Inspired by Aunt Linda

Growing up, I remember hearing stories about my Aunt Linda doing the Ironman in Hawaii twice during the 1980’s and although I had no idea what an Ironman really entailed, I was always extremely impressed.  Funny enough, my mom and my grandma have always mixed me and Linda up, and I’ve always been honored by that mix-up because Linda is not only a kind and caring person, she is also a total badass.  If it wasn’t for my Aunt Linda, I may never have discovered triathlon, so I owe a lot to her.

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Linda and me on the run during a triathlon we did together in Virginia

This past weekend, Linda towed the line at the XTERRA World Championship in Maui, and it turned out to be the most challenging year of the event in recent history.  There was so much mud on the mountain bike course that even the professional athletes were walking their bikes for much of the course.  One of the announcers described it as “slick as snot out there” and said it was “like a dog running around on a freshly waxed floor.”  Athletes broke bones in every discipline – swim, bike, and run – which is unheard of in most races.  It was possibly the toughest day in triathlon history.  Watching the live stream of the event showed that everyone finishing was covered from head to toe in mud and sweat and tears and elation for finally being done.

Linda finished this beast of a race and continues to impress me with her toughness and perseverance, and although I have no desire to do this race anytime soon, I do hope I can take her strength and story of triumph with me as I continue my triathlon career.

Below is a recount of Linda’s experience in her own words.

“Race Report – So the day started with a 1 mile ocean swim. But the gentle waves from the days before turned into 8-12 foot waves. The swim course was an out and back then a short run on the beach to swim out and back again. However, given the size and power of the waves, this was a super difficult swim – coming into the shore for the first leg, I got thrown to the bottom and somersaulted around at least three times before making it to shore. Then when going back out, I got slammed by a big wave that ripped my goggles off. One of the spectators saw a floating pair of goggles so grabbed them for me, but they weren’t mine and didn’t fit so I had to swim breaststroke out and back in because they leaked so bad. Then I got to go through the same ordeal trying to get out of the water with a few moments of wondering if I was going to make it as I kept getting slammed by waves and doing lots of somersaults. But, I finally crawled out onto shore and began the second part of the race – a 20 mile hike with your mountain bike ride because of the mud – oh my the mud – unbelievable and the climbs were tremendous – hence the the hike with your bike. I fell 12 times, twice into a tree. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally made it back to transition only to turn around to do a 6.5 run hike right back up the volcano with all the mud, roots, rocks etc. I only fell twice on the run. I finally made it back – where the finish took us through the sand on the beach and back up a steep hill to the finish. All my goals went out the window when I lost my goggles so it was all about survival which I can say I did. 😊” 

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Linda at the finish of the XTERRA World Championship in 2018

Linda continues to impress, and I’m so proud of her for tackling this challenge and showing it who is the boss!

 

Adventures in Trail Running

I purposely didn’t put any races on my calendar after Ironman Boulder this year because I knew I’d need a mental break from intense training and I didn’t know how my residual limb would react to that amount of exercise (mostly the running) in one day.  I’m glad I was smart about this because for almost 2 months afterwards, my left leg was sort of a wreck and I wasn’t able to do much running because of swelling in my residual limb and pain in my left hip.  For a brief moment in time, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to run again, but luckily my body eventually recovered once I allowed it enough time to rest.  I still have some weird swelling in my stump that I didn’t have before Ironman, but it has at least improved enough that I was able to get back to running this fall.

As September rolled around and my mountain bike clinic came to an end, I felt the urge to sign up for a something coming back…  but I wanted to do something different and purely for fun.  I had been eyeing a few trail races, and then the universe gave me a nudge when my friend and fellow Skirt Sports ambassador, Tiffany, offered me a discount code that I could use for The Great Trailhead Foot Race.  I reached out to my friend Jessica, who is arguably the reason I stuck with running when I first started 5 years ago, and she said she had been looking at doing the same event as her very first trail race, so she was in.  I next ran it by Coach Mark to make sure he thought it was a good idea (or at least not a bad idea) and he was all for it.  So, 3 months to the day after Ironman Boulder, I signed up for my first trail race – a 10 mile run through Bear Creek Lake Park, which is west of Denver.

Over the next 6 weeks, Coach Mark slowly built me back up to running between 5-7 miles, with most of my runs ranging between 2-3 miles.  The race would be my longest run since June, but because of my Ironman experience I now have the confidence to trust myself to be able to gut it out for much longer than 10 miles, so I felt ready.

Jessica and I got to the race early so we’d have time to get our bibs and use the port-o-potty before starting, and it was a small race so that was no problem.  Her boyfriend Jef came with us, so he got the obligatory pre-race photo of us and then we were off on our trail racing adventure.

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Me and Jessica at the start of the 10 mile trail race. Photo credit: Janet Miller

We ran through the woods, over rocky trails, avoided tree roots, then went through a hilly field, and then back through the woods.  Some of the narrow parts were difficult because we had to change our stride to fit our footsteps on the path, and I had to be extra careful not to kick myself in the “good” ankle with my prosthesis.  The other sections that were a bit more difficult for me were those that were really rocky because my prosthetic foot bounces off the rocks at an angle and that can sometimes mess with my knee.  Since we were out there purely for fun and to enjoy each other’s company, we took walk breaks when the footing was questionable.

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Me & Jessica running through the woods.  Photo credit: Zach Harvey

There were two optional water crossings – one around mile 1.5 and another around mile 8.5 – and although we skipped it on the way out (it was cold!), we decided to run through it on the way back.  Zach as there waiting for us and he got a pretty funny video of Jessica and I traipsing through the water.  It was pretty rocky and slippery, so my plan to run through it turned into wobbly walking to get across without falling in and soaking my whole body.  (Check out my Facebook page for the video)

It took us about 2 hours and 17 minutes, but Jessica and I crossed the finish line together and still had the energy for a jump shot, although we should have switched sides because we both kicked our legs towards each other…  now we know!  It was really fun to try something new with my amazing friend Jessica by my side the whole way, and I encourage all of you to seek out adventures and then talk your friends into joining you!

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Jessica and I jumping for joy at the finish line and almost kicking each other.  Photo Credit: Janet Miller.

Overcoming Fear in a Safe Space

I’ve been trying to get into mountain biking recently, but it has often left me frustrated and sometimes even in tears.  I have a hard time accepting that it is VERY different than road biking AND that it doesn’t come naturally to me despite how similar it is to horseback riding (which I spent many years doing).  See my Instagram post from last month below as an example of my frustration towards mountain biking…

Instagram post - original at https://www.instagram.com/p/Bk6RnvjlGK4/?taken-by=emharv8

People talk about how fun mountain biking is, but I just haven’t gotten it because it’s been such a frustrating experience for me.  There have been fleeting moments of fun, but overall it’s been tough.

