Monday, December 16, 2013

And then it was done....

Some people will be surprised by this post and others not so surprised.  I think deep in my heart I knew that this day was near, but the obstinate voice of a person who never gives up was still too loud.

The past two and a half years have been incredibly challenging, fun, exasperating and thrilling.  I started at a development camp at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center in April 2010 and finished my career at a National Team training camp in Colorado Springs.   The things I learned about bike racing and myself between those two camps is immeasurable.

One of the most important things I learned over the past few years, is that I do in fact have a disability.  It may seem crazy to some people that I never really realized this before, but I didn't really ever think I was disabled.  I was raised to believe that I could (and did) do anything I wanted and that I was "just like everyone else."  It is also somewhat strange that it took competing with and hanging out amongst other disabled people to help me come to this realization.  But it happened.  I still believe I can and will accomplish anything I want, but I also know that there are times that I need to cut myself some slack because I am not playing with a full deck.

Being a "professional" athlete is far more challenging than we give them credit for.  It requires discipline, pain, sacrifice and being flat out lazy sometimes.

For the past few months I have been praying for a "sign" about what to do about the bike racing "thing."

In late October I had an appointment with a neurologist at UCLA that specializes in Guillain Barre Syndrome.  We have had a few dismal discussions before, but this one was by far the most upsetting.  He told me, flat out, that by training so hard I was giving up years of walking in the future.  I know that my balance and overall body function has suffered from the intensity of training.  He would support my decision to continue, but he could not predict the repercussions.  This is upsetting news considering I had quit a relatively stable job to train.  I was upset.  But not quite ready to listen.  As I was leaving his office, I wasn't paying attention and slipped on the floor in the waiting room.  More worried about looking cool, I stood up and said, "Safe," accompanied with proper baseball hand signage.  I went home, my foot was a little sore, but not too bad.  I went to the movies that night.   When we stood up I could barely walk and Baby Cody predicted my foot was broken.

After a trip to Urgent Care and then to UCLA Orthopedics, it was confirmed that my foot was broken.  I had broken the top of my foot (which according to the doctors looking at the bone/scarring it has been broken many times that I haven't paid attention to) and in three other places.  While I was there, I just had them x-ray my other tibia to confirm that I had a stress fracture.  I bargained my way out of a cast, but I wasn't allowed on a bike at all for three weeks and no racing for six weeks.  All of this news was upsetting since the next week was a team camp, Track Nationals were a few weeks away, as was an international track event in Wales the week of Thanksgiving.

It appeared that if I wasn't going to listen willingly, then I was going to listen some way.

The past few weeks have been filled with anxiety.  I knew what the "correct" decision about bikes was - but I didn't want to be a quitter.  I had invested so much of myself, my resources and so much support had been given that I felt like I was letting everyone down.

But as I had time to pray and reflect on a few things, I also realized something else.  I hate bike racing. I love riding my bike.  But the pressure of racing is something I dread. So why was I doing it?  Because deep down, I believed that I would be more valuable (to whomever or whatever) if I had that achievement on my life resume.  The past few months have made me realize that being normal and regular isn't a bad thing.  I like waking up on a Saturday morning, laying in bed, drinking coffee and eating breakfast.  I like going to the movies and the bookstore. I like riding my bike to the beach without worrying about power numbers and calories.  Being a regular person isn't such a terrible thing and I kind of like it.

I always thought I wouldn't be living up to my potential if I wasn't pursuing some lofty goal - but I might be wrong.

So after some unsettling discussions with myself and others, I decided that enough was enough.  It's a scary place to go because if I quit training, I really don't have anything else to do.  But it is also a lesson in patience and trust in God.   The next few weeks and/or months will be sketchy as I figure out how to reintegrate into being a "normal" human being (including finding a job where I will probably have to wear a real bra instead of a sports bra, disturbing!).  I look forward to using the education that I am lucky to have in my brain (hopefully, after bonking my head so many times), having a regular income, getting my favorite Pink bike fixed, riding (probably very slowly) in charity rides, raising a guide dog puppy and investing in relationships.  Although hazy, I look forward to what the future holds.

