Saturday, June 4, 2011

Kansas--the wannabe state

As I was driving to our venue for the road race today, I noticed something about Kansas. I actually drove through Augusta to get to Atlanta--and didn't leave Kansas. Kansas took the names of other famous cities--and used them as their own. These are some of the other cities in Kansas: Manhatten, Zurich, Pittsburg, Bel Aire, Buffalo, Durham, Florence, Havanna, Long Island--just to name a few. I think Kansas must have an identity crisis. Don't they think people are going to figure out that the Florence that they have driven through was not really in Italy?? It makes a person wonder--where did they steal "Kansas" from?

Anyway, back to the race. It was an hour drive to Atlanta (Kansas) where the road race took place. It was a very small farm community with lots of open space with sparsely scattered farms with cattle. We arrived early as we had to meet in the hotel lobby at 6 a.m. and caravan down together. It was warm at 7 a.m.--in the 70's. Everyone geared up and got ready for the race by 8:00. The course was a big square. Six miles before a right hand turn four times and 25 miles later--the finish line.

We started off en masse. The hot shots flew to the front--and I didn't see them until after the race was long over. I tried hard to grab a wheel so I could draft--but it wouldn't happen. I rode many miles alone. It was hilly, and windy and there were some bumpy roads. I was zoned out just plugging along when James came up behind me. He caught me about about 15 miles in or so. He asked if I wanted to work together--but I could hang with him. He remained in my sight but I wouldn't be able to catch him either. It was in the 90's at the end. The wind was a blessing and a curse. It kept me from going as fast as I wanted--but without it, the heat was unbearable. We said it was like riding with a blow dryer blowing in your face. I saw a poor little turtle along the side of the road and made sure I avoided it.

About an hour and 46 minutes later I finally crossed the finish line. What a relief that was. It was a very tough and challenging race. I had to sit in my bike for awhile before I could muster enough energy to get out of it. I had to take a little nap when I got back to the hotel, I was so pooped. My lack of training really showed in this event.

We were treated to a great dinner at the Whiskey Creek. It was fun to sit around and relive the race as we experienced it. Tomorrow is the Criterium--not sure where as things have been changed. It will be going around and around, many times. This isn't one of my favorites. Maybe we'll go to Paris--Kansas. (they don't really have that city--but Texas borrowed it)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Wichita--not bad at all!

Last summer at this time I was looking forward to my trip to Europe--getting ready for the exotic location of Prague in the Czech Republic. I have no such plans this summer--I headed to the heartland, the midwest for a weekend. When I told anyone I was headed to Wichita, Kansas there was no envy, or "oh, I wish I could go." No. I could find no one who wished to even share the drive for one crazy weekend. So, I went by myself. I spent the nine hour drive singing loudly (and badly) with some oldies playing on my CD player. I then finished a book on CD to finish off the trip. It really wasn't too bad, and I was pleasantly surprised when took the turn from Salina and headed towards Wichita. Up to that point the view had been grass, lots of flat land, and some amber waves of grain. When I made the turn, I saw lots of green....grass, trees and a more interesting land. I had never been to Wichita and only thought of Kansas as a place I had to go through on my way to some other place.

I'm in Wichita for an omnium. That's a series of 3 races in which you get points for each race--and the winner is the one who has the most points. I got a new bike and was excited to try it out. I'm not in that great of shape yet since I just got out of school a few days ago, and struggled getting out early enough to ride in the evenings. I was able to get some good rides on the weekend. The rain and cold has been a deterrent too.

So here I am with one race under my belt--and the verdict on the bike is--WOW!! I felt like I flew. It was very hot (98 degrees) and windy, So the first 5 miles were fast as we had a pretty good tail wind. Of course, whatever we got--we paid for on the way back. The way back was so windy and it was tough to maintain a decent speed. It was only a 14K--and I was glad of that as the heat and humidity really got to me the last few miles.

