Brazil is in shambles. Brazil is in the throes of Carnival, the throes of zika, the throes of economic turmoil, and the throes of an incredibly unpopular president.
Brazil is also in the throes of the 2016 Paralympic and Olympic Games, and with it, the throes of stadium building, village building, train building, favella incorporating, pollution eliminating, invaded-by-the-world-ing. The eyes of the world are on Rio de Janeiro. The dreams of athletes everywhere rest in Rio. Rio is the epicenter and star of this soap opera. ALL ROADS LEAD TO RIO.
Put on your samba stilettos, boys and girls, because we are in for one exciting year. As the largest nation in South America scrambles to host one of the biggest parties in the world, athletes from the four corners of the planet are hard at work preparing to be the featured entertainment. With roughly six months to go before the Olympics, Rio is beginning to feel all too real. Every time I look at a calendar and see "2016," I hear a voice in my head poking and prodding. "You see what i'm seeing? That calendar says 2016. Isn't there a Games in 2016? Aren't you competing in those Games? Dude, you better step it up!"
As a paralympian I have continued leading my life in four-year cycles, well after college ended. The Olympiad. The next Parlaympics dominates my long term focus, and the world feels like it will disappear through a black hole as soon as the Games come to an end. It's too much to think about. This feeble mind cannot fathom life after the treacherous four-year journey (that is, until the next four-year cycle begins).
Rio de Janeiro will be my fourth Paralympics, but it feels different. In Athens, my first dance for gold, I was young and stupid(er), and overwhelmed with excitement. I had no expectations of myself, and none from others. I was free, and for the first time, learning I could actually compete. I left with two bronze medals.
In Beijing I entered as a favorite in almost every event I raced. I stressed myself out so much that despite having won gold and silver I still get a slightly bitter taste in my mouth when I allow my mind to drift back. I was no longer a favorite by the time London rolled around. I was a different racer with different strengths than in my first two games, and I hadn't yet figured out how to use those new strengths. I had an incredible experience, but found myself racing to snag a spot on the podium as opposed to racing to win. I returned with a bronze medal in the 800m.
Then, for a multitude of reasons, I started to move faster. The past three years have been the best three years of my career. I learned how to be confident and how to stay relaxed. I learned how to take care of my equipment and listen to my body. I learned how to have FUN. This year I'm heading to Rio with limited expectations, but an openness to all possibilities. I'm heading to Rio to see how far I can push my potential. Rio, despite its downfalls, is going to be a life experience as unique as anything I will ever have, and, hopefully, a golden one.
The calendar reads "2016." It's time to revel.
With that, welcome to my personal Road to Rio. Over the next few months I will be tracing out my map, hitting key destinations, and fine tuning my vehicle on the way to Brazil (sorry, we're done with the metaphor now). Entering Rio as a savvy vet of the Paralympic experience, I am all to aware of how rough, twisty, and unpredictable this road can be. I hope you join me for the trip. I would very much appreciate the company.
NEXT STOP: AUSTRALIA - SUMMER DOWN UNDER