A tale of two halves…
Racing a bike, like life, is riddled with ups and downs. When things are going according to plan, those ups and down are only encountered while out on the roads. But I ask, in life how often can we say everything is according to plan?
Today was embraced by the entire team as our first real test of the legs since travel. While most of us continue to adapt to our new time zone it would seem as though most everyone was awake this morning and ready to hit the Velodrome.
The Velodrome here in Wales is an exceptional facility for training. The track itself is in excellent condition and at the moment inside temperatures are hovering near 90-degrees to simulate anticipated racing environments at the Paralympics. The staff and volunteers are eager to help in anyway possible during our training session whether it be fetching coffee for coaches or carrying miscellaneous gear to the infield. To top things off during our track session we had spectators in the stands that were eager to provide a bit of cheer and ruckus during our session adding to the race-like vibe of the day.
As a whole this seemed to motivate and excite us all. Throughout the workout individual tasks were performed with focused execution and good turns of speed to boot. We all rolled off the track encouraged and motivated for the days to come. With the first half of our training day in the bag all was right with our bike racer world.
The second half of the day began under uncharacteristically sunny skies as we rolled out for our road block of training. We immediately settled into a nice climb up and over a ridge before making a sharp descent to a quiet river valley. The roads were quintessential European country roads, winding their narrow selves through the wood and fields to some fabled grandmother’s house. To say that we all were enjoying the moment would be an understatement; in fact riding in this setting I believe for most of us is where the passion of cycling is found. In short it was perfect…but then life happened.
One moment we were the enthusiastic refined Team USA cycling team and in the next we were chaotic display of confusion. In that blink of an eye I had spotted and called out, to the riders behind me, a hole on the right shoulder of the road while at the same time instinctively avoiding the obstruction myself. The shrill of brakes being clutched promptly followed by the crunch of both bike and bodies stole all idyllic joy from the moment. As I came to a stop along side the men’s tandem it was with heavy hearts that we look back on the scene to see over half of our team lying on the asphalt bruised, bloodied and in disbelief.
Gone was the encouragement from the morning session replaced with sadness, doubt and frustration. It would seem as though life had chosen to divert from our perfect plan for the remainder of the day.
With all of us safely back at the hotel there was some solace in knowing that Team USA is comprised of a group of fighter’s that are not about to be sidetracked by a run in with the road. That said, several of our team suffered some considerable blows and it will take a few days of healing for them to return to the form they had been enjoying only hours earlier.
No matter how many times I have made a trip across “the pond”, acclimating my body to the new time schedule has yet to come easy. Instead these first few days seems to be a delicate balance of functioning just enough to be on schedule and then going about the rest of the day’s obligation in some zombie-like trance.
Last night the entire team was sitting in the lobby in order to assist each other in our missions to remain lucid until 10 p.m. This was in hopes of fast tracking our bodies into adapting to our new daily time table. It was pure comedy watching each of us head-bobbing as if keeping rhythmic beat to the lounge music. Eventually each of us would succumb to our battle.
Despite many of us trumping our quality night of sleep this morning, the mere mention of it being the early hours of the morning in the US sent a wave of yawns through the team. It would seem my 9 hours of rest did not make up for the 35+ I logged with my eyes open. As of now, I have consumed all the caffeine that I can. While my eyes bounce around uncontrollably, it is all done behind the thin veneer of my eyelids.
During today’s workout on the track I found myself so disconnected with the workout that on many occasion it was as if I had fallen asleep at the wheel only to be jolted back to present with a lap split. The productivity of today’s training will not be measured in speed. Rather, it went a long way to getting the body on the right schedule for the coming weeks. I am grateful to be here well in advance of competition to make this typical exhaustion and subsequent internal clock shift a none issue.
Perhaps I will have a double espresso…or better yet this welcome mat in the lobby looks like a fine place to snuggle in for a quick siesta.
Today is day 1 here in the UK. Upon arrival it was a rush of activity collecting baggage, authorizing accreditations, and then off on a road trip to Newport: our home for the next week.
Last Friday was my final hard day of training state side and now it is time to put the polish on. I am excited to have these few days with just the cycling team so that we can all bond a bit before the chaos of the village hits. I am so honored to be amongst them all, and riding along side them pushes me to a new level.
As my body and mind freshen up and let myself begin to give in to the excitement a bit, it is as if I can feel the speed building in my legs. It reminds me of growing up around young horses. The energy you could see in their eyes as you opened the gate to Spring pastures. Their rush of speed and misplaced bucking: a long awaited release of excitement; a desire to run wild, free of inhibitions, to play. Like those young horses I am getting excited to ride my bike. The fine tuning of my techniques, the whirl of my legs, the burn of lactic acid…no longer a sign of work… Now I play.
Drifting 32,000 feet up in the air is a bit of a norm for me. This time, however, my destination is anything but normal. I am about to play bikes on the biggest stage of my life.
I have been boiling over with excitement for the Paralympics ever since joining my teammates in a hotel room in Carson, CA to watch the Olympic’s Opening Ceremonies. The images of athletes walking into the stadium and later competing in front of the world snapped the blurry image of just what I had accomplished with making the team. It was clear.
Over the past few weeks between the last painful training sessions, I have found myself caught up in the visions of my family cheering from the stands, the serene peace of the starting gate count down amidst the chaos of the noise, and the smallness of being one of 4,200 chosen to represent his/her country in front of the World. I cannot wait for these visions to be attached to a touch, a smell, a sound; I am eager to bring them alive.
Over the course of the Games it is my desire to attempt to bring these dreams alive in words as I experience the sight, sounds and emotions of the Paralympics for the first time. My hope is that in some small way, it may inspire us all to dream bigger and faithfully push through life’s challenges to make our wildest visions the sweetest of memories.
Seven years ago my leg was amputated and while I lay in a hospital bed in Bozeman, MT a dear friend of mine, Jim Nallick, planted a seed in my brain that has become one of my prime focuses ever since. I remember clearly Jim coming to my bed side, placing a piece of paper in my hands clearly showing a below knee amputee kitted in a USA Jersey and shorts with a medal around his neck. Soon after, that rider Ron Williams contacted me, eager to introduce me to the world of Paralympic cycling. I’m not sure if either Jim or Ron ever expected that seed to grow as it has in my life, but marvelously it is ready for harvest. Today the culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice by my family, friends and teammates allowed my dream to come true. I will be representing my country at the 2012 London Paralympic games as a member of the US Para-cycling team.
My deepest gratitude goes out to those that have stood firmly by my side through the ups and downs of this journey; no one more so than my wife Sara. Without her loving determination to get me back on a bike and her unyielding willingness to make countless sacrifices, none of this dream would have come to a reality. Sara has graciously spent months raising our children on her own all the while enduring, at times, endless travel and the ultimate move of our family from the town and friends that we so dearly love.
I am grateful to my fellow teammates that have grown along side me to become the finest of individuals. You all are true leaders leaving an imprint on this world that goes far beyond racing a bike. Thank you for all you are to me and my family.
Lastly, to my ever growing friends and family you have carried my family and me on your backs in so many ways these past seven years. Your constant love, encouragement and support are the frame work of this dream. We are overwhelmed by your willingness to be a part of Team Kavanagh.
When I walk onto the field during Opening Ceremonies in London, it will be with humble reverence for all that has been provided for me through these relationships. This may be my dream, but all of you are an irreplaceable part of it. Thus, it is not just I that will be representing the USA in London, but also all of you.