Monday, December 30, 2013

The Greatest Sports Moment Ever

I am admittedly a sports fanatic. True, I tend to lean towards the sports geared towards my world—swim, bike, and run. But I can’t help but love a good sporting event. Who can ever forget during the 1999 World Cup Final when Brandi Chastain ripped off her shirt after scoring the winning goal against China? And even more what impact that had on women’s soccer and women’s athletics in general after that moment? Or how about when the very amateur United States hockey team defeated the heavily favorite Soviet Union to claim the gold in the 1980 Olympics? Sports have the ability to move us, inspire us, to change us, to take hold and make us realize that anything is possible. They give us hope, not just in sports but to what we can apply to everyday life. I grew up idolizing Jesse Owens, Wilma Rudolph, and Babe Didrikson. I was convinced that my parents named me after Jesse Owens. I would run to and from Condit Elementary, hurdling over bushes pretending I was Babe as a child getting ready for the Olympics. I was drawn to them not because of what they did in sports, but of the obstacles they overcame to excel. Sometimes I wonder if I was just a really weird kid. While everyone seemed to be in love with Corey Haim, I was researching my latest sports hero.
When I swim my mind wonders. Well, when I’m not killing myself in my main set where all I’m focused on is making the interval, my mind wonders. The other day I was thinking about what was the greatest sports moment I ever witnessed. I thought about all the Olympic swimming events…seeing Michael Phelps win despite his goggles filling up with water. Or in middle school when our 4 x 400 ended up coming from behind and winning the big grand finale City Meet. Or watching Macca win his Ironman World Championship against Andres Raelert. There are so many I can’t even begin to list them. And then I thought about how I would define what the greatest moment was. Was it the biggest in impact on triathlon? Or was it in sports or better yet society in general? My mind kept wondering back to this one moment, this one moment back in 2003. You see, this sports moment was not witnessed by many. In fact, I don’t think many saw it at all. But yet in all of my years of fanatic sports watching this one moment just keeps coming back to me. And every time I think of it--it moves me. My goggles fill up with tears and I just can’t get it out of my head…and I swim harder and banish any negative thoughts in my mind. It was the greatest sports moment I ever witnessed, and I might be one of a few people that even witnessed it.
In 2003 I was a First Lieutenant stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. The war in Iraq had just kicked off, and I knew it was just a matter of time before my unit would be called to reinforce. I wanted to make my triathlon count, because I didn’t know the next time it would…if ever. Back then there were no 70.3s. You either did Olympic Distance or Ironman. Having a heavy work schedule I chose the Olympic route. Back then the big races were Age Group Nationals, Age Group Worlds, and a few long standing races that had been around for years. One in particular was St. Anthony’s Triathlon in St. Petersburg, Florida. This race was and still is held in April, and at the time it was also a stop For the Elite World Cup race. What I am getting at is that this race was kind of a big deal at the time. It was an early tester of who is fit and who to look out for throughout the year. I did the race every year since 2001, and with deployment just around the corner I knew I wanted to nail it in 2003 because I didn’t know when I would be back. The race included an “Elite Amateur” wave. This meant that no matter your age, you could race in the first wave so that it was a true race for the top amateur. I thought we were going to be the first wave but that morning I realized that they would send off the disabled athletes first. I remember thinking something along the lines of, “I hope I don’t run over them in the swim,” and really that’s about as much thought that went into it. As I was doing my pre-race warm-up and rituals, I began to head down to the start line, a beach start in which we would run into the water. I saw a girl, around my age (24 at the time), also heading to the start. She was preparing to start right before me in the disabled wave. As she walked, her body almost seemed to resemble a “Z” shape. Her shoulders pointed one way, her hips another, and her legs buckled underneath her. She used no crutches or stabilizer and I remember thinking, “Oh, she must have cerebral palsy,” and again that was about it. Yes, I was pretty much focused on my race and my race alone.
