that really just mean that it was a race held on the same course that we will be racing at the 2016 Paralympic Games – a sort of course preview, if you will. This race was part of the ITU circuit, with valuable points on the line, as well as an opportunity to provisionally qualify for the 2016 Paralympic team.

After my two early season races in Sunshine Coast and Monterrey, I had a nice 12-week “break” from racing. While this by no means meant a break from training, it was nice to not have to deal with the stress of international travel, and to train through 3 months without worrying about tapering for and recovering from races. After a bit of a mid-summer training funk (that’s for another post), I came out of it just in time to feel strong and ready to go for Rio.

Team USA

Team USA

There was a total of 12 athletes from the US that went down to Rio to compete. Our 10-hour flight (who knew Rio was so far away?) put us into Rio on Wednesday morning, giving us a good amount of time to get familiar with our surroundings before our Saturday morning race. Rio itself was a beautiful city. There was a great energy throughout Copacobana Beach, and all the locals seemed so excited to have us there.

The entire trip felt strangely like a dress rehearsal for the real thing next year. Visualization is a huge part of mentally preparing for a race, but I’ve always found it hard to visualize a city or a course that I’ve never seen before. To get to know the course, the hotel, the food, the streets of Rio, the training environment, the people, the energy – it was absolutely invaluable.

Going into the race, we were hearing all sorts of stories about the water quality. ITU and the USOC both ran tests on the water that met safety standards for competition, and I trusted the results of these tests. I got in the water the day before the race for course familiarization, and it felt like any other ocean (quite honestly, I’ve swum in much worse!).


Rio from up above

The field of PT2 women was a solid one. While the field was missing a few strong women that I have not yet had a chance to race (they will be at Worlds next week) my toughest competition would come from my two fellow Americans.

I woke up Race Morning knowing it was going to be a good day. The weather was beautiful (sunny, low 70s, and surprisingly similar to the Chicago weather we’d been having), my spirits were high, and there was espresso in the Athlete Lounge, eliminating the stress of trying to procure an espresso shot an hour before the gun (a pre-race ritual of mine that is not always easy to execute).

The swim was fast, hook-shaped course with a nice little current on the back half.  I had a good swim (that is, good for me), but still came out of the water 3 minutes behind first place. It was a decent gap, but close to what I was expecting, and one that I was confident about closing on the bike and run. I set out on the bike ready to hunt.

11707898_10153484233278486_2757065530934625719_oThe bike course was a three-lap, M-shaped loop, making it easy to see where my competitors were. I knew I had made up good time on the first lap, so I used the second lap to make my moves and jockey for first position. I decided at the last second that I was not going to turn my watch on, so I had no concept of how fast I was going. I just knew I was going hard. And when I passed into first place at the end of the second lap, it became clear to me that I was having the bike of my life.  I was shocked to learn after the race that I averaged a full mile per hour faster than I ever have in a tri.

I went into the run with a narrow lead over the rest of the field, but given that my run is my strongest sport, I felt confident that I could hold it. Still, I just kept reminding myself to stay in the moment. “It’s not over til it’s over,” I told myself. “Stay focused, stay strong, do not let up the pace. You’ve still got 25 minutes of the race left, and in 25 minutes, anything can happen.”

rio_teste_event_5wa_2605__medium-1It turns out, I was right. In the last half mile, my hamstring started spasming. Now I’ve experienced muscle cramps in a race before, but never this severe. I stopped and pulled over to one of the fences to stretch it out, all the while screaming on the inside. I had a decent lead, but one that would be very easy to lose if my hamstring didn’t calm down. I had about a 30-second meltdown where I pitied the thought that after all these months of hard work, my race would end like this. But then I collected myself, and told myself the same thing that I had been repeating inside the whole run: “it’s not over til it’s over.” I channeled my inner Kimberly, told myself to get my shit together, and forced myself to run through it. I had to alter my form in order to get the cramping to cease, but after a few more strides, I was on my way to the finish chute.

