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The Journey Continues: Let The Fun & Games Begin

After six days (Aug 25-Sept 4) of yummy Hilton Hotel breakfasts and riding three hours a day along the Pacific Coast Highway in Southern California at Team USA ParalympicPrep Camp, it was time for what is considered by most Olympic and Paralympic athletes as the most fun part of the games experiences, Athlete Processing.  Team Processing is where all athletes get fitted for Opening and Closing Ceremony apparel as well as get to “let loose” a bit before heading off to compete.  All Team processing took place in Houston, TX at the main Convention Center connected to the Hilton of the America’s Hotel.  The entire convention hall had been re-carpeted and decorated for Olympic and Paralympic Athletes.  Rooms were set up with stations from different Team USA sponsors such as Nike, Ralph Lauren, Omega and many more.  There were also places to show off your “Celebration Dance” or your “Club’n Dance”.  Ben and I were like kids in a candy store.  We made sure to hit every station and capture it all with photos and video so “YOU” our fans could also experience this awesome day.  

If we didn't already know we were in Houston, we did now with these giant letters!

If we didn't already know we were in Houston, we did now with these giant letters!

The wall of Paralympic Champions.  A few of those on this wall include visually impaired distance runner Marla Runyan, swimmer and Team Manager of US Para-Cycling Erin Popovich and female wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden.  Some AMAZING athletes!

Ben and I do a little doodling and artwork on the huge letters.  I made sure to identify who drew this masterpiece!

Signing the surf board that went to President Obama at the Whitehouse visit after the games.  

Signing the surf board that went to President Obama at the Whitehouse visit after the games.  

Before beginning our shopping adventure, we sat through something called Two Op.  This includes some fun presentations regarding behaving well at the games and regarding social media posting.  Evidently Ryan Lockte and Hope Solo fell asleep during these presentations because they basically did everything we were told not to do here.  Many have asked me whether what these two did during the Olympic Games impacted regulations and policies for the Paralympic Games and the answer to this is an overwhelming “YES”.   Once we set foot in Brazil, we were closely watched by the US State Department and it closely resembled back in middle school when I had to report to mommy and daddy and tell them where I was at all times.  Curfews were set much earlier than in games past and leaving the grounds of the Paralympic Village was restricted at times. 

Social media was the other main topic covered in Two Op.  This topic is good to mention as many of you may have wondered why I did not post much in the two weeks leading up to and during the Paralympic Games.  Over the last four years very stringent rules on what athletes can post have been implemented.  This rule is known as Rule 40 and is associated with the Blackout Period in which athletes cannot be associated with any media that related to to any entity unrelated to Paralympic sponsored entities.  Also, use of words such as Paralympics, RoadToRio, Rio, Gold, TeamUSA and many more are highly restricted in the way in which they can be used by athletes and sponsors.  Many athletes and sponsors have thus decided to avoid social media posting during this period to prevent from getting in trouble.  I did post some content during the games but had to be very careful and if you as fans felt slighted or out of the loop during the games, this is most likely the reason.  

The third part of Two Op was one of my favorite parts and that was reading cards from all over the country and elementary students who wrote to wishus all good luck in Rio.  Here are some good examples of these.  

Letter to Team USA

THE NIKE LOUNGE

How do you like our belly shirts? :)

How do you like our belly shirts? :)

Although I may be smiling, inside I am thinking, "Ben could you ate one less cheeseburger last night.  

Although I may be smiling, inside I am thinking, "Ben could you ate one less cheeseburger last night.  

Athlete processing was evidently a time for the staff to be off the clock and let loose as well.  

My personal message to Nike in their memory book saying THANKS for all that they do for Team USA

My personal message to Nike in their memory book saying THANKS for all that they do for Team USA

I had to of course take some pictures of some other Thank You's in the Nike Memory Book.  Here is one from Simone Biles Olympic gymnast.  I find it comical that other athletes tried to squeeze their message right next to Simone's just to get a little attention.  BTW, there were plenty of empty pages :)   

I had to of course take some pictures of some other Thank You's in the Nike Memory Book.  Here is one from Simone Biles Olympic gymnast.  I find it comical that other athletes tried to squeeze their message right next to Simone's just to get a little attention.  BTW, there were plenty of empty pages :)   

Nike provided our own personal dressing room and one on one apparel fitter so we could make sure we were looking in style over in Brazil. 

Nike provided our own personal dressing room and one on one apparel fitter so we could make sure we were looking in style over in Brazil. 

Here they are, Aaron Scheidies and Ben Collins coming out of the Nike dressing rooms.  Introducing THE TANK and THE STALLION!!!

They never think about the blind kids when producing stuff.  We did our own editing and changed that!

They never think about the blind kids when producing stuff.  We did our own editing and changed that!

THE RALPH LAUREN LOUNG

The entrance to the Ralph Lauren Lounge.  This is where we got fitted for our Opening and Closing Ceremony outfits!  It was also where the new pop star, "The White Cane Sensation" was born. 