By happenstance and a lot of luck, I got connected with an amazing group called Life’s 2 Short Fitness and just this past week attended my 1st session of a 5-session program specifically for women who are new to mountain biking.  We started out with introductions, including sharing our biking experience and why we were taking the class.  What struck me is that at least 5 of the 15 women, including me, said they were there because their husbands like mountain biking and they want to have enough skills to actually enjoy that activity with them – definitely a theme there!

Before riding, the lead women of the group talked about basics of mountain biking, how to change a tire, etc.  We then set off on an amazing ride up South Table in Golden, CO and after climbing to the top with 2 switchbacks, we rode around a loop with various sized rocks we could choose to ride over, or not, depending on our comfort level.

Lauran taking a selfie with me waving while riding in the background. Other women on mountain bikes are behind me.

It’s hard to explain why this completely changed my mountain biking experience, but it did.  It’s funny because this is sort of exactly what we do with LIM359 in providing a safe space for amputees to try new activities with other amputees, but I guess it’s just as applicable for women in sports and I’d never really thought about it that way before.
Group of women riding mountain bikes - I'm giving a thumb's up to the camera

Thanks to this amazing opportunity to talk through strategies beforehand and then riding with other women in a safe environment, I actually enjoyed the entire 1 hour ride we did that evening – no frustration, no tears, only happiness & gratitude.  I guess the lesson here is that sometimes we need to try hard things in a safe environment before we push ourselves to try them in the “wild” and that’s perfectly okay.
A group of women on top of South Table with their mountain bikes looking happy

The Value of a Personal Motivator

I got to witness the beginning of something wonderful for about 20 women today as they started their journey to run/walk a 5K with Running Start this September. Running Start is a nonprofit organization, started by Nicole DeBoom, whose mission is to “provide women with barriers to fitness the confidence, courage and community support they need to change their lives through running.” Running Start “pair[s] Beginner Runners – women who have always wanted to start running but have barriers to fitness – with Personal Motivators – women who have found strength, confidence and courage through running and want to pay it forward.” I recently joined the board of Running Start because I understand the power of having a Personal Motivator and how much it can help you stick to your goals, whatever those goals may be.

Purple & yellow trucker hat with Running Start logo on bricks

Although I did not officially participate in the Running Start program as a Beginner Runner, I was extremely fortunate to have my own Personal Motivator in my friend Jessica Rutherford. Had it not been for Jessica, I may never have walked the 7K that sparked my desire to start running, and I have major doubts that I would have stuck with running during that first year when it was SO HARD to run the entire 2.5 mile loop around Wash Park. Without Jessica, who knows whether or not I would have ever done a triathlon, much less signed up for the Boulder Ironman that I miraculously finished 3 weeks ago. (Full disclosure: I got a bit emotional and started tearing up when I was telling this to the group today.)

Me, Jessica, Ben, and another friend at the Cherry Creek Sneak in 2017

Knowing there is someone who both believes in you and holds you accountable is priceless. I had a dream to do an Ironman long before I ever started running back in 2013, but it probably would have remained just a dream had I not had that early support of Jessica, my own Personal Motivator, who helped me stick with it in those early days even when it felt like it was impossible to run a mile.

Strategies to *Try to* Stay Ahead of Major Stump Issues

My stump (residual limb is the more proper term, but I call it my stump and so that’s what I’m going to call it in this post) is generally fairly compliant and, even when not compliant, at least somewhat predictable. I know the problems I’m likely to have when exercising for long periods of time, and this has allowed me to come up with strategies to get in front of the issues as much as possible (although as you’ll learn by reading this, I still have room to improve my strategies).

Pre-Race Prep: Certain Dri

When it starts getting hot out, and particularly when I have a race coming up, I apply Certain Dri to the areas of my leg that I do not want to sweat when I’m on the run (because that’s the time I have the most issues with sweat). I started applying it nightly about 5 days before Ironman Boulder to ensure that I fully impacted all the sweat glands, which was particularly important because the forecasted high for race day was holding steady at 95 degrees…

The major area I’m usually worried about as far as sweat is concerned is my left thigh because the sleeve that rolls over my thigh is what holds my prosthesis on securely so I do not get too much rubbing between my socket and stump. When my thigh sweats, the sleeve starts sliding down and I lose suction, which cases my leg to piston more with each step I take, thereby causing more leg issues. Luckily, this worked like a charm and despite the heat in Boulder, I didn’t have any issues with my sleeve sliding down.

Also for Ironman this year, I used Certain Dri on the medial side of my knee were I often get a sore/blister when I run longer distances. My thinking was that if it wasn’t sweating as much, maybe it wouldn’t hurt as much, and it seemed to help from what I can tell because I didn’t get a blister there.

Unfortunately, I did not have the foresight to apply Certain Dri to the back of my stump where I sometimes get heat rash, and this is where I ended up having major, though not debilitating, pain during the run portion of Ironman (and throughout the days after the race). After I finished, I discovered that my stump did look as bad as it felt and the sock I was wearing was not only sweaty, but also bloody… It will be interesting to try the Certain Dri trick on this area once I’m back to running longer distances again after I recover to see if that might help better address this issue…

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The sock I wore on race day, a little discolored by blood

Race Day Strategies: Dry Leg & Glide

When I come out of the water during a race, I have a handler who helps me hop to a towel we have set up off to the side of the swim exit so we’re out of the way of all the other triathletes. I lay down on the towel and my handler pulls off my wetsuit while I take off my swim cap, goggles, etc. Then, I dry off my stump completely and thoroughly, even if it takes a little extra time, because any dampness in my leg can cause major problems for me on the bike and run. My stump has been described by my mom as being equivalent to the “princess and the pea” because it is very sensitive, so it is extremely important that I take care of it during races. Once my stump is dry, I apply Glide all over it, paying particular attention to the back of my limb where I get heat rash, the spot on my knee that gets blistered, and other bony prominences like the outer side of my knee and the bump on the front of my tibia. I have tried other products in the past (including baby power and a cream made specifically for amputees), but Glide has provided me with the best results as far as preventing sores goes, so that’s my go-to for race day now (although it’s still not 100% effective, as seen in the case of the heat rash I got during Ironman).

After the bike, I take my leg off and let it air out as I’m changing shoes, hat, etc., and then dry off my stump, reapply Glide, and put on a clean, dry sock before putting my liner and prosthesis back on to start the run. For Ironman Boulder, I had my amazing leg handler, Sasha, carrying a backpack with dry leg socks and my other leg (walking if I was wearing running and running if I was wearing walking), so that I could switch out if needed because it’s hard on my body to walk on my running leg. I ended up only switching once and I didn’t stop to change out to dry socks because I mentally just needed to keep moving forward and I was afraid I wouldn’t want to put my leg back on if I took it off.

