As I have been vigorously and sometimes frantically trying to keep the pieces of my life together while at the same time doing what I need to do to get to the Rio 2016 Paralympics, it dawned on me that I have done a horrible job of updating all of you, (friends, family and fans) of the happenings and status of the journey. This journey or road is not my road but rather OUR ROAD! Each and every one of you is a piece of this giant Jenga puzzle that will topple if we don’t all stick together.
The last true update that I released was the recap of my 2015 year. The 2015 year started on a very sour note as I struggled to come to grips with the fact that I had lost it all and had less than two years to rebuild. For those that have just joined my team, I am referring to the fact that the male Blind/VI classification was unexpectedly cut from the games. I had risen to the top in triathlon but was dropped hard to the bottom. I got myself together though and tried to join a very unique species known as cyclists. I put a nationwide search out for a few strong men that were willing to captain The Pain Train and was lucky to have willing takers, Ben Collins and Colin Riley. Little did these two know that they had just entered themselves on the newest reality TV show in which no matter what they did they were always to blame. Needless to say, our cycling career started off pretty well with a few wins domestically, which got us selected to race internationally.
Colin did most of the work early in the year, spending over 30days with me in Europe training and racing. We endured a crash, multiple mechanicals and even a podium finish. Later in the year, Ben Collins took his turn and we took Silver in the final World Cup in South Africa.
With the racing season pretty much over, in the late fall I had to make a very difficult decision. This was the one instance where, no matter what I was wrong and would feel horrible. I had to make a choice whether Colin Riley or Ben Collins would be my primary pilot heading forward towards Rio. I struggled internally with this decision and it killed me inside because I was so grateful for all that Colin had done for me but I decided to choose Ben Collins as my primary guide moving forward. Colin took this news amazingly well and this really showed to me the class act of a person that he is. The sport of cycling is a very dangerous sport especially among the tandem classes and I was so grateful to hear that Colin Riley was willing to be ready as the “next man up” if anything were to happen to Ben.
Over the course of 2015, Ben, Colin and I learned a lot about riding on the road but there was one more component that we had never set our foot on and that was the velodrome track. Despite being two completely separate beasts, in Para-Cycling especially if you want to make the #1 Para-Cycling Team in the World (Team USA), you are expected to be able to do both road and track. This is kind of equivalent to asking the marathon runner to also be good at the 400m dash, but that’s just how it is in Para Sports.
Getting on the track would mean getting an entirely new bike, different components, traveling to a common location with a velodrome and then finding dates that would work for all parties. There was of course one other thing that put a wrench in progress and that was finding finances to put this all in motion. Our first opportunity to get on the track would have been at the US Para-Cycling Track Nationals in Colorado Springs in December but we were unable to get the pieces together to make this happen and thus would need to wait until early 2016 to put our abilities to the test.
At the beginning of 2016, Ben Collins and I were named to the National B Team for Team USA, a promising sign but in no way did this mean we were on Team USA for the 2016 Paralympic Games. Paralympic Team selection would not be done until the first weekend in July (July 1-3) 2016 in Charlotte, NC at the US Paralympic Trials. It did however mean that we would be attending National Team camps, the first of which would be held in Southern California in mid January.
The January team camp would be split into a road portion held in the wine country of Solvang, CA and the polar opposite of Carson, just outside of Compton. I don’t think I need to further explain any differences in these two contrasting locations. In Solvang, Ben and I got much needed time on the tandem as well as plenty of time to work on climbing. We of course had a few more flat tires but I reason that this is just getting them all out before the really important times come. From there we headed to the mystical shrine known by cyclists simply as “The Track.” I have written a blog about our first encounter with the 45-degree banked turns of the Carson Velodrome (Read this blog HERE).
This first experience brought deaths door knocking for a brief second and then we snapped into it and caught on. It didn’t help we were using a loaner tandem that didn’t fit and has been around the block once or twice. At that point, we were just thankful to have United States Association for Blind Athletes (USABA) on our team and willing to let us use their track tandem. In December 2015 we put in an order for a track tandem from Matrix but it had not yet arrived and thus we would use anything we could get. We learned a lot from the two days on the track in January but the track is a very technical event and we were no where’s near experienced despite our first track event around the corner on February 5-6th.
The US Para-Cycling Track Open would be held at the Carson Velo Sports Center the first weekend of February. To get more experienced on the track prior to racing I flew out 3 days early and Ben and I worked each day on our starts and holding onto the black line. At speeds of 40mph with gravity trying to throw you into the banks of the turns we quickly learned that we didn’t need to just train our legs but also our shoulder stabilizers. The two events for tandems were the 1K (KILO) Time Trial and the 4K Pursuit. Going into the races we knew our starts were not good and we definitely needed to improve upon keeping our line around the track but we were banking on our fitness. On the track, every tenth of a second matters and we would be racing without aero race wheels and without any racing experience. The 1K is an all out sprint and we were not surprised that we got cleaned out in this event. We came in 4th of 6th tandems but this was not too devastating because we are not 100m dash runners. (Check out our 1st experience on the Track below in the Recap Video )
The 4K Pursuit was the other race in our class and if any this was the race that suited us better. This race is 16 laps around the 250m track. It is a controlled sprint but the starts and holding the line around the track are still very important. On Saturday morning February 6th were the preliminary rounds and then the finals would be in the evening. The team decided to make the morning preliminary races the times for selection to the team to the Para-Cycling Track World Championships in mid March. The main reason for using the preliminary times was that the preliminary rounds were being run as solo time trials and some classifications only had one person in them at this event.
