Anjali's Blog

If you build it, they will come.

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“If you build it, they will come” is a quote from one of my favorite movies of all time, Field of Dreams. This statement will make sense by the time you get to the end of my blog today. Before I get to that story, however, I will begin with the highlights from the training session from this morning.

This morning, still sans equipment—the update on that is that the items have not actually arrived in Ghana, they were supposed to by 2PM today, but then we still have to wait on customs. Nothing is ever easy in a developing nation; the processes are difficult to understand, to follow, and even when you pay people extra, sometimes, you are just stuck. However, it was a fantastic training camp day!!

We have decided to break into groups, those with racing experience (and equipment, at this point) and those without racing experience and who have everyday chairs. Not all of the participants have wheelchairs to use, so we have to be creative and have some people borrow wheelchairs from those who are in racing chairs, and quite honestly, be flexible. Jean, Jenn and Marissa are handling the newbies, and I am working with the more experienced racers. The stories I heard from Jean and Marissa involved athletes lighting up for the first time when they tasted that freedom and sense of speed. They also reported one athlete who was quite hesitant to try the handcycle and let the boys go ahead of her and really needed that extra push to get going, and now, we can’t get her out of it to give others a turn!! The newbies are so impressionable, so eager to learn. There is something truly amazing and rewarding about igniting a fire within someone, and witnessing that moment when they realize, “hey, I can be somebody.” Or “hey, I can do this.”

My group is hungry for a hard core workout. They know my experience with wheelchair racing and Jean’s and are dreaming of Paralympic gold. I have a mix of both men and women, some of whom I had trained with before at Illinois, some who are new faces. They are the epitome of a coaches favorite kind of athlete—they are constantly asking for more. I ask, how are you feeling, do you think you can do one more 800m repeat? The response, “how about 2 more!”. I get thanked nearly every lap for the training and for working hard alongside them. Coaching has always been fun for me, but there is something different about this group, you can sense the drive and determination they each have, and it’s simply radiating.

The other incredible piece to this training camp is that the national stadium, where we are training, El-Wak, has several futbol (soccer) teams who use the facility to train as well as military personel who are there training and practicing formations on the infield. As you can imagine, particularly with Ghana’s fabulous performance at World Cup, Ghanians are passionate about sport. But, for these citizens to also witness us being there, the local Ghanaian athletes with disabilities training hard, it is a spectacle to witness. People gather to watch, ask questions, observe, and to just keep on training/doing their own thing while we are there too. Literally, we are here changing perceptions, changing the world, every moment. It is amazing to be a part of something bigger than you.

This leads into the title of this blog, “if you build it, they will come”. After our training session this morning, we met up with Alan and Patsy from Joni & Friends who had told us about this All African Disability Center as well as some undeveloped land they had in Tema and wanted some ideas from us on how to develop it keeping in mind athletes with disabilities. In some of the meetings up to this point, this Center had been mentioned, talked about, and the idea has been presented to make this center be the Paralympic Training Center. I had seen some pictures throughout the building process of this Center, from Jean, and knew that it was pretty neat that it would be the first building dedicated for people with disabilities in Ghana, but had no idea what was going to happen when we drove out there.

We took a ride out to Tema, got to see some of the countryside outside of the city and pulled off the paved road onto this windy beaten down dirt road. After a bumpy ride, we turn the corner, and as we pulled up the driveway and saw the most gorgeous, architecturally beautiful, elegant building you have ever seen, this was it. I imagine it is a similar feeling that families on Extreme Makeover Home Edition have when that bus driver “Moves that Bus”, because as we turned the corner and this magnificent center was in view, it was breathtaking. Literally, we were speechless. It was lightyears beyond all of my expectations. And it didn’t stop there. This was only the outside. From the very moment we pulled up, after spending a considerable amount of time thinking, processing the information from our meetings up to this point, witnessing the fires ignited within many of the athletes, I was hit by the mantra, “if you build it, they will come.”

I could literally visualize the hustle and bustle of this facility being an incredible Paralympic Training Center, for Ghanians and Africans and others with disabilities worldwide to come together, to learn from one another, to train hard in their respective sports, to host competitions. I could see people hanging out, laughing and joking between training sessions. The plot of land, I could instantly see maybe a track, some field pits, some archers shooting arrows. We then walked inside this beautiful stone building, it was warm and welcoming, and it’s not even furnished yet!!