My race took off and I had a great swim and came out of the water a few places back on the lead. Once on the bike I put the hammer down and took over the lead. This was quite exhilarating and equally scary. I was leading St. Anthony’s Triathlon, a race of over 3000 participants. I was winning, what was I doing, is this really happening…yaddy yaddy yaddy. I got to Transition 2 and my Dad yelled something and I think we were all in a mixture of shock and excitement. I took off running…and I was passed in the last few miles and ended up 2nd at this prestigious event. I was happy, but also disappointed because I realized the reason I didn’t win is because I didn’t believe that I could or should win. We went back to the hotel and I showered. I was able to retrieve my bike, break it down and pack it for the flight later that evening. I went back to the race site and visited with fellow competitors. I remember they had a good spread of food and we at lunch and just sat around waiting for the awards ceremony. I sat there, kind of feeling sorry for myself that the victory was just within my reach and I just gave it up. I went through “the pass” over and over in my head. Behind me volunteers began to strip down the race site and the bleachers for the thousands of spectators that come to watch. It was pretty much dead compared to the early hustle and bustle as awards were done and people were just sitting around.
Suddenly a movement caught my eye. At first I thought it was someone running across the course. Then I realized that it was actually someone still on the course, moving very slowly and what seemed to be a very disjointed running gait. And then it hit me—it was the girl I saw at the race start literally hours before, the girl from the first wave. Her knees buckled together and to the right side of her body, while her hips clearly pointed the other way. I remember thinking, “How can this girl even run?” it seemed so off center and painful. I don’t know why but she just drew me in. I stood up and rushed to the finish shoot, which was nearly all the way torn down at this point. I could see her coming towards the finish. Her body askew, but she was still moving, with a confidence on her face that looked like “yeah, I got this” even if it is slower than everyone else there. Something came over me and I just started cheering, and loudly, going crazy for this girl as she made her way to the finish. A few other people took notice, mainly because of my loud commotion, and stopped and clapped and cheered. Her face, there was something about her face…fierce determination, a spirit that I cannot capture in words. It was the face of someone unwilling to quit, of someone unwilling to take pity, of someone that believed in herself despite many people probably not believing in her. At that moment I witnessed the heart and courage of a lion. At that moment I witnessed the greatest sporting moment. Life has a way of throwing you curve balls. Sometimes I can be guilty of feeling sorry for myself. And then I think about Jesse Owens and Wilma Rudolph…or the girl at the St. Anthony’s triathlon in 2003. They didn’t make excuses for themselves and neither will I. I have an unrelenting will to make this life count. And while triathlon is such a big part of my life, it’s more than the actual competitions that mold me into who I want to be. Yes, it truly is the journey not the destination. Sports teach us to not make excuses, have faith and courage, and to never ever give up. And where that lands us who really cares, just as long as we believe in ourselves to make the first step.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ironman Arizona!!

A week has passed from Ironman Arizona and while I would like to say I've been very busy thus delaying my race report, the truth is I just haven't seemed to find the motivation to write about my experience. First off, I'm not disappointed in my race. I am so green to this distance and I learned so much, and I truly believe information is power. With that said, I am not remotely satisfied or content with my performance. I can do better and I will do better. I've been around this sport long enough to realize it takes time and patience and most of all consistency. Unfortunately I lacked all 3 of these disciplines this year. At the end of 2012 I developed severe knee pain, which ended up being a wicked case of IT Band syndrome. I began running very lightly at Team RWB camp in April, and rolled into Rev3 Knoxville concerned if I could complete a 10k. Once I was finally up and running healthy, it's been a race against the clock to get the training in necessary to be competitive at these races. By looking at my results this year, I fell a bit short sided in this regard. I guess this is why I'm not terribly disappointed with my result in Arizona, or Austin or Branson or Williamsburg for that matter. As my Dad says, "You pulled this season out of your ear." And I know better than anyone to be grateful just to be out there--even if it's a little longer than I'm used to or I would like :)
With that said I rolled into Arizona completely healthy and ready to race. In my mind I wanted to go faster than my Cedar Point time and hit the low 9s. I was quite naive in this regard. Let me explain...Cedar Point, dare I say, felt easy. I swam and rode by myself and proceeded to get off the bike and run my first marathon in a 3:08, and I felt amazing the whole day doing it. Wow, little did I know this is definitely not the norm! Also, it completely reinforces how important consistency is! While I didn't have any workouts that were just killer before Cedar Point, I had so much hay in the barn that even I didn't realize it...until that hay was gone and I spent the last 5 months trying to jam this hay back in!
