Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Out of body experiences...

That's strange, I thought to myself. I tried getting ahold of Benjamin via FaceTime multiple times that evening. It was his day off from commuting up to Boulder and I figured he must be out riding or something.

I tried him again. This time the call failed.

Give me 15 minutes, he texted.

I was sitting in the lobby and figured my crappy connection in Mexico was the culprit. Dave and Ali sat across from me and we started talking about the day. I was getting tired and ready to go to bed, but wanted to make sure I connected with Benjamin since we hadn't spoken all day. I also didn't have an Internet connection in my room.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a red sweat shirt wearing person walk down the hall. I do a double take.

"Hey there," Benjamin says.

"No way!" I respond, jumping up from the couch and enveloping him in a hug. He got got me. Like I got him in London.

"Hi baby. Did you get got?" he said, kissing me on the lips. "I wouldn't miss this."

It was the night before competition for the ParaCycling track world championships in Aguascalientes, Mexico. His presence instantly soothed me. The week leading up to the race had gone relatively smooth but his presence meant complete support no matter what happened out on the track. No disappointing looks, no "woulda, shoulda, coulda's"- absolutely positive vibes and a booming, encouraging voice willing my legs to push harder and faster.

He booked a flight, arranged a dog sitter, got a hotel room at the hotel we were staying at and brought his bike for transportation between the hotel and the track without me having a clue. I suppose having been to Aguas at least 5 times prior helped - he knows the lay of the land and the hotel staff all know him by name.

On race day I saw him enter the track bleachers while Karissa and I were doing our warm up. It must have felt strange to not be on the infield. His previous profession was built around infield coaching. For the first time in seven years he came as a spectator.

"You could have Ben read your splits if you like," Ian the high performance director said to me about 15 minutes before we were ready to start the 3km pursuit.

"That's okay. I'll have Andy do it. But when we make the final, I'd like that a lot," I replied, wiping the sweat from my brow. The velodrome was hotter than hot. It's an indoor 250 with an inflated doom roof. Air is pumped in from outside and coupled with the lights, people and reflection of the sun, it heats up to 110 degrees by 1pm. Our seigneur doused us with cold, wet sponges that dried within minutes of skin contact.

"It's time girls," Mike the assistant coach tells us. We're dressed in team USA skin suits, aero helmets and cycling shoes.

I walk across the infield, with Karissa following me. We're about to go as hard as possible for roughly 3.5 minutes. The Tiemeyer track tandem with double disks is perched in the starting gate. We walk around and straddle the bike, clipping in and preparing for an explosive start.

I can feel Benjamin. I know he's there and I don't have to look at him. I'm focused on the effort at hand. Visualizing for the final time a perfect start, sensing the pain and detaching from it.

The countdown timer starts with a beep. 15 seconds. Beep. 10 seconds. Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, BEEP! Off we go, my nerves aroused as we round the first two corners. We pump our legs harder, faster, settling into a fast tempo and getting the bike up to speed as quickly as possible. We settle into our saddles, and I extend through the aero bars. Andy yells our splits, which gives us immediate feedback for how hard or how slightly easier we should go.

The laps tick by. Our swift start has us struggling toward the end. We start to fade with 1km to go. I'm battling inner demons, pushing through the pain and narrowing in on the tunnel vision of staying glued to the pursuit line as much as possible. We're losing ground. The Kiwi's catch us, which momentarily makes me loose focus. We push. We pull. We cross the finish line.

We spin around the track a few times as I try gulping air, try getting some blood back into my brain. I pull over and Karissa jumps off the bike quickly. I collapse on the top tube. Rick, another coach, catches me as I'm about to fall over. I can't lift my leg over the handle bars. I'm spent. I gave it everything. We finished with a 3:35, 13 seconds faster than our time in LA. One second faster than Karissa's 10 year standing national record. I try walking down the ramp and can't. I grasp a hand rail. I don't know where Karissa went. So I sit down, unable to muster up the energy to walk across the infield. I can't catch my breath.

I had given it everything.

Ian walks over and checks on me.

"I'm sorry, I tried as hard as I could," I wheeze, leaning forward and ready to retch.

"Don't apologize. Giving it everything you have is all we ask," he responds.

"I wish she wanted it as bad as I do," I whisper, looking up as I start a coughing fit.

After twenty minutes, I walk back to the pit accompanied by a mechanic who holds my arm. Karissa is there, changing back into her street clothes. Benjamin calls to me from the railing and asks if I'm okay. I give him the thumbs up. Yes, I'm more than okay. I just gave a ride at the world championships everything I had. And though the result didn't stand a chance compared to the Kiwi's, it was a remarkable improvement for us. But we have a long, long way to go.

I start coughing again. I can't quite catch my breath and feel like I might puke, sneeze, cough and shit all at once. My body is shutting down. I'm delirious.

"Karissa, do you want to cool down?" I muster.

"I already did," she responds. Was I gone that long?

I clamber onto the bike and can't quite make out what people are saying to me. I'm floating between consciousness and blacking out. I did it. I pushed my body to the limit and didn't die. And as crazy as it sounds, I can't wait to do it again.

I can't wait to do it again.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The Happenings

Life takes interesting twists and turns. Six years ago, my world was rocked. Three years ago, I met Benjamin. Two and a half years ago, I moved to Colorado. In 2012, I spent a month in Mallorca, Spain, had our house near the wildfire evacuation zone, and surprised Ben in London for the games. Last year I started tandem racing on the ParaCycling team and this year I'm headed to Mexico for my second world championship aimed to guide Karissa to some rainbow stripes. And in the next few months, we're relocating up to Boulder. Oh and we're getting married!

Needless to say, things have been busy around here. I've been working on my memoir daily with my June due date coming quick. Ben quit working at USA Cycling and now works at Stages Power Meters. Moonli and Makiah are happy and silly.  Things are good, really, really good.

Earlier this week the team headed up to LA for some track training on the velodrome. We've been stationed in the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista and making trips up north to get in some quality training before our big competition next week. I called Gary, Ryan's dad, and let him know our training times and hoped to meet up. I love to keep in touch with him and make an effort to see him and his wife Anita every time I'm in town.

"You sure didn't take the traditional path in life," Anita commented at dinner. Her eyes were wide, portraying what I registered as fear. "I could never not have a steady job or paycheck. Yet, Jen, I got to hand it to you. You make it work."

"I'm not sure how," I admitted. Her fear triggered my own. How am I making this work?

"You're doing it right, girl," Gary championed. He is always supportive. He shakes his head in wonderment at me a lot, but it's nonjudgemental and makes me giggle when I think about how crazy most of the shit is that I do.

I admit, it's tempting to quit everything and get a real job. Climbing a corporate ladder would satisfy my competitive itch. But I know as soon as I do, I would find myself unhappy in a matter of weeks. I need constant movement, constant pressure of improving as a person and an athlete. As nice as a steady paycheck sounds, the idea of regular office hours and the same type of work sounds absolutely boring. Bring on the unknown. Bring on the adventure. I'm all about the journey.

And you know what? When you are open to a journey that takes twists and turns and you accept things for what they are and make the most of them, big and exciting things happen.

Make it work. That's all you have to do. Don't settle for mediocracy. Take life by the horns, choose what you want to do and follow your dreams with reckless abandon.  You never know if it's going to lead to Aguascalientes, Mexico for a ParaCycling Track World Championship.