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The back of my residual limb with heat rash (yes, it is quite hairy because if I shave I can get ingrown hairs)

Perhaps it would have helped with the heat rash if I would have put on a dry sock during the run, so that’s something to think about for next time. However, had I done that during this particular race I very well could have missed the 17 hour time cutoff (click here to read more about my close call), so wearing the sweaty sock and getting heat rash (that my leg is still mad at me about) was totally worth it!

Me at the finish line looking happy/exhausted with text reading "I freakin' made it! 140.6 miles!!!"
Me at the finish line looking happy/exhausted with text reading “I freakin’ made it! 140.6 miles!!!”
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Parents Cheering from Different Time Zones

The following guest posts come from my mom, Zach’s dad, and Zach’s mom and provide the perspective of parents cheering on their kids doing an Ironman from afar.  I hope you enjoy reading about their experiences!


Sheryl Damron – Emily’s Mom

When I first heard that Emily and Zach were going to train and commit to doing a full Ironman, I thought, “Good thing they are doing it together because training for an Ironman is a lifestyle!! Glad they are in it together!!”

I was not nervous in the weeks leading up to the Ironman. I did spend the prior weekend with Emily at the Skirt Sports retreat. Emily and Zach were both confident and feeling fit and ready for the Ironman, so I was too! But I can’t say I wasn’t nervous once the race started…

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Sheryl and Emily at the Skirt Sports Retreat

I woke up at 5:00 AM PST in order to start following Emily on the Irontracker App from the beginning. It is amazing how intriguing staring at a little icon of Emily moving along triangular shaped lines indicating her progress in the swim was that morning. I kept switching between the screens of the app showing her time and the icon “swimming.” After about 20 minutes, I thought this is crazy staring at app…but continued the obsession all day. I started following Zach as soon as he began his swim as well…he had a small green icon with ZH in it whereas Emily had downloaded a photo icon to watch.

After staring at the app and searching Facebook for photos of Emily posted by friends showing her swim transition and start of the bike, I decided I better do something…so I started reading the Sunday newspaper. I caught myself reading a section and staring at the app…I finally decided to make breakfast. The whole time I was preparing pancakes and sausage, I was receiving notices that rang on my phone with updates. It took a while to complete that task because I had to keep checking the ding. This crazy behavior continued the entire day as I completed my weekend chores of grocery shopping and laundry. I did manage to go out and do a short run but must confess, I checked the tracker app several times while exercising. Being so linked to my phone is not my usual style but I found it was my only connection to Emily and Zach. And, I just had to know how they were doing and what was going on while they were on course. Early on, Karen and I started messaging as a way to stay informed. Thank goodness for Sasha who was gracious enough to answer my text messages. She even checked the medical tent when I noticed Zach was “paused” for an extended period of time and became worried. I confidently relayed the messages to Karen to calm her nerves as well.

When I saw Zach’s number come up on my phone, I was surprised and answered with, “Are you done already?” he disappointedly said “No, I bonked.” We chatted for a moment and I thanked him so much for letting me know so I didn’t worry. I asked him if he called his mom expecting him to say yes and he said no…I said you better call her because we have been messaging all morning and she will be worried. At first, I was so grateful and appreciative that he even thought of me during this tough time and called, and then I was sad for him because I know he trained and prepared for this day so hard and was dedicated to finishing. I started thinking about how his body felt and wondered if he was OK to get back to the hotel. He assured me he was better and would go there to rest and refuel.

I read a post on Facebook from one of Emily’s followers about seeing the finish live…I frantically turned on my laptop and scrabbled around trying to find the proper site. I got the live feed moments before she crossed the finish line. I happened to receive a notice on my phone that said, “Emily Harvey has finished the Ironman”…and then I saw her cross the line and hear the announcer say, “You are an Ironman!” which brought tears to my eyes. It wasn’t until a bit later that we all realized she finished with seconds to spare!

Advice for cheering from afar …go and watch in person! But even that isn’t great because you can’t be everywhere. I wish I would have known in the beginning that the tracker app is just an approximation of what is going on in real time. It certainly helped calm my nerves being able to text someone who was actually on site. Sasha was kind to answer all my “worried/curious mom” texts throughout the day. She even sent me videos and pictures showing Emily smiling. I also sent out a couple Facebook messages asking if anyone had seen Emily and to please post a photo. Several of Emily’s friends out on the course obliged my request! So, if you can’t be there, try to have the contact information of someone on site you can text and find out the real story.

When Emily was born with a “bump on her leg” and we later learned her foot needed to be amputated, I never in my wildest dreams thought she would be an Ironman. At a young age she was nicknamed the Energizer Bunny for her positive attitude and the fact that she never gave up…it just goes to show you the power of labels!

Bob Harvey – Zach’s Dad

I write from the perspective of a father. One who asks the best of his children and still worries about them as if they were totally, his responsibility—that is what fathers do. They rejoice in their kid’s success and anguish in their pain. With that thought in mind bear with me as I express the feelings presented to me during the roller-coaster ride of the past several months. My thoughts:

Initially, when I first heard of the goal to do the Ironman, I thought–OK, so you’re going to do a really outrageous Ironman thing. I thought the best and wished you the best, but had serious reservations. Had I expressed those doubts, I know it would not have made a difference. As it turns out I became the quiet cheerleader and witness to your success. You did that Ironman thing with characteristic style.

So, on the day of the event I got into the “follow us, if you can” part of it. Believe me, from the challenges of following you both on the Ironman tracking application, and fighting with our super slow internet, hearing our four devices, each of which were beeping and carrying on as if we were at a tech fair convention, we went nuts here. It was insufficient to simply “follow” along. We wanted so badly to be there with you—to cheer you on—tell people “those are our kids, we love them so much and we are so proud of them.”

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Zach & Bob at the end of the Grand Fondo in Virginia in 2017

Along the way we just had to know more, so pulled up the Google Maps Pro and tried to visualize what you were seeing and where you were going to go next. Would you have a moment to look at the pretty greenway and maybe feel a cool breeze near the lake? I wished and prayed those good thoughts to and for you. Then there was silence from the Zach’s tracker. It went in fits and spurts and then Karen’s cell phone rang—she uses a train whistle tone—pretty cool, but then I saw the call was from Zach. I said, “Hi Zach”. Are you still going? My duh. He answered—“if I was still going I wouldn’t be calling you”, “I bonked”. Now I have seen Zach fall down too many times in my life (a skateboard thing) to be concerned about a little bonking. He proceeded to tell me about his overheating and pulling out of the run at a little over 10 miles. I was relieved and impressed that he made a wise decision to care for himself. This left me to focus on our dear Emily.

