Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tandem Racing is AWESOME.

Written somewhere in the air closer to the Washington Dulles Airport in route to Denver...

The pre-race jitters hit me hard. Heartbeat racing, anxious stomach swirling, and the inability to make a decision. Yet underneath it all - excitement. I tell Shawn that I'm excited and aroused by what's to come. It's her first race so she asks why and I respond because this is a new type of race and I love a new challenge. That and I truly love racing bicycles.

The race is hot from the start. As hot as getting 300 pounds up to speed can be. We lug and heft our body weight quickly, positioning ourselves in the top two around the first one hundred eighty degree turn. I take the corner with no fear and absolutely zero hesitation. Upon exit I tell Shawn to stand and in one fluid motion we're up together winding the tandem back up to speed. We're on the Kiwi's wheel, zooming down the tailwind descent, having enough momentum to pass them and be the first to navigate around the round-about. I take it at full speed, angling and cutting it close to the curb, which puts a gap between us and the chasing teams.

The Kiwi's catch us and accelerate, being the first through a shallow left hand turn and accelerate hard over a small hump of a hill. We fly down hill, gaining speed into the bottom left hand corner. Positioned in second, we take the inside line and lean hard, angling the bike at forty five degrees. I'm focused on the race, not hearing or sensing Shawn's glee as the ground zooms by. The Kiwi's still on the offense, surge on the next hill. Their practiced teamwork seamless and impressive. But the new girls on the block, with two weeks of training and growing engines, are not to be discounted. We came to play. We match the Kiwi's speed while keeping careful watch on the other tandems.

Mackenzie and Kara are the only two brave enough to attack and get a gap on the descent. The tandem teams look at one another, no one keen to initiate the chase. Mackenzie and Kara quickly gain a fifteen second advantage. Coming into the hill, the Kiwi's surge again and we close the gap as we quickly catch Mackenzie and Kara. No one counters until we come to the two backside steep hills. The Kiwi's throw an attack again this time followed by Debbie and Karissa, testing their legs and muscling a big gear. I watch them muscle uphill as Shawn and I delicately spin 100 rpm to their 60 rpm, saving our muscles from early fatigue.

The Kiwi's are trying again to gain a gap and we've already dropped the weakest tandem. My heart is beating hard, lungs thankful for the extra sea-level oxygen. We power up the hill and I make note of the weaker tandems, already showing kings in their armor this early in the game.

Shawn is matching my power, spinning smoothly, face buried in my ass. She doesn't ask what's going on, she just pedals. The surging continues but our light gear and ability to accelerate continue to play in our favor. Her sonar hearing assists as she tells me which side approaching tandems are coming, their movements and creaking bikes announcing the galloping elephants.

We start creating intentional gaps, spinning and accelerating and cornering quickly causing other teams to surge and close the gap. Every move is playing out to my expectations. I'm having a blast, cautious yet giddy at playing different cards with the other teams. It reminds me of track racing and how just out of sheer joy and fun, I'm able to push that much harder. Coupled with the added benefit of partnering with Shawn, and I'm digging into a new level of disassociation. One where I can hover over the pain in my searing lungs, lactic-acid building legs, pushing beyond what my brain communicates to my body. The euphoria is intoxicating. The first lap was hard, but we stuck with the group and I'm encouraged and start observing where to make the final sprint to the finish line.

Mackenzie and Kara attack again, gaining a minute fifteen seconds while the rest of the teams play cat and mouse, waiting for the Kiwi's to try another breakaway. Every move is quickly absorbed and the Kiwi's call a truce and pedal to the back of the group. The next lap is slow and the Kiwi's summon the other teams to work together and catch the break. We quickly reel Mackenzie and Kara back in and they have a hard time staying with us when we absorb them.

Benjamin is standing on the sidelines, coaching me, telling me to feather the gear and spin up the hills, to get off the front but stay attentive to positioning. I start calculating who has anything left in the spring. Lisa and Rachael had muscled up the hills, putting a strain on their muscles. Debbie and Karissa put in a lot of energy when chasing down Mackenzie and Kara. The Kiwi's are the biggest threat. Coming into the last corner, I know this is it.

We're through the left hand turn followed by a sweeping right hand. From the sideline, Benjamin reminds at me to be patient. It's a long uphill headwind sprint from the feed zone. The Kiwi's initiate and we jump on their wheel, easing into their draft. At 150 meters to go, we surge making an attempt to come around the hard charging Kiwi's. We don't stand, mainly because I'm not confident and that lack of extra zip puts us in a respectable second.

I tell Shawn we just got second and she screams in excitement, grabbing my waist and thrilled with our success. I'm tickled as we let our accomplishment hit us in waves. The new kids on the block with a pinto stars and bars bike just made a major statement.

