When you think you can't...

simply keep trying until you can. Are there times you feel like things are not going your way no matter how hard you try? Maybe things are not going your way because you need to try a different way or find a new route. When you hit a road block, it’s not time to give up, it’s time to re-route or change.

While racing my first triathlon with athletes that have various disabilities, all I saw was perseverance, determination, and LOTS of strengths and abilities. Most of them were in wheelchairs meaning they had little to no movement in their lower extremities or legs. This means they do EVERYTHING with their upper body especially when it comes to racing or being physically active. I’ve always seen them when I competed in triathlons and loudly cheered them on, but competing with them as a shadow, following their every move…was a whole new eye-opening experience. They were beyond inspirational!
The team getting ready...
The swim (athlete #1)
I was introduced to a lively and spirited young lady. She was a paraplegic competing in her first open water swim. Prior to her injury 4 years ago, she was a competitive swimmer so I had no doubt she would be a superstar in the murky water. Her upper strength was amazing and she had a very supportive husband and service dog who were by her side through it all. She lowered herself into the water for our practice swim. She uses a buoy, which I thought was a great idea to help keep her legs up and keep her afloat while in still motion (Note: level of spinal cord injury varies from person to person and therefore presents different outcomes meaning not all paraplegics will be able to use a buoy). We chatted about strategies during the practice swim and that is, I will swim on her right side where she opens her strokes so she can see me and know we’re on the right path (although, I was unable to get around on her good side during the start of the race). She was quite impressive during the practice swim. I had no doubt she would do fine during the 0.6 mile loop. As we waited for the race to start I could sense the mixed emotions because I clearly remember my first open water swim in Memphis where I thought a small creature was nibbling on my foot. I later found out it was my time chip – at times like that you wish you couldn’t feel everything. She was excited and nervous but it surely was comforting to hang next to her and keep her company…because I just knew she would be great. As the time drew near for our DASA (see for more info: Disabled Athlete Sports Association) athletes to enter the water, I watched her lower herself into the water like she had no fear. We waded water for a few minutes then took off. I started behind her and wondered if I would be able to keep up! The longer we swam the more in sync we became and each time she looked up I assured her she was doing awesome and steered her in the direction she needed. I’d tap on her if she needed to poke her head up just in case she needed to turn or if someone was in front of us. This girl made me smile, made me proud, and I think fired a passion in my soul. The last turn, I was so excited telling her she’s on the homestretch and just take it in. As she exited the water, she was beaming with joy. I couldn’t help but give her a gigantic hug! There wasn’t time for me to savor that moment for I needed to move on to the bike for my next athlete.
My super star swimmer

In-sync
Priceless
The bike (athlete #2)
I quickly transitioned into my bike gear, grabbed my hearing aids and took off. I had to chase after my guy who was already quite a ways ahead. This actually confused my husband and a few people thinking I was biking alone. No one saw me take off with him, but he was clearly a strong hand cyclist AND had on jeans, which is awesome! As I approached him from behind I yelled, “I got your back.” Our 20-mile journey was incredible for I learned so much about this man. I was his shadow basically staying close by him whether on the inside, back or front to somewhat help with traffic and simply be there when he needs me. He was also a paraplegic, injured at 17 and used all upper body strength to fight through 20-miles on a hand cycle in 90+ degree heat! We got to be buddies on this 2-hour ride. I could tell he was a hard-working man (much like my daddy). He has been biking for 4 years (2-3 rides a week) and the longest ride he’s taken was 30 miles (reminder: on a hand cycle!!).  He also had back surgery which put him out for some time but got back into it and helped with his recovery.  However, when he first started biking, he faced a few struggles and nearly gave up his bike.  A pro NFL football player came into his life and inspired him in many ways.  He was trained how to ride differently. He was able to ride and enjoy it just because someone helped him seek new ways to climb over his obstacle. It reminded me of the time I almost threw my bike across a field because of strong headwind making me feel like I wasn’t getting anywhere. We both agreed that when you start biking, it’s hard and not very fun at first. You have to keep riding to get comfortable and stronger. I could feel the heat beating down and thought he has to be burning up especially in those jeans. He had a water backpack and at one point I asked if he carries nutrition, he was munching on stinger chews and had a gel on hand. He also seemed like such a handy guy. At another point I asked what he’s doing to his bike and he was adjusting the stabilizer. I’m glad he knew what he was doing because I certainly wouldn’t be any help with that stuff. I asked if he changes his tires if he has a flat and he said he can change it but not while on the road. That's when I realized I was glad he had a shadow. The bike was a great ride listening to stories and watch this gentleman push his way to the finish of the bike despite the blazing heat. Needless to say, he was super happy to turn the corner for the final homestretch. This man made me realize there are NO excuses to give up or not live an active lifestyle!  I dismounted my bike and ran through transition to catch up with my final athlete.

The run (athlete #3)
The last leg of the team race was completed by a young teenage boy who is a para-athlete and rising star. Funny story, I asked if I should run or ride with him and the answer was ride my bike while he races in his green race chair. I was nervous because there are runners out there too but when I heard he ran a 17 minute 5k, I was happy to be biking behind him! I just wished my watch was on the current mph setting so I could see how fast he was propelling. When I met him, he seemed shy and quiet but he was not shy at all to release a little speed. As his shadow I yelled at the runners. Okay, not literally. He did extremely well and if you’ve never seen a race chair before, they look a little intimidating and long making it look hard to steer. The run course was so narrow and hard to stay within the cones. Parts of the course weren’t rider friendly but we made sure it was. At one point, he turned back to look at me unsure if he could make a turn. No problem, I just made my way ahead of him and moved a fence so he can make his wide turns. Riding behind this young fella made me excited for him because I knew he would only flourish. I wouldn’t be surprised if he grows into a fine, professional athlete.  As he made his way to the finish, I let him go and told him a target to chase a lady running down the chute. I dismounted my bike so he could own the finish without some weird biker girl in his finisher’s photo. He cracked a charming smile. I later found out that he finished his 4th race for the weekend! Seriously, us triathletes are good with 1 a month or every few months! His parents were super supportive and excited to share a news story that was just released from his race that same weekend (see story: Against All Odds).

A rising star
This day was full of accomplishments: 1) these athletes made it to the start, 2) they pushed every stroke and pedal, 3) they finished strong!

Next time you think you can’t…try again.

Quote of the day: Hard things take time to do. Impossible things take a little longer. ~ Percy Cerutty

Bible verse of the day“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” ~  James 1:12

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