The entrance to the Ralph Lauren Lounge.  This is where we got fitted for our Opening and Closing Ceremony outfits!  It was also where the new pop star, "The White Cane Sensation" was born. 

SOCIAL MEDIA EXPERIENCE

OFF TO THE AIRPORT

Before we left the Hilton of the America's in Houston, we got a great farewell from locals in Houston that came out to send us off chanting USA!

After our police escort from the hotel to the airport, we got a special escort through security and to our gate at the Houston airport before we took off to Rio

After our police escort from the hotel to the airport, we got a special escort through security and to our gate at the Houston airport before we took off to Rio

OFF TO RIO

From Houston, we flew overnight to Rio, Brazil.  Here we are landing in beautiful Rio.  From here our Rio experience began. 

 hope you have enjoyed the recap of our athlete processing experience before heading off to Rio.  From here our Rio experience began and the next blog will include the amazing Rio Experience video that recaps our entire experience beautifully.  

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The Journey Takes Another Twist, #Road2Rio

As many of you know, my #Road2Rio was an up and down rollercoaster ride where what was expected never happened.  From the heartbreaking news that shattered my dream of winning gold in Paratriathlon at the end of 2014 to the search for a new sport that would get me to Rio via a different route.  My attempts to get to Rio running the marathon were halted by stress fracture and injury and I was once again forced to turn a different direction.  In May of 2015, I competed in my first pure cycling event in my life and had some great performances that landed me on the US National Para-Cycling Team racing overseas internationally.  My first few international races in Para-Cycling were riddled with mechanical problems and a crash which left me scurrying to find something that would work.  Finally, some success inPara-Cycling came in the summer of 2015 where we took two silver medal podium finishes in one of the toughest categories in the world. The US Team hadn't had a tandem podium in years and we were finally starting to be a force that others feared on the international level.  

Going into 2016, I selected Ben Collins as my primary pilot going forward on the push towards Rio.  In order to maximize our chances of getting to Rio we would have to add another piece to our arsenal.  We would have to get onto the velodrome track.  Getting on the velodrome is a major learning process for anyone but when you are doing it on a tandem there are many more factors that come into play.  The biggest factor that came into play for us was finding a track tandem.  There are probably only five track tandems in the entire US and finding parts that are compatible with a track tandem is are few and very far between.  Needless to say, we competed at our first track event and had more mechanical issues and showed that sprinting is not our specialty.  We were not selected to the US Team going to the Para-Cycling Track World Championships which definitely did not help our chances to get to Rio but was did not take us out of the hunt.  

Our next real shot of getting selected to the #1 Para-Cycling Team in the world would be at the Paralympic Trials in Charlotte on July 2, 2016.  Prior to the trials would be a World Cup event in Belgium which was the last sneak peak of the competition that would be racing in Rio. Ben and I were training hard for this event and i was also working a ton at my Physical Therapy job.  Just when I thought everything was beginning to click, my body's energy levels began to plummet and I was weaker than a kitten.  I began sleeping up to 15hrs on many days and my legs felt as though they would buckle at any moment.   I had a team of medical professionals, dietitians and coaches tracking my recovery each and every day but my performance at the Belgium World Cup was evidence that I was running at no more than 60-70%.  

A few weeks later things began to come around. I raced with Colin Riley at the Para-Cycling National Championships Road Time Trial in Winston Salem, NC and we defended our title from the year before.   Even so, we would need a much better performance the trials just a month later.  

Another wrench was thrown into our journey when we found out that the UCI had ring-fenced 4 of the 9 male slots that the US team had earned for Rio.  Ring fencing is where the UCItakes slots from a country and allocates those spots to specific classifications.  These spots are typically in less represented and more "disabled" classes and these ring fenced spots go away from your team's earned spots.  The men's tandem (blind) class is pretty much never ring fenced.  Four of the nine US male spots were ring fenced and this left five spots left.  The rest of the team would be selected by performances at the Track Cycling and Road World Championships results as well as from the Paralympic Trials in Charlotte in July.  Selection at the trials was based on Standard which is a method that places all classes on the same % scale.  The procedure for creating the Standard for each class is much too lengthy and detailed to explain so we will refrain from that as this is a blog post and not a novel. 

With knowledge of the ring fenced spots and all of the other selection procedures we knew that going into the US Paralympic Cycling Trials in Charlotte there was really only two spots up for grabs.  We needed a near perfect race and even that may not be enough.  We were having that perfect race in Charlotte until our bike failed us once again.  Ben Collins has already explained in details what happened at the Paralympic Cycling trials in Charlotte in a previous blog (READ BLOG HERE).  The mechanical failure of the bike with half a mileto go eliminated our chances of getting selected for the team going to Rio, or so we thought.  

