I have to admit I’ve been a little grumpy lately. My combination hip and back injury has conspired to ruin my season of competition. And for a gal who thrives on racing, this is not good news. It has had me feeling sorry for myself and wondering what’s it all for? But wonder no more, I realized today. As a member of the USA Triathlon Paratriathlon Committee I have the great fortune of attending the US Paralympics Leadership Conference held in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center. And if I rolled into my first session in an ‘ify’ type mood, I certainly didn’t leave that way. I was energized and excited. And that bled over into my other sessions. It was an amazingly fun day. Why? Because I realized just how important sport is. Not just to me, although it is my passion and where I spend most of my time. But how it is important to so many people and how it’s not something that you use up and throw it away when you’re done. It’s something that you pass on to others. A gift that you can share to enlighten, entertain and promote confidence and gain self-esteem.
When I started doing triathlons in wheelchairs twelve years ago, I didn’t see other women in chairs at my races. In twelve years, I have raced against exactly six other female wheelers. Three of those, in my last active year of racing (2010). I consider myself to be a pioneer in this category in the sport because so many times I was out there alone. Racing the clock. The only person I had to compete against was me and I had to learn a lot on my own and often the hard way. But because of programs like I was a part of today, that brings together leaders in the Paralympic sports movement, those who run community programs, who spend their time in grassroots efforts, developing not only athletes but people who are active and fit, I see a bright future.
When I had my accident almost 12 years ago, my friends and family thought my life was over. I even had my doubts. Afterall, my goal was to be an elite cyclist, traveling the country and racing every time I got a chance. When it was clear that my cycling career was over, we all wondered what could come next. And what did come next was an amazing career in adaptive sports. I’ve raced well over 100 races of all kinds (triathlons, duathlons, road races and rowing) since my injury. I have raced nationally and internationally, as part of the national team and world championships teams. It’s been quite a ride. I’m not saying it’s over yet, but it’s definitely hit a lull, but after seeing and hearing about the work that’s being done around the country to create a strong pipeline of Paralympic programs and athletes, I feel a certain satisfaction having been even a small part of the growth and progress we’ve seen over the past decade. I can’t wait to see these opportunities as they continue to expand in the future. It’s exciting, encouraging and gives me a certain optimism that others will find sports, despite their disabilities, be able to reach the highest levels and grow not only as athletes, but as people. I know the greatest lessons I have learned about life have come from the playing field and the race course. And now, I feel honored to have the opportunity to be here at this conference learning how to share my passion, so that others too can reach their own finish lines.