Februrary 14, 2013
Another day in the life of an elite athlete...
Happy Valentines Day everyone! I don't have an internet box of chocolates to share, but I do have another "day in the life of a USA Team Athlete" story to share.
To preface this story, there recently has been a lot of talk about doping in sports. Lance Armstrong finally fessed up about his doping. I was saddened because his story, particularly his comeback from cancer, would otherwise been so inspiring. Unforunately, doping has put a dark cloud over sports, especially cycling. Yet, there so many hard-working athletes like myself who spend hours and hours training to be the best, fair and square. We do not cheat or put our bodies at risk with harmful chemicals.
As you may or may not know, all USA Team Olympic and Paralympic athletes, must undergo drug testing with the United States Anti-Doping Angency (USADA). We are tested at major competions. However, we also undergo "randomized" drug testing quite routinely in our daily lives. We have to give USADA our whereabouts each and every day between 6am-11pm. If our schedule changes, we get stuck in traffic, or if we go on vacation, domestically or out of the country, USADA has to know. We're also required to give a 1-hr time block each day that we are not allowed to readily change where we must be available. USADA typically does not call ahead of time. They simply show up and knock. And there are major penalties for missing a randomized drug test because you forgot to tell USADA that your schedule changed. As such, USADA plays a big part in our daily lives.
Back to the story...I recently moved (what a pain) and was forced to buy my first set appliances, a washer and dryer. I had been expecting a phone call from the retailer for an early morning delivery. It was 5:55AM when I heard my phone ring. I thought it must be the retailer getting a very early start. I answered my phone and asked, "Are you bringing my washer and dryer?" I heard back the response, "We're having trouble finding your new location." I thought to myself, how could the retailer even know about my old location? After a few more seconds of silence the caller responds: "Washer and dryer? This is USADA. We're trying to find your new location, and we're unsure if we're at the right building." Excitement quickly turned into disappointment and dread. Instead of getting a new washer and dryer, an agent was there to watch me give my urine specimen. I admit, it can be a little embarassing. But, that's just another small sacrifice for being an elite ahtlete. And it's definitely one that myself and all of the other clean athletes are willing to pay to keep our sport(s) clean.
January 1, 2013
Training in rural America...
It's been awhile since my last blog. The NEWS on my website has been updated regularly, but after London "life happened". It's been extremely busy trying to keep up with my research projects. After London, I also have had several speaking engagements, which you can read about in the NEWS page. With all of the after-London busy-ness, I was thrilled to get to go home to my hometown of Warner, OK for the Christmas Holidays. Did you all realize that I have a street named after me there? The new street re-naming happened in a very gracious ceremony in September 2012. If you ever happen to cruise by on Cassie Mitchell Way (the street leading from Highway 2 to Warner Public Schools), let me know.
The official "base" training started while I was home. "Base" training is what athletes do in the off-season to build their cardiovascular endurance. I was doing about 25-28 miles a day by riding my bike in the shoulder of the road between Warner, OK and Checotah, OK on the Old Checotah Highway (I'm not sure what the actual highway number is, but that is what all of we locals call it). For saftey, I had my parents' follow behind me in their vehicle, driving in the shoulder with an official "orange triangle", which signifies a slow moving vehicle. You've probably seen those orange triangles on tractors before. On one of my outings, something happened that could only happen in rural America. Keep reading for extreme laughter:
As I said, we were in the shoulder so we would not block traffic. All of the sudden, a vehicle pulls up next to my parent's vehicle honking and with a woman ranting out the window. She asks my Mom, "Is that your child?" My Mom quickly responded "yes" so the lady would go on and quit holding up traffic. The lady drives about a mile down the road and quickly whips a U-turn. About 5 minutes later there is a Checotah Police car that pulled up behind my parent's vehicle with his lights flashing and siren on. After stopping us, he asks my mother if another car had told us that we no should be doing this [i.e. riding a cycle in the shoulder followed by a car]. My mother said, "No, but a white car did ask if that was my child." The officer then asked, "How old is your SON?" My mother responded, "SHE is 31." The officer frantically appologized, through his hands up in the air and said, "Just a busybody. We got a call that a young BOY was riding his TRICYCLE on the highway shoulder, with his parents driving behind him. So sorry....Have a nice day.....Oh, by the way how far is she riding?" My Dad responded, all the way back to Warner." The officer responded, "She must be in great shape." My Dad smiled wittingly and said, "She's on the USA Paralympic Team!"
September 18, 2012
The Paralympics relived and lessons yet to be learned...