Oh, Emily! We had heard about the bike shifter problem and not knowing the difficult terrain (Google Maps Pro does not show terrain, at least I haven’t figured out how to do that) so I assumed it was fairly flat—I had no idea “Em.” was having to walk her bike up the steep hills, ride like hell down them, and do her best on the level parts. Had I known these things I would have been more concerned about her readiness for the run than I already was. She had said the run was the hardest part for her—this we knew—but something else we knew is that Emily DOES NOT GIVE IN to adversity—she thrives on it. We did not have the exact information on Emily’s cut-off time and were spared the “nail-biting” part of that. When you do the math—48 seconds left in a race that takes 61200 seconds to complete, factors to 0.999221568627 of the total time spent to become an Ironman. Relish the thought that you both left it all out there.

The rest of the epic story of Emily’s finish and the loving support she has received from Zach, her Mom, her many friends, colleagues, and family just add richness to all of our lives. This human story—the one about taking on a difficult task and conquering it–is what keeps us all going. For that, Emily and Zach, I am ever grateful. You both have my heartfelt respect and I couldn’t be more proud of you.


Karen – Zach’s Mom

So….everyone settled?…Don’t think that will be possible from this amazing event and incredible happenings!!! We have “chatted” about the feelings and thoughts that we experienced before, during and after this IM, and we really were so similar in our thoughts…..

When I heard you had both signed up for the Ironman Boulder, I had no immediate understanding of the enormous commitment to training that it would take….and felt that you both were in such great condition, already competing on a fairly regular basis….and thought it might be an “epic event” that the two of you would just have fun doing together…..As the months passed, trainers involved, and total dedication…I started seeing this was way beyond what I had imagined. I was, and continue to be, in awe of your drive and commitment.

I was not nervous leading up to the event, but did wonder how you managed the time spent with work, home, friends, etc……Those things in themselves take so much of people’s time that it was almost beyond my comprehension to know how you got all this things accomplished….and all of them with great success.

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Zach and Karen during his Grand Fondo Ride in Virginia in 2017

We had gotten all the Ironman Boulder information, apps on devices, and set aside all day Sunday, June 10th. to be home and “monitor” the race….it was great fun as we began to watch: BIB numbers, start times, trying to figure out what all the tracking meant. Bob was able to even get Google maps so that we could follow the route with seeing what Boulder was actually like along the route….we were back and forth with information sharing and excitement.

As we were tracking, we saw the timespans between places where tracking would occur, so we keep our computers/phones at volume to hear the “dings” of updates. During this time, Katie, Aunt Glenda, Sheryl, and I started group chatting and that seems to take quite a bit of time!….I had to laugh, because Glenda’s little dog thought that each time the “ding” of the tracker happened on her phone, that someone was at the door, and he went into a barking and running fit to get Glenda to answer the door….we had a good laugh about that throughout the race.

Bob and I intermittently worked on replacing the passenger side window on the jeep while we tracked the race. When we didn’t get a tracking on Zach’s run at 8.6 miles, we tried not to get into “imagining why”, but tried to believe the “fine print”, that the tracker just may not have been able to pick up his BIB number. It was pretty nerve-racking, though, but also immediately went into thinking something may have happened to Emily since we had known about the bike gears not working. We wondered if he had to stop and help her. Tried not to get overboard in over-thinking it, and just kept sharing chats among ourselves for clues.

When Zach called, Bob answered my cellphone, and our first impulsive thought was “how in the world does he have enough energy to call us”….and again wondered if he had news about Emily’s bike ride. When he told us the situation about the heat and how he had “bonked”…that word made us both think he had “wrecked”….but after hearing about the near heat exhaustion…..we understood that term. We were both so proud of Zach for recognizing his health and ability to make that call…that there was no disappointment on our part at all….We truly were just so proud of both of you that the win was on the day you signed up! I did understand his “anger” that he’d missed a place on the route, but he knew the reason and pulled his disappointment together to continue on….I think that was heroic in itself. We were assured from him that he was going to get hydrated, cooled down, and continued his support and excitement for Emily’s race…..he was “selfless” even at his time of needing to call it.

We continued following Emily….but now with Zach in on the chats and tracking…..which really helped. It was just incredible as we kept thinking “can she actually still be going”?……”is Emily still GOING”???……And, as we told Zach….next time, please do this on Eastern Time…..we were pacing the floor and nervous talking til 1:30 a.m……And when we actually saw that she crossed that finish line with 48 seconds to go….we were almost speechless and in disbelief that it could be THAT CLOSE to the deadline….”it was a miracle”!! after ALMOST 17 hours!!……It took us some time to settle our hearts and minds to even think about going to sleep!….I think we had a movie that we paused a dozen times!!!!

Advice for moms that cheer their kids on from afar??……Have lots of really good snacks for the day, when “mindless eating” and “pacing” take over!!…Don’t panic if the Apps don’t work as you think they should…it doesn’t always mean that the worst has happened…….Keep your prayer beads close by!!!

 

 

Keep Going by Zach Harvey (Emily’s husband)

This is a guest post by my husband, Zach, who also toed the line at the Boulder Ironman this weekend.  Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my race recap, he had a few setbacks that ultimately ended his day earlier than planned.  He trained so hard for this race, and I am so impressed with his attitude following some rough circumstances.  Keep reading for his take on Sunday’s Ironman!


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Zach was very well-organized and prepared with his gear

“What are you going to do if you have a setback?” This was a question Coach Liesl asked me a week before I attempted my first Ironman 140.6. My answer was that I’ve experienced setbacks already in races, and I listed examples, such as a fall on my road bike bruising a hip and walking it off until I could ride again, losing an earplug, and another time getting water in a goggle during a swim but powering through. I told her that if I had a setback like an upset stomach or a flat tire, or whatever else, I’d be ok. Racing is the icing on the cake for the hard training I’ve done since January (49 hours of running, 107 hours of cycling, and 46 hours of running to be exact).

The prior two years, I did two Ironman 70.3 races and coached myself, which established a good base, but I knew that I needed help to iron (pun intended!) out a training plan.  Liesl, with team MPI, was confident that she could help me peak at the right time without overtraining. I like team MPI’s motto “smarter, stronger, faster” because a smart athlete is one who breaks down his or her body in a systematic way through training and does the right things to not get injured and to be ready for the next workout. I learned some new synonymous phrases for torture this year to include: lactate threshold, hypoxic swim drills, and 80/10 brick. I trusted the plan, and looking back I think I only missed one scheduled workout and that was only because I ended up working late. I thought of it like homework… you gotta do it!

So when race day finally came last Sunday, I felt prepared. I got a solid 6 hours sleep despite the 3:20 am greeting on the hotel clock. Following my cue card orders that I had prepared the day before, I proceeded to take in my pre-race 700 carb calories – one bagel and cream cheese, a banana, Gatorade, and a Gu (yuck!). After all, the day’s work was going to deplete my glycogen reserves and make me dehydrated, especially with the predicted forecast, so I’d been careful with nutrition for the last couple days.

