I have just awoken from my post-Bloomsday nap and am ready to write about my weekend. First of all, I am so glad I came to Spokane. This was a good trip for several reasons. Spokane and Bloomsday mean many different things to me and being here was a little like being back home after a long time away. It’s comforting.
When I was just out of college and struggling to find a job in my field of study (broadcast journalism), I had a friend who landed a job with the Spokesman Review Newspaper in Spokane. We happened to talk on the phone one night and she told me that I should come to Spokane to look for work with one of the local television stations. It didn’t sound like such a bad idea, since I had no job prospects in Denver, so I sent my resume to a couple of stations and ended up getting invited for an interview at one of them. I flew up to Washington State and my friend, Bonnie, and my cousin Tim (who was also living in Spokane at the time) helped me out by chauffeuring me around town and entertaining me for a couple of days. At the end of my visit, I ended up getting the offer for a position at KREM TV channel 2 as a part-time broadcast technician, for the whopping salary of $6.50/hour. I figured it was as good an offer as any, so in September of 1992, I moved to Spokane, Washington. I lived there for two years and worked for one year as a live studio tech for the nightly news doing camera, teleprompter, floor directing and character generator and another year as a promotions producer. My life revolved around life at KREM, since we worked such weird shifts: 4:30pm-6:30pm and 9:30pm-11:30pm. As a result, we ended spending most of our time with the TV crew. Plus, my roommate was a news producer and my next door neighbor was a director for the newscasts, my closest friends were co-workers and even I even dated a guy from the station. I was the newest young punk on the block and looking back on my days at KREM I was just a kid.
Although, things have changed and only one of my friends still works at the station, it was great knowing I was coming back to Spokane for the race and to see the group. On the shuttle bus from the airport to the hotel, I looked out of the window only to see a big billboard of one of the anchors I used to work with in the nightly newscasts (albeit she is now working for another station), but I immediately thought, “aaaahhhhh, home!”
I got to the hotel and had a couple of hours to relax before I met my KREM friends at one of our old haunts, Azteca restaurant. It was a great night of reminiscing about old times…and it was a BIG reminder about how I am now one of the “old folks” and not that young 22-year-old punk that I used to be.
Saturday was full of more activity race registration and visiting with another KREM friend for lunch. I also went on a course tour that is required for the first year racers—Bloomsday rookies. Even though I am not a rookie (this was my third Bloomsday) I decided to go and was glad I did. There are some real screaming downhills on the course as well as some tough uphills, and I did myself a favor to refresh my memory of the course. Plus, one of the Bloomsday veterans, Craig Blanchette was on the bus and gave some great tips and insight into the course.
When this morning finally rolled around, it was time to race. Now, as a wheelchair racer, you don’t get the full impact of what Bloomsday truly is. And, as a visitor, you really only get part of the story. Bloomsday in Spokane is really big. Huge. When I worked for KREM it was a day that you didn’t dare ask to have off. We covered the race live and everybody had to work. Everybody in town either does the race or stays as far from downtown as possible. This year there were 55,000 people registered for the event. That’s a LOT of people! The race starts on a main street through downtown called Riverside and I remember one year looking down from a highrise building and just seeing streams of people flowing through every street downtown. It truly is a sight. Many of the racers wear old clothing to the start and prior to the race they throw off sweatshirts and jackets into the trees and off on to the road and they are later picked up by race volunteers and donated locally, but the whole street looks like a five-year-old’s bedroom with clothes strewn about.
Being in the wheelchair field is a little bit different of an experience because we start first and never even see the organized chaos happening behind us. But sitting at the start line I know all those people are behind me. I did Bloomsday in 1995 (pre-accident), after having moved away from Spokane, and coming back for the weekend to spend with friends. I ran with my friend, Billy….if you could call it running. There were so many people starting and the roads narrow enough, that we couldn’t even break into a “trot” until almost mile three. Then we ran for a couple of miles and finally hit Doomsday Hill—which is every bit as intimidating as its name implies. But I’ll get back to that.
Anyway…in today’s race there were six women in the open division and 53 wheelers all together. That’s a pretty big field. The Bloomsday folks take good care of us helping us to get here with flights, hotel, race registration, food, etc. It’s a first-class operation. Sizing up the women’s field, there were two shoe-ins for first and second place. Third place was a challenge and the other three of us would duke it out for forth, fifth and sixth. There was one other gal, Sandra, who like me, was double the age of all the rest of the female field. We were the old…um, mature racers—the forty-somethings. It was fun to have someone else in my age and speed range.
As the gun we took off and actually for the first time ever, I could keep an eye on the lead racers beyond the first 10 feet of the race. I think I had my eye on the “fast girls” for almost a half mile. Doesn’t seem like much, but for me it’s an accomplishment. I have a notoriously slow start, but I think my new chair setup is helping with that. I took off and didn’t have Sandra next to me, but I knew she would be my main competition so I didn’t spend much time wondering where she was. The race starts out with about a mile of flat, but then hits a pretty wicked downhill. I’m a wimp on the descents and Sandra had said that she loved them, so I had to try my hardest not to ride the brakes. When I saw my speedometer hit 40mph I had to say over and over in my mind, don’t panic, don’t panic and then you-can-do-it, you-can-do-it. It worked. A couple of years ago I was freaked out when my speedometer hit 27mph. I was so proud of myself, but then at the bottom of the hill, Sandra pulled up right beside me. Fortunately, I learned on the course tour that this was more of a climbers course and I know that if I’m weighing climbing or descending, I’m a much better climber. So I gradually pushed ahead and tried to keep my intensity up on the hills. I passed a couple of the guys and kept going until the second screaming downhill, which really tested my courage. As I was going down I went back to my you-can-do-it mantra, until I looked down and realized I was going 42mph! Then my mantra turned to ho-ly shit, ho-ly shit. I just hung on as long as I could and then had to start feathering the brakes because I was freaking out and there was a sweeping right hand turn coming up. That’s where I hit Doomsday Hill. My speed dropped to 4mph as I climbed this grinding hill. There’s a debate about how long it is…probably ¾ mile climb, but when you get to the top it doesn’t flatten out, it just isn’t as intense. Finally you take a couple of turns and get on a truly flat road that lasts a couple of miles to the finish.
I crossed the line of the 12K race in 45 minutes 50 seconds in forth place. The winner crossed in 35:15 and Sandra behind me in 48:33. Even though I was nowhere near winning, this race is a tough one and everyone who finishes deserves a nice congratulations. So I will count the finish as a victory and move on to the next. My strategy of racing myself into shape is moving along.
More next week when I head to Grand Rapids, Michigan!