Then, behind this one set of closed doors, was something that just blew our minds. The doors opened, and not only could I instantly visualize a roaring crowd as a wheelchair basketball game or quad rugby game would be taking place, there were 321 wheelchairs and pieces of adaptive equipment all lined up inside. It gives me goosebumps again just writing about it. These wheelchairs are life changing for these individuals. Emotions were flowing at this point. I was just awestruck by the potential. In so many places like this, it is a long, arduous battle for numerous reasons-- first you need funding, then you need a facility, then you need equipment, then you need athletes. Ghana is ready, and it’s all right here under our noses. Us coming here is like playing a giant game of connect the dots. Between all of our networks and resources, coupled with the facility and inspiration from Alan & Patsy with Joni & Friends, along with the blessing and support from the government of Ghana, literally, this is unstoppable, do-able and so close you can taste it. When we talked with the dignitaries and the government officials thusfar, none of us had any idea how ready this facility really was, how feasible this is etc. Suddenly, outfitting the facility with adaptive equipment, rollers, weights to turn it into a Paralympic Training Center, doesn’t seem so hard. Marissa, one of our team members, described this as us being given a black and white page out of a coloring book and asked to color it in. I love that analogy, and boy can we ever fill it in, for Ghana. But, it has the potential to be even bigger than that. All of us see this.
“If you build it, they will come”. Elite training camps for different countries and sports could easily be held here. Regional games for Africa could be held here. The potential we all see and saw in this facility was exploding like wildfire. We were all furiously taking notes, bouncing ideas off of each other, taking time to just walk around quietly and take it all in. It. Is. Incredible.
A while back, I started a project called VisionsUnite, which I still need to get really off the ground, and the story behind that project is for another day, but this experience, and this trip highlight the power of what can happen when true collaboration and visions do in fact unite. I cannot wait for the athlete’s to see this place ablaze with the colors we envision.

Travel & Day 1 in Ghana

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Travel & Day 1

The journey was far shorter than it is to go halfway across the world to China or to India. All equipment and wheelchairs made it in one piece, thankfully. Having become a pro at those uber long flights, this one was a breeze, and we lucked out being able to travel direct from Dulles over to Accra. I can honestly say that this was the easiest, most least stressful travel experience I’ve had in a while! I was a bit frustrated with technology in DC because I was supposed to seamlessly be able to log on for my online course, and there were all sorts of internet issues. The backup plan of the backup plan failed and it was just a frustrating experience trying to get technology to work in my favor. However, with my sweet iPhone, and in true Anjali-fashion, I was making the most out of every second of 3G knowing that in Ghana it is like jumping into the unknown abyss of technology world. But, traveling itself was a breeze and I got to sit next to Marissa one of the folks who is here on this trip. I slept for the majority of the flight. Woke up feeling refreshed and ready to go, which was good because we hit the ground running the moment we landed! We landed, were warmly greeted by many enthusiastic athletes with disabilities right there at the airport. We loaded up the truck and van and came to check in. There is a story about that, which I will share in a moment.

But first, how to describe Ghana… it is more modern than I had anticipated, and that is because we are in the capital city and not in the outskirts/rural areas. We will get an opportunity to go experience “real” Ghana later in the week. I know that we are in the more well-developed, wealthier part of the city, but just from the drive to the airport to our lodging, I was taken aback, in a good way, by the scene. There are paved roads, actual construction, English billboards, with a splash of “other”. We were warmly greeted by so many familiar faces and new faces at the airport, athletes with disabilities who are so genuinely excited for this week. It’s less intense from India—by that I mean, it’s not the same invasion of the senses, chaotic beauty that defines India, but it’s more subtle, you have to be looking for things. For example, there were at least five individuals I spotted on our drive from the airport who presumably had polio and had makeshift scooter boards using flipflops on their hands to maneuver around. And of course there was the streetside vendor who had an array of walkers, crutches and even a pretty decent looking quickie-esque chair for someone with more severe disabilities.

