Friday, October 16, 2015

Crashing Without Burning

It was a sunny day on July 15th. After morning swim practice I went out to do my pre-race bike workout, performing loops close to home, on some of the smoother roads in Colorado Springs (Cascade and Tejon St.). I was looking forward to racing in Denver that weekend in a small local race in front of my friends and family; most importantly I was doing this race for my Auntie Julia who was set to move back to Budapest, Hungary a few days later. No words can do justice to what a positive influence this woman has been in my life.

I was sitting in my aerobars on my TT bike, lost control somehow, then hit the pavement head first. I remember briefly waking up in the ambulance, my fingers and toes were tingling from hyperventilating for an extended period of time; the tears streaming down my face as I cried uncontrollably, and then it all went black again as I fell into shock. I came to in the hospital, staring up at the bright lights passing above me, like the black line passing me in the bottom of the pool, as they wheeled me in for scans.

I became somewhat aware of where I was, feeling constrained by the neck brace I was locked into, and the heaviness of my body holding me down to the bed; I couldn't move much, and it was difficult to speak. I was naked under a pile of sheets, my right eye beginning to swell shut, and the pain all over my body becoming more prevalent. I glared down at my right hand and my pinky was fully-dislocated, pointing out in a 90 degree angle; I realized the whole right side of my face and body were bloody and covered in road rash. I closed my eyes, praying this was only a nightmare, only to learn that this was reality. 

I spent the next week bedridden in a dark room at home in Denver with family. It was hard to eat, for I had nearly bitten through my lip. This combined with the pain in my finger and post concussion symptoms were what produced many sleepless nights. During this time, I realized what is really important in life; for me that is my family and my friends. My parents, my sisters, and my Auntie Julia traded off hand-feeding me during that first week. Looking back, it was amazing the patience they showed, as it often took me over an hour to eat a single meal. It was incredibly frustrating! All I wanted was a cheeseburger, but my mouth was so swollen and painful that all I could handle was baby-sized bites of mashed banana, yogurt, and potatoes. This time reminded me how much my family means to me, and my love of each member of this family is unconditional.

This experience reshaped my way of thinking. I have learned how to rest and repair my mind, body, and soul through meditation, painting, and simple alone time. I learned the importance of taking care of myself as an athlete and a person, and that it is okay sometimes to slow things down, and take time to ourselves. I am thankful for my teammate, Max Bennett for showing me what bravery and resilience is as he was recovering from an accident as well, and he showed me much compassion during this time (and how to eat a ridiculous amount of bacon mac n' cheese).

I realized how quickly everything can be taken away from you. I had lost nearly 10 lbs in the few weeks while recovering from the crash; I endured frustrating physical therapy sessions where I had to retrain my brain to balance my body and try to rebuild muscle mass after losing all I had worked for over the summer. I also began seeing a hand therapist, in which I passed out in her office because of the excruciating pain from the dislocation and torn ligament in my finger. These experiences were real; the trivial things I worried about up until the crash were exactly that... trivial. I stopped striving for perfection and began aiming for improvement. This mentality is what has helped me come to almost a full recovery and I am back at it training and motivated to race again!

I returned to school at The University of Colorado Boulder this fall to finish up the last year of my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. Because of my academic workload, training has been up and down, but I am enjoying the friendships I am continuing to make, and my CU Tri Teammates have kept me optimistic in the recovery process. Thank you boys for not feeling sorry for me and for pushing me past my breaking point in our group rides, forcing me to be brave and overcome much fear. Also, big thanks to sports psychologist and good friend of mine, Will Murray, for helping me through this process and for buying me a cheeseburger to celebrate after I rode one hour easy with you before the last race, averaging close to 14 mph :)

I have learned not to compare myself to others for each of us has a story incomparable to another. I no longer moan about waking up early to squeeze in a 6am swim because that's the only time my class schedule allows me to do it; I am appreciative that I get to do what I love, even if it's at 6 in the morning! I have also realized my ability to eat an insane amount of Cosmos pizza and campus food without worrying how it will impact my training the next day. I have stopped focusing on the small details, and have began focusing on what's important. I have also learned that gosh darnit, smile as much as you can because it's painful when you can't!