Race morning went off without a hitch. I wasn't overly nervous, but more dreading the unknown. I hugged my pit crew goodbye and made my way to the start shoot, all before the sun was up. We jumped in the water and I ended up next to Amanda Stevens. I knew I'd have clean water next to me because she would drop me within 10 meters! And I thought since she is an Okie it would be good luck. The canon went off and we took off, I actually had an amazing start and could see three girls to my left swimming my speed. I merged with them and swam on their feet, and realized that the pace was actually a bit hard. I lost them for a bit but kept focused on my pace and a few minute later one came back to me. The problem was that we both had been popped off and completely spent. At the turn around I realized we were pulling a long train of girls. At this point I let off the gas and forced some others to come to the front. Of course this picked up the pace and a few more gals pushed to the front. In the end this can only help everyone--if we share the load. Sadly, I don't think the other 8+ girls share the same sentiments as me! Oh well, such is life.
I had a great transition and came out around 7th. Then something strange happen. You see, I consider myself a bike/run specialist. Usually once out of the water I don't "drop" down. Hmmm, not true here. While my Garmin somehow stopped working, I felt in control the first loop and tried to just go on perceived exertion. I passed a few girls and a few passed me. Then on the second loop on the "climb" to the turn around, I began to get passed by what felt like handfuls of pro women (including several I passed the first loop), and unfortunately stuck to the wheels of the faster age group men. I was so frustrated! I would back off and stay out of the zone, but then forced to pass them all back in a huge burst of power. Looking back, this was my pitfall. These spikes in my effort just weren't smart. They zapped my energy and zapped my legs. I finally just lost them all, probably because I wasn't glued to their wheel, and I just saw the distance grow each turn around.
I was absolutely thrilled to get off my bike. I knew I biked low 5hours. I also knew I was way down in place despite a solid ride. I started running and could see the damage from the bike was not good. I was looking at some insurmountable deficits. To top it off, while at Cedar Point I had to really hold back at 7min miles the first half of the marathon, in Arizona I struggled from mile 1 just to hold 8 minutes. I really thought there was absolutely no way I would finish. The last time I felt this terrible running was my very first half ironman when the twins were 18 months and my longest run was 75 min pushing a baby jogger!
So, this is where I was. Not competitive, dishearten, and feeling like my legs were glued to the sideway. I felt like I was disappointing my coach, my family, my kids. Then I thought what would be more disappointing...finishing in a mediocre place or not finishing at all because essentially my ego is bruised. At that point I had a little talk with myself and it went something like this, “Get over yourself. Put one foot in front of the other, smile and join with the other thousand participants in what is the spirit of Ironman.” It's not always about winning or a best time or finishing in the money. Sometimes it's the satisfaction of completing something you thought was impossible. That's how my marathon went. Get to the finish line and exalt in that. Each mile hurt. I got to the finish and some poor guy was leaning over sideways and falling over himself. The crowd was going crazy because for a few moments it looked like he would be in jeopardy of finishing. And I had the best seat in the house witnessing this feat of will. I passed him with about 10 meters to go, pausing for a second to see if he needed help. He was back on his feet, smiling realizing he was going to make it. I patted him on the back and went on through, and my immediate thoughts were not "Oh my goodness I did it!!" but rather "Oh no!! I hoped when I patted him I didn't knock him down!!" I looked back and he made it, and finally I allowed the emotions to settle that I had made-in what was the hardest physical event I ever endeavored in my 35 years. This has been a long and difficult year. While I think I have a pretty good amount of humility and humbleness, apparently I need some more! That’s fine with me because I truly believe in the end it makes you a better athlete and most of all a better person. I know my readers and friends probably get tired of me quoting this, but it is so fitting for this year. Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. Winston Churchill And lastly it’s all about perspective… A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. Winston Churchill
