Welcome back to the 2015 Season Recap The #Road2Rio Journey Continues. If you haven't read Part 1 in this up and down saga you may want to go back and read it so you can grasp the full understanding of the journey. Part 1 left off at the point when I finally realized the opposing side of, "if it ain't broke don't fix it," and that is "if its broke you need to fix it." My Matrix tandem needed an upgrade on its components and wheels and that's what it got from Part 1 to Part 2 of this season to remember. So with the bike all upgraded with the best from Full Speed Ahead, Shimano and FFWD Wheels, we return to the story.
In late July and early August, Colin Riley would again be the man to pilot the tank for World Cup #3 in Elzach, Germany and the UCI Para-Cycling World Championships in Notwil, Switzerland. The time trial in Elzach was an uphill TT and all the best in the men's tandem class were there. We took 5th in the 19K uphill climb which we were disappointed in but we were still learning our strengths and weaknesses. The road race however in Elzach was a virtual Crit course with 17 turns on each 4-mile lap which we would complete 15laps for a total of 255laps. The course was full of hay bales on the corners and was one that spectators were definitely out there looking for some crashes. Colin and I were happy because #1. We stayed upright on the bike, #2 We bridged a gap and caught the 2nd chase pack and #3 Made an attack on the last lap to take the lead in the 2nd chase pack. We got beat out in a sprint to the line by the riders that we had passed and finished 10th. At least we scored valuable points for our country for a top 10 finish. We also got valuable experience with turns as there were plenty on the race course!
My unfortunate luck continued during the Elzach trip as Colin and I had rented a car for World Cup #3. We went as independents and were therefore on our own for all expenses and transportation. We stayed at an awesome German hotel and restaurant just outside Elzach named Gasthaus Sonnhalde and were treated to amazing food and a great family atmosphere. The unfortunate part of this trip occurred as our rental car was parked in the parking lot. It was windy one day and above the parking lot on the hill was a condo building where a family had a trampoline and playground set in the yard. While we were in our room evidently the trampoline was picked up and thrown off the hill just missing our car and a piece of the playground set hit the windshield and hood of the car. Once in a million years this would happen and it of course had to happen to me. We hadn't gotten the car insurance coverage as we were trying to save money and thought that maybe if in the event of a freak accident Colin's auto insurance may cover it. The people at Hertz didn't want anything to do with it and hit us up for $2600 when we returned the car. Luckily Colin has American Express and after many months of filing claims we got it settled. I'm just hoping that this was my stroke of bad luck for the next few years and it will be clear sailing after that.
From Elzach, we joined up with Team USA for the second part of the trip for the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Championships in Notwil, Switzerland. All the big dogs would be at this race including the Twin Towers from the Netherlands, the crazy Spaniards and the Polish. The time trial was one loop that was either a long climb up or a fast descent down. The distance was around 28K and the longest hill was 4K long.
The descent after this climb was the eye opener. A winding fast descent with blind cornered turns and even speed bumps near the bottom. By the time you got to the speed bumps it was like an Alpine skier getting airborne as they go into a steeper bottom section of their run. We maxed out at 50mph on this descent . We had a good race but not sure we were fully ready to beat all of the climbers quite yet. We finished the time trial on the running track and as we screamed around the corner to the finish we crossed in 6th place. All points at World Championships are worth double and so we scored some valuable ranking points. In fact, after the World Championship weekend we sat in 6th in the World Rankings.
The road race at Worlds was another learning experience. We hung in with the lead pack even longer this time but kept dropping back on the climbs and having to work real hard on the flats to catch back up. The road course was not very original. We just did 7 laps of the time trial course, which meant a boatload more of climbing and two pairs of legs that were screaming to be set free. The road race was again over 100km and the course was so difficult that they decided to have all categories do one less lap the next day. The road race finish came down to a sprint finish and we were not a part of it. The sprint was between the Dutch and Spain and Spain edged out the Dutch by only a few feet. The Dutch tandem surprisingly didn't go home with any Golds from world's. They were so powerful they snapped their chain in the time trial and got out sprinted in the road race.
Team USA as a whole went home with many Golds but finished 2nd in overall medals to Italy. Team USA had won the medal count at all other World Cups leading up to World's. The US women's team is by far the best in the world and the US men's hand cyclists are fairly dominate in their own right. The other categories pick up medals here and there towards a consistant 1st or 2nd overall world ranking every year. As a result, making the US team is also the toughest in the world to make.
Aside from racing which took up a majority of my summer, I also was trying to plan an even bigger event in my life, my wedding. It was somewhat difficult to do when you are in Europe and have a six hour time difference, no international calling and very dodgy internet connections but we made do. I would be lying if I didn't say I got a ton of help from Brittney on this one. She was more like the wedding planner and I was just the one that stepped in every so often when there was a dispute that needed to be resolved. She did all the work and I just did the negotiating. Between traveling to Europe and coming back to work during the week there were a few times we went to Birmingham for wedding planning but not much more time than that.