ITU+World+Paratriathlon+Event+H8cuceByfrnlAnd then there was the finish chute. The same one that I had been dreaming about for three years. The same one that I will be running through at the Paralympics next year. The same one that, next year, will welcome the first ever Paralympic triathlon gold medalist. It was an overwhelming moment, to say the least. And as I ran through it, I did my best to savor the experience, to remember what it felt like, so I can use it to fuel my motivation for the next 13 months. Breaking that finish tape gave me a small taste of what it would feel like to win a Paralympic medal, and left me hungry for the main course next year.

Speaking of next year, the test event in Rio has big implications for qualifying for the Paralympic Games in 2016. For an athlete to qualify for 2016, they need to earn two things: a country spot and an individual spot. No country is guaranteed to send athletes—they need to earn this right. Then once a country has spots, it is up to each nation’s governing body to decide how they are allocated to individual athletes.  My win at the test event clinched my individual spot for Rio next year; however, I still need to get that country spot for the U.S. This can be done by winning World Championships (which, in case you didn’t know, are going down RIGHT HERE IN CHICAGO on September 18th!) or by being in the top 6 in the world rankings in June 2016. Based on where I am in the rankings, I am confident that I’ll be able to get that country spot. So while nothing is official until the country spot is earned, I’m in a pretty good place.

It doesn't get much better than a USA podium sweep!

It doesn’t get much better than a USA podium sweep!

All in all, the entire experience in Rio could not have gone better. There is a weight off my shoulders knowing that I’ve secured my individual spot for next year, and there’s a feeling of comfort heading into next year knowing that I’m familiar with the Paralympics course. But most importantly, it made the idea of competing at the Paraympics so…tangible. For a long time, the idea of competing in Rio felt very abstract. Even though it was something I talked about, thought about, and worked toward every day for the last few years, it was a dream so big and so far away that it almost didn’t feel real. The test event changed all of that for me. It made Rio 2016 something that I can hear, smell, see, and feel.

Today marks one year to the day that paratriathlon will be contested at the Paralympics. One year to finalize preparations that have been in motion for many months. One year to realize a dream that was once nothing more than a fantasty. One year, and I’ve never felt more ready.


Posted by on September 10, 2015 in Uncategorized


It’s Never Too Late to Start the Day Over

In training, there is this thing that I like to call “defining workouts.” Defining workouts are the ones that define us as athletes. They are the ones where we do something truly extraordinary. They are the ones that we look back on when the going gets tough, that remind us that do have what it takes. Defining workouts only come around a couple times a year, but when they do happen, we remember why they are so worth fighting for. In a way, these defining workouts are the reason why we train.

Lately my coach has been trying this new thing where she is legitimately trying to kill me, and yesterday was a valiant effort to do just that. My two workouts on the schedule for the day were big, high intensity sessions – sessions that nobody in their right mind would schedule back to back.

I went into the first workout (a power test on the bike) feeling a bit fatigued. I started the effort off right on target, but a few minutes in, my quad started giving up on me. By the time I hit the halfway mark, I knew that I wasn’t going to get the result I wanted, so I mentally checked out. I finished the effort, but without the normal gusto that I typically bring.

Afterwards I called my coach, Kimberly, to tell her about my dismal result. We talked about it and came to the conclusion that it was a bad test, and not a good indicator of where I really am. We would test again in the future, and not get discouraged by the one today.

Then I mentioned the track workout that was on the schedule for later in the day. I was secretly hoping she would tell me to move it to a different day but instead she said, “Yeah make sure you recover well. You’re going to want to really make that one hurt.”


I politely asked if she was sure she didn’t want me to postpone the track workout for later in the week. Or maybe I started whining about how she was a sadist and this was a terrible idea. I don’t really remember. But I do remember her response:

“There’s going to come a day when you’re in a race, and you have a bad bike. I’m not talking mechanical issues…I’m talking you’re just not feeling it and you’re not putting out the times you need. Kind of like today. And when that day comes, how are you going to turn the race around?”

“On the run…” we said it in unison, I a bit more reluctantly than she.