Ben and I arrived to the track early to ensure we had plenty of time to get everything ready. Good thing we did because some unexpected drama was created that challenged our mental focus but we regrouped and snapped back to it. We loaded in the gates for our race. The clock counted down from ten to one and then “Beep,” the race began. As mentioned earlier, our starts are far from perfect but we tried to settle in and make ourselves hurt. The first few laps were fast but by lap four , it was like someone sucked the strength out of me. My arms were exhausted and I felt as though my breath was taken away as well. Needless to say, the remaining 12 laps were painful and we came across the line in 4:52 which would be the 3rd fastest time in the category. The whole race we just felt as though we were fighting something and that all became clear later when we found out that our rear wheel had been rubbing hard on the frame during the race. In fact, there were shavings of the tire everywhere and the brand new tire had been rubbed to the threads in some areas. This made us feel a little better because at least we had some explanation for our performance in the preliminary rounds. Unfortunately, this mechanical issue would go against us as it was the preliminary times that were used for selection for Worlds.
Regardless of what happened in the morning preliminary rounds, we had to come back in the evening and at least show that we could compete. Since we had the 3rd fastest time of preliminary rounds, this meant that the best we could get was Bronze in the evening finals. In the finals we would race the pursuit the standard method with two bikes starting across from each other and attempting to catch the other. We were matched up against Tanner Gers and his pilot Roger who were beasts when it comes to power. The only thing Ben and I had to worry about was not allowing them to Kilo us (pass us in the first Kilometer). We knew that if we prevented this from happening, it was our race to win. Despite many things thatfelt I could have done better, Ben and I put together a much stronger performance in the evening dropping 13ec and going 4:39. This time ended up being the fastest of the day among all tandems but as mentioned earlier, it didn’t come in the preliminaries.
Ben and I had a goal of at least going the National standard time of 4:36 in the 4K which would have put us on the World’s team for sure. The National standard is created based upon the 2nd place time from the previous years World Championships and therefore is a good representation of where one stands with respect to world class competition. We didn’t make this standard and despite having the fastest 4K split of the day, we were not selected for the Track World Championships in March. Another tandem team of Chester Tripplett and pilot Kyle Knott had an amazing weekend in both the 1K and 4K and were selected for the Worlds team. I am very happy for Chester as he is an awesome guy and had an amazing weekend of racing.
With our first track race under our belts and not being selected to the Para-Cycling Track Worlds team, this meant that Ben and I would be training in the states to get ready for the two biggest events prior to the Rio Games, a UCI Para-Cycling World Cup race in Belgium which will basically be a test run for the games and then the US Paralympic Trials held in Charlotte July 2nd. OUR ROAD continues and we are not stopping until the road is directed straight to Rio.
From the track open, we got right back to it on the road as I stayed out in Pasadena with Ben for a three day mountain training camp. Ben told me we were going to do some climbing but I didn't know that meant three to four 40-60minutes climbs in one ride. Two of the three days our warm up was a 40minute climb. Needless to say, I was sufficiently warmed up by that time. The roads were full of twists and turns and we definitely got our technical work in as we bombed down a few of them at over 50mph. You want to know what the definition of TRUST is, just go on the back of a tandem at 50mph on a mountainside. You don't need Webster's dictionary, that is the definition! In all, over the three days, we climbed just over 18,000ft including one ride that brought us to the 7,000ft elevation and even a little snow to play in. It was a good 3 days of quality training. Every time I ride the tandem with Ben and Colin we get more comfortable and our bond becomes closer and our pedal strokes become more in sync and efficient.
Following our training camp in Pasadena, I flew back to Seattle and Ben flew back to Chicago. It was back to the trainer for me and back to being "all over the place" for Ben. Each and every day I jump on my bike attached to my Wahoo Fitness KICKR and challenge myself mentally and physically with the single goal of making the US Team for the 2016 Paralympic Games. Our Road continues and I hope each and every one of you can support us along the way. This journey is one that continues to take a lot of encouragement to keep going as well as the financial support to keep the ship afloat. Any support that you can give will greatly benefit Our Road.
The United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) has helped me in setting up an Athlete Development Account in which any and all of my supporters can make a tax deductible non-profit donation in which 100% of the donations go towards Our Road. These funds go towards purchasing equipment, travel, race fees, lodging/housing and food for both myself and my guide/pilot along our journey. On top of that I have had a gracious donor offer to match any donation 100% up through $12,500. This means, if you give $100 your donation become $200 and if you give $500 than your donation becomes $1,000. Any bit of support counts, just as every ounce of energy into the pedal will get me closer to Rio.
Support Our Road by making a fully tax deductible donation HERE. We will continue to update you all along our journey on social media (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) as well as through future blog posts! THIS IS OUR ROAD!!!