On July 3rd the 2016 US Paralympic Cycling Team going to Rio was announced and our names were not on the list.  We returned home to Seattle feeling like a child lost in the mall looking for their parents.  We didn’t really know what just happened and we had no idea what we would be doing next.  For me it was time to move on. It was time to find full time work as a physical therapist and begin the process of starting a family.  Although I had a few races planned , I considered myself “mostly retired” and competing had now become a lower priority

I did have one more race on my calendar and so I did get back in the pool a few times and splash around a bit and run here and there before the ITU Paratriathlon World Championships in Rotterdam, Netherlands on July 23rd but after that I was pretty much a weekend warrior.  

Controversy began to arise as the Rio Olympic Games neared and questions whether the Russians would compete in the Olympic games swirled among the media following numerous findings of a systematic doping culture in the country.  The I.O.C. claimed that they had a “Zero Tolerance” policy on doping but still somehow allowed Russia to compete at the Olympic Games.  This was very strong evidence that money and power rule decisions and not ethical reasoning.   Once this decision was made, I figured that it was all but assured that the Russians would also be able to compete in the Paralympic Games.  I figured that this decision set the precedent for the decision on Paralympic competition.  More and more positive samples from Paralympic athletes arose and this put the pressure on the I.P.c. to make a decision.  I was loosely following updates on what was going on but figured that there was about a 10% shot that Russia would be banned from Paralympic Competition and about a 2% chance that if they were banned that we would get selected to replace the banned Russian athletes.  

In early August the IPC made a shocking decision to banned all Russians from competing the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games.  By rule though Russia had the right to appeal and had 21 days to do so.  Whatever decision would be made would leave very little time before the games.  At this point, I spent a little bit of time researching how many Russian male athletes were scheduled to compete across all classifications in pare-cycling and found out that there were six.  I was pretty sure that we were the highest ranked tandem the world that was not scheduled to compete but I had no idea how slots would be allocated if the banned on Russia remained.  This was all just an afterthought in the back of my head as I had moved on and had many days of work lined up through the end of September.  

On the morning of August 21st, I was walking to the store and reading the top stories on Google News and saw an article titled, “Russian Appeal Denied, Banned on Paralympics Remains.”  I immediately texted Ian Lawless, high performance director for US Para-Cycling and linked the article.  My text read, “Hey Ian, just saw this article. Do you know how slots will be allocated?  Let me know ASAP.”   I then began walking to a meeting scheduled for 10AM.  At 9:45AM, I received a phone call from Ian and he asked me if I could be on a conference call at 1:00PM that afternoon.  He also posed a few questions that gave me some clues on what the call was about.  He asked, “If you were selected to go to Rio by this decision, who would you select as your pilot?”  I responded Ben Collins and he said, “Okay, good.  We should probably have him on this call as well.”  I hung up the phone and tried every means to get ahold of Ben as this is not an easy task as that know him will attest. He was on a bike ride of course and luckily I got his attention through his mom who repeatedly called him.  

When I explained the scenario to Ben he was quiet at first but this was probably because he was pondering his life’s future and how he would change all the plans that he had already changed once if we were in fact selected to the team.  He then became excited and agreed to be on the call at 1:00PM. 

A few minutes after 1:00PM on August 21st, Ben and I got a call from Ian Lawless and head coach Michael Creed. They revealed that the UCI had decided to grant an invitation for me to compete in Rio.  Ben and I accepted the slot and remained on the phone for details on the frantic future we would have ahead of us.  When we were first given the dates that we would be gone both our jaws dropped.  They said we would need to be at Team Campon July 23rd and we would return from Rio on September 20th.  This was a shocker and we requested a few extra days to get our ducks in a row and were granted this time.  We would instead go to training camp in Oxnard, CA on Sunday August 25th.  

After hanging up the phone I think we both just sat there for a few minutes wondering what just hit me.  Was this real?  What the heck am I going to do about work?  How the heck am I going to get back in shape that quickly?  All of these questions and excitement were running through me. Of course, my first instinct is to post the good news on social media.  Before I pushed send though, I remembered that we were told not to publicly disclose the news until the USOC puts out a press release.  This press release would not come for five days and man was it difficult to not let the cat out of the bag.  I guess the good way of looking at this was that it gave Ben and I more time to get back on the tandem and remember how to ride.

So, if you have been feeling left hanging on how my Road2Rio took a wild and crazy turn just weeks before the games, now you have the full scoop leading up to Rio. What’s next?  Next, I will give you inside scoop on Team USA Athlete Processing in Houston and then a sneak peak into the Paralympic Village.  After that I will take you aboard the Pain Train at the Paralympic Games for our Road Time Trial and Road Race.  I hope you have enjoyed this lead up and final twist in the Road2Rio saga. 

 

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The Truths & Myths of the Paralympic Games Pt. 2: A Perception That Needs to Change

The IPC decides to banned Russia from all competition in the 2016 Paralympic Games due to systematic doping.

The IPC decides to banned Russia from all competition in the 2016 Paralympic Games due to systematic doping.