I have let go of the fear of failure, and instead have embraced taking the road less traveled, for that is what this entire journey is becoming.

I am thankful for my Coach Ken Axford for sticking by my side, continuing to elevate me as an athlete and person, as we have been rebuilding my fitness and strength for a few months now, my friend and fellow competitor Brooke Saunders for offering advice and constant support, my friend Jeremiah Mitchell, teammates, teammates' parents, and my housemate, Joe Umphenour for being there for me in one of my most vulnerable times.

"You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have"

Until next time. I'll see you at the start line!

My soul sisters.  <3

Thanks Ash for sitting in bed with me for hours, coloring, and making me smile (though I couldn't show it :p)

Jutka ('Julia') one of the most influential women in my life

In a world of pain

First race back: glad it was with my Buffs

Julia inspecting my helmet
Max and my first ride back :)

I attempted squash after week 1. This was a bad idea

Good friends of mine, Will Murray and Grant Crist. Thanks for riding with me eventhough we probably averaged 14 mph!

first race back, all smiles and competing for high fives with Dillon Frisco
My Buff family. Love you guys so much

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

USAT Collegiate Nationals 2015

It has been years of playing the balancing act between school and sport. Going into my junior year of mechanical engineering, I definitely underestimated the rigors of my classes and the time that would need to be invested in my academics. It ended up being about 60 hours a week, and training had to take it's place on the back burner for a while.

I came out of Clermont with midterm exams less than 48 hours after my arrival in Boulder, thus not allowing for any recovery after racing back to back. 30 minutes upon arrival in Boulder, I rushed to the Engineering School for a review session: half asleep, I tried my best to retain the info. This is how things have felt all semester...quite hectic! I followed this up with Collegiate Regionals in Havasu, Arizona in which we camped in a trailer park for 3 nights after driving for 14 hours, with as many people crammed in a car as possible; this is not the most conducive way in preparing for a race, but the team travel and camping makes for a fun, memorable trip! Following Regionals, came training camp in New Mexico. It was a few days of intense training, and my body wasn't prepared for the load. I dug myself into quite the hole, and found myself on the side of the road crying, while our Coach Dave Sheenin fed me rice crispy treats, trying to calm the five year old on the curb.
I took training very easy for the month leading into nationals as school took priority and my body needed recovery, so I think the break was beneficial to me. Things came together just in time and come race day I was ready.

My heart was pounding, and I felt the energy from the buffaloes that surrounded me, as we chanted our pre-race cheer..."Icky la boomba..." This team is made up of some of the most intrinsically motivated individuals I know, and it pushes us all to be our best. This year out of my three years at nationals, felt the most special. I maybe didn't have the most consistent training the few weeks leading into the race, but I felt mentally prepared.

They called us down to the beach; I was jittery, continuously hopping in place as the sand squished under my feet: it's a tennis thing I think, that inability to stand still. They called my name and I declared a spot to the far right. The gun went off and I had a solid start. I was in the moment, reacting a split second quicker than the rest of the field. I dove into the water first and was ready to compete. I came out of the water in 18th, and was glad to see I had a large group of girls to work with. Halfway through the the second lap (of three laps) we caught the first pack of girls. Molly Supple and I put some good work in to finish off the bike portion, and I knew I was in the race when I exited T2 in fifth place. I gradually worked my way through the first half of the 5k run. I let my legs go on the downhills, feeling relaxed, and I enjoyed the feeling very much. Having such amazing support from my teammates and coaches gave me the strength to push through any doubts I may have had going into the race, and even throughout the race. I was in the moment and taking everything in; it felt surreal. I moved my way up to third, then second (as Molly Supple served a penalty). It was nearing the end of the race and I was closing on Kelly Cosmo, but couldn't quite pull it out on the day. She raced with guts, and deserved the win more than anyone that day. Running through the finishing chute in a podium spot at Collegiate Nationals was something I had visualized time and time again, but getting to actually experience it was like nothing I had seen before. I was pleased with the result but happier to share the success with my teammates, coaches, friends from other teams, and my mom, who flew out to support me.