“That’s what we’re preparing for here. For that day that you need to pull off the race of your life.” She told me the paces she wanted me to hit. They were faster than I had ever done for that workout. “It’s going to be hard and it’s going to hurt, but I know that you are fully capable of doing it.”

I arrived at the track a few hours later, and then sat in my car for a solid 10 minutes replaying my conversation with Kimberly in my head. The little voice in the back of my head doubted that I’d be able to pull off the paces I’d been given, but I told myself that I was ready to dig deep to make it happen.

My first few steps felt heavy and awkward, but I found my stride by the end of the first lap. As I finished my warmup and entered the mainset, I felt everything start to align. My legs felt surprisingly strong, and my stamina was unfading.

I knocked out the first interval exactly as it was prescribed, and with more ease than I expected. I took the subsequent intervals even faster, recording my best times ever for this type of workout. I couldn’t help but pump my first in the air when I finished my last interval and looked at the time on my watch. It was a defining workout in every way.

Sometimes we have workouts that leave us feeling defeated. Sometimes we have races where we feel like we’ve taken four steps backward. Sometimes we have tests where we question if we really have what it takes. But the amazing thing about days like this is that there is always the potential to turn them around.

It’s not easy, starting bad days over. It requires us to trust in something that we can’t see in the moment, as our vision can be clouded by failure. It requires us to take control of our thoughts, and not allow our minds to restrict what our bodies are really capable of. Sometimes it requires a little push from someone who cares about us, but at the end of the day it’s on us. It’s on us to show up, even when our better judgment is telling us to go back to bed.

Starting the day over doesn’t work every time. But when it does, we realize that we are so much stronger than we ever thought we were.

A bad workout does not mean that your day is over. It means that you’ve created an opportunity to turn it around and experience one of the most beautiful feelings in this world.

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Posted by on May 21, 2015 in Uncategorized


ITU Monterrey (CAMTRI Champs)

It’s another race in the books, and one big step forward on the Road to Rio. Last week, I returned from Monterrey, Mexico, where I competed at CAMTRI Continental Championships. Two days later, I moved (which as everyone in the world knows, is the worst) from one Chicago neighborhood to another. Hence the delayed race recap. But here it is!

Victory shot with my amazing coach, Kimberly

Victory shot with my amazing coach, Kimberly

Being that this was Continental Championships, there were more points on the line than there are at regular ITU events. As a reminder, points determine your world ranking, which determines what races you can get into, and eventually determines Rio qualification. CAMTRI was to be my sub-A race for the year, so I had spent the month of April in a phase of high-intensity workouts. I entered an intimate relationship with my Trigger Point roller, and for the first time in my life, made napping a regular part of my week. I’d also recently begun working with Aris Atoa, a strength trainer at Fit Speed Athletic Performance, and was feeling good about the work we’d put in. After the bike malfunction in Australia, my ride was all tuned up with some new components thanks to the bike gurus at Running Away Multisport. I went into the race feeling especially strong, and with the goal of placing first in my sport class so I could maintain my position at the top of the world rankings.

Continental Championships are only open to athletes in North and South America, and with a large US contingent present, I had the chance to catch up with many of the friends that I’ve made over my years of racing. Every time I go to these events, I’m reminded of just how much I enjoy spending time with my fellow athletes. For this particular race, I was lucky enough to have my coach, Kimberly Shah, along for the ride. Having her there was invaluable, from using her as a sounding board to go over course specifics to serving as an extra source of motivation on race day. She was able to watch both me and my competitors in action on the course, and gain valuable insight that we’ll use to develop my weaknesses going forward. But most importantly, she was there to carry my shit, deal with all of my meltdowns, and take care of all the high-maintenance demands that I tend to have on race day. The fact that she still talks to me after the weekend is a testament to her patience and dedication.