To everyone who has supported me over the past years of ridiculousity - thank you!  My level of insanity will probably not diminish, it will just be redirected.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The "I" word

"Having courage does not mean that we are unafraid.  
Having courage and showing courage mean we face our fears. 
We are able to say, I have fallen but I will get up."
--Maya Angelou

This weekend (or just Friday for me) was Elite Timed Track Nationals in Carson, CA.   I didn't do really well.  But the objective, in my mind, was to race and get over the debacle that was the State Championships.

At States I crashed for the first time ever on the track. In front of everyone who was there.  Now, to be fair, it was a track race so there weren't many people there.  But it was still humiliating because I AM a para athlete and to make a mistake like that really hurts one's pride.  You might think that walking as ridiculously as I do, I'd be over being embarrassed.  But I'm not.  So I worked hard over the past three weeks to get over my irrational fear of turns one and two and the the sponges that reside there.  I thought that the officials would take down the sponges in those turns (they do for a para event because a lot of us end up on the blue band at the start just because we can't get enough speed out of the gate).

Nationals was a great experience this year, but not because I did well.  I was excited to race with all the "big kids." The girls that you see racing and winning.  Carri Higgins. Dana Feiss.  Tela Crane.  It's exciting that I am able to race with people who are really good on the track. And most people in Carson know me since I train there.

I had rehearsed all of the things I was going to do. I warmed up.  I waited for my race.  My teammate and coach helped me into the gate.  The sponges?  Nope, this isn't a para event, so the sponges stay.  That threw me off a little bit.  But I knew I could still race.  The clock started.  The beeping came. I hit the gate too early and don't have fast enough control to reengage my legs.  So I fell out of the gate when it opened.  Boom!  The sound of a bike hitting the boards is not nice.  But I got up, got back in the gate and started over. I raced and finished with a time that was not stellar because I ended up higher on the track in turns to avoid the sponges.

All of that is to say this:

When I restarted and made it out of the gate the second time, I heard people cheering me on.  For no other athlete was there so much enthusiasm.  I heard it and I knew it was for me.  I still struggle with the fact that sometimes people cheer for me because they feel I am doing something "extra brave" or "difficult" because I have a disability.  The "I" word - Inspiration.  And that hurts sometimes because I want people to cheer for me because I am an athlete and I have trained hard and sacrificed and win.  I race my bike because I can, not because it says something about overcoming difficulties.  I don't do it for hugs.  I do it for medals. And maybe, one or two people were cheering for me yesterday because they do think I'm doing something special because I have a few more hurdles than able-bodied athletes. But really, people were cheering because I got up off the track, made sure my bike was fine and got back in the gate.

I don't know what else to say about it.  It sucks to struggle sometimes.  I don't like to be an "inspiration," because I'm not.  I'm an athlete.  But sometimes having courage to try is an inspiration.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Revisiting a Favorite Prayer

I wish with all my heart that I could visit The Grotto at Notre Dame right now. I know that for many students and alumni it is a very special place. I've been there (though not enough times) when it was snowing, raining, hot and humid or just perfect.  Regardless of the external temperature, it brings peace and closeness with God.  Of all the places, I'd love to visit right now - The Grotto is at the top of the list.

On September 5, 2010 I was feeling lost and I posted one of my favorite prayers by Thomas Merton. It seems that I find myself in a similar situation, so I am revisiting this favorite with the hope that it helps me find direction, peace and purpose.

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

--Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude"

When I read the line "in the shadow of death," I feel guilty for being so lost.  I am nowhere near the shadow of death.  In fact, I have friends and family that love me.  It was my choice to leave my job to pursue bike racing. And yet, I feel lost.  I remind myself that just as people feel different levels of pain, we can also feel despair and hopeless in different levels of life.  

A friend wrote to me and suggested that I enjoy the difficult path.  Not sure how I feel about that, but we all know that I do LOVE to learn things the hard way (if that's the same thing). We grow in fortitude and internally through the process.   Being OK with not being OK seems to be something with which I struggle frequently.