As much of society is now aware, on Sunday the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) decided to do what the International Olympic Committee (IOC) could not do and that is to banned the entire Russian team from the Paralympic Games in all sports.  This decision was huge because it showed that the Paralympics is more serious and has less tolerance to doping and cheaters than the Olympic Games.  The other thing that this decision did was force society to think about and express their perception of the Paralympic Games and Para Athletes.  It spurred Yahoo Sports writer Dan Wetzel to put out an article that couldn't have been further from the truth but unfortunately is probably a pretty good representation of much of society regarding Para Sports.  

The article  titled The Olympic Spirit is Dead; Just Ask Russia's Paralympic Team, explains how the discovery of wide spread cheating in Olympic and Paralympic sport hurts the credibility  of the events but it also states that the perception was that Paralympic sport were totally clean and only serve the purpose to inspire the rest of us in society.  The conclusion of the  article was that the spirit of the Olympics is now dead because "little Billy," who serves only to put a glimmer of hope in the rest of us, has now been found to be a cheater.   This perception is widespread in society and may never change but I think society would be amazed if they looked further into Para Sports to see not just the level of resiliancy but also to see the level of athletic ability and talent.   READ FULL ARTICLE

The perception of much of society is that the Paralympic Games is a second tier talent event where anyone that has a disability and a little competitive spirit gets to go.  The perception is that Para Athletes are mere anti-depressants for the rest of society.  Wetzel includes the below statements to further demonstrate these perceptions.

"When an entire country gets thrown out for fixing what once was believed to be the most uplifting form of human athletic accomplishment in an effort to achieve national glory through wheelchair curling, there really isn’t any hope for the Olympic Movement."

"Who the heck would try to fix the Paralympics, essentially handicapping rival handicapped athletes? Even for Vladimir Putin that seems weak."

"If you can’t simply kick back and watch humans who have beaten immense odds, say losing their legs, to sprint down a track, without suspecting at least one, if not all, are trying to cheat their fellow heroes … then what is the point?"

The perception of Dan Wetzel and much of society is wrong on multiple levels.  First, if society has not realized over the last few years that there is a tendency for human nature to be corrupt and use every method possible to get an edge over their competition than they are living in a hole in the ground.  Para Athletes are humans and think the same way as everyone else in society.  With that knowledge alone, there should be reason to believe that if there are dopers in Olympic sport than there are dopers in Para Sport.   It is almost as if the majority of society believes that as athletes with disabilities our mission is just to inspire others and our performance  in competition comes second.  I know I have said this before, but as Para Athletes we don't go out there to inspire.  This is completely a misperception created by society.  The end result of our participation may be inspiration but if you ask a Para Athlete what their main  goal is and they say it is to inspire than they are most likely not an Elite Para Athlete.  We  participate to compete and win!  Thus, there should be no surprise that there are cheaters in Para Sport as well.  

Wheelchair racer Tatyana McFaddeen

Wheelchair racer Tatyana McFaddeen

Secondly, the Paralympic Games just like the Olympic Games test the physiological potential of the human body.  In many classes of Paralympic sports, there are athletes that are trimming the line of the maximum potential of what the human body can do with a given impairment.  .  This means that with respect to their impairment, many Para Athletes are equivalently talented as Olympic athletes.  I would  be willing to argue that superstar wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden who is nearly unstoppable in her sport is equivalently gifted as Katie Ledecky is in swimming.  If Ledecky, had the same exact impairment as McFadden and went into wheelchair racing would she be able to beat McFadden?  Maybe or maybe not.  One of the problems that  hurts Para Sports is that society has nothing to compare Para Sport performances to.  Society can easily understand the greatness of Olympic athletes because they can compare performances to their own abilities.  We can not compare the times of an above the knee amputee runner to the times of a "non-impaired" Olympic runner and determine athletic talent because the maximum physiological potential of a human with an above the knee amputation will never be the same as an Olympic athlete when comparing times.  This does not mean that the amputee athlete is less talented as an athlete but rather the maximal potential due to the lost limb accounts for the difference in performance.  There needs to be a change in society's  perception that those with disabilities will never have the athletic abilities of those without a disability.  

Thirdly, if we all do what Wetzel recommends and give up any interest in the Olympic and Paralympics because "the spirit of the games is dead" than we should give up interest in most of everything in life.  Should the spirit of the NFL be dead because there are athletes using performing enhancing drugs (PEDS) and cheating in every other way?  Should we give up interest in political policy because there is widespread corruption among politicians?  Should we give up interest in working because there is corruption within corporate America?  The answer is that it is up to you to decide but I will say that we all need to understand that there is always bad where there is good.  We must educate ourselves about each area of life before we develop perceptions that may actually be misperceptions.  The idea that "the spirit of the games" is dead because  it was discovered that there are dopers in Paralympic sport is ridiculous. This conclusion was developed based upon a misperception of what the Paralympic Games and Para Sport. are all about.  

The Paralympic Games Logo

The Paralympic Games Logo

The purpose of the Paralympic Games is to determine the greatest athletes among those with disabilities.  Despite how the media may depict  Para Sport, it should be viewed and spectated with the same perception as Olympic sport.  I am not saying that we should not be motivated and inspired when we observe amazing performances among Para Athletes but what I am saying is that this motivation and inspiration should be looked at in the same way as that which we enjoy when observing an epic performance by Michael Phelps in the pool.  Para Athletes do not compete to inspire, we compete to win!  This is the perception that Wetzel and much of society has wrong and needs to change. 