I'm finally back at my residence after a nearly month long stint abroad (2 weeks of training camp + 2 weeks at the Paralympics) and afterwards a short stint in Washington DC where we (Paralympians and Olympians) got to meet President and Ms. Obama at the White House. The Paralympics were absolutely amazing! I'm so thankful for all of the family, friends, coaches, fans, and supporters who helped me accomplish my goal of putting on the USA uniform and competing at my best at the 2012 Paralympic Games. My dream was not completely fulfilled as I didn't come home with a medal nor did I get to hear my National Anthem play. However, I did have three performances of a life time.
I'm still trying to analyze everything that happened. What does it mean to do your best and still come up short? Why is it that a questionable call was the difference between getting a medal and not in the discus? What does it mean when you feel like you've been lead towards a dream with a specific outcome, and that outcome is not what you dreamt of? I don't have all of the answers now. It is something that I will need to think and pray about more. However, I am confident that the outcome is not what I dreamt of because God has a better plan....albeit through the lessons learned and yet to be learned from this experience, my personal and spiritual growth, or something else. While I know I have more to learn from this experience, I do have this affirmation for now: the journey is more important the destination.
Thanks so much to everyone who helped make this journey possible. Words really can't describe putting on the USA uniform, the adrenaline rush, and the thrill of competing at the Paralympics. Opening and closing ceremony was also an experience of a lifetime. I will forever hold the images of the fireworks, light show, and dramatics of the Paralympics ceremonies. I will remember how I beamed with pride when my name was announced at my event followed by "United States of America". I like the sound of that. We are so blessed to be Americans, and I am thankful I had oppotunity to serve my country in some small way.
September 5, 2012
Finishing the race...
Two Paralympic competitions down and one to go. I had two personal best times in each of my track races, the T52 100m and the T52 200m. Unfortunatley, I have been left with 4th place finishes. The 100m was particularly heartbreaking as I lost by just 0.18 seconds. I had a great start and was caught at the finish line by my American teammate at about 95 meters. I'd be lying to say that I wasn't gravely disappointed. Having a personal best time takes a bit of the sting out, but it still hurts.
However, as I solemnly trudged back to my room in the Paralympic Village, something caught me eye. It was a letter that had I written to myself at the United States Olympic Committee training on "How to be an Olympian". Each athlete was requried to write a letter to his or herself that would serve as inspiration for a race. The following was my letter to myself:
"This is my commitment to God to serve to the best of my ability Him and this country. I will fight the good fight, finish the race, keep the faith. And no matter the outcome, to Him be the glory."
I did fight the good fight and finish the race....and I gave it my personal best. I kept my commitment. That is something to smile about. Now in less than 48 hours I will throw my heart out on the field as I let the discus set sail on September 7 at 10 (5am Eastern). Could it be the event in which I have only competed in three times be the event that I win a medal? Anything is possible. I'm expecting the best.
September 1, 2012
The race before the race...
As I sit in the athlete lounge in the Paralympic Village watching a live TV feed from the track at Olympic Stadium, I have everything and nothing on my mind. I do not come into this race ranked in the top three. Most people would say that I will be trying to fight my way into the medasl. However, this is a fight I alone cannot win. This is a race that requires a miracle not solely of my own doing. I do believe in miracles. I will do my best and leave the rest up to God. I can say that and write that with great peace. I am thankful to be here, thankful to race, and thankful to hope in miracles. Ironically, my favorite movie is "Miracle", the Disney movie of the 1980 USA Olympic Hockey Team's miracle win over Russia. In that movie, USA Hockey coach Herb Brooks says, "If we played them [Russia] ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. There time is over. This is your time. Now go out there and take it!" Enough said.
August 2, 2012
Be thankful for what you have before you ask for more....
As I wrote in my last blog, I had very little time, less than one week, between receiving the bad news of not making the Paralympic cycling team and having to make my bid for the Paralympic Track & Field Team at the National Trials. With such little time, I essentially stuffed most of my emotions in a closet so I could quickly focus on my next race. Upon successfully making the Paralympic Track Team, it was about a week before I was forced to open that dark closet of emotion tied to my loss of cycling.