That night we recalled the race from our different perspectives. Shawn, verbalizing her excitement trust my every move. She trusted my tactics, my racing prowess. I told her how synched we were and how much I enjoyed racing with her.

We just received word that in a little over a month, Shawn and I will be representing the United States at a world cup in Italy. Look out world!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My Budding Boxing Career

“Hey Jen, my mom gave me a copy of Billy Blanks Tai Bo. Want to try it?” my next-door neighbor Rose asked one afternoon. Rose was also looking for an athletic vent to shed some weight. And we could follow the sequence of moves lead by a spandex clad kickboxing fanatic with the blinds drawn.

Our moves awkward and uncoordinated at first, we struggled to keep up with the timing between giggles.  After a handful of tries, thirty minutes started to pass with less effort. I started to increase the intensity and began doing the beginner tape twice a day. As I started to shed some weight, I also felt empowered. My fanaticism wore on Rose’s enthusiasm and she started to loose interest and eventually stopped joining me.

“Whatcha gotta do, you gotta PUSH YOURSELF!” Billy Blanks would shout through my TV, willing me to keep my arms up that much longer, challenging me to higher jump kicks as sweat flew from my body and dripped down the walls. I loved every minute of the physical and mental challenge and decided to progress my newfound passion at a local cardio kickboxing gym called, “Kick It.”

The studio was full of eager women punching and kicking freestanding punching bags lead by techno music and an enthusiastic and skilled instructor, Susan Thomas. It smelled of Febreeze coated sweat, masking the odor of dank Everlast gloves and Ringside focus mits. Susan patiently led us through a series of kicking and jabbing combinations, demonstrating them slowly at first and then showing us full speed, sharply exhaling on each point of contact.

“Ch! Ch! Ch! Ch! Ch! Ch!” Her movement fluid as she gracefully moved around in a circle, keeping her hands up and chin tucked. Entranced I decided right then and there that I wanted to move like that. I was ready to take kickboxing to the next level.

“Hey Susan, I have a question,” I asked that day after class. “How do you compete in this sport?”

“Oh! Come with me to a boxing workout tonight. It’s traditional boxing but a start.”

That night we drove 20 minutes north of Bellingham to the small town Ferndale. In the Cobra Kai dojo tucked behind Main Street, Susan and I were the only two females in a testosterone-laden gym. The stink of sweat stung my nose as ten or so guys assembled dressed in white tank tops, baggy shorts and hands wrapped in cotton gauze. The room was lined with mirrors, contained a ring, and time clock. On one of the walls hung a framed handwritten slogan “A Champion Is Made A Day At A Time.”

“Hey Coach Ferguson, this is Jennifer,” introduced Susan. “She’s interested in competing.”

“Nice to meet you,” I said, reaching out my hand to shake his. His blue eyes sparkled, nose flattened like a pancake from years of being in the ring and smile displaying a denture mouth. 

“Well, go get dressed Jennifer,” Coach said.

“You can call me Juice,” I boldly replied.

We ran around the exterior of the building then shadow boxed in the mirror, my movements jerky and lacking the finesse of the other boxers. Sweat started to drip from everyone’s temples as we did 50 push-ups, 100 jumping jacks, footwork drills and lunges back and forth across the room and finished with 15 minutes of jumping rope. Coach paired us up according to ability then height to work on punching combinations. The new stimulation left me exhausted before the sparring session even started.

“Juice, want to try sparring tonight?” Coach asked.

“Sure,” I said, having no idea what I was getting myself into but eager to impress.

I strapped on a well-oiled and salt encrusted piece of headgear and slipped on 14 ounce blue boxing gloves. I shoved my cheap plastic mouthpiece in and ducked between the ropes. My opponent, a 14-year-old kid named Jimmy, was the same height but 30 pounds lighter.  His eyes showed no fear and his jabs caught me off guard, popping me hard square in the face and whipping my head back. Eyes watering, nose throbbing I was relieved to hear the end of the round after only 30 seconds. We sparred two more rounds before Coach called it a night and I retired to the women’s locker room.

I sat on a cold, hard wooden bench in shock. The sting of getting hit in the head by a 14-year-old induced real tears when I was safely alone. I knew better then to let those boys see how shook up I was of willingly getting beat in the head. I sobbed for five seconds, looked directly at myself in the mirror and said sternly out loud, “This is it, Juice. This is the reality of the sport. You either take it or leave it.”

I showed up two days later.

Grief as a gift.

I had just left the chiropractors office where the receptionist was watching a live stream of the Boston Marathon. She was an avid runner herself and had a handful of friends competing. Incoming phone calls were answered as she multitasked and filled appointment slots while keeping watching the crowd of runners for those she knew.