13722_10205563771026738_8182585086051517578_n (1)

Yes, that is in fact the swim course behind us

The course was unlike anything I’ve raced before. The entire race was held within the confines of what could best be described as an industrial theme park, a smorgasbord of a tourist attraction that contained everything from our hotel, to a ferris wheel, to a factory. The swim was essentially in a lazy river without the current (though it did boast a lovely water feature, pictured to the right), and the bike course was a smooth, fast, 6-loop course with lots of twists and turns. After going through course familiarization the day before the event, I knew it was going to be a fast race.

The race got off to a rocky start on the swim—I was so focused on trying to get in the draft of other swimmers, that I ended up zigzagging the course (Kimberly was on the sidelines yelling at me the entire time and according to her, I’m lucky I couldn’t hear what she was saying). I came out of the water in fourth place, but passed two of my competitors by the second lap of the bike. By the fifth lap, I had taken over the lead position, and knew I just needed to maintain that lead through the run. I’m lucky in that the last section of the race also happens to be my strongest discipline, so I just did what I do best—tune out the rest of the world and gut it out. I was thrilled to cross the finish line in first place, and to earn some valuable points to put in the bank. More importantly, I had my fastest bike split ever, as well as my fastest average pace on the run.


USA Sweep!

So what’s next? I just finished up a well-earned recovery week, and now it’s time to do it all again. Fortunately, I have enough points that I’m going to be able to opt out of the next few ITU races. This was a difficult decision to make, as international racing experience is always valuable. But I also know that too much racing and traveling can take its toll on me both physically and mentally, and I can’t afford to lose my focus this year. So instead, I will be dedicating the next 12 weeks to a solid training cycle that will take me though my peak race on August 1st. This race is actually an Olympic test event that will be held in Rio, on the same course that we’ll be competing on in 2016. This event is going to be crucial for Paralympic qualifying purposes, as the winner of the race essentially earns a spot for Rio 2016.

I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me between now and then, and Fun Hailey will be all but dead for the next few months (though let’s be real, she died a long time ago). But in all honesty, I can’t say I really mind. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices over the last 6 months, and I know that I will be making even more in the months ahead. I’ve made a lot of life-changing decisions since the Rio announcement came out, and I know that I will be making many more between now and September 2016. But all of those sacrifices and all of those decisions are validated every time I get on the race course.

Case in point: as I was walking back to the hotel room after the race, I found myself thinking about all the reasons why days like this are my favorite. The “Christmas morning” feeling of waking up on race day; the adrenaline/caffeine-induced exhilaration of setting up my transition area; the heavy beating of my heart that’s anticipating the sound bullhorn at water’s edge; the burning pain in my lungs, legs, and pit of my stomach that somehow makes me want to push even harder; the sheer jubilance of sprinting down the blue carpet and breaking the finish tape; and the absolute contentment with the knowledge that I am doing exactly what I was meant to do with my life.

So yeah, the rest of the summer is going to get a little crazy. But I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Course familiarization

Course familiarization

Chicago represents!

Chicago represents!

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Posted by on May 14, 2015 in Uncategorized


ITU Sunshine Coast

Well, Race #1 is in the books for 2015. I have to say that a triathlon in Australia is certainly not a bad way to begin the season. If it seems like this race came out of nowhere, that’s because it did. I decided to race ITU Sunshine Coast all of 35 days ago. I was waiting until the start list was announced before deciding if I wanted to make the trek Down Under, but when I saw the five athletes that would be competing in my class, I decided to book the trip. There were some new competitors that I was interested in scoping out—two very promising looking athletes from Spain and Japan. It would also be a chance for me to race with my friend Melissa, who was making her comeback to triathlon after giving birth to a precious baby boy in November.

The race was held in Sunshine Coast, about an hour north of Brisbane. Three of my dare2tri teammates and I left Chicago on Sunday to arrive on Tuesday for a Friday race. A “quick trip” to Australia, if you will. Nonetheless, we were able to pack some fun in before and after the race (which you are well aware of if you followed the Facebook posts).

I went into the race with the mentality that it would be a shake-out race—a way of testing my current fitness and getting some racing experience before the season picked up. In theory this meant racing without the pressure that I usually put on myself during ITU events; but of course, when race day comes, removing the pressure is next to impossible.

