Aero testing and the London races that almost didn’t happen

Thanks Dad, for asking last night if I ever finished the countdown. My morning swim lesson called in sick and now I suddenly have time to give you the final installment of the 2014 Top 14 Highlights of My Sport Career!

#2 Aerodynamics testing at the San Diego Low-Speed Wind Tunnel

Riding in the wind tunnel “where champions test” feels a bit like you are about to ride your bike into outer space. It’s way too fun. I don’t need to say much more. The rest is here:

making me faster...

Here’s the video we made that day…where I’m so excited I can barely speak!

Thanks to Ryan Greeley for his production, filming, and editing. He did this entire project on his own.

Huge thanks to Stephen Ryle and the rest of the folks at the LSWT in San Diego for giving us all-access all day. It way, way, way more than more than I expected or asked for.

My husband, on the other hand, may feel less grateful, because when he rides behind me now: “You drop down into the bars, and poof! You accelerate instantly, I’m like, oh [drat], then panicking to get back on your wheel, then at my limit to stay there.”

So, fair warning: Optimized aerodynamics…may not be compatible with marriage! (The trick, ladies, is to pick the right sort of guy!)

And, drum roll………………the número uno top highlight of my career…

#1 Winning two Bronze medals at the London Paralympic Games

Maybe on the surface this #1 highlight is not shocking. Except for the fact that it HAPPENED.

I spent the better part of a year on the brink of quitting competitive sport (or at least, Paralympic cycling) because I knew that no matter how well I raced at Nationals in 2012 I would not be selected for the team.

Daily, as I put off career and chores and made other sacrifices, I drove myself and my husband and my coach Jim Lehman to the far limit of our collective tolerance for indecision and frustration as I wrestled with the very-reasonable question, “Why am I training and spending money on this…..what good can possibly come from it…..except that I’m really good at it?”

Every time Jim gave me the okay to give up on the Paralympic Games (“Absolutely, I can see why you would want to stop. And I would understand and respect that decision.”) I would take a deep breath and stubbornly keep on paying and training and questioning my own judgement, as well as that of my closest supporters.

As expected, I was not on the stage at the end of the London team announcement, even though I had just raced, probably, my best time trial ever. The funny thing was, standing there, ten feet behind the back of the crowd, I was proud of what I had done, regretted nothing, and suddenly felt relieved to be FREE from the mental and emotional anguish that had swirled through our lives for months. Excitement for a distraction-free Cascade Classic started to bubble up. I made delicious, tantalizing mental plans for an extended three-month vacation following that race.

And then, two weeks later, came the surprise phone call saying the IPC had invited me, by name, to compete at the Games, based in part on account of my performance at Nationals. U turn. Freedom could wait!

Just as I was about to savor the opportunity though, I was flying through the air on my way to breaking my collarbone.

The day before surgery, I was a shell of my competitive self, devastated at my cursed luck. My “miracle” invitation to Games ruined, I would miss out on medals for sure.

Curtis Cramblett, the physical therapist who had nursed me through 6 years of injury & comebacks would say later, “I was really worried. Not because of your collarbone, but because I’ve never seen you like that. So…..broken.”

And then, maybe 12-hours after surgery, something happened to put me back on track. I’m not going to tell the whole story here, but it is the inspiring culmination of my stubborn, obsessive, determined 6-year cycling odyssey.

The surprising invitation to the Games, my serendipitous reward for “never giving up” when not giving up on the goal seemed reckless, ill-advised, and irresponsible, is what makes it the London Games – and the medals I won there – my #1 career highlight.

A sweet 3rd place finish, photo by Annie Schmidt

A sweet 3rd place finish, photo by Annie Schmidt

Although……

I’ve been lucky enough to have had witty-ish exchanges with two US Presidents. (And, not to brag, well maybe a little, I got hugged by VP Biden and FLOTUS Michelle Obama). Which was all fine and dandy and thrilling by itself. But THEN….I opened my New York Times:

Proof that President Obama likes my political commentary.

Proof that President Obama likes my brand of political humor.

That’s what I call a career highlight.



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