I have a long list of sponsors, family, and friends to thank. In the spirit of Thanksgiving I have to warn you, this will be long… I want to especially thank my parents and my coach, Kevin Purcell. They continue to mentor me through good and bad times, giving me far more than just sports. I am beyond lucky to have the support of the Tulsa community. This year would not be possible without Paula Marshall and Bama Companies. She is an amazing woman and has kept my dream of racing professionally alive. Also PowerPlay, also here in Tulsa, for support on and off the course. Kathy Hoover at Runner’s World Tulsa, I can’t thank you enough for getting and keeping me in the right shoes. Jim Richardson, my massage guru, for keeping my legs happy. Ryan Gabriel, my mechanic and friend, has spent countless hours on my bike, which is pretty disgusting most of the time! Robert Peace, Chuck Zoellner and Bill Clark spent their precious time giving me their medical wisdom to get me up and running again. Michelle Johnson, the trainer that kicks my butt weekly and has me cursing her in pain. First Endurance, Rudy Project, Race Quest Travel and Louis Garneau have the best products out there, thank you! Charlie and Rev3 for helping me get to Rev3 races this year. You guys are like family! Team RWB—I was proud to race in their kit. I can’t believe how this organization has grown! You’ve given me something bigger than myself to race for! Thank you! My training partners are more than that, I’m lucky to call them friends, especially Suzie and Kim. George V. at Jenks Aquatics continues to crack the whip on my swim. Denise, thank you for taking the trip to Arizona and helping with sherpa duties. My friends who have absolutely nothing to do with triathlon-thank you for giving me balance and continuing to help me out with the kids when I’m off to race! And despite no longer being married, I could not do this without Lucas. We both have difficult schedules and it wouldn’t be possible to train without his help and support. My family for always making me feel loved and supported. To the kiddos, Rowan, Gwyn and Jaxon, for always keeping me grounded and keeping it real. Lastly…to Ray for giving me a new outlook on life, dealing with me when I’m a complete pain stressing about training and racing and being my confidant about ALL things—you are amazing!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

What A Pro Looks Like

When I first turned professional in triathlon in 2006, I had been accepted to the National Resident Team at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. I was also still in the Army, but as a new member of a small unit called the World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), which was for soldiers who had Olympic potential. Prior to my admittance in these programs, I was a “full time” soldier stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. I held positions as Platoon Leader, Company Executive Officer, and Battalion Assistant S-3 (Operations). This included a 14 month deployment to Baghdad, Iraq from Jan 2004 to Feb 2005. From the time I graduated West Point in 2000, to when I actually turned pro; I had qualified for my pro card every year in-between. But I always held back from taking the leap because in my mind that wasn’t what a pro looked like—having a real job living in the middle of nowhere, Texas. My Army time didn’t afford a lot extra time to train, and most of my jobs required me to be on my feet long hours, often in the heat. But when you get right down to it, all of these reasons for not going pro are excuses. The truth is the real reason I never took the plunge was I was afraid to. Professional triathletes weren’t Army Officers working long hours at Fort Hood, Texas. They lived in Colorado Springs or Boulder or San Diego and had the best facilities at their fingertips and oodles of time at their disposal. How was I going to compete with that?
So it seemed like destiny when I was finally in Colorado Springs. This was the life as a pro triathlete I had always dreamed about. There were very little distractions there. Food was prepared every meal at the training center cafeteria. I was surrounded by Olympians, often in a zombie-like state from the intense training at 6000 feet, and the best facilities in the world. While I was still in the Army, my official job for the Army was to train. It was surreal. And also…mundane.
Towards the end of 2006 I discovered I was pregnant, with twins. Needless to say this was a shocker. With a lot of thought we decided to exit the Army and raise the twins as civilians. This also meant giving up our spots at the Training Center and WCAP. I wasn’t sure if I would race professionally again. My number one priority was raising the twins, but again in the back of my mind I thought pro triathletes weren’t moms, and certainly not to twins. Also, we found out we were moving to Tulsa, OK. What pro lives and trains in Tulsa? Again, it went against everything I thought a pro should look like. How would I ever make it? How could I compete since I know what the “real pros” do? Further, it didn’t help that I definitely had some naysayers when I learned about pregnancy. The hard truth is these programs let me go when I realized I was pregnant. And I took this to heart. I could never be any good because they didn’t believe in me enough to keep me around. It was a huge blow to my confidence and I struggled with it for years. Luckily I also had my supporters, my biggest being my family. And sometimes this came in the form of tough love. I remembered back when I was in Iraq and complaining about how terrible it was, and how if I made it back I’d be too out of shape to ever be a pro, my brother Jeremy wrote me something that slapped me in the face and I have carried ever since. He said, “Jessica, it’s too early to throw a pity party.” He was right. And he still is. Yes, I don’t have 6000 feet of altitude, or the world’s best facilities, or someone cooking me every meal, or the latest USA gear. But you know what I do have? Hard work, resilience, humility, tenacity and good old fashioned hard headedness. Yes, in 2007 I was 30lbs heavier, had little sleep and was pretty much in the worst shape I had ever been in in my life. But I had the biggest tool any athlete has in their arsenal of weapons, belief in myself. No pity party here!
