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The Hell Hill

cedartown

 

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.

 

 

Do I Inspire You?

Do I Inspire You?

post marathon

Inspiration. Thrown around loosely, this term can not only be offensive but hurtful in ways unknown to most strangers. Before I go into this mini rant (quite a topic for my first post!), I would like to include that the majority of people who use this term genuinely mean it out of the kindness in their hearts. But what they don’t realize is that their naivety to the connotations of that specific word sometimes does more bad than good. An example that immediately comes to mind happened only a few weeks ago when my team and I were in Peoria for a marathon. One of my awesome teammates, Josh (you can find his blog here…http://joshgeorgeracing.com/blog/), was being recognized by a great group of people who run to raise money so a group of kids with disabilities can attend therapy. Everyone at this event was extremely friendly, but when one young woman stood at the podium and said these words, my heart dropped.

“I just want to say that these kids are my inspiration, and I’m running this race for them, because they’ll never be able to.”

teambelieve

Hold up.

This is probably not something you should say to a room full of athletes with disabilities…

I felt a very strong urge to inform this woman that just because someone has a disability, doesn’t  mean shit.  Was she seriously going to victimize these children right in front of us? Not too long ago those kids were us, and if someone told me when I was little that they were going to run a race because I couldn’t, where would I be today? Probably not completing marathons and training with world class athletes, that’s for sure.
I was furious! I wanted to grab this woman by the shoulders and shake this awful idea out of her.  Of course, I kept my mouth shut, but it really got me thinking. How can I change the stigma that is placed on so many people with disabilities? I mean it’s practically engraved in the word itself that we are not good enough, not sufficient. “Dis” is a Latin root meaning “apart”, so literally it translates to “apart from the abled”. This is something I now realize I’ve been trying to deconstruct ever since my accident ten years ago.  Everybody wants to fit in, everybody wants to be loved, so why does society make it so difficult to accomplish these things just because you’re different, because you’re “apart” from the rest.

What I believe to be one of the most effective efforts to slowly adjust the public’s eye of those with disabilities is wheelchair athletics or adaptive sports in general.  Through sports I was able to change my identity from, “that one chick in the wheelchair” to, “that one chick in the wheelchair that runs marathons!” which sounds a hell of a lot better to me. Does the wheelchair go away? No, physically it is a big part of me and kind of essential to my mobility. But mentally, the wheelchair is NO part of me, and I wish that’s how the world would see it too.

Whenever someone comes up and tells me I’m an inspiration, a part of me is sometimes irked because are you, like that young woman, completely categorizing and labeling me initially as someone who is disabled and therefore not as good… Then “inspired” because I broke this stereotype and accomplished something you thought I couldn’t?  Or are you just impressed by my dedication and fortitude NOT as someone in a wheelchair, but as a human being? Inspiration is a tricky thing my friend.

I would like to hope that most people see me for my own achievements and not for my disability, but when you hear comments at least once a week like, “Wow! It’s great to see you out!” at places like the park or movie theater… it can really bog you down. My latest response is now to just reply “It’s great to see you out too, sir!”, and give ‘em a big ole grin. Maybe that will get them thinking. Last week I was literally hugged at the grocery store. I was in the frozen food aisle at my favorite health store, just minding my own business looking for my favorite Ezekiel bread, when this lady just freakin’ hugged me out of nowhere and said thank you for inspiring her.
I. Was. Looking. For. Bread.

This is not to say that it is bad to find people in wheelchairs or people with any type of disability inspiring, this is just me saying I really hope you’re inspired by what they can do, rather than how they look, or what they have “overcome”. Despite my disability, I wake up every morning just like you, ready to face the day (well except for a few extra cups of coffee than is probably recommended). I genuinely have a positive outlook on life, and even though I have no idea what the future holds, I’m not going to sit inside all day and wait for something to happen. I do, in fact, have a life outside not being able to walk. I have hopes and dreams and goals just like everybody else out there, and THAT is what I want to define me, not a piece of metal with some upholstery and wheels.

I really hope that this post doesn’t discourage anyone from seeing somebody as an inspiration (that’s not what I’m trying to do at all!!), but just maybe opens their eyes to a new perspective. A perspective of someone a little different from themselves, but essentially equal. Equal in heart, equal in strength, and equal in ability, because I am and always will be a firm believer of anything is possible.

beach chair