"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."
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.