I pray, wholeheartedly, that the Lord helps me find my way back to a path of being useful for His plan for me and that I can be fulfilled again.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

"The good fight is the one that's fought in the name of our dreams. When we're young and our dreams first explode inside us with all of their force, we are very courageous, but we haven't yet learned how to fight. With great effort, we learn how to fight, but by then we no longer have the courage to go into combat. So we turn against ourselves and do battle within. We become our own worst enemy. We say that our dreams were childish, or too difficult to realize, or the result of our not having known enough about life. We kill our dreams because we are afraid to fight the good fight."

Monday, May 6, 2013

It's my Gimpy MONTH

I used to celebrate the entire month of March as my birthday month, so it seems fitting that instead of having just a crippled birthday, I get a Crippled MONTH.  May is National Guillain Barre Syndrome Awareness Month and marks my anniversary of having GBS.

I think I got even cuter, even with AFOs.

I wrote this last year, on my 30th crippled birthday.  That's right kids, I've been gimpy longer than you've been alive!

A lot of things float around on Facebook.  There are a lot of facebook pages for "survivors" of Guillain Barre Syndrome. I struggle (frequently) with how to interact with those pages.   I have a different view on all of this because I don't know how to be any different.  I'm not a survivor, I just am.  Everyone overcomes things in their lives and maybe we should view everyone as survivors.

At the beginning of the month, someone asked people to summarize their experiences with GBS in one word (see the cover photo someone created at the top of this post). I've spent the month's bike rides trying to think of one word that would do just that.  I hated the words that others came up with - they seem so self-defeating. It can be defeating.  I have felt misunderstood and it's hard to be in pain when you really aren't in pain and no one understands.  It's hard to meet people's parent and walk like you are intoxicated.  But all of those things are part of the human experience.  I think that by labeling the experience with such negativity we allow it to become just that.  I don't have a word.  Maybe it is life-changing. But it didn't change my life, it is just part of my life.

And just because I like to take a stroll down memory lane, every year I pull out the scrapbook my mom made for me.

I do know that I HATED tilt boards.  I had to tilt board for almost a year after I was diagnosed.  Pretty sure I also still make this face.

I wasn't a fan of this either - but I did get Apple Jacks!  Also, please note that my hair is rather cute in all photos!  Thanks mom for making sure I looked awesome even when I was in the hospital.  Maybe that's why I get my hair done before surgeries!

My first trip outside the hospital, with our family dog, Mork 
(you read that correctly and yes I just aged myself even more.  Good work on picking a dog name Mom and Dad!).

Nurse Laura!  In the back of the scrapbook are all of the cards that people sent (you can see some of them on my crib in this picture).  People loved me even back then!  

I am truly blessed to have so many people who love me, put up with me banging my feet together and being cranky when I don't get what I want (THAT has nothing to do with GBS, just my own personal crankiness).  Thank you!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Greenvile Open 2013 v1.0

It's hard to write about disappointments.  But cycling is full of disappointments.  Supposedly, the lows make the highs that much more enjoyable.

Last weekend we traveled to Greenville, SC for the UCI Paracyling Open. In 2014 the Road World Championships will be held in this exact place - so it was a chance for us to see the course ahead of time.  It was also a selection event for the European World Cups.

This was my first experience packing my own bikes.  The nights before I left were a little nutty since I have zero mechanical skills! They all got broken down and arrived without damage. I have all the pieces?  

We arrived in Greenville after a loooooonnng flight that included spending some time on the runway.  Greenville is a great town!  The people in the airport were incredible and everyone was very kind.  We collected 5 bikes, luggage and other paraphernalia and headed to our hotel.

On Friday, we pre-rode the course.  It was a LOT hillier than I expected.  Thursday was the time trial.  I woke up feeing well, but the race didn't go so well.  Same with the road race on Sunday.   I really have no reason to be disappointed in how I rode. I am where I am at this point.  It's disappointing to lose.'s time to move forward.  There are things to accomplish.  By FAR this is the hardest thing I have attempted to do.  Someone recently told me that I am arrogant - in all areas except bike racing.  Maybe that is true. But I'm "good" at other things.  I'm not all that great at bike racing.....yet!

I am proud of my friends on the team who did well.  Fuck Face got second in the time trial. I tried to steal his flowers, but he gave the to his mom instead.