Back to the story of arriving at the hotel. This hotel is fairly new construction, and the folks at Jonie and Friends worked with them to include access in the design and construction of the hotel. The interior has ramps built right in to go from the main lobby through the hallways, to the adjacent dining room and to the courtyard etc. However, a small oversight was an actual ramp into the main door of the hotel! This was a topic of discussion upon our arrival, because naturally, yes, we could rely on the assistance of the two able bodied individuals who have accompanied us on this journey, or on the helpful assistance from the security guards or receptionists themselves, however, if the goal and the point is to improve access and awareness about disability in Ghana, then this seemed like a very teachable moment to all of us. And so, it was.

We discussed options for how to build a ramp. The workers scrounged around and found some temporary solutions, though some of the first prototypes were a bit…sketchy to say the least. Like the piece of wood that was meticulously balanced, with no support in the center…we were slightly concerned that one use of this early prototype it would snap in half. We explained the benefits of a permanent ramp, instead of getting assistance each time so that the hotel could do business with other guests with disabilities, that workers with disabilities might come to work here too. You have to put everything in terms of what people can related to. If working with a business manager or a hotel manager, put it in terms of how can access help them to improve their business. We discussed, and then were off to scope out the track figuring that we could revisit this issue later, but we had begun the process of educating. To our pleasant surprise, after about an hour of being gone at the track, we came back to find two beautifully constructed, perfectly fit, ramps there at our disposal!!!! Unbelievable. If only it were that easy with certain places in the U.S.! We thanked everybody, took pictures and considered our first teachable moment a success. We do hope that in future months or years to come that these ramps to the main entrance still exist. But, for now, small victory #1 was accomplished.

With any overseas adventure, it is just that, an adventure. Despite all the best planning in the world, Plans A-Z including the back up plan for the back up plan, some things don’t go quite as you expect. The motto we had coming into this week was to go with the flow, you just have to when you are up against so many factors working against you. Our obstacle, the slow boat that we sent three boxes of equipment, including racing chairs, for the sole purpose of this training camp is held up in customs. It needs some signature and you must have the original documents. My feeble attempt at understanding the process is such that, if and when the cargo arrives, it gets held at port until it is cleared by a customs agent. But until this piece of paper is signed, and the person who has the authority to sign that piece of paper comes to work, the boxes are inaccessible to us. What a let down to come all this way, HAVE equipment for the Ghanaians but to not actually have it. However, this is one of those things that is quite simply, beyond our control. And so, we wait. We adapt. We get creative. We do the best we can with the resources we have. Thankfully, our amazing team, comprised of Jean Driscoll, myself, Marissa Siebel, an athletic trainer with the U of I, Jennifer Scott, former athlete with Illinois and Tom Cameron, wheelchair race organizer for Bloomsday and engineer by trade, we are quite skilled at adapting.

Our first day of the training camp we had no equipment with the exception of my own and the few who did have their own equipment. So, in true fashion, we adapted. We assessed the situation, the ability levels of the athletes, the state and workability of the equipment available to us etc. My trusty toolkit will be getting good use this week. It’s a good thing I brought extra sets of allen keys and have an outstanding team here who are all able to work a wrench and get a little greasy!! We had a welcome meeting with some dignitaries and officials who came to greet us, along with local media outlets who came for the occasion. The positivity at this meeting was absolutely incredible. The tone was truly set for the week, as one that is very open, receptive, welcoming, and collaborative. The three guests who were there in the morning to officially welcome us included the President of the National Center for Persons with Disabilities, the President of the Ghana National Paralymic Committee and President from the Ghana Society for the Physically Disabled. The message of this meeting was one of hope, and one of commitment from top officials who see the potential of the disabled athletes of Ghana, and of the hard work that Jean and Jonie & Friends have put in for the past 9 years. It literally brought tears of joy to the room. After this welcome meeting, we went over some rules of the track and camp and introduced ourselves and met the participants.