11046744_10152731375446623_8416061682533834002_nI came out of the water in fourth place – one place behind where I was expecting, but nothing too concerning. Third place was within close reach, and while the first two women had a decent lead on me in the swim, I was confident about catching them by the end of the bike. A half lap into the 5-lap course, I was feeling strong and ready to start making up some ground. As I came out of the first 180-degree turn, I downshifted in the rear ring to get some speed. But when I attempted to shift back up, the gear was stuck.

My first reaction was panic. There was no way in hell I’d be able to hit the pace I needed for the next 18K if I couldn’t get out of the easiest gear. I desperately tried shifting my way out of this predicament, then tried swearing my way out. But it did not take long for me to realize that there was nothing that I was going to be able to do to make this bike work the way I wanted it to. So instead, I decided to work with what I had while focusing on the good. My bike was still ridable, and although I wouldn’t be able to get it to go as fast as I needed it to, it was still moving forward. Plus now I would be forced to execute some high cadence work (which I knew my coach would be thrilled about) as it was literally the only way I could move the bike faster.

(null)I continued on my ride at a steady tempo pace. After a few laps, I was disappointed to see that the gap between me and third place had grown much wider, while the lead women had maintained a solid half lap lead. At this point, I realized that reaching my goal of a first place finish was most likely not in the cards. Not only that, but I began to brace myself for the possibility of missing the podium altogether. I told myself that every race cannot be a perfect one, and that this particular day was supposed to be a shake-out race anyway. The idea of missing the podium was a difficult pill to swallow, but it was looking like I had no choice but to buck up and swallow it.

But as I came into transition, my mentality shifted. I saw the second and third place women making their way out of transition and realized I wasn’t as far off as I had originally thought. My competitive instincts took over, and I instantaneously went into hunting mode. As someone who thrives on the thrill of the hunt—especially on the run course—it was not a bad place to be.

I took the first lap of the 3-lap course to settle in to my pace and work on closing the gap. My legs were feeling strong after the relatively low-key bike, and the heat and humidity that I had been concerned about all week did not seem to have much bearing on how I was feeling. Entering the second lap, I was within 200m of all three leaders and I knew it was time to make my move. I kicked it into high gear, and a half a lap later, I was in the lead.

11051948_10100600745797876_6831436295456808933_nI held onto that lead for the rest of the run, and by the time I got to finish chute, I was overwhelmed with a mixture of shock, relief, and joy. Just an hour earlier, I thought I was going to be finishing last, and somehow, against all odds, I had turned the race around.

In racing, there is a fine line between being delusional and being hopeful.  Between being realistic and giving up. Between accepting the things you can’t control and settling for a result that’s less than what you deserve.  I walked all of these lines at Sunshine Coast, and in doing so, I was realized just how difficult staying on the right side of the line can be. I was trying to do the mature thing by being at peace with an issue on the bike that was out of my control. But in doing so, I got dangerously close to sabotaging my own race, and settling for last place when I was capable of first.

I think there is something to be said for having the awareness to know when to alter expectations or modify the game plan. Things happen in races all the time, and it takes guts to be able to remain calm and go with the flow. But going with the flow does not mean that you stop swimming and let the current do the work. You have to continue to swim your heart out, pushing forward while allowing the current to guide you. And with a little bit of luck, you may end up exactly where you needed to be.

The medal is cool, but the koala was the real prize

The medal is cool, but the koala was the real prize

Which I guess leads me to the other valuable lesson that came out of Sunshine Coast: that the race is not over until the tape is broken. Whether you’re in first place or dead last, whether the odds are in your favor or stacked against you, it is impossible to assume that the outcome is predetermined. You never know what kind of day your competitor is having. You never know what other factors are playing out on the course. And you never know just how much you are capable of—that is, until the time comes that you need to truly bring it. With so many unknowns that you face from the time the gun goes off to the time the winner is declared, all you can really do is stay in the moment and keep fighting.