The better part of the weekend was that people I LOVE came to see me race.  As we all know, I'm not the biggest fan of people seeing me race.  But it was OK.  My mom and dad have been my biggest supporters in this crazy endeavor and I am glad that they finally got to see me race.

Thank you Mom and Dad for coming to support me.  No matter how much I whine, I really appreciated it!

Since "Chad" aka Ocho is still in training at Guide Dogs for the Blind, he sent his wishes via text.  Thanks ChoCho!

The people who cheered me on at the time trial

Carrie Newcomb drove all the way from Asheville to see me (and really check up on Moochie!).

Once a dog raiser, always a dog rasier. Carrie did an excellent job running career change, Shelby, around the grassy knolls.

Carrie, my mom, my dad and Warren Johnson (the photographers lucky husband!)

So the weekend didn't go how I would have liked it to.  It was another drop in the bucket on my way to be a bike racer.  I learned that I'm not quite there yet.  I have a lot of things to learn.  Someday, I will wear these lucky sucks and make them lucky by winning!

The MVP of the weekend is Baby Cody. We drug him along to get him classified. Unfortunately the classifiers deemed that he is disabled, but not disabled enough to race para.  Sooooooo....he spent the weekend helping me make sure my bike didn't fall apart. He kept me calm.  He was the only person I wanted to see after the debacle of the road race.  Sometimes it's shocking to me that we have only known each other for a few weeks,  Thank you Baby Cody for keeping me sane!  

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Bridge

This past week I spent a good chunk of time on the Santa Ana River Trail.  Time Trial efforts and recovery rides on a TT bike don't go so well on the roads.  As terrifying as the river trail is (lots of people who don't pay attention, people who don't know how to ride bikes), it reminded me of a looooonnnngggg time ago when I first started riding bikes.   I was the person on the trail that had no idea what I was doing.

I took a picture of the bridge above to remind myself of several things.  First of all, how far I have come since I first started riding.  When I first started riding one of my goals was to be able to ride across one of these bridges out of the saddle. The wood is bumpy and it's not pleasant to ride across. That is what came to my mind first when I crossed the bridge today.  I easily, without thinking, got out of the saddle and rode across the bridge. I struggled with that for almost a year.  And now, it was essentially effortless. Yes, as a bike racer I should be able to do that - but it was a simple reminder that although I have a long way to go, I also have come a long way.

And that is the second point of which this picture reminds me is that I still have many bridges to cross.  I can't see what's on the other side, but I do know that I have to work hard to get there.  It's not going to come easily or on the first try.  But in order to do it, I have to trust.  I have to keep going.  A bridge is a means of crossing between two places.  Becoming a bike racer is something so radically different than anything I've done.  I have to learn to trust my body.  Learn to be patient.  Learn to push beyond that which I am comfortable.  Bike racing encompasses a lot of things that I am not necessarily good at, yet.  

But the bridge reminds me that it is possible.  It is possible to learn and grow.  

Redlands Classic 2013

Last weekend, we had the opportunity to race the Redlands Classic.  It's the first National Racing Calendar race of the year and it was really exciting to be there!  This is the first year that they included all of the paracycling categories. In the past, they only had a hand cycling category.

It was a busy week. There was a national team camp in Chula Vista. So I drove down to San Diego on Monday and then did the Honey Springs Time Trial with the team on Tuesday.  That time trial continues to get the best of me.  

We left late Wednesday morning and drove to Big Bear to ride the time trial course around Big Bear Lake.  

We drove down the mountain to the technical meeting, ate dinner and then drove back up the mountain to sleep and get ready for the time trial the next morning.

We stayed at The Robinhood Resort.  It was adorable!  I spent the morning before the time trial in the common area, in front of the fire place.  The room was a little retro, but it was comfortable.  

On Friday morning, we went to breakfast and then rode over to the time trial.  I was overwhelmed with awe because of all the pro team riders that I were next to us.  I, of course cementing my coolness, took a picture of my cyclist crush team, Vanderkitten.  Yup, super not #pro.  But I didn't care.