So far, I am impressed with the way this event is being put on. Everyone is so friendly (we are in the midwest) and it's like a big family with all of the racers. We have the 24 mile road race tomorrow. I'm glad for the distance but may not enjoy the wind and heat again--but the race goes on!! Wish me luck.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Revolution has begun!

Since my journey last summer to Prague, I have kept in contact with my new friends there. I met them while searching for the accessible wheelchair entrance to the subway. I never did find that entrance but, I found a group of people whom I became bonded to through their cause. Erik and Radek were on their way to meet a prominent film documentarian, Tomas Skrdlant. They were making a film on the lack of accessibility in the transportation of Prague. Of course, I had a few comments on the subject, as I had spent the last month in Prague trying to negotiate their transportation system.

I was asked to be a part of this documentary and I wholeheartedly agreed. It was finished and premiered in August. This film was the key to opening up a dialog with politicians in Prague. This problem could no longer be ignored. The Revolution had begun.

I recently saw photos posted by Erik on his Facebook page. It looked like a big demonstration happening in Prague, so I wrote him and inquired about them--and what was going on with the transportation in Prague. The demonstration was about the government giving less money to people with disabilities. He said it was the biggest demonstration ever in Prague. That is an area that they will have to continue to work on.

He also said that the good news was that they had a meeting with the Mayor of Prague and that the metro would be barrier free in ten years--and that they would know easily which metro stops were accessible in five years. This is very good news for the disabled people of Prague.

I hope to return to the city of Prague someday. I want to ride that transportation again with them and enjoy the beauty that Prague has to offer--not just to the nondisabled, but to everybody. Let the revolution continue.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Reluctant Hero

Since I was born with my disability--I've always fought the notion of being an "inspiration." I thought, just because I work hard to compete or do something an able bodied person does, I don't feel that's inspirational. I'm just out there like everybody else trying to get to the finish line or enjoying sport for the pure love of it. I guess I felt people were acting (maybe unconsciously) condescending --how could a person without the use of their legs possibly run (roll) a marathon, or pedal a bike over the Rocky Mountains? I like to do the unexpected--not to inspire, but to challenge myself. I found new challenges in each sport I undertook.
First in wheelchair track racing to marathoning, recreational wheelchair basketball to a competitive team, handcycling around the neighborhood to summiting 10,000 ft. passes. I always wanted to try to go further, and faster. If I happened to inspire a few people along the way, then so be it--but it was never my goal. However, my job is a teacher--I work hard to inspire the kids to work hard and do their best. Why shouldn't I do it for others?

I guess the inspiration is in the eye of the inspired. I recently got inducted into the Wheelchair and Ambulatory Sports Hall of Fame. It was a great honor for me--a confirmation of my efforts in the sports arena. I got to go to Las Vegas for the ceremony in which I received a trophy but the greatest honor was what I received from the kids in my classroom and at school.

Our music teacher, Steven Nye, puts on wonderful school programs with lots of singing. We had our "Share your Goodwill" assembly the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. We had just finished our canned food drive and coat drive and always had a big assembly to donate our proceeds to the Christian Action Guild. My class was antsy and wiggly--barely able to contain themselves. They were going to be doing a square dance in the assembly--and it was the last day before our 5 days off break for Thanksgiving. I look forward to this program too as the choir practices a lot for this and Steven puts in a great deal of work to put it on. After enjoying many songs and watching the second graders do their much anticipated square dance--an announcement was made that there was a secret surprise. He called all of the second grade classes up again and the third grade up also. There was a projector that was up front that boldly projected the word HERO. Then I was called up. Tears began to fill my eyes as I couldn't believe what was happening. They also called Ken, my husband out of hiding to come and join me up front. The principal announced to the students and parents about my induction to the Wheelchair Sports Hall of Fame. The group around me began to sing the song Hero (the Mariah Carey song) while a power point was shown of me in my various sports throughout the years. I felt so overwhelmed with love. All of a sudden, it was okay to be an inspiration. I had all of these young children with smiles on their faces--beaming at me with admiration. They were proud of me and what I had done. I was proud of them too. I was most amazed that 21 second graders kept this "secret" for over a month! I had no idea of this surprise. They all kept quiet for his special surprise--and what a wonderful surprise it was.