This past week I just returned from Kona to watch the Ironman World Champs. I have come so far since 2007. I would have been intimidated by the other pro women, or more so by their situation versus mine. Perhaps with my age comes a little (oh so little) wisdom. It doesn’t matter where you are, it matters who you are. That’s what a pro looks like. The ability to take a good or bad situation and to grow. Today I believe I have the best training partners in the world…for me. And I believe I have the best roads to ride on…for me. I probably measure success completely differently than most pros. I have been injured this year, and I returned to a 4th place finish in a tough field last month in Rev3 (half iron distance) Branson. I’ve won on this course. And I believe I can again one day. But the best part of that trip was having my son, who is struggling with reading, make a huge breakthrough in his progression. My life as a pro does look completely different than what I thought it would. But what I have found is this is what works…for me! At whatever level you are in triathlon, or any sport for that matter, don’t put yourself in a box. Seek other opportunities when it feels like doors have been shut in your face. The fact is with the right attitude and a little faith, you’ll land right where you are supposed to be.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Jones, You Look Like Butt.

In an effort to keep this blog more interesting and to keep a record of some of my past experiences, I've decided to share some of my stories. After all, it’s not all swim, bike, run in life, right? Growing up my family, mainly my mother, coined me "Sensational Jessica." However, I've come to realize some of this stuff you just can't make up and need little embellishment. This is the good, the bad, and the often ugly of Jessica. I don't know why, but this story came to mind this morning.... "Jones, you look like butt." 1996, first semester plebe year. I made it through Beast Barracks, the West Point equivalent of basic training. Back then (wow, that makes me feel old, I'm an "old grad" reminiscing about how tough the Corps used to be) the women still cut their hair to two inches above the collar. We were not allowed to use any sort of hair ties or clips, nor could we "make an adjustment" without the permission of an upperclassman. In other words, if your hair got in your face, which it inevitably did, you couldn't just use your hand to brush it behind your ear. We also still wore our socks up to our knees, and of course our shirts tucked in tightly, also called a dress off, into our shorts or pants. West Point is located about an hour from New York City and none of the barracks had air conditioning. As you can imagine, it got pretty warm, especially with the bodies constantly hustling and bustling about. Later as an upperclassman I would realize just how badly plebes smelt. They are constantly sweaty, and I swear the sweat coupled with their anxiety and general unhappiness produced the worst musk known to man. Any cadet knows what I'm talking about--probably it’s at its worst after the march back from Lake Frederick. However, that day is truly deserving of its own post. Back to the story at I'm 18 years old. I'm of similar height and weight as I am now, despite most claiming how much weight you would lose during Beast. I'd been assigned to company I-1, The Fighting Irish, with the motto, "Get Lucky!!!" During beast I had lived on the 5th floor of Eisenhower Barracks. There are 6 floors total, and I pitied the new cadets that lived on the top floor. It was bad enough constantly racing up & down 5 flights, not only because of the physical demand, but also because of the chances of encountering more upperclassmen. The faster you could get to your room and out of the critical eye of these disapproving upperclassmen the better. Imagine my surprise when I was assigned to my new academic company that I would move up to the 6th floor for the next two years. Great. How about them odds? I, along with every plebe or cadet for that matter, had a rigorous academic schedule. One of the many things that make West Point tough is that there is just not enough time in the day. Time management is essential. This semester I had classes most of the morning, formation and lunch with the rest of the Corps, a class after lunch. I would rush back from my last class, change into my cross country uniform, and rush to Arvin Gym for practice. Being late was simply not an option. There was no, "Sorry, I was a little behind." There is strict accountability and tardiness was met with demerits, walking hours on the area, and enough of these could mean expulsion. Bottom-line, you just don't show up