The month of August I was actually in Seattle all but one weekend. On the weekend of August 16th, I made the trip back home to the Motor City to race at an ITU Paratriathlon World Cup race. The World Championships of triathlon would be held on US soil in Chicago this year and not only did I want to defend my title from last year but more importantly do it on US soil. To race in Chicago, I needed to go to at least a few triathlons to score points. The Detroit race was out on Belle Isle on the motor speedway track. Colin Riley, was again my guide in this race. He was a machine this year doing so many races with me and even more impressive tolerating me for over 50days. In the Detroit race, our goal was to just flounder around and get out of the water on the swim, time trial the bike course like NASCAR drivers and then just see what we had left on the run. We did what we set out to do in this race, averaging 30mph on the bike course and then running 18:00 on the 5K run on a very hot and humid summer day. We took home maximum ranking points and even sold some Road2Rio shirts while we were at it in Detroit before heading back our respective ways home.
The remainder of August involved a lot of ridiculously hard bike workouts created by my coach Mark Sortino of Team MPI. He gives these insane workouts that he has never given to any of his other athletes. I think he uses me as his test subject and if I am able to complete the workout successfully without totally keeling over and dying than he will keep it in his workout bank and maybe consider giving it to someone else. Despite my wining, I am actually thankful that he puts me in the "Pain Cave" all the time because it is making me the well oiled machine that I need to be in order to get to and be on the podium at the Rio Paralympic Games.
September rolled around quicker than ever and it was time for me to make another trip across the pond. This time however, it was not just a trip over one pond but three. I would be going to one of the farthest places away in the World for the 4th and final World Cup of the year in Para-Cycling. This World Cup was also one of the most important trips as you need to have points in two different continents and this was the only World Cup in 2015 outside of Europe. On this trip we would introduce Ben Collins to international cycling. Ben was very excited to race with me but I am not going to lie I wasn't that excited for this race because I had sacrificed a very important weekend in the states to travel to South Africa. It was a great honor that on September 11th, I would be inducted into the Farmington High School Sports Hall of Fame. I had planned on attending this event for many months as well as going from there to East Lansing for the huge football game between the Spartans and the Oregon Ducks. Because of the ramifications that not going may have had on my chances to get to Rio, I had to stay committed to my journey and miss these great events.
As a side story to the addition of Ben Collins joining the rest of Team USA for the South Africa World Cup, much of the team began getting confused on who my pilot was. They all had met and got to know Colin Riley over the past trips but now I spiced things up and brought in Ben Collins. The end result was people beginning to call Ben "Colin Collins". For the majority of the South Africa World Cup trip Ben was fittingly referred to as "Colin Collins".
After 26 hours of just flight time, we finally arrived in Durban, South Africa and then drove two hours to Pietermaritzburg. Also,, I might add that although we were going to South Africa which is one of the places most everyone wants to go, we again had no free time to sight see. When we are with the team it is straight business. We are there to compete and represent the US and therefore must spend as much time preparing, training and recovering as we can. Ben and I spent much of the first days we were there learning to ride tandem together again. Ben had the wonderful opportunity to ride with the new aggressive cyclists Aaron who had been competing with Colin and had gotten used to fast turns and insanely fast speeds. Ben was probably getting frustrated with the aggressive "back seat driver" he had to contend with but he took it right in stride and we learned together. Most would say we must have learned pretty fast as the next day we took to the time trial race and killed it to get Silver, only 10sec out of first place which was taken by an up and down British tandem team. We also learned how the Spaniards like to play dirty at this World Cup. Ben and I passed one Spanish team on the time trial and they proceeded to draft us for more than 2/3 of the race without penalization. Drafting in a time trial is a major no no and is terms for DQ if seen. So after one race, Ben had a Silver under his belt but now he would be put to the real test on the road race.
With a day of rest in between the time trial and the road race, Ben had a chance to ponder whether he would put his big boy pants on and race the road race or if it was too much to handle. He of course said that he was raring to go but I knew that there was a lot of hesitation inside as we stepped forward to the 15 lap, 8K loop course. There would definitely be carnage, but was Ben ready to make the right moves at the right time.
The gun went off and with a smaller pack of just 11 tandems in this race it would not be as congested but there was a lot of cat and mouse from the start. Nobody wanted to take the lead and so we just lolly gagged up front in a safe position until someone else did some work. We definitely didn't want to be in the front the entire time but if we were hardly pedaling it didn't matter. The 8K loop had a flat section in the park where the start finish was but the rest was a gradual up or gradual down. In the middle of the loop there was a moderately difficult climb with a long descent following.