The afternoon training session, I was able to train with five of the athletes who have racing chairs and gather some baseline data for the rest of the training camp. The other group, without racing chairs still, spent the time learning about the lines on the track, the rules of the track, and some basics on stoke mechanics. We also had a wonderful meeting with the Minister of Youth & Sport and the Chief of the National Sports Council for all of Ghana!!! These are two top top government officials, and gaining their support for the Paralympic movement is HUGE. They were very receptive, very forthcoming, very positive. They not only entertained questions from us and from the Ghanaians, but made the promise to send a TEAM of Ghanaians to the Paralympic games, not just two athletes on wildcard. They also made the promise to allocate funds specifically for Paralympic Development and requested a 2-year plan and budget as soon as possible. These are enormous leaps and bounds for this nation. The influence of support at this level is huge. The empowerment we witnessed of local Ghanaians with disabilities to speak up and ask questions to the top officials and challenge them, was incredible. Many years ago, when I first met my now friends from Ghana in Illinois, we heard about how oppressed people with disabilities were in this nation, and saw firsthand how they had never had a voice. To have a gathering of individuals to have these discussions has such deep meaning and potential. For the government officials to rise up to the occasion and say, we value you, as people with disabilities, and we will show you this through our support, is huge.

More to come soon.

Special Field Exam

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Special Field Exam

One week. One paper. One focus. As an athlete, I work on maintaining mental focus all the time for the duration of my races. But, for some reason, I have an uncanny inability to single-task when it comes to ANYTHING school or work related. Anybody who has sat in classes with me, or who knows me, can attest to this. It is perfectly normal for me to have 2 web browsers open, each with about 2-3 open windows and anywhere from 8-10 tabs in each. And then there’s the other programs running too. (This is why I use a mac.). This is the image of Anjali in class: I sit there in class, participating and engaging in dialogue, while answering emails, updating websites, grading papers, reading/writing other assignments while taking notes and occasionally been guilty of also watching coverage too. But, my grades reflect that this approach works for me, and to be honest, I come back to the fact that I have an inability to just go to class and do that one thing. Which brings me to my next point… what do you do in life when you are forced to focus on just one thing at an intense level for a specified duration? My general field exam was an example of this, and now my latest example, the special field exam.

Anyway, this second qualifying exam for PhD school is a synthesis of the literature and it involves diving right into the main variables and figuring out all the research that has been done on that topic, categorizing it all for themes, but more importantly, connecting it to the topic at hand and making it relevant. Piece of cake, right? Honestly, I think it sounds worse than it is. Time is not in my favor, but when is it ever? And, it’s more my own inability to just focus and get it done. So, after spending the first 4 days organizing, flipcharting, thinking, it was time to take matters into my own hands.

Go with what you know.

What do I know? I know sports. I know racing. I know how to focus in that context. Just like racing, I can’t focus for the duration of a marathon. I am a sprinter. So anytime I do a marathon, it’s 422 hundred-meter sprints. Anytime I do any distance over the 800m, my coach breaks it down for me into 100m increments. Even my 100m, we break down to 10m sections. But, that lesson tells me a lot about myself and how my brain works. It is easy to get overwhelmed by a monumental task at hand, such as a marathon, or a special field exam. So, how do you not let it? Break it down into manageable chunks, set a timer, and start the race. That has been my new-found approach. It seems to be working so far. This mentality has also helped me to manage the other (extremely welcomed) distractions. Despite what anybody may try, I am convinced that there is no such thing as “clearing your schedule” for the week. I tried, and still managed to have a couple meetings, a couple classes to teach, a few fires to put out. But, just like in racing, these are the things that are beyond your control --- like the weather, your competitors, the starter of a race. You just have to go with it.

Though, at day 4, I’m at the point in the race when all you want to do is just quit, throw in the towel and retire. But, I know that if I were to do that, it would go against everything I stand for. Dream. Drive. Do. This is where the Drive comes in, to find that inner drive and motivation to just make it happen.

Stay tuned for some other very exciting news that is starting to unfold on the coloring book front! For now, back to the “race” for me!

Cedartown, Peachtree, UI Track Camp, Boilermaker, Denver... just a 4 state recap

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I fell a bit behind on the blog updating... my bad. So the latest and greatest is as follows:

  • Raced really well and got a PR at Cedartown, GA
  • Raced well in the Peachtree 10K and got a course PR
  • Had an awesome time at Illinois' Wheelchair Track Camp
  • Made an impromptu trip to NY for the Boilermaker, and won the women's division
  • Flew to Denver to present my research on Re-Definining Disability Culture at the AHEAD conference
  • Cedartown, GA

    Cedartown, GA is one of my favorite places to visit. I know that sounds strange, but it is an amazing community filled with people who genuinely care about each other and about us coming to visit. It is always a fantastic trip filled with ridiculous stories and memories. The race itself was a success for me, I finished 6th, narrowly missing out on 5th place with a super close finish (less than a second apart). We raced. We karaoked. We sat poolside. We BBQed. We had fun.

