ITU Chicago: My Experience

I have so many aspects of the ITU Chicago World Paratriathlon race that I’d like to blog about. But first I will start with the experience. In one word: amazing. In three words: dream come true.

A Blue Carpet Dream

The International Triathlon Union races are famous because of their blue carpet. Although I have marshalled the ITU race in London twice, and also volunteered at the Olympics, I have never experienced the blue carpet while racing.

It is the stuff dreams are made of.

The organisers at Chicago certainly did give me a wonderful first blue carpet experience. A seat to use while changing into my ankle braces! Space! A placard with my name on it! I felt well and truly spoiled.

The People

I have been chatting about paratriathlon with people for so long that it was wonderful to finally put some faces with names, and to see some friends I made in 2012 in Austin.

Like Sean. I met Sean in Austin 2012 at the Challenged Athletes Foundation swim clinic – I think he was the very first paratriathlete I spoke with that weekend. It was so nice to connect with him again, and for him to be the very first paratriathlete to greet me with a big hug after I crossed the line in Chicago.

It was also great to see Allysa again. We met in 2012 too – something that feels like yesterday but also a lifetime ago, especially when it comes to life events and changes. Allysa was so patient with my endless questions about how the races and rules worked!  And I got to meet Amy and Lindsay – I had connected with them on the ITU Paratriathlon Facebook group. Here are the four of us pictured before the race, at the exit from T1.

There are just some people whose love of life is contagious – and I have to say that is pretty much true about every single person I met in Chicago over the course of the weekend.

The Race

The last thing I expected in this race was to podium. I have been having a really hard time with training due to knee issues in particular, although an ankle sprain in January certainly did not help me to lay down a strong base for the 2014 season either. I was really happy just to go out and have the experience. To celebrate the fact that I could race – and that I had a shot to race at the highest possible level of paratriathlon.

I learned (again) in Chicago that when it comes to triathlon, absolutely anything can happen on race day. And that you have to – first and foremost – be responsible for your own race. Every single detail of that race.

(yes – I learned this last year in London when I had a mechanical DNF, and no – I still have not taken a bike mechanics course – I am still only partially prepared for my own setbacks, but I intend to remedy this glaring hole in my knowledge soon!)

Anything can happen on race day – and for me that includes placing third in my first ever elite paratriathlon race.

Some have said that a win does not count if you are the only one in the category – that a podium position does not count if there are only three to finish. But the simple fact is that I was there – I showed up, I raced to the best of my ability on that day, and I came in third out of four who started (there was one DNF). No, I did not gain any points – I was more than 20% slower than the leader so have not accummulated points for ITU rankings. Yes, I will forever treasure the medal I took home, the feeling of stepping up, the feeling of succeeding where so many have told me to just give up on the dream…

It was an amazing weekend. A dream come true when I had all but decided that 2014 would be my last season in triathlon.

Maybe I have a few races left in me yet!

To me, experiences – and successes – are best when shared. There are so many people I’d like to thank and share my happiness with – people who in my mind made ITU Chicago happen for me. I would like to thank the ITU and Head of Classification Eric Angstadt for making some headway on the classification system (it’s not perfect yet but is getting much better!) – some of the challenges I face as an athlete are now able to be tested and verified, a radical improvement from the old system. I would like to thank USA Triathlon – in particular Amanda Duke, Travis Ricks, and Mike Lenhart – for putting my name forward for the start list, even though I am not in possession of a competitive time in my category PT4 and I am carrying a persistent injury. I would like to thank Clare Cunningham our ITU paratriathlete representative for trying her hardest to put forth the perspective of those of us with neurological issues for inclusion in the new classification program. I thank my husband for encouraging me to go and race and being my biggest cheerleader and being the loudest voice when it comes to me have these experiences. I thank my sister-sherpa-photographer for doing all she did that weekend to support me, for being the best sister-friend ever, and for sharing pizza with me. I thank my Sigma Kappa sisters – Alisa, Crystal, Crystal and Teri – for standing in Grant Park and creating a violet cheering section for me and helping me to count laps on the day. I thank my coaches Tim of Red Top Swim, James of Kinetic Revolution, triathlon coach extraordinaire Russell Cox, Gabby Bandhari my pilates guru, Tom and Gav of Ultimate City Fitness, Ellis of Tatami Health, and Michael Collins the Magic Hands for their patience in working with me, even when I am ready to throw in the towel. I thank my doctors particularly Mathilde Laura and Gita Ramdharry for keeping me whole and filling in forms at the last minute. I thank my sponsor 2XU and my supporters Motion Junkies and Punk Rock Racing. I thank the Charcot Marie Tooth Association and our CMTAthletes group. I thank Laura Bauckus and the Ehlers Danlos Athletes group. And I thank all my friends old and new who put up with my boring conversation, workout posts on Instagram and Facebook and who raise my spirits even when things get tough. In my mind, my getting to the start line is not just about me, but about around who has helped me, who has impacted me, who has made me smile, who has pushed me to be the best version of myself. I am so grateful.

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