It all happened at a USA Track training camp in Canada. We had about a week of training and several competitions. Our training consisted of many things beyond physical workouts--their was training on how to handle media, how to be an Olympian/represent the USA (respect the flag, etc.), and how to be psychologically prepared (mentally, emotionally and even spiritually). The USA sports pscyhologist gave an inspiring presentation about how the mind is just as important as the body. What was really cool is that she tied in all of the physiology of the brain into her presentation. As a neuroscientist, I was all ears! It was during that presentation where she made the statement, "You must be thankful for what you have before you can ask for more." She really emphasized how being thankful changed our psyche, changed our body, and changed the "force of nature". Before you ask God, the clouds, your lucky charm, or even yourself for a higher goal, it is absolutely imperative that you be at peace and totally grateful for where you currently are/what you currently have. Whether you are religious or not, that makes a lot of sense!
Really focusing on being thankful for what I had with a Paralympic opportunity on the track really changed me. I've only been on the track as wheelchair athlete for about 9 months. Who makes an Olympic team just 8 months after starting a sport? Additionally, I have the opportunity to come "full circle". As an able-body, my main sport was track. Now, I am back to complete what I started--an Olympic dream. Recently training for a few days in my hometown of Warner, OK, really helped complete the circle. I was literally training at the same football stadium I trained at as a varsity high school track athlete. Being thankful was so freeing in Canada that I had three personal bests at the Boiling Point Track Meet in Windsor, Canda. I literally blew my previous best times and throws out of the water! Why? I was thankful, and I was having joy in what I was doing. I was that kid "running" simply for the join of running. What a blessing!
July 21, 2012
Realizing the dream...
My dream of making the Olympics has come true! I will be competing in 2012 London Paralympics in Track & Field in the T52 (quadriplegic) 100m and 200m and the F52 discus. In 2010, I re-ignited my Olympic dream and set 2012 as the goal. Now the dream has been realized. The road has had many twists and turns, but I have arrived.
The last few weeks have been an emotional roller coster. As most of you know, my re-ignited Paralympic Dream in 2010 was to initially compete in para-cycling at the 2012 Games. Since, 2010 my main sport has been para-cycling. In less than two years, I went from a complete novice to become the first quadriplegic female Para-cycling World Champion, a 5-time National Para-Cycling Champion, the World Cup Champion, and the World Record Holder for the Women's H1 Para-cycling Time Trial. At the 2012 USA National Trials, I bettered my own World Record by over 7%. Despite all of the hard work and accomplishments, my name was not selected for the USA Paralympic Cyling Team. Not hearing my name called for the London Paralympic Cycling Team was one of my most devastating moments. I didn't understand why or how this could have happened. What more could I have done? The answer is nothing. Selection was out of my control.
However, I fortunately had a back-up plan in place. Last fall (2011), I picked up the sport of Paralympic Track & Field, largely at the time, to help increase my odds of going to the 2012 Paralympics. On a premonition, in October 2011 I checked in all of my frequent flyer miles, borrowed a racing chair, and flew to Chula Vista, CA, to compete in my first track meet in order to be eligible for the 2012 team. After setting an American record in my first track meet in the 400m, I made it my goal to become the first athlete to win medals in two different sports (cycling and track) in the same Olympics/Paralympics.
The two-sport plan was crushed on June 22 when I was left off the para-cycling team. I had a week to get pscyhologically and emotionally prepared for the National Track & Field Trials (June 29-July 1) in order to keep my dream of the Paralympics alive. That week was completely exhausting. I was angry, then optimistic; depressed at the loss of cycling and yet appreciative for another opportunity on the track; emotionally drained by the disappointment and yet completed charged to fight for my dream on the track.
With God's help, love, and forgiveness, I was able to pull off an amazing feat at the National Track Trials in Indianapolis, IN. I set personal records in the 3 of my 4 events to earn my spot on the 2012 USA Paralympic Track & Field Team. Hearing my name called out aloud for the team at a public press conference on July 2 was nearly surreal. I went from the low of lows to the high of highs. How many people make an Olympic or Paralympic sport in less than one year after starting their sport? I am blessed.
My Paralympic dream was realized. The details weren't exactly as I had planned as I won't be cycling. God has a different plan. My situation would be analagous to Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer, making the soccer team. However, if that were to really happen to Michael, he'd probably shortly become the best soccer play in the world. Why? Because champions are champions--no matter the circumstance or field of play. Champions are made, not born. And in London, my collection of athletic experience, faith, and determination will make me a Track & Field Paralympic Champion.
June 11, 2012
Riding the whirlwind...