In all of my years of competition I have collected many medals and trophies--but none are as precious as those kids whom I've taught and had the opportunity to inspire. This is where I will truly leave my legacy. My students will leave me knowing they too can achieve their dreams--if they are willing to work hard and never give up. A hero? That's what they said I was--and who's to argue with the 400 students at my school? Okay, so if I have to be labeled an "inspiration" or "Hero" I'm willing to wear it proudly for students.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hall of Fame--A Look Back

I've been competing in wheelchair sports since I was 17 years old. I got started through Craig Hospital. Joe and Sam took one look at my biceps and said I'd be a good shot putter. That seems like only yesterday. I remember my first meet--the Rocky Mountain Wheelchair Games. I competed in track and field using team wheelchairs. They weren't made for me--but I felt like I was flying around that track.

My first love was track--even though I also completed in field events (shot put, discus, and javelin). Track was so much more flashier--and not too much sitting around. I loved the freedom it gave me to glide around the track. When wheelchair divisions were beginning to open in road races--I wanted to try that too. I did my first marathon--the Denver Marathon, to try and qualify for the Boston Marathon. I ended up getting a flat tire--stopped and fixed it and was still able to qualify to race. My first Boston Marathon was in 1982--it was a thrill I would enjoy four more times. I would get to experience the feeling of winning it in 1983 and 1984. I did over 30 marathons in my career. I did some awesome marathons in Switzerland and Japan--but Boston was my all time favorite. The thrill of climbing Heartbreak Hill with thousands of people yelling in your ears--and lieing to you that it is the last hill is unmatched for races.

In the midst of my wheelchair racing career I headed to the University of Illinois to fine tune my wheelchair basketball. I had played with a women's team here in Denver--but we only lasted one year, taking last place at Nationals that year. My friend Marty Morse talked me into leaving my beloved state--but with the prospect of training with the best and getting my master's degree at a top notch school, I went. I played for Brad Hedrick. He was a great motivational coach. He taught me how to really play--while bribing me with Dairy Queen Blizzards to not foul out. (my nickname was Rambo). I got to feel the thrill of victory in 1986 when the U of I Women's team won Nationals. They would win it many times in the following years.

I missed my home state too much so I headed back to Colorado. I would continue to train and travel to races around the country in the pursuit of making a Paralympic Team. I had been on several US teams but dreamt of the ultimate. I made the Paralympic Team to Seoul Korean in 1988. I secured a decent sponsorship (Coors Light) that helped me with equipment and paid my way there. (in the old days--we had to raise our own money to go and represent our country) It was an awesome experience to just be there--but I was able to medal too. I won three silvers, a bronze and a gold--those would be my last medals in wheelchair track.

Once I retired from track and road racing I thought my competitive fires would die--but they didn't so I found a new sport--handcycling. It was in its infancy--the bikes were not too sleek or light at the time. I had a bike that I rode recreationally but decided to give racing a try when they opened up disabled cycling to handcyles. I did my first race with my parking brake on!! That thrill of racing just stoked my competitive fires again. I competed on several United States handcycling Teams. I raced in Germany and France--and made it to my dream place--Australia. In these places I competed in the time trial and road races.

Once I was adept at handcycling I wanted to push myself further. I had always wanted to try to do the Midnight Sun 7 day stage race in Alaska in my racing chair but feared the amount of time spent in a racer. Through all of my sports career I had been prone to pressure sores which more times than I'd like to say--sidelined me. They opened the race up to handcyles and I did the Ride the Rockies Bicycle tour to see if I could handle the distance and the climbs. I made the tour--but not easily. So I signed up for the Midnight Sun. The beauty and grandeur of Alaska was just breath-taking. The race was everything I thought it would be. It tested me as I raced in the heat, and the pouring rain. I got second place in the race, but was able to win one stage that year. I would return to do it five more times--winning it on my fifth try in 2007. I was really proud of that accomplishment--since it is many days of racing and not just one.