Accompanied by Emily and Sasha (Emily’s leg caddy), we boarded the bus from the Boulder high school to head to the reservoir. A girl next to me was nervously talking about this also being her first full Ironman. Emily, the girl next to me, and myself were 3 of a few hundred first timers in a race of around 1700 people.

After final preparation, body marking, sunscreen, loading the bike with food and fluids, and putting on my wetsuit and tie (just kidding), I dropped off my morning clothes bag and made my way to the water’s edge and a glorious sunrise was shining across the water. It was a rolling start, meaning that we positioned ourselves based on predicted swim times rather than by age group. My open water training times made me feel comfortable in the hour and a half group. Once I got in the water, I had one thing that coach told me to remember: “get control of your breath.” The cold flush of water and panic of people swimming all around you can cause hyperventilation, which I’ve experienced in the past. I gained early control of my breath and eventually the pack spread out and I was able to get into a rhythm of smooth, efficient strokes in a straight line (for once) and an hour and fifteen minutes later (15 min ahead of schedule) was done.

Unlike shorter course triathlons, the transition times are a bit longer and are more involved at an Ironman. Instead of everything taking place where the bike is parked, you grab your bag of stuff and enter a changing tent, where you tell a volunteer, “excuse me while I change into something more comfortable” (saying that is optional, but preferred). I dumped the bag and began to pull on my cycling shorts, jersey, UV arm sleeves, shoes, and my lucky red and white polka dot socks. All the swim gear goes back in the bag to be retrieved at the end of the day. Volunteers outside the tent smear you down with sunscreen, perhaps less carefully than self-application. Helmet on and clipped, bike in hand, I ran awkwardly in my tap dance-esque bike shoes to the bike start and started my Garmin bike time at the exact time my timing chip registered my official bike start time. All was going as planned.

Zach coming off the bike in his awesome outfit with lucky polka dot socks

I immediately launched into the nutrition plan to make up for not taking in any calories during the swim and to set myself up for the run. Three hundred calories per hour is a lot more than you feel like you need to eat, but I’d realized the importance of this during some of my longer training rides and bricks. The bike is my favorite event and the course around Boulder reservoir is smooth, scenic, and has blazing descents (45.6 mph was my max). I’d practiced part of the course a couple times so I knew when the next hill or turn was approaching, and so I could regulate my effort. The goal is to even out this effort and save your legs for the run. I thought I was doing a fairly good job at that. It did become hotter on the second lap, and at the aid stations I started dousing a full bottle of water on my shirt as well as grabbing a Gatorade and another water on the fly. I only stopped briefly three times during the five hours and twenty-six minutes I was on the bike, and one of those times was at the special needs area around mile 53 where we were allowed to have a bag of stuff we might need for the 2nd half of the ride. I got to use the bathroom (a good sign of proper hydration), eat my pre-made PBJ sandwich, a sweet and salty bar, and put on fresh sun baked chamois butter (oy vey!).

And then my first setback…. I was on my second loop and my Garmin said I was at mile 88. I saw a sign on the course saying I was at mile 100. At first, I had this feeling of relief that my GPS was off and I was actually ahead of schedule. I started doing the math and realized I was averaging a super fast time and attributed this to my two-week taper. Then I got passed for a second time by the dude in pink compression socks with a pink bike (Adam Sczech, another coach from team MPI). It was funny, I didn’t remember passing him on the side of the road or anything (after all, he is easy to spot), and about five miles later I realized I had messed up. Before the second loop, I missed a 12-mile section of the course. I made a right and I should have gone straight. Looking back, this happened to a lot of people. However, it was a mistake that disqualified me, and I’m completely responsible for not studying the course map enough ahead of time. There was no way to make up the mileage. I simply had to continue the mile or so ride into the transition area.

I went from feeling ecstatic about my ride to feeling completely deflated. All this training, all this effort today was just crushed with a mental error, a lack of preparation, not being smart. My immediate thought was to just quit and not do the run. It wasn’t going to count anyway. If I finished the Ironman, it was with an asterisks. If I got a tattoo, it was with an asterisks, and I won’t get the tee-shirt with the coupon attached to my bib number 1370. But I quickly rehearsed the conversation with coach in my head about giving up, giving in. I thought about my friends and family spending their day on the Ironman tracker, watching Emily and I and waiting patiently to hear from us. I thought about Emily being out there (not knowing her Di2 shifter had stopped working and she was stuck in 1 gear on the bike) and how I probably wouldn’t have signed up for this race unless she did. I thought about the mantra’s coach had me write: patience, appreciation, put one foot in front of the other, breath in & breath out. I had to complete the run. That’s the story I wanted to tell. That’s the spirt of triathlon, the spirit of overcoming adversity that I want to promote with my prosthetic patients.

So it was into the changing tent again for me. It’s a bit like a locker room / hot circus tent / restaurant (sir, would you like a water?). Again, a quick swap out of clothing, and this time self-applied sunscreen. It was getting hot out there at 95 degrees, but I was in good company starting the run as a lot of people were on the struggle bus. My initial plan was to run ten minutes/walk one minute the whole marathon. That plan immediately failed as I had to walk at about 7:30. I did all I could, going from aid station to aid station, taking in water, Gatorade, putting ice in my hat and in my hands. I made deals with myself about walking up hills, walking at aid stations, and eventually also walking in shaded areas. At about mile 12, my body succumbed to the heat, and I had to lay down for a bit. Fortunately, I was near the finish line area and knew I couldn’t complete the rest of the race. This was my second setback. I set out to finish the run, but my body didn’t let me. I would be putting my health in jeopardy to keep going (not smart). I wasn’t used to training in the heat (hard to do with an early season race), and I should have held back a little on the bike to stay more hydrated and reduce my internal body temperature. I should have kept taking in Gu on the run to keep me from bonking. All these were lessons learned.

I obviously felt defeated. I also felt really proud of myself. I was out there for 9.5 hours and had a phenomenal swim and bike. On a cooler day, I could have pulled off the run as well and I remembered to appreciate this level of fitness I had achieved and the opportunity to be here. I learned later that due to the heat, there was an 18% drop rate vs. normal 8%, so I’m glad to know it wasn’t just me. I ran into coach Mark (Emily’s coach) and he told me about her bike ride and said that she’s still going. He didn’t seem too optimistic that she’d make the cutoff of 17 hours for the run since she’d been stuck in a high gear since mile 24 and her legs were already shot starting the run. He said to go back to the hotel and take care of myself, and that Emily had plenty of support between him and Sasha.