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The Truths & Myths of the Paralympic Games: Part 1

Over my 15 years of competing as an Elite Para Athlete I have learned a lot about what the Paralympic Games are and are not as well as the perception among societyregarding the Paralympic Games.  This blog series is meant to serve as an educational and informative tool that will clarify whatPara Sports and the Paralympic Games are all about.  This blog series will disclose aspects that may be shocking to some.  Some of the topics may stir up controversy and backlash but I believe if people look at these issues from a non-biased viewpoint this series will disclose the truth of Para Sports. You can always choose to believe what you hear or find another option that is what you want to hear but I believe that the information that is covered in this series is as close to the facts as you will find.  I will start the series with more basic and broad topics then narrow down to more specific topics that focus on individual classifications or specific sports.  To all those that feel as though they are fairly well versed in Paralympic sport just hang in there at the beginning because I believe you will find this series to get much more interesting as it roles along. 

BELIEF 1:  The Olympics, Paralympics and Special Olympics can be used interchangeable.

CONCLUSION:  MYTH

Although this may soundso ridiculous that it shouldn’t seem necessary to define these, you would be quite surprised how many times I have been asked whether I would be training for the Special Olympics and not the Paralympics.  There is the occasional overlap in which a Paralympic athlete qualifies for his/her Olympic team (ex: South African amputee Oscar Pistorius and US visually impaired distance runner Marla Runyan) but these instances are rare for many reasons.  

The Olympic Games Logo

The Olympic Games Logo

The Olympic Games (Summer/Winter) occur every 4 years with the summer and wintergames being offset by 2 years.  The Olympic Games are meant to showcase the most talented “able-bodied” athletes in the world.  I don’t think I need to go any further into who the Olympic Games are intended.  With that said, this is not to say that many athletes that compete at the Paralympic Games are not as good or better athletes than those at the Olympic Games.  The Olympic Games prohibits the use of any device or equipment that may be an accommodation but gives the athlete an advantage over their competition (i.e. Wheelchair, Tandem bicycle, Guide, etc) and thus many Paralympic athletes are not eligible to compete in the Olympic Games regardless of their athletic abilities.  

The Paralympic Games Logo

The Paralympic Games Logo

The Paralympic Games (Summer/Winter) take place in the exact same years and venues as the Olympic Games but begin 3 weeks following the closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games. The Paralympic Games are intended to showcase the best athletes with a classifiable disability.  All athletes who want to compete in the Paralympic Games must fit into one of the internationally recognized classifications and compete with the equipment and within the rules of the specific classification.  If a Paralympic Athlete wants to attempt to compete in the Olympic Games, they must meet all the same qualification standards/times that an Olympic athlete is required to do as well as prove that any accommodation or adaptation that they require does not give them any competitive advantage over the other Olympic competition.  Thus, it is very rare for a Paralympic athletes be eligible and qualify for both the Paralympic and Olympic Games.  

The Special Olympics Logo

The Special Olympics Logo

The Special Olympics are held every 2 years and are not affiliated or in conjunction with the Olympic or Paralympic Games.  The Special Olympics are intended for those that have intellectual impairments.  The Special Olympics is its own stand alone entity and is not affiliated nor have the same mission as the Olympic/Paralympic movement.  There are very few similarities between the Special Olympics and the Olympic/Paralympic Games although one would be surprised at how many times I have been asked or that others have mentioned to their friends that I would be attempting to compete in the Special Olympics.  There are those that may be eligible for both the Paralympics and Special Olympics because they may have both a physical and mental disability but in these cases these individuals would most likely compete only in the Paralympics, as the level of competition is much much higher in the Paralympic Games.  

BELIEF 2: The term Para Athlete and Paralympiancan always be used interchangeable.

CONCLUSION: MYTH

A Para athlete is anyone that has a classified disability.  A Paralympian is someone that has actually competed at the Paralympic Games.  These two terms are not always interchangeable nor do they define the ability or competition level of the athlete.  An athlete that has competed at the Paralympic Games can accurately be termed a Paralympian or a Para Athlete but an athlete that is a Para Athlete cannot accurately be termed a Paralympian.  There are many superior Para athletes left home from the Paralympic Games. Due to the limited number of medal events offered at the Paralympic Games and the selection procedures among sports and individual nations, one cannot use these two terms in a hierarchical fashion.  Using myself as an example, the sport of triathlon is in the Paralympic Games for the first time at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.  I can accurately be considered a Para-Triathlete because the sport is in the games and the Blind/VI PT5 classification is a recognized classification in the sport but the PT5 Male classification was not chosen as a medal event at the Rio Paralympic Games and therefore I cannot accurately call myself a Paralympian.  