The time trial was short - only about 5 miles.  It had a semi-steep pitchy hill and the rest was pretty rolly.  I paced it incorrectly. I essentially rode two pursuits - one at the beginning, a crap shoot in the middle, and when I saw the 3k sign I did another pursuit.  It wasn't a terrible effort, but I still have a lot to learn about time trialing.

But, since there were no other C1-3 women competing....I WIN! First and last.  Always first and last place!

The plan was to drive down the mountain, drive to Irvine and do another time trial at Great Park that night.  When we got to the bottom, FF didn't want to go to Irvine. An executive decision was made and we got a room in Redlands. I wanted to race the second time trial, but I guess since this happened at dinner that night, FF might have had a good idea!

 The next morning was the road race in Beaumont.  To be fair, it was really a circuit race. We did 7 laps in an hour.  It was much more fun racing with others than the time trial.  I was dropped from the upright single bike guys pretty quickly. I rode alone for a few laps until Steve Peace and Monica Basicio caught up to me. We "worked together" through the last few laps.  By that, I mean I sat on Peace's wheels through the wind and then sprinted through the line so it didn't look like I was drafting off a trike. Ya, that happened.  I thought we were going to be done at six laps, but Ian announced as I sprinted through the line that we had one more lap. I was not pleased about THAT!  But it did teach me that I had more left in the tank than I thought I had.

While we were waiting for the podium, I got a chance to oggle the pros at the start of their road race.

And so we arrived at another podium ceremony.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Decide. Commit. Execute. Succeed.

Interestingly, it's not as easy to be #pro as one might think. Now that riding a bike is my only "job," there is a lot more stress involved.  When I make mistakes, it isn't because I have a real job and biking is a hobby.  The only thing I have to do is ride my bike and prepare my body. Admittedly I haven't been terribly successful at this.  I've had a lot of slip ups and had to start over.

Then I stepped back and looked at the big picture.  Greenville is still more than a year away.  Rio is still more than three years away.  The past 2.5 weeks are not going to make or break my success in either event.

So I decided to find something that I could repeat and hold on to - something that would hold me accountable to my goals for today and my goals for the future.


Seems simple enough to be repeated, but deep enough to mean something.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Piru Time Trial

Today I did my first time trial since the Augusta debacle.  My TT bike is still getting di2 put on it (well, to be honest, it's been finished for a few weeks and I just haven't gotten around to getting it), so I Eddy Merckx'd the time trial on my road bike.  Nothing aero.  

It wasn't a complete success, but it wasn't a complete failure either.  I came in third in the women's 1-4 category (out of three women!).  But I did beat most of the women in the Public category, I caught my 30 second carrot (the person racing ahead of me) and my average power was acceptable for the time it took me to do 20K.

I know that I still have a long way to go.

Coming up....all sorts of life changes.  I'll fill you in!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

One Day at a Time

I tend to get caught up in the every day things and let them convince me that I "can't do X."  Whatever X may be.

When I first started this post, I intended to go through all of the X's that stop me - or that I perceive stop me.  But really, what good does that do?  Part of my new training mentality is to only look at the task at hand. Don't let fear of the fallout of your current effort affect the current effort. So I stopped.  I don't want to see the things that will stop me.  I want to see the reasons why I can.

Today I have a 4 hour ride, including Latigo Canyon.  It's only four hours.  I will live in the day.  I will do my best on THIS ride, not worry about tomorrow and finish stronger than I started.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Choose Love

I woke up this morning and realized that my life is about to significantly change.  I turned in the letter to terminate my lease for my apartment.  I told my boss that I am going to take a leave of absence. I fired the coach that I started with and who helped me get to where I am now.  I hired a new coach who seems to have a lot of things that I need in order to take me to the next level.

I have learned so much over the past year.  Going into to Track Worlds I had NO idea what I was doing.  I thought I could win races just by riding my bike.  Road Nationals, well let's not go there.  I had some down time from July until now. I rode my bike.  I got car doored. I got sick.  I tried to figure out who I wanted to be as an athlete.