I heeded his advice and rested up taking in lots of water and electrolytes. I started tracking Emily’s progress running and joined a group text with our family members. They were loving hearing all the details of my story and were proud of my effort. Watching Emily on the tracker suddenly became an obsession and I relayed any information I got from Coach Mark or Sasha to the rest of the family. Emily was getting close to the lap by the finish line where I threw in the towel. We were on the edges of our seats anticipating her decision to carry on or quit. She’d been in the same heat for 13 hours now and she had to walk up hills on the bike because she was stuck in one gear… And she kept going!!! It was bed time for my family on the east coast, but they all stayed up wanting to know if she would make it.

About 4 hours later, I was down at the finish line with camera ready to take a video as she crossed the finish line. What I didn’t realize when I couldn’t pull up my camera fast enough to take a video, because she was SPRINTING across the finish line, is that she was approaching her final minute. None of us realized that she was so close to NOT making it! Sasha and Mark were there to catch her at the end and were in disbelief. It was such an epic sports moment! I was overjoyed and so happy I got to see this. Emily worked so hard to call herself an Ironman and it was so close to getting taken away. She dug deep at the end and this will be a story that gets told over and over…

Even though it’s been two days and I make sound effects as I get up and walk around due to soreness, I can’t wait to get back to training and come back smarter, stronger, and faster. Setbacks can be really motivating. So can other people’s stories! I want to do Boulder IM again next year and eventually have a story of victory to tell. Regardless of the result, the biggest thing I’ve learned is the answer to the question, “what are you going to do if you have a setback?” The answer is to keep going!

48 Seconds

I FINISHED THE BOULDER IRONMAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am still telling this to myself over and over today because I still don’t believe it, and I still look at an Ironman as an insurmountable feat even though I just did one yesterday.  I think it’s going to take a while for the gravity of what I just accomplished to sink in, and for me to believe it actually happened…  It was just a crazy and amazing day, and I hope you enjoyed the updates Sasha was posting on my Facebook page all day, but I also wanted to share my written perspective of the experience because I think there are many lessons about life woven into my day yesterday.

Pre-Race

I was up at 3:00 AM to eat because it always take me a while to choke down my breakfast and we needed to leave between 3:45 – 4:00 AM to catch the shuttle to the reservoir.  Per my usual on race morning, I ate my breakfast and promptly threw half of it back up.  This is standard procedure for me on race morning and I always feel a million times better once it happens, so I rolled with it and took it as a good sign that my body was pumped for the day.

Zach, Sasha, and I headed out of the hotel, dropped off our special needs bags at the High School (thank you Jeannene Gonzales for grabbing those for us!), and jumped on a shuttle to the reservoir.  The moon was a bright orange sliver, and Sasha thought it looked like a toenail.  I always appreciate Sasha’s humor (even at 4:00 AM) because somehow it helps calm my nerves.  Sasha also offered entertainment because she was wearing the backpack with my legs sticking out of it and inadvertently tapped the guy in the seat in front of us with one of my legs.  He was a little befuddled…

We got to the reservoir and made our final preparations for transitions and walked through which leg would be where at what point in the race and how Sasha would assist me in changing legs for each phase.  Once we had that all worked out, we headed over to the swim start so I could get into my wetsuit in time for the 6:10 AM start.  I drank a quick nutrition mix to make up for throwing my breakfast and then just relaxed by the swim start for a bit to calm the nerves.  I was not as nervous as I expected, but was more excited than anything else.  The day I’ve been looking forward to since I signed up for Ironman last September had finally arrived.  I truly did feel like a kid on Christmas morning.

The Swim

The PC (physically challenged) athletes get to start at the back of the wave with the female pros, so that is pretty dang cool.  We all got in the water and next thing I know it’s 1 minute to go, 30 seconds to go, and BANG!, the cannon goes off and we’re all off into the water.  I always get excited at the beginning of the swim because it’s my favorite part of the whole day, and it’s hard for me to hold back.  However, my Coach and I had talked about being smart and not pushing myself in the water because it was going to be a long day and it wasn’t worth shaving 5 seconds per 100 meter off my time.  I got into a great rhythm and just kept going from buoy to buoy at a steady pace I knew I could maintain without gassing myself.  It took until the first turn about 1/3 of the way through the swim before I started getting passed by the fastest age groupers, so I had a lot of time to just swim in the open water basically by myself.  I only freaked out and thought I was being attacked by sea monsters a few times when some water plant latched onto my arm, but I kept my cool and shook it off and kept swimming.  I came out of the water around an hour and 23 minutes, which was right on pace for my day’s goals.  Sasha helped me get to my towel, strip my wetsuit, and throw on my running leg so I could go through the changing tent to get ready for the bike.  I was in heaven because my day was, to this point, going just as planned.

T1

In the first transition, Sasha and a volunteer helped me get out of my swim gear and changed into my bike gear.  I had gone back on forth as to whether to wear tri bottoms or my bike skirt from Skirt Sports and ultimately decided on the skirt, throwing any judgement of others regarding my choice out the window because that skirt is ridiculously comfortable and 112 miles is a long time on the bike.  I saw one other lady in a skirt out on the bike, so we were basically beauty queens out there, haha.  After changing, I ran to my bike where my bike leg was waiting, switched legs, and ran out of transition to start the bike.

The Bike

My plan on the bike was to stay steady, maintain a 14-15 mph average, and finish in 8 hours or less – a major part of this was making sure I didn’t push too hard and completely destroy my legs before the run.  All was going well until mile 24 of 112 when my Di2 electronic shifters decided that despite fully charging them on Thursday, they were going to attempt to sabotage my day by refusing to work… at all.  (I found out later that a wire in my seat post had gotten a kink it in and that’s why it stopped working.)  For those of you not familiar with bikes, this means I could not shift into a different gear in the front or back and was stuck in the gear I was in when they quit for the day.  What gear was I in, you ask?  Well, the big ring in the front and the 3rd ring down in the back – this is a great gear for flats and slight downhills.  It is not good for going uphill, especially not big hills like some of those on the course yesterday.  As soon as I realized what was happening, I had a flash of an idea to quit, but kept riding (I was going downhill) and thought about a story Nicole DeBoom told about being in a race when her saddle broke and she freakin’ made it work to finish the race.

Me on my bike at IM Boulder 2018
Me on the bike course

It took A LOT of self-talk to get myself through the next 32 miles when I reached the halfway point, and I’m sure some of the people passing me thought I was crazy for not shifting and because I was talking to myself out loud to get through it (C’mon Emily, you can’t quit now; Woman up, Emily, you can freakin’ do this; stupid bike, you aren’t going to sabotage me today, I am going to do this race whether you like it or not… and so on).  At the halfway point, I saw Sash and Coach Mark and had a brief meltdown about my situation, but they encouraged me to keep going AND SO I KEPT GOING.

