Begin the Countdown to 2014!
Mercifully, 2013, the “year-after-the-Paralympics” is almost over. Having done this once before, I knew to expect some chaos and some bumps. And like anything Olympic, the chaos was overwhelmingly grand in scale.
So, to mark the of the end of this year and the start of a brand new trip around the sun – welcome 2014! – I decided it’s time to take a look back and countdown the top 14 moments in my Paralympic professional athletic career.
Probably my sport psychologist will be happy to see me reveling in the more incredible moments, as opposed to getting bogged down by the massive disappointments that came along this year. I mean, there are tens of thousands of athletes out there who would love to have even one or two of these moments in their memory banks. And I had to be selective to get this list down to 14! I am blessed.
Without further ado, let the countdown begin:
#14: Surviving with the Olympic group on the final stage of the Cascade Classic my first year at that race and meeting Clara Hughes
The 2011 Cascade Classic was maybe my fourth or fifth stage race and certainly the first one where was I competing in a Pro/1/2 field studded with Olympians and elite riders from around the world. At the end of the prologue, if memory serves, I was in 93rd place. There were, I think, 95 women entered.
I called my coach, Jim Lehman, in tears, saying, [in summary] “I don’t belong here.” He said [repeatedly], “Let’s just get through tomorrow and then we’ll talk about it, okay?” He knew what was coming.
The next day featured two big climbs. I catapulted myself solidly into the middle of the GC. Then, dishearteningly, a couple of days after that I lost contact with the main field in the second TURN of the criterium. Forced to time trail until the officials pulled me, I barely scraped by to race the final day.
On the final day in the twisty, punchy-climbey Awbrey Butte Circuit Race, I drifted off the back of the field at the foot of every climb, shot my bike through all the gaps opening in the middle of the race, and with searing pain in my lungs and legs, would juuuuust barely latch onto the last wheel in the ever-shrinking elite, Olympic group as they created the hills and whizzed into the descents.
As we were coming down the final descent before the finish, I relaxed thinking, “Holy [****], I made the Olympic selection!” In that brief moment of distraction – we were going downhill very quickly – a 12-inch gap opened up between me and the wheel I was following. The rider behind me came around, and I looked over to see that it was Clara Hughes. “You’re doing awesome,” she cheered, and then gave me a little nod of congrats. I mentally sputtered for an appropriate response. Then she promptly pushed me off the wheel and into the wind.
Afterward, I tracked her down in behind the podium and, like the uber-dork I am, asked her to sign my race number. We chatted briefly and I confessed, somewhat embarrassed to be finishing 40-something in the final GC, that I was hoping to go to the Paralympics in London. “But you know,” I said, “I have to qualify still. It’s not a guarantee.” She looked at me, cocked her head a bit to the side, smiled that radiant smile and said, “If they don’t take you, who ARE they going to take?”
Stay tuned for the rest of the countdown – there are world records, crashes, meeting presidents of foreign countries, and more.
Merry Christmas, and thanks for your support. I wouldn’t have ANY of these moments if I didn’t have such an awesome support crew.