As part of the process of figuring out who I am as an athlete, I found that deep down, there is a black box of anger that I had hidden for most of my life.  I don't want to be angry.  But I was.  And sometimes I still am.  I tried to use that as a motivation. Sometimes it worked, but most of the time I didn't harness the anger properly and it backfired.  So going forward, I am going to choose love.  I choose to love my teammates.  I am going to choose to love riding my bike. It isn't an activity to punish myself with, but an activity to push my limits and appreciate what my body can do for me.

I'm sure there are days the hate will resurface.  But I am going to make a concerted effort to choose love.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


I've had a new bike for a few weeks.  Her name is Pepita.  No mom, not Pedita - Pepita!  She is a blue BH Cristal.  I find it awesome that I started this blog about 2.5 years ago to chronicle my pilgrimage across Spain on The Camino de Santiago.  On that trip, I rode a borrowed BH bike and now I own a BH.  She is blue. Not pink. There will only be one pink bike (RIP).

It took me a while to get used to the different components (I switched to Shimano).  But today I had my first ride on Shimano's new Ultegra di2.  The shifting is all electronic.  It's still new and my fingers are still figuring out the new shifting mechanics.  BUT I can see good things in my future with this new shifting.  Since my fingers aren't especially strong, I often struggle to shift.  But with the electronic shifting, one touch of a button and the bike flawlessly shifts.  The soft buzz that I hear is music to my ears.

As I was riding this afternoon, I thought about how far I had come in a short time.  In April, it will be two years since I went to development camp.  In that time I've learned an immense amount about bikes. I learned that the track exists.  I learned about time trial bikes. I learned about overtraining, overhydrating, caring too much about a race, caring too little about a race. I know about failure of my muscles. I know about (most) parts of my bike.  I'm proud of the things I've learned and the things I've accomplished over the past two years.  I look ahead to the future and know that even greater things lie ahead.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

National Team Camp

I'm a bit behind on blogging.  A week ago, I got home from "camp."  Now by camp, I don't mean campfires and tents.  We ride bikes. We eat.  We nap. We eat. We ride bikes. We eat.  We sleep.  It's fantastic.  

This year we had winter camp at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista (near San Diego). It was COLD!  

The first day we had early morning blood tests.  I survived.  I turned on some Little Big Town and let them take their vials of blood.  That afternoon, I was the very last member of the team to do the ramp test.  I'm not a fan of trainers.  But my bike was hooked up to the trainer and every three minutes, the tension was increased by 25 watts, until failure. I made it far longer than I expected. I lasted a minute and some change at 225 watts.  And that's where pleasantly surprising myself ended.

The next day we did the flat time trial (Otay Lakes). I ended the time trial last, even though I started second. That became a trend.  On the third day, we did the infamous Honey Springs time trial:

I flatted about .5 miles from the top.  Thus marked as DNF (did not finish).  But, that happens.  I felt terrible after every time trial. But when I sat down with my power files, it wasn't that horrible. I'll keep that in mind.

I spent the week with "the baby" group.  Some day I might get to play with the big kids, but first I just need to learn to ride my bike without killing anyone!  We rode 3-4 hours every day.  It was exhausting trying to keep up.  Sometimes, I have to remind myself that as a female and one of the more disabled athletes at camp, I'm working harder than most just to keep up in warm up.  It was a stark reminder of how much I have to learn and how far I have to go.

We do get to eat good food!  That we don't have to cook!

I think they should let us out on the BMX track.

This year is going to prove to be exciting.  The door is open, I just have to work hard and push through.  Stay tuned...

Otay Lakes TT

I am going to write this tonight because today was just a baseline.  That's all it was. One data point.

Yesterday we had a Lactic Threshold ramp test. What is that you ask?  Our bikes were hooked up to a computrainer - a torture device that adjusts the tension on your bike to "make" you pedal a certain power.  We started at 100 watts and every three minutes we were increased by 25 watts.  I had no idea what expect.  I ended up pulling off a good result. I got up to 225 watts for about a minute and some change.

Today was not so surprising.  We had a 15k time trial. It's mostly flat with some rollers.  I was started second (we were in reverse order of expected speed - slowest goes first).  I finished last. It was disheartening to be passed by every member of my team.