I stood looking out at the water and thinking about the next sixty to seventy-five minutes. A lot can go wrong in that time, but all I could focus on was what was in my control. The Challenge Daytona 2020 would be my first and only race of 2020 due to the pandemic. I would be racing the sprint triathlon, which included an 800-meter swim, 12.4-mile bike, and a 3.1 mile run all at the Daytona International Speedway.
The water temperature was in the sixty’s, which meant my system would enter a state of shock when I started swimming. The coldest water I’ve raced in was Lake Tahoe at fifty-four degrees. I knew I could mentally handle the swim and I hoped my body would perform well too. I would exit the water with numb hands and feet, which will make getting to transition very hard, and getting my wetsuit off and shoes on with my ankle-foot-orthosis (AFO) even harder. I am really strong on the bike, but I would need to hold back a little, so I didn’t push myself into oxygen debt. Then, having held back on the bike, I would have a great run.
Looking back on the last 14 years of racing as a physically challenged athlete, I have come a long way from the accident in the military. I was standing between two Humvees, when one backed into the other crushing and trapping my body. I was given a grim prognosis on my injuries and my life. I fell into a depression and struggled for several years. I was diagnosed with a closed head injury and incomplete spinal cord injury, which left me partially paralyzed and with drop foot. At the bottom of my depression, I was 215 pounds and 31% body fat. The doctors had given up on me and I had given up on life.
I had to find who I was before the accident and who I had become. I had to accept my limitations, as they pertained to my physical and mental abilities prior to the accident, but I also had to find my new abilities. With the help of an AFO, the Allard BlueROCKER®, I was able to walk and run without any other assistive devices. My BlueROCKER® enabled me to move without my left forefoot dropping, causing me to trip, stumble, and sometimes fall. I finally started exercising again, using my BlueROCKER® for running and the ToeOFF® for lifting weights and cycling. Training and racing brought me out of my depression, and I set the bar high for what I wanted to accomplish. Over the years, I continually raise the bar as I hurdle over it time and time again.
I tried to race several times in 2020, but they were all canceled due to Covid-19. My first attempt in March, I flew to Florida and prepared for the race, only to have it canceled 24 hours before the start time. I waited with much anticipation all year for a possible race, but nothing came up. I had entered my base training in November, hoping for a race in early spring, when I found out about Challenge Daytona 2020 on December 6th. I immediately signed up and changed my training in preparation for the race.
I was worried about the race getting canceled, but also worried about the safety of racing due to Covid-19. The race organizers did an amazing job of communicating the requirements of the racers and what they were doing to ensure everyone’s safety. With all my injuries and disabilities, I worry about contracting Covid-19, but I followed all CDC safety measures and the safety measures put into place by the airlines, airports, hotels, rental car companies, and the race organizers. I believe following all of those enabled me to travel and race successfully without contracting Covid-19.
Racing brought me out of my depression and has given me numerous goals to strive for in my life. I took a little time off in 2019 to reassess what place racing and training had in my life. I found that training not only keeps me healthy and active, but that racing is part of my soul. I love standing at the edge of the water waiting for the start gun to fire and thanks to December’s Challenge Daytona 2020, I was able to do this once again for the first time all year.
Whatever my next event will be, I know all the long and hard hours of training are worth every second when my four-year-old daughter asks me for a bike, so she can race with me.