The selection of events and classification offered at the Paralympic Games is a topic of much controversy.  The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) as well as individual sport governing body’s do not always select the deepest or most competitive classification to highlight at the Paralympic Games.  In fact, many involved in Para Sports often question the intent and logic that is used in the selection making process.  Again I use my own experience in Paratriathlon as an example.  Despite being ranked #1 in the world in one of the deepest and most competitive classifications (PT5 Blind/VI Male), I will not be eligible to compete in the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games.  The question of why and how selection decisions are made is one that many Para Athletes have and will be hinted at in other topics in this blog series.  

One other quick note related to this topic is the common designation of Paralympian's as Olympians.  Those that compete in the Paralympics are not Olympians and visa versa.  These terms have no relevance to athletic ability, but rather are seperate competitions.   

BELIEF 3:  The goal of the Paralympic Games is to inspire the world.

CONCLUSION: MYTH

The Paralympic vision states that the goal is to inspire the world. The athletes would contest this.

The Paralympic vision states that the goal is to inspire the world. The athletes would contest this.

You may get a different answer depending on who you ask this question.  If you ask the International Paralympic Committee (IPC)  they will most likely say that this is true of the Paralympic movement as it is stated in their mission and constitution.  If you ask the majority of Para athletes that are serious about their sport and competition they will say that this is totally a myth.  We as athletes do not set forth in sports to go and inspire the world, we go to compete and win.  Our mission is no different than any Olympic athlete or any professional athlete outside of the Olympic/Paralympic Games.  The fact of the matter is that there are no participation medals nor “inspiration” points given at the Paralympic Games.  Although the media may put all their focus towards finding what they believe is the most “inspirational” story, this is not necessarily who wins in the Olympic Games and nor is it in the Paralympic Games.  The primary goal of theParalympic Games should be to determine the greatest athlete with respect to their disability class and NOT to find the most inspirational stories NOR highlight athletes who “appear” more disabled as a better representation of the Paralympic Games.  

With the above said, I am not saying that its a negative aspect that Para Athletes serve as an inspiration and motivation to the general society.  I am just saying that as Para athletes, it is not our goal to go inspire the world.  Our goal is to compete and maximize our potential and if by doing so the byproduct is that we have a motivational impact on others that is just an added bonus.  It should not be in the mission nor constitution of the Paralympic Games but because it is included, the focus on competition and eliteness of athletic competition gets diluted.  

BELIEF 4: Both Olympic and Paralympic Athletes are elite athletes. 

CONCLUSION:  TRUTH

This statement is true for many but not all classifications or sports.  The Olympic Games are much older age and only include one category for each gender in an event than the Paralympic Games. The Olympic Games therefore have had many more years to develop themselves as the premier display of athletic ability among “able-bodied” individuals.  It is safe to say that all Olympic competitions are good representations of elite athletes in both male and female gender but I wouldn't say this is fully true for all classifications in Para Sport.

Paralympic Games London 2012 Para-Cycling Time Trial H4 Classification (Complete SCI Below T11 or loss of B lower limbs) Note times are close and speeds are all very fast. 

Paralympic Games London 2012 Para-Cycling Time Trial H4 Classification (Complete SCI Below T11 or loss of B lower limbs) Note times are close and speeds are all very fast. 

The Paralympic Games are not nearly as old and include multiple classifications within each sport and therefore the time necessary to develop an elite level of competition within each classification is greater.  Similar to Olympic competition, male classifications have developed quicker with respect to depth and degree of talent than female classifications in Para Sports.  One would be totally unrealistic to argue that the competition level in female Para Sports equals that of male but there are definite stand out athletes that have emerged within female Para Sports.

Paralympic Games London 2012 Women's 1500m Athletics T54 Classification (SCI with UE function/Limited to know Trunk function) The depth in this classification is very good and Tatiyana McPhadden has emerged as a superstar among female Paralympic athletes.

Paralympic Games London 2012 Women's 1500m Athletics T54 Classification (SCI with UE function/Limited to know Trunk function) The depth in this classification is very good and Tatiyana McPhadden has emerged as a superstar among female Paralympic athletes.

 Among sport classifications of the same gender there are typically a few classifications that clearly stand out as being deeper and more competitive than others. 

Paralympic Finals 2012 London Games T44 Classification.  (Bilateral amputees/lower limb impairment) Note how close these times near Olympic level competition

Paralympic Finals 2012 London Games T44 Classification.  (Bilateral amputees/lower limb impairment) Note how close these times near Olympic level competition

From my viewpoint, there are a indicators that stand out to support the above statements. First, with respect to the level of competition among male versus female competition, one can look at the number of countries represented and the total number of athletes participating for each gender.  Female participation rate seems to be between 1/3 and 1/2 of that of male participation for each classification among sports.  Also, the number of male athletes that are able to qualify and compete in multiple Paralympic sports is far lower than female athletes competing in multiple Paralympic sports. Thus, this demonstrates that the competition level has reached an elite level where one must specialize in one area in order to dominate. 

