The End of the Road; a reflection

The massiveness of the Paralympic or Olympic Games create weird ripples in an athlete's perception of time. One month out of Rio, time was moving far too fast, and I longed for a couple more weeks to prepare. One week out, feeling fresh, strong, and aggressive, I wanted the games to begin. 'Let me race!' I screamed as the hours seemingly crawled by. Then, in a mere instant, Rio came and went.  With that passing of time came very few words of correspondence from me, however. I never could have handled the ups and downs of the past few months if I didn’t have such an amazing support team behind me. For you, my support team and fans, I want to share a few words about the games.

This was my first Paralympics or World championships of my career in which I did not step foot on the podium, and the first Paralympics of my career, in which the structure of the competition was entirely unremarkable. The Brazilians were wonderful, welcoming, and loving, and the track in Olympic Stadium was a lot of fun to race on, though the atmosphere was different. The stadium, typically the focal point of "Olympic Park," the collection of venues housing a good bulk of sporting events, was this time marooned in a residential area an hour away from everything else. We never raced in an empty stadium, but we also never experienced the energy that buzzes through the crowds in Olympic Park as athletes and spectators bounce from venue to venue.

I arrived prepared, confident, and fast.  The competitive landscape of wheelchair racing is richer and deeper than ever in the history of the sport, and I knew going in that everyone would be as fast as ever. I began my campaign with a very solid performance in the 5000m, one of my favorite races, but by the time I reached the last couple of races of my games, the 800m on the track, and then the marathon, I felt like a different racer. My body, somewhere along the way, broke down. I am proud to say that I remained positive and confident until the end. I could not, however, get my body to respond the way it needed to, and was unable to successfully adjust my race strategies to maximize what my body had left.

I flew to Rio with the goal being to “maximize my potential.” I was prepared mentally. I was in control. If I raced smart, executed, and sapped every drop of speed from my arms, I told myself, then I would be satisfied, regardless of finishing position. And I was! I actually was. I executed two very well thought out 5ks. I ended up finishing 5th, missing the podium by a couple tenths of a second, though I was satisfied that I performed within 99% of my potential on that day (yeah, yeah, yeah. May the dedicated professional never find absolute satisfaction).

I left Rio, however, struggling to find lessons in my failure. I let the very realistic goal of a podium finish in the 800m slip through my fingers in a disastrous race that at once saw the results of indecisive thinking, couple with the inability to maximize my body's potential. I crossed the finish line in shock. In my last opportunity to reach my Paralympic goals on the tracked, I came up short. Never before had four years, the time I have to wait to accomplish these goals, seemed longer.

My career has seen as many bad races as good.  Each bad race causes a ripple of doubt, that can, if left unchecked, quickly build into a wave of doubt, fear, and uncertainty. A ripple does not naturally become a wave, however. After my latest batch of bad races, I will not give the ripple any fuel to become something it was never meant to be, and will devote my energies to finding out what caused the ripple in the first place. Whether or not the race was an anomaly, I've learned about my strengths and weaknesses as a racer and have renewed goals and plans for reaching those new goals. Emotionally, I need a bit more time to process, but keeping my body and mind focused on what caused the ripple and what can be done to minimize further ripple creation, I will keep my emotions from creating any unwarranted waves.

Racers live for the next race, not the last. The marathons in Chicago and New York are fresh opportunities for me stretch my arms, throw in my lot, and attempt to maximize all the hard work and effort my coach, supporters, and I have been putting in the past few years.

As I felt the cheers, well wishes and good energy from the States throughout my stay in Brazil, I thank you for your support.  Tokyo may be four years away, but with the Chicago and New York City marathons just around the corner, I have plenty of racing to focus on to bring me back to center. Athletes are athletes, the ultimate critic of themselves.  I may have been knocked down, but I am by no means out.