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.

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