late. So I've been trying to set the stage for this particular day. The month was August and it was still quite warm. I finished my last class of the day and I was racing back to my room to change for practice. Our first football game of the year was against Miami of Ohio. We would greet upperclassmen not in our company with, "Beat Miami of Ohio, Sir!!" or "Beast Miami of Ohio, Ma'am!!" Yeah, trying saying that a few times! I raced up the 6 flight of stairs. I'm sweaty and frazzled, my hair is in my face, and I have to pee like a race horse. I dropped my books in my room and took off pinging down the hallway (pinging is how plebes walk, imagine a race walker but with elbows locked out--pretty much like an idiot) to the "latrine." Ahhh yes, on the toilet now, upperclass can't get me here. I use this opportunity to push my hair behind my ears and wipe the sweat from my brow. I finish my business and go to tuck my shirt back in, making sure I dress it off correctly--which means a straight line with my buttons and belt, flat in the front and folded back. Here's the thing about West Point--you adapt quickly. You learn to move quickly and think on your feet while in constant chaos. It seems so ridiculous at the time, but you learn attention to detail and how to rise above stress. And if you don't learn to do this, along with many other rigors, then you don't make it. It's that simple. I think quickly if I have done everything to make it the 50 feet back to my room without being hazed. I have. I take off down the hallway and see one upperclassman. Cadet Rodriguez. Ugh. He's a cow, or a junior, and probably the meanest in the company. And I really get the feeling he doesn't like me much. But no worries, I'm squared away. I'll greet him with and a loud and thunderous, "Go Fighting Irish!!" and we will both go about our merry ways. I do just that and make it 4 steps past him just short of my room when I hear, "Cadet Jones, halt!!!" Crap. Crap!!! What did I do? I keep going over in my head and I know I'm squared away. I quickly about face, and he's walking towards me with a look of general disgust on his face. Maybe he's going to quiz me on knowledge. Boy I hope he doesn't ask me “The Days”...maybe it will be to recite the newspaper. Or it could be tomorrow’s lunch. Plebes must know the next three meals on board at all times. Just go with pizza pockets and congo bar, Jess. Or perhaps he will ask Schofield's Definition of Discipline. Oh, I hope it's that. I'm actually good at that one. He gets closer, his lipped curled up as if my general presence was offensive. "Jones, what is that in your pocket." My mind starts racing. We only have back pockets. I wasn't sure if I sat on something, rendering my uniform anything less than impeccable, thus unacceptable. I stuck to one of my four responses, "Sir, I do not understand." Rodriquez moves closer, now we are face to face, probably 6 inches separating his nose from mine while I stand at attention. "No really, Jones. What the hell is in your pocket?!" So I tell him the truth. "Sir, I do not know." Rodriguez is officially annoyed, "So use your hand and feel!!!" Keep in mind, he has to give me permission to move out of attention. I reach back and realize it's a pen. As I pinged (or is it pung?) from the bathroom it must have shimmied out of my pocket and about a half inch of the white top peeked out, of course at the precise moment I would encounter the meanest upperclassman in my company. "Sir, it is a pen." "Well, Jones, then fix it!!!" "Yes, sir." He moves in closer, head cocked and lip snarled even further. He raises his eyebrow and he looks even more disgusted with me. He's about an inch from my face and I'm bracing myself for him to lay into me. He opens his mouth and I'm surprised by flat and calm tone, as if he's letting me in on a secret that the entire Corps knows and he’s annoyed that he has to take the 3 seconds of his precious to let me in on the punch line. "Jones, you look like butt. Now get out of here." That's it? He's not going to yell at me for awhile? Or rip me a new one? Or ask how I even got into this place? Or how I’ll never make it? Or that I better get my “sh!t” together? Or that’ll he be waiting for me after practice so get ready? "Yes, sir!" I quickly acknowledge him. I about face and move out as fast as I can to my room. I get inside and can't help but smile. My hair is everywhere. I'm pimply. I'm sweaty. Yep, I look like butt. That would have hurt my feelings a few months ago. Now I'll go on to tell my teammates and we will laugh about it all afternoon. I still look in the mirror in the morning and when I look rough, like this morning and smile. "Jones, you look like butt." Thank you, Cadet Rodriquez.