I was getting my lower cranky back adjusted. I pushed a little too hard in the team time trial on Saturday afternoon, through the gusts of wind and up hill. My body, unaccustomed to the lower position, protested the next day as I was putting down my 10 pound bag, getting ready for the Air Force Academy road race. I felt a sharp pain in my L5, S1 and couldn't stand up straight. I decided to go out to the race anyway, just in case it was a fluke tweak and see if it would loosen it up by riding.

The line for registration was 50 people deep. I opted instead to get dressed in spandex. I attempted to lift my leg and pull on my shorts, only to feel shooting pain. Nope, no racing for me today. My immediate thought went to the bigger fish to fry next weekend in Greenville. If I'm going to throw my back out, it's going to be at a big race.

That night I had trouble sleeping. It hurt to lie down. It hurt to sit. It especially hurt to stand. I aged 50 years in a nanosecond. My dreams were erratic and I was being chased by a monster.

The next morning I emailed a few people asking for massage recommendations or seeing if I could get into the Olympic recovery center. Mike Durner responded with a referral of his chiropractor, Dr. Jeff Mathews just south of downtown. Lucky me they had a morning opening. It was there I saw the receptionist watching Boston.

Minutes after I left the explosions started. Social media blew up. Normally, Benjamin is my source for what's going on in the world. But when he's gone I frequently peruse FB and Twitter. The tweets started flooding in, adding to the confusion and angst. What is REALLY going on?!?

It brought me to the day Ryan died. When I had so much confusion, so much angst and so many unanswered questions. And now, a Nation is asking themselves those same questions. I want to help, in  any way I can.

Here's what I can offer to those affected by the bombings. And by affected I mean in any way connected to the Boston Marathon. You didn't need to be there to feel its enormity, to witness its ripple effect.

You have permission to be sad, angry, upset, tired, anxious, and guilty. It's okay not to be sad. It's okay to not know how you feel yet.  We all handle tragedy in a unique and personal way. There's no right or wrong. There just is.

Slowly, and often without notice a gift will emerge. It is your choice to let it. To let this reminder of mortality help you live the life you long for. To stop settling for things. To bring fulfillment and happiness into your life now. Trust me, it will happen if you let it.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

The power of YES.

Last day, best day.

Greetings from beautiful and sunny Chula, Vista, California. It's the last day of a week long para-cycling camp where I've been piloting a tandem bicycle with my blind partner in crime, Shawn. Together we've powered up and glided down the steep hills surrounding the Olympic Training Center. And I'm happy to report, we've made some serious gains: gains in fitness, gains in time trial times, gains in communication and figuring out what we need to do as a team on our journey to world domination. I repeat, world domination.

Shawn (who is 100% visually impaired) getting instruction on throwing the hammer from Olympic Hammer thrower Brittany Henry.  "People always tell me the things I can't do. I always show them the things that I can." 

Today is our last day of camp. Our last day of combined hard work, pushing and pulling our legs up the Honey Springs hill as quick as we can with various power surges to push our bodies beyond what's comfortable and then settling back into the slightly uncomfortable. Only to repeat the effort a few minutes later. And repeat again, and again and again.

Would I trade this for anything? No way. I'll take every minute of discomfort, every second of pain, every ounce of struggle. And Shawn does too. That's required. Especially on a tandem. Our motives must synch up and our efforts must be in harmony. We must strike the perfect balance between both of our roles, one where we both have our strengths and weaknesses. Together we create a unique blend of feminine power, ready to conquer the world. And we laugh, a lot.

I woke up excited to go uphill. Yes, excited. Dreading hills is now part of my past. Today is a new day and a new opportunity to give it my full self. And I'm thankful for each and every day I get to do that. In many ways, it's a true celebration of being in the now and living in the moment. And to be honest, that's how I want to live me life, everyday, in the now.

I'm able to dig deeper on the tandem. Knowing Shawn is counting on me giving it 100% and counting on me to be on the top of my game every effort enables me to tap into that pain cave that much harder. I banish negative thoughts as soon as they arrive, focusing on the now and the yes, I can!

YES WE CAN push a tandem bike up hill quickly and efficiently.

YES I CAN push through the pain cave that much longer, that much harder.

YES WE CAN  because my partner can too.

YES I AM strong, powerful and confident.



I discovered that the more you can enter yes's into an equation, any equation for that matter, the more you can. The more you focus on the positive and what you can do, the more doors open up. The Universe responds and grants you more access to what you can do. And often it reveals more than what you first thought possible. Just think of what opens up to you if you practice this often, let alone everyday. Yes we can win. Yes, we will win.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Engagements, funerals, birthdays, para-camps oh my! March is done. And wow, what a month!

I'd tell you more but a picture is worth a thousand words.