    Peachtree 10K

    Well, Peachtree is always a challenging race for me. I simply don't weigh enough to keep up on the rolling Atlanta hills! But it was a decent race for me. I was happy that I didn't die on the climb by the Shepherd Center. And even more happy to have people to play chase with going back and forth.

    Illinois Wheelchair Track Camp

    Yep. We did that. It was exciting to meet some new faces, some of whom we will see in the Fall. A special shoutout goes to my new friend Ethan who is from Newton, MA--- a mere 30 minutes from my hometown!! It's always a blast--- long days, but a blast. We try to mix things up with training sessions, some dodgeball, sadly, I missed the rock climbing this year...How did it go?

    Boilermaker 15k

    Nothing like an impromptu trip to NY for less than 24 hours. No big deal. I got bumped up to first class on the way out and made friends. That was pretty fun. The downside was that I didn't arrive in Utica until late Saturday night and was up at the crack of dawn for the 15k race. Well worth it, however. I won the women's division and got to meet the governor of NY, David Paterson...twice. It was a great event, so fun to be a part of.

    AHEAD Conference

    And now, the end of my epic travels? Nope, try again. A marked brief hiatus from my epic travels. I flew to Denver for the AHEAD Conference to present my early research project at this huge disability conference. The presentation was today, it went very very well. And now, I am gearing up for the second round of my qualifying exams for PhD school. Wish me luck!!

    Until next time...

    US Paralympic Nationals Recap

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    US Paralympic Nationals Recap

    I'm back from hot hot hot southern FL from an amazing weekend of competition. The summary of results is as follows:

    • 800m: 4th place
    • 200m: 1st place and PR and American Record
    • 100m: 2nd place and PR
    • 400m: 1st place
    • 4x400m Relay Team A: 1st place and American Record

    For complete results, please see this link.

    I couldn't be happier with my performances. It was challenging competition conditions with the heat not to mention the thunderstorms and rain. To read more about the days events, US Paralympics had some recap blurbs that can be found below.
    Day 1
    Day 2
    Day 3

    My Thoughts

    As I mentioned, I couldn't be happier. I was concerned going into the competition that I wasn't rested enough and that I was feeling burnt out, and my coach kept telling me to trust him and that it would all come together. Luckily, he can now tell me, "told you so"! It's exciting for any athlete to be able to see the hard days of training pay off, and to literally witness inching closer to personal goals. The USA Team for World Championships will not be announced until September, so stay tuned for that. Thanks to everybody for their support through this incredible journey!

    US Nationals: Pre-Race

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    We arrived in FL on Wednesday, had some adventures getting from the airport to the hotel, but eventually we all made it. We sweet talked the receptionist to let us into our hotel room even though our whole party had not arrived yet. I logged online, co-taught the last class session for the term. And then I shifted gears to get ready for the races.

    On Thursday, I went with one of my teammates, Tatyana McFadden and another fellow US Teammate, Kortney Clemons to visit some kids at summer camps and to talk about our experiences and answer questions. This was arranged by the City of Miramar. The kids were great--such fun questions!! We got the traditional, "how do you sleep?". It is very rewarding to be able to answer kids' innocent questions and to see that lightbulb go on when they realize that just because we use a wheelchair or a prosthetic leg we aren't that much different from you!

    After that, we headed over to the Ansin Sports Complex for registration and some training. The track is smooth and it feels fast! We'll see how the times look.

    As expected, there were some small changes to the competition schedule. My schedule is now as follows:

    • Friday June 18th, 6:10 PM: 800m final
    • Friday June 18th, 7:40 PM: 200m final
    • Saturday June 19th, 6:15 PM: 100m final
    • Sunday June 20th, 10:40 AM: 400m final

    To follow the latest up-to-the-minute results, please check here:
    Live Results.

    Gearing Up for US Nationals--Miramar, Here We Come!

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    Gearing Up for US Nationals – Miramar Here We Come!

