Andrew and I had woken up with the sunrise the morning of Saturday, July 2nd, just like every typical Saturday morning. This one was different, though. Instead of getting ready for the group ride, we were in Huntersville, North Carolina for the Paralympic Cycling trials. Three years – filled with countless hours on the bike, strength training off the bike, frugality, setbacks with forced time off the bike, missed family functions, pain management, moments of doubt, moments of clarity, goal chasing and a desire to succeed – and the moment of truth was finally here.
My start time was 8:55 a.m. The ideal start time not just because it meant I got to beat the heat, humidity and wind of the south, but because it was the same time as every saturday we jump into the group ride and my heart goes to the roof. It couldn’t be more perfect. And I was prepared; I had never been more prepared for a race in my life. I trained hard day in and day out, recovered harder, ate smart, practiced right-hand u-turns after almost every ride, went to the sauna to acclimate to the humidity, worked with the team sports psychologist to stay mentally focused, listened to my body’s needs and kept my attitude right. And yet, as the morning ticked by, my nerves increased. I wanted this, I wanted to be named to the team and represent my country in my first Paralympic Games.
I tried my best to combat the nerves, but it wasn’t until I was in the start house watching the clock get closer and closer to 8:55.
“Five, four, three, two, one” and I was off. All the nerves turned to pure focus, each pedal stroke powerful and with purpose, every thought on my heart rate, the distance left to the finish and keeping focus to here and now. “I wanted this” turned into “this is mine.” There was no panic when the uphills scrubbed my speed, the u-turn execution was flawless, and I teetered my heart rate on the edge of my max.
I crossed the line in 31:29.82, and completely spent.
About a half hour after I finished, when my endorphin high evaporated, the nerves came back. Had I gone fast enough? Could I have taken the turns better? Could I have pushed harder on the uphills? Could I have pushed my heart rate sooner? Could I have gone harder? After an attempt at cooling down, Andrew and I went back to the hotel so I could shower before heading back to the course to watch everyone else. I took a shower, sat on the bed and promptly started to break down. Was my time fast enough? Thankfully, as always, Andrew was there to crack some sense into me, telling me to save the tears for if they’re needed later. His lack of worry settled mine. It’s one of the many reasons I love him.
We went back to the course in time to watch Shawn and Mackenzie, the last of the women, race. At this point in the game, I was more than certain it was either them or I going to Rio. My mom did the math on the time they’d have to hit in order to rank higher than me, and I watched the clock. Their first two laps were fast and they would end up doing the fastest time trial they had ever done together, hitting 93.03%. I had hit 91.73%.
It was another moment Andrew and I got to share, as he walked up to tell me my percentage. I could finally breathe. He hugged me as I started crying happy tears this time. I was going to Rio!
It was bittersweet, knowing Shawn – who’s become one of my best friends – wasn’t getting the chance to go as well. And it’s taken awhile for it to really sink in, if at all, that I am going to Rio for my first Paralympic Games. I am honored, excited, and humbled to say the least.
I wish that I could bring everyone that has supported and encouraged me along the way with me. This wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t Andrew, my parents, my brother Jason, Andrew’s parents, my sponsors and friends who have helped in various ways. Knowing that Andrew gets to be there, though, means the world to me. To know, as I step out onto the velodrome for my first race achieving the dream we chased together, he’ll be in the stands channeling himself and everyone back at home in the volume of his cheering… well, I can’t even begin to put those feelings into words. The happy tears fill my eyes again.
We’re going to Rio!