There were a few attacks in the first few laps but they were thwarted very quickly and didn't do much to break up the pack. About lap 3 Ben got his first taste of carnage as we turned left out of the park with the Australian tandem in front of us. As they came out of the turn they began heading straight for the barricades, hitting them and toppling over into the road directly in our path. Ben saw the entire thing and somehow swerved the bike, missing the Australian pilot's head by mere inches. This of course led to an attack by the pack and we stayed with them but some of the teams could not hang on.
By lap 5 not much had changed except one Spanish rider made an attack and had gotten away by about 15sec. We were still with the chase pack and were in great position coming in after lap 6. As we made our way out of the park to that same left turn that the Australians crashed our rear tire blew in the middle of the turn. I thought to myself, "not this again!" The pack of course attacked again as they now deemed us a threat in the race but luckily the flat occured right near the "feed zone" and so team coach Mike Durner had a rear wheel to change. It was like a NASCAR pit crew stop. Mike did an amazing job on the change but we still had lost 40sec on the pack. It is very hard to catch a pack solo when they are working hard to get away and you are out on an island. Ben and I brought the canons out though and began gaining on them with each lap. By lap 8 we had cut it to 15sec and were closing but also blowing our legs out at the same time. In lap 9 we were now just 5sec behind them but those 5sec seemed like minutes as we cranked out the Watts but the gap didn't seem to decrease. Still holding on close by lap 10 we caught the pack just before the most challenging climb on the loop. We were riding with the group for no more then 15sec when we turned the corner to climb and they attacked. Our legs were cashed and we tried to hang on but we couldn't. Surprisingly the Dutch team fell of the back as well. We tried to get them to work with us for the next few laps but they were worse off than us and that wasn't helping us at all. We once again went solo to attempt to catch the pack. We were in 5th position in lap 12 and that is where we would remain. The Spaniard that went off the front in the middle of the race was never caught and won the race. We got back within close sight of 4th place on the last lap but we just couldn't catch them. Minus the flat, we would probably have ben on the podium no problem but as they say, "that is bike racing."
The Para-Cycling race in South Africa would end my 2015 cycling race year, but it did not end my racing season. Directly from Pietermaritzburg, Ben and I flew to Chicago for the ITU Paratriathlon World Championships on Friday September 18th. We arrived on Tuesday from the "edge of the Earth," and now we had less than three days to get over jet lag, shock our bodies back into racing mode and go defend our title in the 2015 Paratriathlon World Championships. I am sure some of you are wondering and just to clarify, the PT5 Blind/VI Male category was excluded for the 2016 Paralympic Games but all categories are still competed during all other international competitions.
CDWA Nation was in full force in Chicago as Brittney, my parents and even RET The Wonder Dog made the trip. It was a wet and chilly morning on September 18th and although there was severe lightening cracking as we were checking in for the race, somehow the clouds parted and the rain stopped just before the gun would go off.
Just like in 2015, the PT5 males had a factor. The B1 (completely blind) athletes would start 3:18 in front of the B2/B3 (partially sighted) athletes. I knew that the B1 athlete from Ukraine would be tough to catch and to my surprise by the end of the swim we had not gained one second on them. I truly was a floundering fish in the water now that I hadn't swam in months. In my mind, I was a little worried whether I could catch them with the short race remaining.
The ground was still very wet and there were many sharp turns and turn arounds on the 5.5 lap fast bike course. Ben and I put it in TT mode and began making big gains on the Ukraine team but it was very hard to tell how far we still were behind. I was getting ancy and as we went into a 90deg left hand turn on lap 4 we leaned a little harder than in previous laps and the tires slid on the slick cross walk paint and we went down. Luckily, it was on the left side of the bike and we didn't have to worry about the derailleur, we just had to get off our butts very quickly and get bak to racing. Ben's seat was a little jacked up and I had ripped a hole in my racing suit as I hit the pavement with my left hip but these were not even thoughts in our mind right now. The Ukraine and Slovenian team were ahead of us, both B1 athletes, and as we went around Buckingham Fountain to transition Ben slipped on the wet carpet and went down again. He quickly picked up the pieces and we got to our transition. We got word that we were 1-minute back of 1st and in my head I knew I could gain a minute on these guys in the 3lap 5K run.
