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Rookie Season in the Books

September 29, 2013

So it all started with an innocent question posed to me by a very good friend of mine: “Hey Tom what do you think about doing a Triathlon with me?”. Thought about it for a second and he went on to explain “a fiend of mine did one for his 40th birthday”, I thought a bit more and replied “sure, okay”. This was sometime last spring/summer I was weighing in at roughly 200 pounds simply lifting weights and bulking up, this all needed to change and change quickly, from workouts to diet. The transition was a hard one for me and so the journey began.

Cardio, what??? Having not run, seriously run for roughly 5 years, this was going to be a major change in my regiment. After slowly (and I mean slowly) working running into my regimen by October of last year I finally broke the 10 minute mile mark. Still no pool and not much biking taking place but knew I really needed to work that run in and with the ability to control the treadmill it was the easiest to really apply myself to. But couldn’t pull myself away from weights just yet, although had worked in calisthenics (pull-ups, push-ups…) on a semi regular basis to work on reducing the bulk. At this point I started my research and reading up on Triathlon not really knowing much about Para-Triathlon just yet really wanted to focus on the disciplines of Triathlon first then learn about Para-specific nuances.

Happy birthday to me, made the financial investment to myself and this sport by purchasing my Trek Speed Concept 7.0 TT bike. Feeling good about the decision to embark on triathlon I mad the leap, not only to improve but to ensure I invested my whole self to this disciplined and what I would learn during the season, rewarding sport of Triathlon. I also started looking at race events to try and figure out which one(s) I would plan and commit to.

Winter training, spin at home and treadmill. Still no pool, costly oversight but hard to remedy considering my location and facilities available. But as winter wound down I came into contact with the regional USAT/ITU coordinator who’s working and studying at Columbia University in NYC. She reached out around February to invite me a swim clinic at a triathlon expo (TriMania) being held at Columbia in March. As March approached I really began to feel the anxiety building to what I had now mentally, financially and physically committed myself to.

March 2013- TriMania event. I had the great pleasure of meeting some great people this day that would be just the beginning of some great new friendships. As I hit the pool facility I would encounter 2 people that I consider great friends now, visually impaired athlete Amy Dixon and her guide Caroline Gaynor. After introductions and a quick but very eye opening clinic I was asked by Caroline “did you say you are a Veteran?”, “yes” I replied and at that moment my eyes would be opened to a great community organization. Team Red, White and Blue – she would explain the mission of Team RWB and tell more on what they do and further said “wait I’m gonnna call Jared he’s our veteran outreach director and two-time purple heart recipient and Marine”. That day would put me on a very good and stable path as I embarked on my journey to Triathlon. Not only does Team RWB bring together Veterans but also the community that surrounds them, and not through flash and pomp but through sweat and sharing. Sharing exercise and the communication/camaraderie that comes with sweating and laughing together. The key is the bringing together of veterans and the community not as separate entities but 1-Team.

First triathlon experience, CAF (MPI) Paratriathlon Camp in Pensacola Florida with a couple of the National Teams coaches. Who knew you could learn so much in such a short time. In the days that consisted of this camp I would learn what I needed to clean up, what I was doing well and what I can do to improve my performance. This would also be the first time I’d ever do a triathlon, although it was a super-sprint distance (very short) it was eye opening and really put things in perspective for me moving forward. I have incorporated the lessons learned and continue to try and make sure I hold true to good technique. This would also introduce me to some of the US Paratriathlon teams finest who also provided me with great bits of knowledge and very supportive comments to where I was and how I was doing. I would also meet a few other para-athletes that both were new and some that have been racing for a while. A great experience for sure and the time the Triathlon bug set in.

National Championships – Memorial Day 27May2013. This would be my first Triathlon, my taste of the addiction that is triathlon. Registration day the day before the race, tension building as I approach the convention center and see the sea of athletes in attendance. Nerves on edge, then I happen upon familiar faces. There were the athletes/friends I made in Pensacola, and then I felt a bit of relief. To be amongst familiar faces was so comforting and reassuring, para-athlete briefing complete and time to meet handlers. I already had a handler and fellow RWB’r Mike but he was unable to attend the handler brief so I picked up a second, Ami and both would be there for me on race day and both would become friends of mine. Then it would be RACE DAY!!! The morning starts early for Triathlon with wake-up at 0300 to give time to eat a small breakfast, double check bag and baggage and get to race site by 0500. Setting up transition, lay everything out, warm-up and stretch. Oh how the tension rises. I am a green athlete no experience so I’m in the Para-Open division and cannot compete in the Championship Wave. So I wait and watch as those athletes start their waves, my turn. Get in the water, no turning back now. By the way I have not swam 800 meters yet, this would be the first time to this distance. 

