Thursday, September 9, 2010

Just Showing Up!

I found out today that I am invited to represent the USA on the Paralympic Track team at the World Championships in New Zealand.

Now, if you had told me that I was going to make a statement like that 5 years ago I would have politely told you that you must have the wrong girl.

I have always been someone who loved to push the envelope, yes but I never thought that I would be an "athlete". Sure, it's nice to be in shape and exercise for health reasons but an athlete is someone who is just naturally gifted and competitive, I don't really see myself as having that killer instinct.

It wasn't always like this, being asked to fly around the globe to race internationally in track. In fact, just a few years ago I had never 'run' in my life.

I was given a pair of running feet to try out by Hanger Prosthetics and through the generosity of two amazing prosthetists, Will Yule and Coryn Reich, I was given the opportunity to open a new chapter in my life. It was a long learning curve and there was a point in time that I really didn't think I was going to be able to figure out how to do it at all.

You see, being BORN without legs created a complicated situation for me in that I didn't physically understand HOW to run.

I could jump really well, if there was a Paralympic event of bouncing I would have schooled 'em. Coryn and I would go out to 'jog' and I would bounce on each foot twice and she would (very sweetly) say, 'That's not really running'. But my muscles didn't quite grasp what I was asking them to do. Until we attended a running clinic for amputees that was put on by the Challenged Athletes Foundation (amazing organization - google them) and something clicked for me in the park that day. All of a sudden it all came together, within moments I was gliding down the path and shouting, 'Oh my god, I'm RUNNING!'. Truly a moment in my life that I will never forget.

It was within about a month of that day that I attended my first track meet and now I have to laugh when I look back on it, talk about a fish out of water! I had never competed in ANY SPORT before EVER. My attitude was that this would just be a fun thing to go out and try and not take so seriously, you know, no big thing. I signed up for the 60 meters, which, if you know anything about track, is not a real event, but this was an all inclusive meet with challenged athletes so it was again, no big thing. It was time for my heat. I grabbed my bib number and my lane assignment and I approached the starting line, my heart was pounding out of my chest and I was seriously questioning WHAT I was doing there.

There was no turning back.

I took my place in the center lane and glaced to either side of me to see what my competition looked like and there I was sandwiched in between 10 year-old kids. This was an incredibly humbling moment and I realized two things, one, I am truly starting from square one with this thing and two, I better win. The gun went off and in those next seconds I did what no adult should do, I raced children and beat them. I don't know if that makes me awesome athlete or a horrible person...

Little did I know that at that very meet there was a Paralympic coach that was paying very close attention to what I was doing and it was shortly after that that he was encouraging me to take track more seriously.

There are a myriad of stories that I could share about the events that followed after that but for now we are going to fast forward to 2007 in Rio. I had taken that coach's advise, trained my butt off, and made the US ParaPanAm team. I was to race in the 100 meters and I was in a heat with 6 other women, none of which had the same disability as me. There were three single below knee amputees, one single above knee amputee and two ARM amputees;

AKA I'm going to see the backs of 6 heads as they beat me to the finish line.

However, by this time, I had become much more confident and knew that I was not actually racing anyone in this heat but myself and the clock. I wanted to finish in under 18 seconds. That was my goal. We all approached the blocks, in this huge soccer stadium, our images projected on jumbo-trons and prepared to take on the track.

Bang! I chased those 6 women with everything that I had in me and as soon as I could, trying to catch my breath, I looked up at those giant screens to see if I had indeed reached my goal. All of the times appeared, all except mine. The other athletes happy with the outcome started heading down underneath the stands but I was moving as slowly as I could so that I would get what I traveled to South America for... I was the only athlete left on the track and suddenly, there it was,


I leaped into the air and screamed in celebration, which lead to half of the stadium, in turn, to erupt into cheers. I'm sure those Brazilian fans were confused why the chick who came in last was acting like she won the gold but they joined me in my joy all the same.

To this day, that was one of the most amazing moments of my life. Setting out, in a very public way, to try to accomplish something that I had never done before and actually succeeding. That in itself was enough but what I didn't realize at the time was that just by showing up that day and running I became the first person with my specific physical limitation to compete in ambulatory track internationally in the world.

Just by showing up.

This chapter in my life continues to be humbling, inspiring and surprising. I am looking forward to New Zealand and to once again put on that USA jersey.

Where in your life can you make a difference in the world by just showing up?