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Amazing Things

Every Thanksgiving I take time to reflect. Partially because it’s the day I was forever changed by a paralyzing car accident, but also because it’s the day our nation takes to remind us to be thankful for all that we have. Let it be noted that the history this holiday was built upon is deeply ignorant, and on top of that, the concept of Black Friday is pretty perverse… but I won’t go into those.

Instead, today I am acknowledging this as the first year that I am ok.

Before 2014, if anyone asked me if I wanted to walk again, my instant answer would have been, “yes”.
Not just a quiet “yes”, but a “yes” backed by my heart and soul. A “yes” I would sell my left kidney for. A “yes” that I would sacrifice years in therapy for if the prospect of a cure was available.

But I recently realized that now I’m not so sure.

So many amazing things have come out of being in a wheelchair.
So many amazing things have come out of not being able to walk.
Before this year, the ‘amazing things’ did not add up to be greater than the amazing freedom that being able-bodied brings.
But then this year happened-

 

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The Hell Hill

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So the day after the Cedartown 5k, my plan was to sleep in. But rooming with Sus (my teammate and close friend) literally inspires you to be a better person so I got up early, chowed down on some Special K, and hopped in my racing chair for what was to be our last long run in Georgia. There weren’t many people in our group that morning, but it kind of made the run feel more special. Everyone who was there that day was there because they truly love the sport, not because it was mandatory.

I rolled out to the front of the hotel and asked Coach how many miles he thought I should go. “Whatever you want. Today’s practice is just for fun, go however far you want to go.” My immediate thought was back to my warm, cozy, hotel bed was about as far as I wanted to go, but I should have known better than to ask.

Coach’s philosophy is something I’ve been trying to decipher for two years now. It’s something that makes him very unique as a coach, but extremely effective, in my opinion. His methods teach you to develop a sturdy work ethic and also listen to your body at the same time. He’ll help you with as much as you need when it comes to workouts, technique, and form, but when it gets down to the nitty gritty, it’s really up to you to push yourself towards your goals. No one else can do that for you.

So with all of that in mind I settled on doing 8 miles. Not too long, not too short; I did the same course two days earlier and was fairly confident I wouldn’t get lost. Plus I figured I could get it done and have some iced coffee all before 10’oclock, which sounded like a pretty productive morning to me.

The start of this beautiful Georgia route, aptly named “the river run”, began with a long descent down a decent size hill. It had multiple flat sections in between slopes, but it was over a half mile long- enough time to hit a solid 25mph without having to put much effort into it.

Since I’m one of the slower folks on my team, I always feel on top of the world when I’m able to stay with the pack. I hung in there for about a mile and then I watched them take off at the bottom of our first climb. Let’s just say hills aren’t really my thing- but I’m working on it.

We had two bikers with us that day who knew the area well. One went forward with the pack and one hung behind with me. I immediately felt guilty and wanted to encourage him to go ahead with the others. My pace is just fine for me, but I imagine it must feel monotonously slow on a bike. But I did actually feel safer having him there, especially since multiple teammates had had some run-ins with some pretty fierce dogs in the past few days. I kept imagining that around every corner was hound dog ready to attack anyone who encroaches on his property, and… I suddenly felt no desire to be alone.

It was a hot July day, but the first three miles flew by. The land was gorgeous. I found myself wishing I had brought my GoPro camera along for the ride, but I think part of what makes some runs so magical is the stark contrast between the pain you feel while running combined with the beauty and serenity of your surroundings. Stopping to take a picture would make the whole occurrence less personal and in my mind less meaningful. Some things are truly best kept in just a simple memory.

At mile four we arrived at the turn around point. Fred, the man who was biking with me, had been joking for some time about me opting to do eight miles instead of twelve (like everyone else) because I was doing my best to avoid something I cannot name anything else but the Hell Hill. For the eight mile course you simply stay left at the fork in the road, and you escape the hill’s wrath entirely. But for the twelve mile course, you climb that beast of hill and whatever comes after it- I had never made it to the top to find out.

I wanted to prove to Fred (who was really only kidding) that I indeed was not a wuss, but just the thought of trekking up that monster made my triceps throb. Right before the fork the thought popped into my head that if I did decide, in fact, to climb that hill, then that meant I got to fly down it.

I live for racing down hills. The adrenaline rush is like nothing you’ve ever felt before. You’re proud of yourself for making it to the top, and then you are instantly rewarded with the thrill of rushing down the other side, dodging potholes and roaming squirrels. The whole time knowing that if one little rock happens to get in your way, or if you turn your steering just a millimeter too far, then you could be tumbling head over heels all the way to the bottom. Thankfully, of course, that’s never happened to me- but the thought that it very possibly could is extremely exhilarating.

We got to the fork and I decided to go right. It was either going to be me or this hill- only one of us could come out on top. Fred looked at me with confusion, but realized what I decided to do and immediately started talking in an effort to keep my mind off of the task at hand.

I climbed for what felt like hours. After about seven or eight minutes of a grueling 5mph pace he turned to me and said “Okay, you made it through the easy part.”

I wanted desperately to turn around. The section I climbed was easily long enough to hit an exciting speed, but I knew I would feel crummy all day if I gave up now.

I kept climbing and climbing. I was going so slow I was surprised he didn’t get off his bike and just walk next to me. Every muscle in my upper body was on fire and there was nothing I could do but keep going. Fred started explaining the percentage grade of the hill and how it was just going to keep getting steeper.

I was so tempted to just lift my front wheel and in one swift move of the torso turn around and start heading down, but I had already gotten so far; I owed it to myself to finish.