The last 6 weeks I feel like I've been hanging on for dear life as I ride out an F5 twister, just like the ones I grew up with in tornado alley in the heart of Oklahoma:) I have had 8 different competitions and 24 different races in that short amount of time. I've been to every cardinal direction of the USA, from west in Arizona to north in Indiana to south in Florida and east to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; I also made it all the way across the globe to Rome, Italy, for the UCI paracycling world cup. I'm thankful to be back at my residence as I crank out my last couple of weeks of high volume training before USA team selection trials. A recurring theme in the forefront of my brain is to enjoy this ride. Enjoy every minute of training even no matter how exhausted or sore; enjoy every minute of travel even if at the time I hope to never see a plane a again; and enjoy the opportunities that are provided to interact with amazing people along the way--family, friends, fans, by-standers, and even airport terminal crowds. Some of my most inspired moments have been bestowed on me by all of the locals, whether near my residence or across states or the world, who shout "Go USA", "Go for gold", or give me a friendly honk as I come breezing by on my handcycle and USA clothing. They don't know me personally, but they relate to my journey of racing for my country and the Olympics. When I was in Rome, Italy, I went to visit the Coliseum by riding my bike from the race venue dressed in my USA gear. I think I was as much of a tourist attraction as the Coliseum as I had many people snapping my picture and yelling "Go USA" in all sorts of accents. All of this reminds me that sometimes the journey is just as important as the destination.
May 22, 2012
And Faith's Law prevails...
I must say that my last blog entry (May 15, Murphy's Law versus Faith's Law) held true at the Desert Challenge (see news). I really needed to make the USA "A" time standard prior to the National team selection in June. [Time standards are used by the International Olympic Committee as well as the United States Olympic Committee to insure that athletes who qualify for the Olympics are competitive, to help equalize competition across countries of different sizes, and to aid in the team selection.] Anyway, my goal was to make the "A" standard in the womens' T52 200m. Right out of the start, I had a mechanical issue with my chair. The footplate slipped which threw my balance off nearly making me leave my lane (that would have been an automatic disqualification). I had to come to a complete stop to quickly fix the issue. I remind you that the 200m is an all out start-to-finish sprint, and stopping means losing precious seconds in a race that can be won by a 0.01 seconds. I had never stopped in the 200m before, and yet, I had never made the "A" standard. Nonetheless, I didn't give up. I ducked my head down and pushed with everything I had. I worked my way back into the field of athletes, and I crossed the finish line ahead of my T52 competitors. Initially, I was distressed because I assumed that there was no way I had made the "A" standard after that nearly race-ending mechanical. However, my next race (the 800m) was coming within minutes so I didn't have too much time to pity myself. I took my frustrations out in the 800m, where I sat a new record. However, something even more amazing than that happened after the 800m.....I found out that I had in fact made the "A" standard for the 200m. Actually, I had beat the "A" standard by nearly 2 seconds! To this day, I'm in shock. It's easy to say and "what if that mechanical wouldn't have happened....what would that time look like?". Well, that time likely would have been quite awesome. Once again I might not have gotten everything I wanted, but I did get everything I needed. I'll take that as confirmation that Faith's Law really does prevail.
May 15, 2012
Murphy's law versus Faith's law...
According to the internet's number one encyclopedia (Wikipedia, of course), Murphy's law is an adage or epigram that is typically stated as: "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong". You've probably heard of it. Every track meet of my 2012 season seems to follow Murphy's law in some way. Weather and/or mechanical issues have overshadowed each meet. As such, it leaves one to wonder "what could have been". My performances have been great given the conditions, but not where I would expect them to be when weather and mechanics are not a factor. For example, in the Drake Relays, a tornado siren was sounded minutes before my 100m. Fans were asked to exit the stadium right as the gun went off my 100m sprint. Needless to say the storm winds were bad (a head wind, no less) and there was rain, which made for very slippery pushing of the chair. At the Dixie Games in Florida, there was a sustained head wind that was even worse than the Drake Relays during the "monsoon" season. Furthermore, I was involved in a warm-up racer "fender-bender"; a competitor warming up in front of me stopped suddenly in the track lane I was in to talk to a friend. I mostly avoided him, but my chair was left with a bent axle. I had to compete in my races on the bent axle, which notably hampered my ability to push the chair. Defintely sounds like Murphy's law, huh? However, after much thought and "consultation", I believe that these incidents are not Murphy's Law but, rather a test of faith or, put another way, Faith's Law. My definition of Faith's law is that bad thing can and will happen, but if we believe in a higher purpose and leave the results up to God, the results will right themselves in His timing. More simply put, things will go well when they absolutely NEED to go well. Thus, I will push boldly forward with the faith that at the Paralympic Trials this June, where things NEED to go well, they will. In the meantime, I will utilize the results of Murphy's Law as learning experiences in faith as well as racing and in life. Additionally, I'm hoping for the best at the upcoming Desert Challenge in Mesa, Arizona, where temperatures are nonetheless expected to reach 110+ Farhenheit this weekend!