    The big competition of the season is finally here. Tomorrow morning we head out for US Paralympic Track Field Nationals in Miramar, FL. I'm feeling pretty good and excited for what the weekend has in store! I will be racing in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m. Competition begins on Friday and goes through Sunday. My tentative schedule is as follows:

    • Friday June 18th, 9:00AM: 200m prelim
    • Friday June 18th, 6:10 PM: 800m final
    • Friday June 18th, 7:40 PM: 200m final
    • Saturday June 19th, 10:33 AM: 100m prelim
    • Saturday June 19th, 6:15 PM: 100m final
    • Saturday June 19th, 8:28 PM: 400m prelim
    • Sunday June 20th, 10:49 AM: 400m final
    • Sunday June 20th, 11:50 AM: 4x400m relay

    Please check back for more updates!
    Gearing up for Nationals has been challenging, which is partially why I have not updated in a while. Our training the past few weeks has been tough, juggling two-a-days and trying to maintain focus and precision on our training in the time after our last trip until now. I had a bout with the athlete's worst nightmare...a.k.a. being burnt out. But, I am happy to report that with a week of a lot of napping and taking the rest that I needed, I am feeling strong and ready again. Bring it on Miramar!!

    For those of you who don't know, this meet, US Paralympic Track and Field Nationals will be the primary selection meet for the World Championship Team. Worlds will take place in January 2011 in Christchurch, New Zealand. While the racing occurs this weekend, the team itself will not be nominated until September. The reason for this is that the International Paralympic Committee will announce in September the number of spots each country gets to fill, but until that number is known, the team cannot be named. So it will be an excercise in patience!
    In other news, since I have neglected to update my blog, read about the Desert Challenge Games and Anjali's Latest Endeavor.

    Desert Challenge Games

    The Desert Challenge Games was the event I went to in Phoenix, AZ. It was a super fast track and not too hot! We had some training days over 100 degrees, but for race night it was in the upper 70s, though windy. I was pleased with my performances there. Full results can be found here. One particular highlight from the trip was having Team Bermuda out there competing in three sports. I am continually amazed at how far their program and their athletes have come in such a short period of time. It was truly incredible to have them all out there and to witness them literally making history for their country. Way to go! Other highlights from the trip involved the karaoke night at TGIFridays, where of course there was some Lady Gaga karaoking done on our part!

    Anjali's Latest Endeavor

    Africa! That's right folks. I'm fleeing the country!As many of you have followed in my blog, one of my passions is about international disability development and promoting the development of sport programs overseas. In the past few years, I have been actively involved doing this in parts of India as well as in Bermuda. And now, an incredible opportunity has come my way to not only do similar work in Ghana, but to also travel over there with my very own childhood hero, and fellow Illinois alum, Jean Driscoll. It’s one of those surreal opportunities that I am simply giddy about! Jean has been involved in similar work in Ghana over the years and after hearing about my passions and work approached me ten months ago asking if I might be interested in co-teaching wheelchair track clinics with her and building on what she has already started there. I am truly honored by the opportunity.

    I will be in Ghana for 9 days, and during that time we have three main objectives: (1) teach two wheelchair track clinics one beginner and one intermediate level, (2) engage in meetings with government officials to help promote considerations for people with disabilities in policies within Ghana, and (3) to interact with the community there to help promote awareness on disability to the general population of Ghana and to serve as a resource for these individuals.

    We already have meetings arranged with the Minister of Education and the Minister of Youth and Sport and the Minister of Health in Accra, Ghana. As with any endeavor, there is a cost involved to get there and expenses for lodging and meals while there. If any of you are willing to donate however small or large, it would be very much appreciated. You can donate online through PayPal here. Please don’t hesitate to ask me if you have ANY questions.

    En Route to PHX

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    En Route to Phoenix

    Never a dull moment in the life of Anjali! I am sitting here on the plane, somehow functioning after the past 2 days of very little sleep and two-a-day practices. Remember that paper? I am happy to say that just 3 minutes before boarding the plane I emailed it off to one of my co-workers who graciously agreed to help me out and print it to deliver the hardcopy to my professor. Cars are known for going 0 to 60mph in say 3.9 seconds, this girl went from 0 to 24 pages in less than 24 hours!!