Sports have been a fulfilling part of my life. It has taken me around the world and given me confidence. In my career I rarely won first place--but those times that I did win were sweet. I never took winning for granted because it never came easy. Now that I am being inducted into the Wheelchair Sports Hall of Fame--I don't feel like it's an ending. As long as I am able to peddle, push, stroke, hit, or toss I will. Sports will continue to be an important part of my life.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Prague Post - Opinion - No way forward

The Prague Post - Opinion - No way forward

This was the editorial that I wrote as a result of my month long stay in Prague. It was a learning experience--one that I will never forget.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I was so upset to see that my blog was deleted. It carried my month long roller coaster of emotions and experiences that occurred in Prague. I Blogged instead of writing in my journal so I had no other detailed account of it except for my memories. I am glad after appealing with blogger that they restored it. Even though I am no longer in Prague I would like to post my ideas and thoughts on various things. I might even give some previews of some writing pieces to get feedback on. So, if you're still up for it I would love for you to continue to follow me.

I've been home awhile now and have had time to really reflect on my experiences with travel, friends and being in Prague. I hadn't traveled internationally in quite a few years. It was more difficult than I had remembered. Traveling by myself was okay--I could do it, but it would have been more enjoyable with someone else. I never felt in danger or anything--the airline assistants were more than helpful. Sitting on the plane without being able to get up was killer. Gone are the days when I could wrangle a seat with an empty one next to it and stretch out my short body over the two seats and actually get some sleep. No, they pack the plane full. The fact that the airlines had a policy that would not allow for me to have my own chair during a long lay-over was distressing. I hadn't encountered this before and was willing to fight to have this right.

On this adventure I made some memorable friends. They were there for me when I shared my frustrations with the accessibility issues in Prague. We hung out and really got to know one another in a fairly short amount of time. My friend Kate was there to encourage (and help) me write and submit an op/ed to the Prague Post sharing my frustrations with the lack of accessibility in Prague. The friends I met who were from Prague (Erik, Radek, Jakub, Tomas) were a blessing. Before, I had such a deep sorrow for the disabled people of Prague and their situation. After I met them I saw that there were people who care. They were trying to do something about the accessibility of their city. I was honored to be able to try and help them in any way I could. Being asked to be in their documentary was so ironic. Our paths just happened to cross on that day--at that certain time. It was like it was meant to be.

Now that I'm home I have to deal with the "aftermath" of my adventure. While jumping down curbs and off trams, pushing over cobblestones I developed a pressure sore. It didn't get better as I stayed there. It was impossible to stay off of it all of the time while I was there and I lacked the will power to do it. I made the best of it--still participating in school and the other activities as I could and resting more than I wanted to. I have been to the doctor and luckily I haven't developed an infection. I am giving a shot to trying to heal it but my patience with that has its limits. It's hard to lay down a month and then find out it won't heal--to me that's time wasted. I will make a decision soon about surgery. The doctor said it wouldn't be as involved as the ones I've had in the past and the recovery would be shorter. (It has usually been at least a two month ordeal) School starts in nine days and that weighs heavily on my mind also. The beginning of the year is such an important bonding time with your class--and it hurts me to think I am most likely to miss that. I guess I will find out in the next week or so what my path will be.

In looking back on my choices--I'm not sure I can say it was worth it. I enjoyed the writing classes and I hope it will improve my writing but the fact that my life and livelihood are in jeopardy makes me think twice. There are a lot of "ifs" that I think about. What if I had only stayed the two week session? What if I had used my more protective cushion? What if I had never gone to Prague in the first place? These questions circle my mind--but you can't change the past. I look toward the future. It's difficult when it's clouded with such worry. I am a strong person--that's why I was able to get through what I did. I know I will be able to get through this also.

I guess I'm now onto my next "adventure." I'm afraid my views and sights will not be grand--but my frustrations and concerns will be.