Getting to the Start Line

I’m here. I’m in Chicago. After an amazing weekend in Marseille (more on that later!!) I left work this week after a mere day and a half in the office (at the busiest time of the year – D’OH!) and headed to the Windy City. Just me and my bike.

Probably my last travelling tri for a while… Bike box adorned with a TEAM USA sticker to mark the occassion!

I have many emotions about being here, about paratriathlon.

Today I am facing classification, again. In the world of parasport there is a process – classification – which checks that athletes meet minimum impairment thresholds. The level (I think) is 15% of impairment compared to “able bodied” athletes.

Way back when, in 2007, I decided to do a triathlon to give me a goal – a physical goal to help me to manage my health, and to live a better quality life while managing chronic health conditions.

In 2009 I heard about paratriathlon. The dream of competing on a larger stage was alluring. I set as a goal to meet minimum time standards to be able to participate in a national championship race.

I classified in 2010 as arm impaired – quite bizarre to me as I had always assumed my legs and my awkward running style would be more eligible for paratriathlon.

In 2012 when I went to USA Paratriathlon National Championships, I did not classify – I no longer met the impairment threshold. Evidence to me that exercise is clearly the best (and only—so far!) medicine for my nerve disease CMT.

I knew that the testing done was perhaps not catching the extent of impairment I face from CMT. But from 2012 until 2014 the classification system – the process of assessing athletes and how impaired they are – has undergone a radical revision, one of the requirements when triathlon was added as a Paralympic sport (from 2016 in Rio).

I decided at the end of 2013 that this year – 2014 – would be about supporting the world of paratriathlon. About registering to race as many “big” open physically challenged events that I could find. I decided to do these races in my home country – in support of the new Open PC category that USA Triathlon rolled out this year. I wanted to add my voice – and my registration fees and my physical presence – to the promotion of physically challenged racing as a way to get more people involved in triathlon. Because triathlon changed my life. It has helped me to manage two chronic conditions – CMT my nerve disease, and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome hypermobility. As EDS is not eligible to race in the world of the Paralympics, the only option for physically challenged racing for EDSers are open category races. I decided to race Open PC to drive demand for this new, inclusive category.

When I look back, as I regularly do (reflection is in my nature), it is clear to me that racing as a paratriathlete was never the first and foremost driver for me to race. Rather, through racing and triathlon I discovered my path back to healthy living. I discovered just how awesome being active makes me feel. I learned about physical confidence – something I NEVER HAD as a kid. I learned about myself, my body. I learned about how to set a physical goal, and how to work toward that goal day in and day out, through all of the setbacks that can happen (especially to a person managing physical challenges).

I decided to race Open PC in 2014 to share this message and to ask others to drink the same Kool-Aid—that everyone has a body, so that makes us all athletes, no matter what challenges we may have. And that through sport we can learn so much about ourselves and find out about life, living, and just in general become better people.

(I know, it sounds preachy, but to me this stuff was REVELATORY!)

So with trepidation earlier this year I asked to be added to the list to race as an elite paratriathlete in Chicago, this weekend. And with nervousness I go to my classification appointment today.

I don’t need to race elite to achieve my objectives. Not everyone needs to have elite racing as an end game goal. So whatever happens today at classification, whether I race elite on Saturday or Open on Sunday, it doesn’t change me, who I am, or my message is.  That message?

No matter our challenges, we have bodies. We are athletes.

Have the courage to start. Take the first steps.

Go to the gym, go for a walk, pop that Jillian DVD into your player or stream Tara Stile’s latest yoga. Whatever you choose, have the courage to take the first step and discover your path to healthy living.

It’s getting to the start line that matters. Not how you define that start line, not which start line it is.

And once you get there? Make sure to smile…

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