    It is so hard to find that ounce of motivation when all your friends are done with school and on summer vacation and you are not. It is so hard to find that motivation when the class itself is not one of your favorites. But, the motivation to not take an incomplete in my last class ever was enough to push me through. Down to the wire, literally! I had to get the paper done to be hand delivered by 5PM today, sounds reasonable enough, right? Well factor in that yesterday I had 0 pages written, I had practice, a few meetings, a leadership panel discussion to participate in from 5-9:30pm, a trip to pack for and this morning practice at 8am, miscellaneous trip preparation and a car ride to the airport to finish writing and some little helpful editing elves who helped from afar via text message! Oh technology! After arriving at the airport, getting through security I booted up the ‘ole laptop to find the two missing references I could not remember on the car ride in, as they announce 5 minutes until boarding I try to email the paper to my friend, and of course I get not only the spinning color wheel of death, but also the infamous, “Still working…” message from Gmail. Not wanting to panic, but also not wanting to allow all the hard work in the past day to go to waste, I frantically opened every other browser I have on the computer, every other email account I have and was finally able to email it off – possibly three times, (sorry about that)!

    And now, I’m flying high over the clouds once again headed to the next track meet in Mesa, AZ. I’m not as well rested as I would like to be going into this, but the good part is that I have a couple days before competition on Saturday. Last evening at our traditional wings gathering at BWWs, I was struck by how amazingly lucky I am to have such amazing people in my life who are always there to encourage, laugh, and tell it like it is! I’m so grateful! It is so so so very important to take the time out of a seemingly hectic, chaotic, crazy schedule to spend time with friends, to appreciate each other’s company and to just take a deep breath. Man, it feels good to be officially done with the semester, and with college classes!!! Academically, it’s now on to my next round of qualifying exams sometime in the near future, preparing for my preliminary defense, researching and writing.

    One of the most exciting things I’m looking forward to on this trip is my Bermudian friends who will be out in Arizona for their very first competition (well Jessica was at Dixie, but first one for the others!) I am continually amazed by how far and how much progress has been made with Paralympic sport development on the island in the past 11 months alone!! So much excitement, so much to look forward to!!! Can’t wait to see my Bermudian family! Will write an update after the event…

    Event website: Desert Challenge Games


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    I wish I could tell you that Baltimore has also been an incredible event, but it has not been. The school visits themselves have been wonderful. The kids are always so very excited to meet me, as am I. I’m continually impressed by the questions that I get and I can really tell which kids are thinking things through and applying what I talk about to their own lives. It is a rewarding experience getting to meet these kids.

    But, the downside is that there have been some lessons learned in life for me. The organization I am here for is going through a lot of changes, which has left the a lot of things in disarray. Change is never easy, and oftentimes is not a smooth transition, I recognize that. However, it has caused unnecessary stress and frustration for me and for the Olympic guest who is also here to speak to the kids. Without getting into too many details, I will say that it is hard to juggle school, work, racing, public speaking and being your own manager. It’s also hard to be pressured into making a decision when you have competing ethical issues pulling you in two opposing directions. Ethics can be a double-edged sword. I felt like either way I decided I was being unethical in some way, which is disconcerting.

    Oh what a learning experience these past couple days have been. Sometimes I forget how draining these learning experiences in life can be. I know we all need them, and that they make us stronger and better people for it in the long run, but it sure is hard to see that when you are going through it. The other downside is that my semester will not be fully behind me come tomorrow as I had originally planned. Because of all of this, my last paper for my last college class ever, sadly, will not be done.

    I am grateful, however, for my friends and family who have been an exceptional support for me through these past couple of days and who are helping me to see the silver lining and to focus on the positive.

    Up Next: Desert Challenge Games in Arizona next week!

    2-week update

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    I've been on the road a lot lately, so got a bit behind on updating. Here is a recap of my adventures in the past 2 weeks. More to come soon!

    MidAmerica Games

    I was invited to participate in and speak at the MidAmerica Games this year. What an incredible opportunity!! There is so much young talent there across many different sports. I met boccia athletes, swimmers, track and field athletes and had a blast! I also met several local KC folks who are enthusiastic and willing to help to promote disabled sports and the Paralympic movement beyond this annual event. It is so exciting to be a part of something larger than you. I know that sounds funny, but numerous times throughout the weekend, I could just sense the energy and the positivity. When you can sense that you are a part of something bigger, it is a very cool feeling. It is hard to describe, but for me it is like this out-of-mind-out-of-body experience where I just pause for a moment and think, “wow, this is cool!”