Fred said the peak of the hill was just up at a white mailbox ahead, and never had I been so excited to see a mailbox in my life. When I finally reached the yard with the box, I had the same feeling overwhelm me as when I hit the finish line after completing a marathon.

All the sudden I felt a new energy ignite in me. Now I get to go down! Now I get to explore new uncharted territory! I slowly started building speed, just extremely grateful that I no longer felt like a marshmallow roasting over a campfire, but something was not right. The fastest I was going was about 15mph. I was NOT about to let 15mph be the fruits of my labor, I hit 26mph going down Heartbreak Hill months ago in Boston, and this hill was way way worse. I realized the backside of this hill was much more drawn out and a lot less steep than the side I just climbed.

The first thing that I thought was that it was all for nothing, I had climbed that hill for nothing. I wasn’t going very fast, I now had to do an extra 4 miles compared my planned route, and I wouldn’t even be given the simple joy of speeding downhill. I was crushed. I didn’t even feel proud for getting up the hill, I just felt stupid for not taking that left and turning around where I was supposed to.

While I was busy wallowing in self-pity, I failed to notice that I was gaining speed. I felt the wind pushing hard against my face, but all I saw was another large hill looming in the distance and I filled with dread. But all the sudden I was climbing up that hill barely using any force. I looked down at my Garmin and saw I was going 25mph. Yes! I was finally going fast! I reached the peak of that hill and when I got to the top- the bottom looked like it was directly under me, a seemingly 90 degree drop.

I closed my eyes- just for a split second- and felt joy and relief rush through my veins. I glanced down and saw I was hitting 30.7mph. I felt limitless.

The rest of the run went swimmingly. I caught up with the rest of my team who stopped for a second for a quick hill climbing contest. It was very comforting to know that they were struggling with the hills too. As horrible as that sounds it really does make a difference knowing that your team is right there with you, experiencing everything you are, just a few steps ahead.

We made it back to the hotel not long after that, and I gulped down probably the best tasting blue PowerAde in existence.

I think the whole point of this story full of ups and downs (that was a hill pun) was to say conquering that hill and not getting that instant gratification is kind of a metaphor for things that happen in life. Seemingly frequent in my life nowadays.

Many times there are tasks that seem unconquerable. You have to build up enough courage to even attempt them. And sometimes when you think you finally reached your goal, the happiness doesn’t come.

Ever since kindergarten I’ve been taught I must set goals in life to succeed. After my training for my first Boston marathon, I came to the realization that setting a goal is great, but it’s more important to be present and soak in each moment, because those are what really count. Sometimes the competitive edge in me forgets that so occurrences like the Hell Hill are perfect reminders that I need to relax a bit and trust that happiness and success will come. And they always do.

 

 

Momma Lovin’

 

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Momma Lovin’

Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week, and my mom wrote this post about what it means to be a good teacher. She talks about developing a love for reading and learning while she was pregnant with me in order to give me (and later on my brother) the absolute best of out life. I’ve had so many amazing teachers from grade school to college, but she is by far the best one. Just a few of the important lessons I’ve learned from my mom are…

  1. Never stop dreaming.

Upon attending college I’ve started to learn about the emphasized importance of financial stability and securing a career. I’ve noticed that many people stick to the straight and narrow- pursuing jobs that seem reasonably stable and not far out of reach. Not only did my mom put herself through school with two kids to get her teaching degree, she also had the courage to quit and pursue her other dream-becoming an author. From the time I was little she and my dad have both told me I can become anything I want be, and thanks to that, here I am in college chasing my dreams of one day becoming a Paralympic athlete.

  1. Chocolate fixes everything.

It can be a banana split from Dairy Queen, or mint chocolate-chip ice cream from Breyers, but whatever it is, it makes the absolute worst heartaches go away.

  1. And last but not least; always give.

My mom has always been the kindest person I’ve ever known. Whenever we go to a big city, she purposefully grabs a handful of cash to hand out to the homeless and anyone in need. My favorite memory of her generosity was during one of the many college tours we went on my junior year of high school. We were completely lost somewhere in Gainesville trying to find the University of Florida’s main campus. We pulled over and asked a young man for directions. He told us exactly how to get where we needed to go, and then my mom proceeded to offer him a ride to the place he was heading. I was sitting in the front seat freaking out. Why did she just ask a stranger to get into the car with us?! Who was this guy?! What if he has a gun?! So many awful scenarios were running through my head of what could happen to us. Of course everything turned out fine, but after he left I turned to my mom and yelled at her welcoming this completely random person into our car. At the time I thought it was crazy, what about our safety? She laughed at my anxiety and told me she knew that he too just needed some help. Then she smirked and added, “Besides, he was so scrawny, I could have taken him down any day!” I was mesmerized by not only her bravery but also her big-heart. She has taught me to have a bullet proof sense of optimism and how see the good in everyone, no matter the circumstance.

Whether it’s raising stray kittens or cooking meals for a friend in need- my mom continuously gives more than any other person I’ve ever met. I recently won $500 for getting tenth place in the Boston Marathon (Woohoo, thanks Coach!), but in honor of Mother’s Day and my mom’s birthday I’m going to donate it all to these two projects (“Special Kids Expression Through Art” and “Ball Chairs for Bouncy Minds!“) at Donorschoose.org. If you haven’t ever used the site I highly recommend it! The two classrooms I picked to donate to have children with special needs in them, and going through public school with a special need myself, I know how much the equipment I helped fund will mean to these teachers and students.

Thanks so much to all the incredible women out there this Mother’s Day, so many of you have helped shaped my life into the incredible, joyful adventure it is today. But thanks most of all to my own mom. I love you so much and can’t thank you enough for all of the opportunities you have given me by being such an incredible teacher. I can’t wait to see you in nine days!!

 

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