All in all, Sunshine Coast was a smashing success. I was able to start my season on a high note, and hopefully get all the little bugs worked out before the real racing picks up. I got to share the podium with Melissa, who ran down the woman who had been leading the race since the swim, earning her a bronze medal. I experienced an exciting finish, and got a taste of the new level of competition that will be present this year. I had a ridiculous amount of fun with my USA teammates, met some amazing Aussies, held a koala, and took the greatest kangaroo selfie ever documented.

Next on the docket is Continental Championships in Monterrey, Mexico. With seven weeks until race day, it’s back to training tomorrow. That is, once I sleep off this 30-hour travel day….

Thanks for reading!




Posted by on March 15, 2015 in Uncategorized


It’s Getting Rio

Many thanks to Chris Eilers, the creative mastermind between this beautiful thing

Many thanks to Chris Eilers, the creative mastermind between this beautiful thing

As the title of this post suggests, the road to the 2016 Paralympics in Rio has begun. Before you get too excited, I should tell you that I have not yet officially qualified for Rio—we’re still waiting to hear exactly how qualification will work, but it will be an ongoing process between this summer and next. However, after months of living in mystery, it’s been confirmed that my Paratriathlon classification will be a medal event in Rio, which makes competing in 2016 a very real possibility.

As a refresher, Paratriathlon contains five classifications per gender, all based on type of disability and the extent to which the disability affects performance. However, with 2016 being the first year that Paratriathlon is included at the Paralympics, there is only room for three medal events per gender. We athletes spent 2014 anxiously wondering which two classifications would be cut, and I’ll be honest and say that I was not expecting my class (PT2) to be one of the chosen ones.  The decision was primarily based on the number of countries represented and the overall competitiveness within each classification, and while these numbers were fairly similar across all the female classes, my gut was telling me that PT2 would not make the cut.

So you can imagine my shock when the long-awaited announcement came out in October, stating that PT2 would be included as a medal event in Rio. The news proved to be bittersweet. After two years of focusing all my energy on this dream, it was finally confirmed I would see the opportunity to compete. But at the same time, my heart ached for those whose classes did not make it in.  What’s more, the announcement came during a time where I was still dealing with a lot of my frustrations from the prior season. The marathon had given me a way to put a lot of these feelings on the backburner; but the announcement about Rio brought all of them back to the surface, and I found myself wondering if this was still a path that I wanted to pursue.

On the Road to Rio

On the Road to Rio

At this point, I turned to some of the wonderful people in my life that I trust the most—people who allowed me to talk it out as they listened and offered advice. Through these conversations, I was able to get to the root of many of my feelings and begin to work through them. As difficult as it was at the time, I’m almost glad that I went through this internal debate. By forcing myself to think critically about the decision to go for Rio, I was able to confront all of the fears and doubts that have inhibited me in the past, as well as all of the great things about the sport that continue to keep me coming back for more. It took me a few weeks, but I eventually reached the conclusion that the Road to Rio was in fact the road that I wanted to be on. And because I went through this process, I’m able to enter this commitment knowing that I am doing it for all the right reasons.

The thing with the Paralympics is that it’s not something you can do half-heartedly. To compete at this level, you have to commit yourself 100%, and I knew when I decided to pursue this that I was going to have to go all in. But unfortunately, going all in while holding down a full-time office job is no easy task. I’ve made it work for the last year and a half, but in doing so, I had gotten my athletic life stuck in a place that was a few steps above recreational and a few steps below professional. I realized that if Rio was the goal, I was going to have to make some changes in my work life – changes that would enable me to take my athletic career to the next level. And so starting this month, I will be scaling back my responsibilities at work and going down to a part-time basis.

This change will allow me to make triathlon my top priority – for all intents and purposes, triathlon will be my new full-time job. Having more time and energy to focus on training will be huge, but breaking the body down is only half of the equation. The other half involves building the body back up, and it’s that extra time I’ll have to devote to rest and recovery that will ultimately allow me to ramp up the intensity of my workouts. My coach and I have mapped out a regimen that will take a holistic approach to my training, including practicing more formal recovery techniques, dialing in on nutrition, improving my mental game, and incorporating more yoga and strength training.