I feel fortunate to be part of such a close knit team of people who are not only my teammates, but people I consider to be some of my truest friends. I don't know what I would do without the craziness, the laughing, and the fun times I get to spend with my teammates; they consistently remind me why I love this sport, and how much fun training SHOULD be. I was glad to pull through for my Buffaloes, and to have a solid race the following day in the Olympic Distance event, to help the team win it's 6th consecutive national title. Onward to the summer season. It will be my first professional season, and I know the learning curve will be steep, but I'm looking forward to the challenge! Thank you to my coaches, my family, boyfriend, and sponsors for continuing to support me.
 Sean Daugherty eating his pre-race seaweed salad and Timmy Winslow
 with his peeps + fried chicken

last 1/4 mile of the run

me and teammate, Kasia Rasker, relaxing after Draft Legal day 1

Race Start
Lead group finishing the bike

Kelly Cosmo, en route to victory

 teammate, Kaye Sitterly all smiles

Proud to be a Buffalo

Molly Supple and I at the finish line

finish line

Surprised to finish 2nd
Our amazing Coaches Dave Sheanin, Brad Seng, Leigh Dodd, and Henry Winterbottom
Go Buffs!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Clermont Draft Legal Challenge Race Recap

This past weekend seemed like a blur: maybe due to the fact that I was sleeping for majority of the time apart from racing; we'd get in the car, I'd fall asleep, lie on the couch I'd fall asleep, I'd attempt homework and wake up with a smudge across my paper. Given that the past two years I have not made it to the start line in Clermont, I was motivated to take a different course this year. I wanted to prove to myself that I could balance my hardest year in school and properly execute a race.

Back in the fall, Barb Lindquist sent me an email, reminding me that "champions are made in the off season." I took this to heart and did my best to stay disciplined with training, academics, and recovery. This being only my third season in the sport, and growing up as tennis player, my body still has a long ways to go. I have struggled with consistent training in the past, due to injuries, but I feel this off-season was the most consistent I have been. I began working with Erin Carson at Rally Sport in the fall and she has done wonders for me; She has a way of bringing the best out of people, and I always leave her sessions with a smile on my face. Her exercises, which I once thought were unorthodox, have proven to make me more durable.

I stayed patient and motivated, even though it was hard at times, especially the days I'd be alone on the trainer in my Boulder apartment. My teammates along with Ken Axford,  Brad Seng, Dave Sheenin, and Erin Carson have helped and continue to help me stay on track. I was healthy until the month leading into the race. I developed some inflammation in my achilles and was sidelined from running. It was frustrating, but my team around me and my family gave me the courage to keep pushing the pool running, strength training, and stretching routines. Simulating 800s on the track in the pool for an hour can become quite monotonous and the boredom can feel like torture, but I feel that these pool running sessions gave me the mental toughness and tenacity I needed to be successful racing.

This winter was the first time I trained with a power meter and this helped my bike a lot, along with the killer rides I did with the guys on the CU Tri Team. I feel lucky to train with some of the strongest, funniest, nicest athletes in Boulder who can average well over 200 watts for a 3 hour ride!

I made some changes in my training group/influences and along with the CU Tri Team, I joined the masters team at Rally Sport. I realized what I needed was to enjoy swimming and the people I was swimming with. I found this connection with the group at Rally and I am grateful for all the mentoring I get from some of the amazing people I swim with each morning, plus there's no better way to begin the day than watching the sunrise before my classes begin. This place has become my home and I am fortunate to have that.