May 6, 2012
Winning the race of life...
This past week has been a reminder that winning the race of life is the most important win of all. Multiple distinct reminders were given to me. First, my strength coach challenged me in a unique way. Since we both share and our passionate about our faith in God, we have been careful to keep God the centerpoint focus of this Paralympic dream. My coach mentioned that he was impressed with all of the time and commitment I have been putting in to training. He challenged me to be putting an equal about of time into my relationship with God though more time in the Bible. Thinking about this, I agreed with the premise that God should get more of my time than training. I also agreed that spending a good amount of time reading the Bible is important. However, as I was reading a random selection of passage in the Bible, I came across these words in Colossians 3:17 (NIV): "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." A few minutes later on my Itunes player (which was set to "shuffle"), the lyrics of the Steven Curtis Chapman Do Everything song played, "Do everything you do for the glory of the Lord". That song talks about how each simple task, whether doing dishes, changing a diaper, or going to work, should be done for the glory of the Lord. Later in the week, as I sat in church, the sermon was about about bearing fruit, even with the simple, daily tasks. As branches to the body of Christ, we cannot bear fruit without God. All of these indidivual experiences collectively reminded me: serving God is not separate from training (or daily life for that matter). Our time or relationship with God does not end with "Amen" or when we shut the Bible, even though prayer and the Bible are important aspects of the faith. Our time with God is infinite and He is omnipresent. I'm making a goal to include God in everything, and especially including Him in all of the hours of training....praising him when I climb a hill, reach the 30 mile marker, or for simply being able to be on the bike.
April 29, 2012
Edward II takes the throne...
As I wrote about in the news, I participated in the Clocktower Classic handcycle time trial in Rome, Georgia, USA, on a brand spanking new bike. My first bike was named "Ed" because when it was loaded in a vehicle the front wheel stuck between the two front seats much like "Mister Ed" the horse on the TV show by the same name. However, I have given the new bike the name "Edward the Second", which sounds much more stately, don't you think? Edward II is a Top End Force X bike. His dimensions and bright lime green color are inherited from Ed I. (Thus my unsuspecting competitors had no clue that Ed I had been dethroned by the younger and lighter Edward II.) Edward II had only arrived the day before. I performed a big "no-no" by riding a new bike in a race without prior experience with it. However, I really had no choice as I only have few weeks to "tweek" my new ride before the first Paracycling World Cup in Rome, Italy, in May. Training with a bike is one thing and racing a bike is quite another. You simply can't mimic the actions of race adrenaline in training. Adrenaline can cause unexpected differences, for example, in how one shifts a bike or one's top end speeds. I rode my new bike in Sunday's race so I could get a feel what changes would need to be made to optimize my bike for later race conditions. As one might expect, a few issues popped up since I had no experience with the new bike. However, as an engineer and scientist, I will use Sunday's Clocktower Classic race as "data" to help me optimize my bike for Rome, Italy.
April 24, 2012
Let the dream begin...
With just 8 weeks left until the USA Paralympic trials and selection, training has picked up even further. I thought the typical spring average of 25 hrs/week was a lot, but that is just the tip of the iceberg at this point as I prepare to begin the bulk of my spring racing schedule. I have 6 events and 17 different races prior to June 1. If I'm not careful, it's easy to get overwhelmed. I have to remind myself continually to not get caught up in the hype.
Because I've wanted to keep calm and focused, I haven't really let myself "dream" or even simply "visualize" my races in London. Sure, I've dreamed about the Olympics since I was young or after the race. However, ironically, I have not let myself in on all the details or specifics of performing the actual race(s).....until now, that is. It happened sub-consciously when I had let my guard down while listening to my ipod with my eyes closed. All of the sudden, out of nowhere, I'm seeing a movie play in my head about the Paralympics. There were clips of cycling and track. I even saw the details of my new personal track chair, which I have yet to physically see as it is currently being built. (I've been using a loaner track chair.) I also saw my competitors and details about a cycling course I've never been on or even seen pictures of. The dream was very real as I could feel my heart beat and the emotion of the racing moment. It was amazing! Since, I keep trying to re-play the dream. While I had previously been fearful of thinking about the actual race performance(s), I'm now finding peace in doing so. Chapter 1 has unfolded: let the dream begin....