Working hard in CO Springs

Working hard in CO Springs

So far, this winter has been great. I was able to spend the holidays with family and celebrate my 24th birthday with friends. The weather in Chicago has been relatively mild (that is, until this week, when Snowmageddon 2015 happened), so I’ve been able to continue doing most of my running outside. Thanks to dare2tri, I recently got a Wahoo Kickr, a power-based bike trainer that has done the impossible: made indoor cycling legitimately fun! I also spent a week in January at the Olympic Training Center in CO Springs for a swim-focused camp (shout-out to Patty Collins – raddest roommate ever). While the overall low-keyedness of the off-season was great, I’m happy to start getting used to this new “job” and gearing up for the race season.

This year I’ll be almost exclusively racing ITU events, and earning points that will help determine eligibility for Rio. The ITU circuit will take us all around the world, and as excited as I am for the many stamps my password will get this year, I know that all of the travel will add a whole new element to my racing. I’ve done enough traveling to know that I get unreasonably irritable in airports and that flying really messes with my body, so I guess I’ll have to learn how to deal with that. However, I did buy a travel-size French press so I can have my (very specific, borderline snobby) coffee wherever I go. And let’s face it – as long as I have that, everything else should work out.

Thanks for checking in and for being a part of this Road to Rio! More to come as the season unfolds.

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Posted by on February 3, 2015 in Uncategorized


A Monumental Run

A little over year ago, I finished my first marathon in Chicago. I am not even lying when I say that that race was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. As much as I loved my laidback approach to Chicago, that marathon left me hungry for more. I wanted to do another one, to train for it properly (i.e. run more than 14 miles before race day), and see what I could do if I truly raced it. I chose the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon as my fall marathon and settled on a goal – to break the world record for female above-knee amputees by running a sub-4:40.  I knew that this time around probably wouldn’t be “fun” in the same way that my first one was, but I was excited for the challenge of racing a marathon versus running one.

After a disappointing end to my triathlon season, the marathon took on an entirely new meaning for me. The training became a way for me to channel all of the anger I was feeling about Worlds, and the race became a way for me to find a little redemption. But it also served another important purpose. This tri season was a tough one for me, and by the end, I was experiencing my first taste of burnout with cycling and swimming. Despite the loathing I felt towards my bike and the pool, I was enjoying running more than ever. So to be able to focus all of my energy on the one thing that made me happy, to pour my heart and soul into it, and to reconnect with all of the reasons why I loved training – it was exactly what I needed. My training went beautifully, nailing workout after workout, keeping my body strong through each long run, and having more fun than I’ve had in a long time.

I picked the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon for several reasons: small but well-organized, flat and fast course, and convenient time of year with perfect running weather. Well, in theory it was supposed to be perfect weather. But the day before the race, a cold front swept through the Midwest, bringing snow, wind, and freezing temperatures. I woke up on race morning to temperatures in the low thirties – ten degrees cooler than my ideal temperature, but nothing I couldn’t handle with proper clothing. My bigger concern was the 15-20mph winds that would be against me for the first 13 miles. I knew I was going to need to adjust my racing strategy – take the first half a little more conservatively and let the tailwind naturally push me to a faster second half. I also knew I might have to adjust my goals. The 4:20 finish time I had been training for would require near-perfect execution. I was still going to push to make it happen, but decided I would be happy with anything under 4:30.

Don’t be fooled by her nice-looking exterior.  Come race day, this woman is ruthless.  Good thing I love her anyway.

Don’t be fooled by her nice-looking exterior. Come race day, this woman is ruthless. Good thing I love her anyway.

I was lucky to have my friend and coach, Kimberly, with me to serve as my pacer/sherpa. She was with me every step of the way, blocking me from behind so that oncoming runners wouldn’t run into my blade, as well as carrying all my stuff and taking care of my nutrition needs. With Kimberly handling the logistics, all I had to do was put one foot in front of the other.