At the start of the run, I told Ben to settle in because I didn't want to gain it all back on the first lap and kill ourselves. We made huge gains on the first lap and had it down to 15sec going into the second lap. We knew we had them at this point so I told Ben let's just sit back here like lions ready to pounce and regain our composure. We sat behind them for a quarter of a mile and then I said, "Let's go, drop them fast." We bolted past them as you should always do to mentally defeat your competitor. We were now in 1st place, or so we thought. As we ran by our little fan crew including my soon to be wife, we were hearing, "you got to get them, your only 30seconds down to Australia." In my head, I was thinking, "what are they talking about?" Luckily, I know my competition and know that the Australia team starts with us and they are not great swimmers. They didn't pass us on the bike so there was no way they could be ahead of us. Despite the 98% certainty that we were in the lead, we still began hauling it the last lap and I think nearly caught the Aussies before heading into the finishing shoot. We were actually getting close to lapping Australia but it was very ironic that it was our own fans that were giving us wrong information. Torn suit and all Ben and I ran down the finishing shoot at the ITU Paratriathlon World Championships as World Champions in the PT5 Blind/VI division. It was quite possibly one of the most hectic and nerve racking races ever with the short turn around time from South Africa and going down on the bike but we got the job done!
This race served as the conclusion to my 2015 triathlon season and it called for a celebration. Later that Friday I made an appearance representing BP as a Paralympic hopeful for the 2016 Rio Games. BP America has done amazing things in promoting and supporting both the US Olympic and Paralympic Teams throughout the past two games and we as athletes couldn't get to the games without them. I hung out with a fellow Spartan lover Hunter Kemper while at the BP tent and we both shared some stories and laughs from our past few years of racing. Jokingly, I also asked Hunter, "What do I have to do to get n the Wheaties Box?"
There was not too much time to celebrate as Brittney and I had a wedding to finalize. We went back to Seattle for four days before jumping on a jet to Cincinnati to attend guide Colin Riley's wedding. It was like a home and home series in baseball. We went to their wedding on September 25th and then they came to Brittney's hometown the next weekend for our wedding. Ironically, we left the same day and both went to Aruba for our honeymoon. There was no planning that took place, it was just coincidence.
On October 3, 2015 Brittney Paisley and I tied the knot in an amazingly beautiful wedding that even included a small taste of Seattle with the light drizzle during the ceremony but then cleared off to perfection for the reception. I don't need to describe the wedding as this video tells it all. (If this video does not work for blog subscribers, you can see at https://vimeo.com/142305183 )
The following day, we boarded a plane at 5:30AM for Aruba, where we would spend the next 7 days for our honeymoon. The trip to Aruba was exactly what we both needed after a wild crazy and chaotic year for both Brittney and I. We even spent some time with Colin and Amanda Riley during this trip. On October 11th, it was back to Seattle and back to the grind of everyday life.
When your a competitor, you never can go too long without some sort of race to prepare for. The end of my race season was at the ITU Paratriathlon World Championships but since, I have put one more on my calendar. Beginning January 1, 2016 it is all business with cycling. Until then there is a little leeway and therefore I will be officially concluding my race season with the 2015 USABA Blind/VI National Marathon Championships at the California International Marathon (CIM) o December 6th in Sacramento, CA. There is a strong field for this race this year an with limited run training, I am going to have to bring my "A" game if I want to win!!!
One other important addition to my team in 2015 who also needs to be recognized is the partnership with Bolle Eyewear who make sunglasses and beginning in 2016 will also have bike helmets on the market. It is of utmost importance that I protect my eyes in the attempt to preserve the vision I have left. Good quality sunglasses are important for all of us to be wearing. Just as the sun can alter and damage cells in the skin leading to skin cancer, it can damage and kill cells in the eyes leading to vision loss. Unlike skin cells, retinal cells don't regenerate and therefore protecting them is even more important.
I have recently began the #SaveYourSight trend to encourage people to remember to get good quality sunglasses such as those from Bolle to ensure to protect the vision you have!
My Road2Rio still continues and in no way have I solidified myself a spot on the 2016 Paralympic team yet. The team will be announced July 3, 2016 following the US Paralympic Para-Cycling Trials in Charlotte, NC July 1-2. My Road2Rio is a journey, not a destination. I invite all of you to join me and continue to support my Road2Rio. I can't do it without you, just like I can't do it without my guides Colin Riley and Ben Collins. I hope you have enjoyed reading about my journey and I hope you continue to follow it and share it to others. If you don't already subscribe to my blog "Through My Eyes" make sure to do so on the bottom of this page.
ENTER TICK TOCK GUESS AARON'S CLOCK FOR CIM MARATHON
The time is ticking but there is still time for you to enter my Tick Tock Guess Aaron's Clock contest for the CIM Marathon on Dec 6th. Guess what my time will be and the closest guess will win Bolle sunglasses and sweet CDWA Apparel. Entries must be in by Saturday Dec 5th at 11:59pm. Its quick and fun so enter now before its too late: CLICK HERE