I never go into races feeling confident, but I was relatively calm going into this race; I credit much of this to my boyfriend, Jeremiah, who helped me get ready for the race.  Having someone who reminds me that I am doing well each day as a person and athlete and someone who elevates me, has made a big difference in my life. Also, having someone offer to help me with the simple things like laundry, cooking, and groceries was a huge help leading into a race when the to-do list is longer than any normal person can handle. My roommate, Sam Haro, has also been an incredible support this semester and I am so glad I have a cooking buddy and a new friend!

I did spend majority of race-weekend doing schoolwork, but I think this was actually a positive outlet to get my mind off the race. As I was packing for the race I kept forgetting that I was racing, due to the fact that my bag was full of more books than clothes; we engineers need to prioritize :)

Day 1: I didn't position myself properly for the swim. I doubted myself and positioned in the middle of the group, in order to avoid swimming through the weeds; the water was choppy and I panicked. I paid for it, exiting the swim 50 seconds back. I redlined the bike. Me and Hannah Rae Finchamp put in some solid work on the bike. It's crazy to think that just two years ago when I did my first draft legal race, these were the girls who lapped me out and now I was hanging with them! Even though we had some work to do, I felt calm and trusted my bike strength. We came off the bike 20 seconds back from the lead group. I ran my way into third. I recovered well, ice bathing with my teammates and eating A LOT. I brought a bowl of cereal up to bed with me and munched before bed; tired, I crawled into bed quickly noting my gratitude for having a safe day and willing myself to have strength and safety for the next day.

Photo Credit: Eli Ricca

 Day 2: I woke up feeling groggy and my body ached all over. I watched as my teammates, Yana, Liberty, and Carly walked backwards down the stairs because their calves were so sore; "good idea," I thought, so I did the same. I made an effort to stay calm and relaxed, knowing some athletes who were racing both days were in the same boat as me; other athletes were fresh on the start line which provided more of a challenge. I watched as my thirteen-year old teammate, Liberty Ricca, won the F1 race. This is what gave me permission to go for it in my race. It's amazing how this team builds off one another. I am older than most of the girls on this team, but I learn and continue to learn so much from them, and I hope to mentor them in any way I can. I now positioned further to the right for the swim. The gun went off. I was surprised as I ran through transition with my friend, Haele Jasen, who is a strong swimmer. For once, I was in the race early on! We put in some solid work on the bike, before a big group caught us from behind. I came off the bike in third and calmly made my way through transition and onto the run. Savannah Dearden and Ann-Sophie Chalifoux went out like bullets. I slowly built up my speed and caught them, taking the lead after the turnaround. My legs hurt but I quieted my mind. I was in the zone, and was lucky to finish the day first. As I ran through the finishing chute, I kept thinking "was this a mistake? Did I cut the course?" I grabbed the tape at the finish line and awkwardly held it up. I have done a lot of visualization growing up in sport, but I never visualized this. The experience was surreal and a bit emotional for me. Sleep deprived, tired, sore, and the salty tears under my black glasses, I hugged the others as they finished, for all I have is respect for my competitors.
Hannah Rae and I at the finish line Day 2:Photo Credit J5 Imaging
The result of the race was a positive affirmation that I am on the right track, but mostly what I am proud about was the fact that we made it to the start line this year; and yes I mean WE. I couldn't have done this without the team of people I have around me. I am excited for the collegiate races coming up and to continue having fun with this journey. I want to thank Ed Bennett and Eli Ricca especially for all of your support over the weekend; they sacrificed their weekend for our team and we wouldn't have had the results we did as a team if it weren't for your help with keeping everything on track with cooking, bike maintenance, and just being an awesome support to this team; and Ken Axford, for teaching me everything I know about the sport and for being like a dad to me at times. I am excited to travel to Havasu next week over Spring Break with the CU Tri Team and to hopefully watch and mentor some of my teammates racing their very first triathlon. I really have the best of both worlds with my PEAK Multisport family and the CU Tri Team, and I am so grateful for the friendships I continue to build. I am excited to get this season rolling and watch as others achieve their personal goals.
The PEAK Multisport Family

How to Stay Motivated in the Winter

I get asked the question "how do you stay motivated in the winter?" quite often really. I am human, like everyone else, and t...