Paralympic Games London 2012 Mens 5000m Track T12 Classification (Visually Impaired): Note the eliteness of competition nearing that of Olympic competition

Paralympic Games London 2012 Mens 5000m Track T12 Classification (Visually Impaired): Note the eliteness of competition nearing that of Olympic competition

Another indicator of the eliteness of competition among a classification is to compare times with respect to elite “able-bodied” and/or Olympic level competition.  When the times or speeds of the Paralympic competition near those of Olympic competition, it is safe to determine the athletic ability to be elite as there is always some degree of physiological limitation limiting the Para Athlete.  This method of comparing times and speeds is obviously not applicable when comparing events such as marathon wheelchair racing to marathon running and the like but is more relevant in many other classifications.  

CLOSING:

This concludes Part1 in this series. Part 2 will come out soon and will begin to touch on more in depth topics of the Paralympic Games.  Hope you have enjoyed this 1st edition!

 

 

 

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Ben Collins Recaps Our Paralympic Cycling Trials

Who better to recap our Paralympic Trials race than my friend and pilot Ben Collins.  Ben is now known as "The Stallion".  He is best when you put him in his stable for many hours prior to a race so he can build up some anger and aggression.  Enjoy this great read and thanks for all the support on our journey!!!  If you want to read this and other blogs written by Ben Collins, check out his site HERE

As Aaron and I headed out for the fourth and final lap of the Paralympic Trials TT course, the announcer was out of his seat practically yelling with enthusiasm into the mic, “Right now Aaron Scheidies and Ben Collins are continuing to post the fastest splits of the day for this course, but this lap will have to be even faster for them to qualify for this Paralympic Team! Let’s see what they can do!”

By the time the announcer finished speaking we were gone, leaving behind a group of fans jumping and screaming and biting nails. Our coaches, Mark Sortino and Rick Babbington compared splits, confirming that we needed our final lap to be our fastest, about 15 seconds faster than the third lap split of 9 minutes 11 seconds. Seeing these two coaches deep in discussion the announcer joked, “Mark Sortino and Rick Babbington are over there arguing over who’s athlete is doing more work…”

Aaron and I were the last start of the day, racing right up to solar noon and the heat of the day. The shadows shrank with every lap of the course.

The clock ticked by. Knuckles were turning white among the crowd of fans that had dressed in blue C Different with Aaron #Road2Rio t-shirts to come support us. At 8 minutes 30 seconds Rick started leaning over the barrier, craning his neck to see us coming around the bend. Mark glanced at his watch, a bead of sweat dripping from his running visor as the Carolina heat beat down over course.

There was no tandem.

The clock passed 9 minutes, and still Aaron and I were nowhere to be found.

“Something happened,” Rick said softly, his jaw clenching in worry. Mark nodded, the look of worry apparent through his sunglasses.

The clock ticked by, and suddenly cheers could be heard from around the bend. Then, coasting down the hill, there we were. We came nearly to a stop at the bottom of the hill and dismounted as if were were doing a triathlon. We ran the final 100 meters with the bike and crossed the line.

 

For Aaron and I, we knew we had a tough mark to hit on our final lap. The announcers words sounded distant as we started that final lap. I heard, “…fastest split of the day, but…” and knew we needed to exceed expectations on the final lap. It was hot, and our third lap had us in no-man’s land, enveloped in pain, too far from the finish to push any harder. I had glanced at the clock as we crossed the lap split line for the final time, and knew the final lap would need to be our best.

Climbing the first hill of that final lap, I felt a surge of power from Aaron and knew he had heard the same thing. This lap was Rio or bust.

We nailed every turn. We came around the final U turn and used the entire road, sweeping our front wheel within inches of the curb as we stood and accelerated back onto the final hill climb. It was a soft left, then a right, a further climb, then descent. I had the course mapped in my head, I had gone over every pedal stroke a hundred times before the race started, and Aaron and I were perfectly in sink. We stood together, we pushed together, we suffered together.

In the last two kilometers of the race were three turns, that took perfect coordination to get through without losing momentum. There was a hard left that we took at a blazing pace, then a long sloping downhill into a right turn, a short kicker up and then the last turn of the race, a left into a steady descent before a small ramped finish. On every previous lap and in training we had nailed this section. The wheels would squeal through the left turn and again on the hard right. We would drop a shoulder, carving the rubber close to the curb and aiming the bike to set us up for the final turn of the course. After the right we would stand for 5 pedal strokes, then sit and pedal through the left, accelerating into the downhill and through the finish.

But this time when we made that right turn there was a crunch and when I looked down the chain had been dropped. “What have I done!?” was my immediate thought. I had put a 1x chainring setup on the bike a few weeks ahead of time in an effort to get a better chain line and simplify our drivetrain to avoid any of the mechanical problems we have faced in previous races.

We coasted, I hoped we could get past the small riser and into the downhill section, figuring that stopping to fix the chain at this point would be slower than coasting to the finish… it was 800 meters away!