I had to walk up the big hills and my legs were working way harder than we had planned, but I DID IT.  Oh, and did I mention that it was in the high 90’s with NO cloud cover??  FUN TIMES!  Thank goodness there were amazing volunteers and the race director had planned for the heat because I had ice in my bra pretty much all day yesterday in order to keep cool, and I increased my water and Gatorade intake to ensure proper hydration and that my electrolytes stayed balanced.  I feel pretty lucky on that end because I maintained myself fairly well and there were quite a few athletes who had pulled over on the bike to lay in the shade because they were overheating – winner, winner, my bike will not ruin my day!  Unfortunately, the heat and my dumb bike that wouldn’t shift meant that I was going into the run with less time to complete the race within the 17 hour cutoff and with legs that were already gassed, but I was certainly NOT quitting after making it through that beast of a ride, and so I went on…

T2

I had made the decision towards the end of the bike that I would speed walk the first couple miles in my walking leg in order to give my body a chance to cool down and reset.  Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my left running shoe for my walking leg because I never need a left shoe when I’m running… GAH!  Sasha to the rescue, though, because we were able to swap out some shoes so I could have shoes to walk in for the first couple miles.  I got all changed into my running gear and off we went out of T2 and onto the run.

The Run

Because of what happened on the bike, the run was a matter of survival and finishing within the 17 hour cutoff.  I walked the first few miles with Sasha, and then switched to my running leg so we could maintain a run/walk alternating pattern.  At this point it was still blazing hot, so we were thankful for ice down the bra and socks full of ice to put around our necks.

Sasha, who is a saint, carried my extra legs in a backpack as we did a run/walk and ended up getting a big knot in her neck because of it.  I honestly don’t know what I’d do without her!  We finally got into town and onto the creek path and Sasha stayed put in a spot where I’d pass again later as I went on by myself.

I continued to run/walk as quickly as I could get my legs to move forward and just kept going.  At one of the aid stations, a bunch of my Skirt Sisters were there and as soon as one saw me there was a chorus of “EMILY!” and “GO EMILY!”  It was such a boost for me when I needed it most!!  Then, soon after, some of my amazing coworkers were stationed along the trail and they, too, cheered for me and boosted my spirits at a much needed time.  Lucky for me, I got to run out and back and past post of these crews again – what a gift to have such amazing friends out there on a brutally hot day!!

img_5044
Woo!

Somewhere between miles 13-15, I started running with a guy named Steve who I had been leap frogging with for a little while.  He was seriously a gift from the triathlon gods yesterday, and once he and I started running together we really pushed each other to jog as much as possible, and even more than I think either of us wanted or thought was possible.  Steve even picked up his pace because I needed to get to the finish earlier than him because he had started in a later wave than me and so his cutoff was later in the evening.  Given how close it eventually came to the end, I don’t know that I would have made the cutoff had I not started running with my newfound friend Steve.

Me and Steve at the finish line after we were done
Me and Steve after we had finished

The Finish

Somewhere around 1/4 of a mile from the finish I found out that I would have to sprint in order to make the cutoff due to a chain of magical & unlikely circumstances, so I dug into the deepest depths of my soul, cursed my bike and told it that it was not going to rule or ruin my day, and freakin’ sprinted my heart out.  I ditched my plan to high five all the spectators at the finish line and pause for a double thumb’s up photo and instead sprinted rudely right past Mike Reilly without even noticing he was there (I only realized it after I watched the finish line video), and basically fell into Sasha’s arms as I crossed the finish line with only 48 seconds to spare.

Mark and me after the finish of IM Boulder 2018
We can’t believe was just happened over the last 17 hours!!!

Post-Race

Scott Rigsby was there at the finish to give me my medal (which is pretty cool because he was the first bilateral amputee to finish the Kona Ironman Championships) and I was helped over to a chair so I could take off my leg – FINALLY SOME RELIEF!  I will spare you the pictures of my leg right now, but it is not pretty.  I am so thankful for all the people who were there at the finish to help take care of me.  I was taken to the medical tent to get an ace bandage for my leg and I told the doctor that I ran so hard my leg fell off – he said that was the funniest thing he’d heard all night.

After getting ice and a wrap, I sat on a bench with Sasha and Coach Mark and we were all just in disbelief about the whole day.  Coach Mark said it was the craziest race he’s ever seen, and I think he was even a little speechless at times about all that had happened and the fact that I somehow pulled it out of the depths of my soul to make it to the finish in time.

Me, Sasha, and Mark sitting on a bench near the finish... in disbelieve about the day’s events
Mark almost had a heart attack

My entire day of 16 hours, 59 minutes, and 12 seconds came right down to the wire.  This was not how it was supposed to be because I should have comfortably been in the 15:30-16:30 range (not almost 17:00!!), but the day had other plans in store for me and despite all of it I still finished within the cutoff all because I persevered through the heat and the mechanical issues on my bike, and ultimately found my running angel, Steve.

So Much Gratitude

I truly could not have done this Ironman without my team.  I know triathlon is technically an individual sport, but I believe it really does take a whole team to make it all happen.  Mark’s coaching and support over the past 4 years has been invaluable, and he has helped me to become a smart athlete with the ability to be flexible on race day and make it happen when everything goes to hell in a handbasket rather than quitting.  Sasha’s willingness to sacrifice her neck muscles to carry my legs is just not something you’ll find in many people, and she is a huge part of my success yesterday.  Zach had some misfortune in his race yesterday, but he did not dwell on that and celebrated whole-heartedly with me when I finished.  We have trained separately but in support of each other, and for that I am so thankful.  My friends and family have always supported and encouraged me, and that has helped carry me through my training when it got tough, as well as seeing some of them out on the course yesterday cheering for me.  My Skirt Sisters have provided me with power boosts at an unimaginable level, and even yesterday they were there on the course when I needed them most, from the aid station to other friends out on the course cheering for me.  I am also grateful for my supporters who I have not had the chance to meet in person, but who have followed my story on social media – your encouragement to share my story has been so powerful.  

From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who has followed and supported my journey to Ironman.  I am so happy to have earned the title of being an Ironman with only 48 seconds to spare.  I’m sure there will be another adventure on my horizon, but for now I am going to bask in the glory of actually accomplishing this behemoth goal.

Grateful for Your Positivity

We are now just 11 days 9 hours 12 minutes and 40 seconds away from the start of Ironman Boulder (but who’s counting) and I really started freaking out about it today. I talked through it with Coach Mark this evening and realized that for my own piece of mind I needed to write a brief blog post about what I’m feeling right now. I have been very open in sharing my journey with anyone who will listen, including a random guy at the pool this morning who is now going to track me on race day, and the pressure is starting to build. It’s amazing to have so much support behind me, but it’s also terrifying. I have been surrounded by so much positivity during this experience of training for my first Ironman through social media and in-person interaction, and I really think it has been beneficial to my training – so, thank you to everyone who has had a kind word of encouragement or advice along this path! The downside of allowing myself to be vulnerable through this process is that if I don’t finish, I feel like I won’t just be letting myself down, I’ll be letting everyone who has supported me down as well. That’s a lot to carry with me as I anticipate race day in the next 11 days, but I know that is also what is part of what will help me through the toughest of times during my race. What I know now is that I just have to make it to the starting line and then all your positivity is going to help carry me through the day’s challenges, and for that I am grateful to all of you.