    Pictures from the event can be seen: Here

    After my whirlwind Kansas City visit, I left the track to zoom off to the airport to catch my flight to Spokane for Bloomsday.

    Bloomsday 12k

    My crazy weekend would not have been complete without a couple of flight hang ups. I finally left Kansas City, with a bit of a flight delay. While sitting on the tarmac in KC, I called to find out what my other flight options were into Spokane, since I already only had about an hour ten minute layover. The agent told me that there was one other flight, but it only left 4 minutes after mine. I told her it may sound ridiculous, but since I use a wheelchair and am the last off the plane, I would actually like to be put on standby for that flight. Then she told me the bad news. My original flight was scheduled to land around 8:30pm. If I took the flight that left 4 minutes later, I would not land until 12:30am!! Bear in mind that race day starts early at Bloomsday, so this was certainly not an ideal situation. Confused, I found out it was not a direct flight, which is why it was so much longer. Forget that! I decided it was worth the gamble to try to make my original flight, and if I missed it, I would just hang out in Denver with all my fellow colleagues and professors who were there anyway for the AERA conference! A legitimate Plan B. I landed in CO, and by the time the wheels touched the ground I had 20 minutes to make it to my next flight into Spokane. Of course, the flight attendants come on and request that any passenger going to Spokane and some other city be let off the plane first, as they had the tightest connections. The underlying message to the other passengers, though, was you can just take your time and be as slow as you want. This does NOT bode well when you have to wait for all the passengers to get off!!! I made my way to the front of the plane to try to get my wheelchair and to get the heck off the plane. Got into a fight with them because they wanted me to use an aisle chair, even though my chair fits on board the plane, and I was already sitting right by the door of the plane and could see my wheelchair. The aisle chair person comes on the plane, with my wheelchair, and goes, “oh!? You’re going to Spokane?! Uh-oh, you only have 8 minutes!” Great.

    As luck would have it, my gate was right next door, and they held the plane for me. Got on board and made it safely to Spokane. I met up with the rest of my team at our traditional Mexican food restaurant.

    The race itself was not as fast as I would have hoped. I got scared on the downhills for some reason this year. I always brake on the first downhill, because of the hairpin turn at the bottom and given my track record it just seems like the safest idea especially since the alternative is a giant cliff… The second downhill also scared me though. Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe I value my life differently. I still clocked in at 32.4 mph, even with riding my brake the whole way.

    Even though I was not as pleased with my indvidual performance, I am happy to report that our team won the Collegiate Trophy! It is a competition set up based on the finishers from University of Illinois and University of Arizona. And so, the 60 lb granite trophy will remain in IL for another year!

    By the time the weekend was said and done, I managed to make it to 7 states. Ridiculous. IL-MO-KS-CO-WA-UT-IN. Even though CO and UT were just for a layover, it’s still pretty impressive, even for me.

    Dixie Games

    No rest for the weary! After returning from WA late Monday night, I attempted to wrap up some of my semester and left again on Friday for Tampa. Lucky for me, I had a final presentation to give on Thursday in class, and one on Friday that I wasn’t actually there for. Story of my life.

    I travel, a lot. And quite honestly, these Friday classes just aren’t ideal for me. I knew this going into the semester, but as a graduate student you don’t have the luxury of just picking a different section. I always joked about being the masters student who mastered not being there. And now the doctorate student who doesn’t go to class. As funny as it is, it’s this time of the semester when it truthfully becomes challenging. I pulled together a narrated powerpoint for that presentation and luckily my friend Justin was able to take some notes for me and make sure it all played in class just fine while I was en route to Tampa.

    The Dixie Games was an awesome event. It was HOT down there. I got to see Jessica Lewis, my Bermudian friend who came to compete in her very first track meet!! And, I’m so happy to report that she qualified in both of her races for Junior Nationals! Congrats to Jessica! I was happy with how I raced. I hit A qualification times in the 100m and 200m, and B qualification times in the 400m and 800m. A funny thing about our 200m, I’m not sure who won the race!!! My teammate Tatyana and I TIED in the 200m!! The posted times only went out to the tenths, but presumably when we get the electronic timing report it will go out to the hundredths so we will find out who won. It is so fun having a fellow passionate sprinter to race with!

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