I hardly remember anything from the first half. For all intents and purposes, the race truly began once I hit the 13-mile mark. I was excited to finally have the wind at my back, and was right on pace for the first couple miles of the back half. But I think that the headwind impacted me more than I thought it would, and by the 16-mile mark, I felt myself fading. I started to worry. It was way to early in the race to be feeling this bad.

Around this time, my friend Amanda jumped in and ran a couple miles with us. This girl had driven all the way from Chicago that morning dressed up in a zebra onesie (it was the day after Halloween) just to give me a pick-me-up when I needed it most. I also got to see my friends Diana (who also made the trek from Chicago), Sheryl, and Kimberly’s family at a few different points on course. It’s amazing what a difference seeing a familiar face during a marathon can make. Even though I probably looked like I wanted to kill them, seeing each of them there meant the world to me.

The last 10K was without a doubt one of the hardest things I have ever done. I was giving it everything I had, but I had hit a wall, and I hit it hard. During this stretch, it was Kimberly’s flawless execution of tough love that kept me moving forward. She ran just ahead of me, and would turn around and tell me to catch up whenever I fell more than 6 feet behind her. I’m sure the two of us were a sight to see. Me with my eyes locked on the back of her head in my signature death glare; her looking right through the death glare and telling me that I needed to “get my shit together.” It was a painful strategy, but it worked. And while I still could not find the energy to maintain my 4:20 pace, she kept me from falling too far off. I don’t know what the day would have looked like if I hadn’t had Kimberly there, but I know I would not have finished with the time that I did without her.

I don't think I've ever been more relieved to finish a race than right here in this moment.

I don’t think I’ve ever been more relieved to finish a race than right here in this moment.

By the final mile, I was so ready for it all to be over that I summoned every ounce of energy I had left to get to the finish as fast as I could. Crossing the finish line was a bit of a blur. I was so physically and mentally exhausted, that I can’t say I was fully present. It wasn’t until Kimberly pulled me into a hug and I heard the race announcer say something about my world record attempt that I realized what I had just done.

I had told the race director prior to the race that I was attempting to break a world record. Little did I know, they spent the whole race keeping tabs on me and tweeting my progress. They announced that my 4:25 finish had surpassed the previous world record by 15 minutes, and even took the time to talk to me about my race. The fact that the race organizers and the crowd at the finish line were just as excited about my race as I was made the moment all the more special.

My goal of breaking the world record was about a year in the making. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by the concept of human thresholds in running. From the 4-minute mile to the 2-hour marathon, I am just captivated by the idea of breaking through a barrier that scientists and coaches insist is a physiological impossibility.

Of course, this got me thinking about thresholds among para athletes, specifically above-knee amputees like myself. Not long ago, I believed that the threshold for female amputees had already been reached. I looked at the marathon record set by my dear friend and mentor, Sandy Dukat, and thought that I would never be able to perform at that level. But as I’ve spent more time in my sport, I’ve realized (with all due respect) that the world of amputee runners is still so small, that we are nowhere near the threshold for what is possible. I think that is the most exciting thing about being an amputee runner – we are living in an era where the limits for what is achievable by an athlete with a disability are still being defined, and we get to be a part of creating that history. I know that I will never be the person to reach that threshold, but I hope that what I did at the Monumental Marathon pushed us a little bit closer.

I do not expect my record to last very long. In fact, I hope that it doesn’t. I hope that more women will come along and shatter my time (though granted, I also hope to shatter it in a few years). I hope that by raising the bar, more women will realize that they too are capable of setting a new standard. I hope that the next generation of athletes will look at my marathon the same way that I looked at Sandy’s marathon – as both an aspiration and a challenge to say, “that’s great, but I’m going to run it faster.” And when they do run it faster, I will proudly pass the torch with the same class that Sandy exemplified when she passed it to me.


Posted by on November 2, 2014 in Uncategorized


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