Why I want to be an Iron(wo)man

One month from today, I will embark on the most ambitious athletic endeavor I have ever undertaken at Ironman Boulder. Most people think I’ve lost my mind when they find out that I’ve voluntarily signed up (and paid money) to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and then run 26.2 miles all in one day.

So, why do it? Why register for such a seemingly impossible feat? Well, that’s exactly why – because I literally don’t know if it’s actually possible for me to finish this distance. First and foremost, I want to show myself that it’s possible – it’s probably no surprise that I enjoy being challenged, so this is actually right up my alley. I also want to show others who might be struggling with some barrier that even when things are hard and may seem impossible, sometimes we can surprise ourselves with how far we can go with enough “stick-to-it-ness” and a solid support team. I don’t generally use this word, but I want to inspire others to believe in themselves and motivate them to take action on that belief. I want them to know that things are hard sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we should quit. I also want to show little girls that women are strong, and that they shouldn’t let other people or society place limitations on them.

Like a bull in a china shop, I intend to keep moving forward on race day despite anything that is thrown at me in the hope that my experience, and sharing that experience, will drive others to push themselves beyond whatever barrier it is they believe is standing in their way. As far as I am aware, I will be one of a handful of female amputees to complete a full Ironman and will be the first female amputee to complete Ironman Boulder if when I cross the finish line on June 10th. That’s a pretty cool experience to show how far I’ve come since I ran my very first 5k in May of 2013, and I feel like it gives me what feels like a full circle sorry that I can use to help newer athletes see what can be possible if they do stick with it even when it’s really, really, really hard, and also show them that it’s not something that can be done overnight, but requires time and consistency.

Coach Mark has full faith in me and he’s been guiding my training for years, so I trust the process and I trust that he’s gotten me where I need to be for race day, but there are still so many unknowns that could completely change the day (and inconsistent knowns that I can’t control like my prosthesis rubbing me weird that day). That being said, I am fully committed to controlling the factors I can in order to set myself up to execute my race because I’m very excited to earn the privilege of calling myself an Iron(wo)man starting a month and one day from today… Wish me luck!

Equal Treatment for “Different” People

The coaching group my coach (the amazing Mark Sortino) started many years ago just revamped their website and the quote on the page for Para Sports reads, “We won’t treat you any different than able-bodied athletes, but we know the difference.” Nowhere is this truth more apparent to me than during Ironman training over the past few months. Coach Mark expects me to work really hard, but also understands the important balance between getting in training hours and not completely destroying my residual limb. It can be a fine line between not getting enough training and putting in so much time that I hurt myself.

 

team mpi website header with logo, text: coaching, camps, our team, partners, blog, and PARA Sports "We won't treat you any different than able-bodied athletes, but we know the difference."
Team MPI’s website page for PARA Sports

 

This is true for all athletes, but being an amputee adds a certain additional level of unknowns to the mix. For example, I ran 16.4 miles in one day a couple weeks ago and my leg was in agony. I had a huge sore on my residual limb and every step I took was excruciating.

 

sore on the inside part of my knee where my prosthesis rubs when I run
The sore on my leg right where my prosthesis rubs sometimes (no matter how good the fit, this is sometimes unavoidable)

 

I was extremely nervous about Ironman Boulder because of this, so Coach Mark set up a plan for me to run even longer the following weekend in hopes that I could regain my confidence. Low and behold, the very next weekend I ran 18 miles in one day and although my leg got a small sore by my knee where my prosthesis was rubbing, overall I felt completely fine. It’s hard for me to know heading out on a run how my leg is going to feel that day, but Coach Mark understands how to help find ways to push me appropriately so that I can gain confidence in my own ability even after a tough weekend.

The concept of be treated equally, but with an underlying understanding that sometimes there are legitimate reasons I have to modify what is required of me, has always been important to me. It’s one of the reasons I chose to work with Coach Mark, because I knew that’s how he would treat me as an athlete. It’s also the way my riding instructor, Cindy Burge, treated me when I was riding horses back in high school and college, and is the way my mom has always treated me. I believe this opportunity for equality in treatment and expectation-setting is what has ultimately lead me to pursue my Ironman dream, and I am extremely thankful for all the people in my life who have allowed and continue to allow me to set those high expectations for myself.  It’s also why I’m extremely grateful that Coach Mark is the one who is helping to lead my journey to be one of very few female amputees to finish a full Ironman (and perhaps the first female amputee to complete Ironman Boulder).

 

 

Coach Mark, Amber, and I riding bikes in Nevada
Coach Mark, Amber, and me riding bikes in Nevada

 

Why Peeta Should have Lost his Leg in the Hunger Games Movies

When I saw the first Hunger Games movie 6 years ago I was extremely disappointed by the ending because Peeta does not lose his leg like he does in the first book.  This may seem silly or even petty because Peeta being an amputee is in no way a central part of the book’s storyline, so it logically makes sense that it was cut out of the movie, but I want to share my thoughts about the opportunity I believe was lost, as well as why it upsets me.

I recently listened to the entire Hunger Games series on Audible, and the best part about Peeta being an amputee is that it rarely comes up in the plot.  Sure he surprises Katniss with his artificial leg on stage when they’re being interviewed after the Games and the book makes mention of him being slower than Katniss (thus the reason they are separated during the rescue from the clock arena), but he was always slower than Katniss even when he had two biological legs so that’s not really much of a difference.  This lack of focus on Peeta’s disability is exactly what I loved about it in the books.

In general, mainstream media either leaves out people with disabilities entirely or if a character has a disability, then that becomes some central aspect of the storyline.  It is so rare that we see a main character in mainstream media who has a disability that is not a focus of the story, and this is why I was so disappointed in the movie.  In the book, Peeta is an amputee, but that is merely a part of who he is and does not take over the storyline in any way, shape, or form.  I absolutely loved that Suzanne Collins took a main character, gave him a disability, and then moved on with the story without dwelling on the disability or turning the story to focus on that.  This is such a wonderful portrayal of how some of us experience disability as a part of who we are, but not necessarily the central point of our being or our story.  We are able to live meaningful and positive lives, just like Peeta does in the book, and the disability is not our entire storyline in life (though it certainly impacts it).

In the movie, however, Peeta does not lose his leg, so he is never portrayed as a person with a permanent disability.  The film reached millions of people and I think it could have sent an amazing message about disability being just a part of a person’s life had it followed the storyline of the book.  However, the filmmakers chose to skip over the fact that Peeta lost his leg and missed what I think was an amazing opportunity to portray disability in a new light within mainstream media.