GO!!! As I begin the swim I realize wow, this is gonna be tough. By the second turn or 250-300 meters in it hits, arms and shoulders are screaming and I’m off track (again). Spotting was bad and I was all over the place costing time and energy, energy I couldn’t afford particularly in my weakest event. As I near swim exit I am exhausted, breathing is bad and upper body is screaming as I am pulled out and helped to wetsuit strip. I gather my whits, take deep breaths and move-out to my transition station. Change legs and get on the course, loop 1 feels good but there is confusion at the loop/finish intersection and I go the wrong way. Realizing what happened I shift gears (too much) and throw my chain, cursing and shaking my head I dismount and fix it. This I would find out later would cost me significantly (financially). Climb back on hit the second loop, I am feeling really good as I am catching and passing able bodied and fit looking athletes on the course. Dismount, transition and off on the run. Wow I’ve heard of jelly leg and felt it a bit at camp but this was humbling. That would subside by around the half-mile point but never completely go away. As I make get to the last half-quarter mile Mike is there and hands me the Stars and Stripes and I am now hit with adrenaline. And then I see it my first finish line, and open it up as they call my name and I cross. Time (1:46:02), a sense of accomplishment sets in, and I am greeted by supporters saying it – “you’re a triathlete now” and then it’s time for a beer (or 2) at the beer tent.

There would be 3 more events between that race and the first Mid-Atlantic Paratriathlon Regional championships. TriRock Philly where I would reunite with Ami from Nationals and improve my swim and run splits, the bike was a longer course so it’s hard to judge but improvements none the less. This was followed by the Aquaphor NYC Triathlon which would be my first Olympic (double sprint) distance race. This race went really well and I finished second in my division and although it was hard to compare the bike went really well but the run was humbling as the heat and hills of Central Park brought me back to reality. Then it would be the West Point Triathlon. This was an awesome experience, I was the worried as I knew the course was hilly but even with the hills I managed to improve my splits in all 3 disciplines. It may have had something to do with the fact I was back in my element amongst young Soldiers and soon to be Officers of the United States Army but there was just a great sense of calm and ready attitude I had that day. I would also meet a new handler Paul an RWB’r and police officer from Danbury, CT. We would work together again at the end of the season.

Mid-Atlantic Paratriathlon Regional Championship – Atlantic City, NJ

Here we go, it’s real now. The Mid-Atlantic championship is in my backyard and I am beginning to hold my own, I am fired up for this one. The course has all the makings of a fast race; saltwater (improved buoyancy) and short swim (450m), flat and straight bike course (out and back on the Atlantic City Expressway) and a scenic and flat boardwalk run. This was also the first race with my new crankset, the advised length from the coaching staff at CAF camp and they were right. Bike split saw a significant improvement, an improvement of nearly 20minutes and run split again improved by over a minute. I would finish first in my division and take the first Regional Championship for the Mid-Atlantic, but also my time of 1:09:50 would also put in 10th for my age group of 40 athletes.

Northeast Paratriathlon Regional Championships – Montauk, NY

Last race of my rookie season and I am fired up, dealing with some personal hurdles as I made a mistake and tried a new shoe design earlier in the week and had some calf pain through the week which cost me some training time. But, I was good for the race rubbed it down with some TriPainRelief which really loosened it up nicely. I also got to meet some new para-athletes I had not met before and there were a total of (3) Tom’s in the Para categories, each of us in different divisions. All set and it’s race time, we enter the water and wow it’s cold. And we’re off, oops I forgot to start my watch dang it. It is still dark an d my spotting is not going well and it’s getting in my head as I swim, I’m cursing myself as it goes but I round the last turn and get on it for the stretch in. The bike and run go better than it felt when it is all said and done as I again improved all three disciplines especially when reflecting against Austin. Swim improvement of nearly 3 minutes, Bike was 3k shorter but a 20 minute improvement subtract 6min45sec for the 3k is roughly 13 minute improvement over Austin on a course with greater elevation change and run improvement of roughly 4.5 minutes. Overall (Austin-1:46:02/Montauk-1:23:04). Also took the division for a second Regional Championship and bag of cookies 🙂

We’ve come a long way this year, to all of those who supported my efforts thanks you so very much from “good luck” posts on FB to ringing cowbells and shouting from the course to the Sherpas who made my transitions possible while motivating me through. Thank you all so very much for the great season of support and to my fellow athletes I cannot wait till we get to share the courses of Triathlon again next year, let’s grow this sport of Paratriathlon. Wether you’re disabled or not please help us grow this ambitious but rewarding sport, spread the word and if you can join in the fun… Everyday is anew so remember to “Improve Tomorrow what You’ve Done Today”…

 

 

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2 Comments
  1. It was an honor competing side by side with you this season, and wonderful meeting you last February- the day that got us both hooked on triathlon! you and I are going to be in AMAZING shape by Nationals! Cannot wait brother!!!! So proud of you this season!

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