We made it about half way up the hill, and I asked Aaron if he could reach the chain without stopping. He couldn’t. We stopped, Aaron hopped off and tried to get the chain on, but it wouldn’t pull easily. I hopped off and tried to get the chain back on the ring, but the chain wouldn’t budge. I looked back. It had torn through the cage of the rear derailleur. The chain was no longer on the pulleys.

“We have to run” I said. We made it to the top of the hill and hopped back on. I tried to clip in but my feet were shaking and I couldn’t. We coasted down the hill and as the bike came to a stop 100 meters from the finish I did a flying dismount, forgetting to warn aaron and leaving him perched on the back of the bike. He unclipped and ejected to the back, then grabbed the saddle telling me, “RUN!”.

We crossed the finish line to deafening cheers. But our road to Rio was over. We walked the bike away from the crowd, tears already streaming down both our cheeks.

I wanted to smash the bike. I wanted to throw it into a bon fire and watch it melt. I took off my helmet and tossed it in the grass, removing my temptation to smash it on a rock. More expletives crossed my mind in those first sixty seconds than an entire Quentin Tarantino movie marathon. I was mad, but mainly I felt like I must have missed something. I felt like I had let Aaron down. I surely could have done something to prevent this from happening. Something.

I stood fuming. I don’t even remember taking off my gloves. I turned around. Truth be told I intended to go back to the bike to give it a solid kick. I wanted to hurt that demon bike – but before I could take out my tantrum on the inanimate object I had spent so much time preparing, I was stopped by the scene unfolding in front of me.

Aaron was sitting on the curb, still wearing his helmet, his sunglasses resting on the grass beside him, his head resting in his open palms, his back convulsing with every sob. Rick and Mark, Aaron’s wife and parents, the national team coaches, our nutritionist and sport psychologist – everyone that had supported us on this journey within shouting distance was hustling over to where Aaron sat. I was angry at myself for missing something, for somehow letting Aaron down in this race, and yet here I am, the only person on Aaron’s team still stuck on the past and ignoring Aaron now, when he needed all of us.

I picked up my helmet and gloves and took a deep breath. I had tears on my cheeks as I hugged Aaron. I don’t know what exactly he said in the moment. He told me it was a great race. He told me we did our best and he thanked me.

That thank you stung. I was holding in a fireball of anger for the universe, blaming myself for ruining Aaron’s Paralympic journey. Thank you was the last thing I expected but it slapped me back to reality. Back to the partnership that Aaron and I had formed, and to the trust we have developed through this journey.

We embraced for a moment, wiped our faces and began walking toward the award podium. We had finished second in our category, despite running to the finish line.

I ran some numbers later on, and used my Garmin file to get my best estimate of where we were on the course compared to previous lap times. To qualify for Rio we would have needed to finish in 34:11. That would have been a 8 minute final lap, or 70 seconds faster than our third lap of 9:11. When the chain came off we were 10 seconds ahead of our time to that point on the third lap, so realistically we would have finished around 35:10. Third in the standings, and a full minute off of Rio qualification. We had the best time trial that we’ve had together. We raced our asses off, and were on track to post one of the most impressive tandem time trials in the history of US Paralympic cycling. We did our best. We did better than anyone predicted we would, and – mechanical aside – we still came up short.

Looking back, I’m glad for three things.

  1. This was the right team. Aaron and I bicker like a married couple. We’ve both questioned our commitment to each other this year. We’ve both sacrificed to be on this team together, but when it mattered, we were ready. We were ready! I learned so much from working with Aaron this year, about motivation, for myself, for my racing partner and the people that we needed on the sidelines. When everything went wrong, we weren’t alone crying on the curb. There’s more to a team than cheering each other on, or learning to work together. As the pilot I used to think I was the leader. I’m not. I’m lucky to be part of the team, and I’m lucky that Aaron trusted me to give everything I could to make our bike faster. I did.
  2. We did everything in our control to make the Paralympic Team. Mechanicals, flat tires, crashes… There are all kinds of bad luck that happen in bike racing. Extrapolate that to life, and it’s just not fair. Life is not fair. But we can prepare and we can do our best to get lady luck on our side, and Aaron and I did. The Paralympic selection wasn’t what we expected – there were only two spots left on the Paralympic team across categories, and qualifying on a tandem is among the hardest categories. But we couldn’t control that and we didn’t let it slow us down. We trained as hard as we could and came read to race. I spent the morning inspecting our bike and because of it I can look back with confidence that I didn’t miss something, that this wasn’t a known risk that could have been mitigated with any better preparation. Sometimes life isn’t fair, but you can only regret what you didn’t do. We did everything we could have.
  3. We finished. When we rolled to a stop on that last little uphill kicker, we knew we were out of the race. Even if we’d been able to get the chain back on, we were so close to the line that every second lost was critical. And yet, there was never a question that we would get our bike to the finish. We would run, crawl… we would have swam that bike to the finish line through a pool of sharks if we’d needed to and I can’t ask for more than that from my teammate. For all the negative thoughts that went through both of our heads, quitting was never one of them.

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