Monday, July 25, 2011

back in the game (kind of)

After a couple of years in a great relationship i now find myself single again. I haven't dated in a while, and well, i don't think d-a-t-i-n-g (had it insert the hyphens because google was trying to link to an online d-a-t-i-n-g site from my blog, can't have that) is quite the same for a forty-year old as it is for the younger generation, and being in Utah, the state of the early-twenty-something marriage, only compounds that problem. I don't think being bald or only having one leg helps much either, i mean, would you respond to a personal that read: "One-legged, 40 yo, bald male ISO love and romance. Enjoys riding the Jazzy around the supermarket and sorting socks"?

So as i approach this challenge i come to you, dear reader, for advice. Not long after my amputation cousin Todd sent me this T-shirt:

I personally love it, but am wondering whether it is appropriate attire for a first date. Please give me your opinion, as i'm sure i'll be meeting someone any day now that i'd like to ask out. You can use the poll here in the right of the blog, or feel free to leave comments as well.

Thanks in advance, i value the opinions of each and every one of you (except my brother who wanted to make me a glass of shitaid, thanks, but no thanks in advance for your opinion).

Friday, July 8, 2011

For Bunny, Brynn, Josie, and the many others. . .come race your bike and eat donuts!!

Ok, i know it's a little intimidating to get into bike racing, especially when you see all those skinny, fit racers barely filling out their tight lycra kits, but next weekend is the perfect opportunity to get into bike racing while not having to give up your penchance for fatty foods. In fact, this is the only race i know of where you are actually rewarded for downing as many calories as you can. I know all too well how adversely extra calories can effect race performance ( yes, i love to eat), but at the annual Tour de Donut, you get a time deduction, yes you heard that right, a time deduction (in bike racing that equates to a good thing, you know faster time) for every donut you eat. In fact, it is possible to get a negative time, something that not even the best riders of the Tour de France can boast.

So, here's how it works, as described on the Tour de Donut website:

"It’s simple. Race 21 miles and see who is the king donut! In circuit style, ride 7 miles, then eat as many donuts as you would like. No limit. Then, ride 7 more miles, eat more donuts, then ride the last 7 mile lap.

Take 3 minutes off your time for each donut you keep down. Glory and adulation (and great prizes!) are waiting for you at the Finish Line.

Prizes are awarded on 'Adjusted Times'. There is a good chance that if you do not eat any donuts, you might not end up the overall winner!"

Now, if that isn't enough incentive to come and race (and eat), this is also a great event on a number of other levels. It's a fundraiser for the Huntsman Cancer Institute (an organization that my frequent readers will know is dear to my heart), as well as a number of other worthy non-profit organizations. But perhaps most important for our family, and a reason i have some real respect for the American Fork Rotary Club, is the way that they came out last year, and just days after Bunny's death, put together a first class memorial and tribute to her. They didn't know our family, they didn't know Bunny, but they reached out and gave us a venue to remember Bunny and celebrate her passion for life and fitness. We were honored that they would come to us this year and ask if we would be interested in participating again.

Tragically, not long ago, another family in our community lost one of their loved ones when Brynn Barton was struck and killed by a car while riding her bike in downtown SLC with some friends. As a result of these tragedies, the Tour de Donut is partnering with Road Respect, to raise awareness about cyclists on Utah roads and the rights and responsibilities of both cyclists and automobile drivers. Many of Brynn Barton's family and friends will be participating in this year's Tour de Donut, as well, so come and show support for them, and help us remember and celebrate Brynn, Bunny, Josie Johnson, and all the many others who have been killed or injured while cycling on Utah roads. Like last year there will be a shorter memorial lap before the race for Bunny and Brynn, so bring the family, kids, friends, and eat donuts, ride your bike, and support some great causes.

I've heard a lot of excuses for not racing in the past, but, none of those will hold up here. You can't say your too fat. You can't say you're out of shape (remember you're rewarded at this race for your ability to down calories). And how can you turn down cancer patients, kids in Africa, or the families and friends of such great women as Bunny and Brynn? You're right, there really isn't an excuse, so unless you are doing one of those other two races next weekend (in which case you probably haven't been eating donuts anyway), i expect to see you out at the Tour de Donut!!

Friday, July 1, 2011

stranger than fiction, riding the emotional roller coaster part 2

Ok, just a warning right here at the beginning, this is a long post. I thought about breaking it into two, given that the attention span of all of us raised on MTV and similar media is rather limited, but decided to keep it all together since for me the experiences can't necessarily be separated. That being said, here we go. That phrase "truth is stranger than fiction," has been recurring to me a lot lately, more and more as the year has unfolded. This last week has been no different as the pattern of pain and joy and good news and tragedy all rolled into a matter of a few days has continued. As i look back at the last year and contemplate all that i have both lost and gained, it all seems rather unbelievable; you couldn't make this shit up, as they say. So let me start about a week ago as i departed Salt Lake City for Augusta, GA to compete in the paracycling national championship races.

I have been preparing for these races since my amputation. Of course, it's awful hard to really train with only one functioning leg, but before i got my prosthesis i tried to keep on my bike as much as i could just to keep up some basic level of fitness and T-dub kept me on a pretty strict diet to help me keep my weight down. Once i got my prosthesis i immediately started riding my bike, which was actually a little easier than walking since it's not weight bearing in the same way, and preparing to race cyclocross again. I put on a few pounds over the holidays, but afterwords started taking the weight off and increasing the intensity of my workouts, trying to build up the fitness i had lost after not being able to train for six months on account of the two foot surgeries and then the amputation.

I slowly have seen progress as my fitness has improved since january and was excited and ready, a bit nervous, but mostly excited to go to Georgia to compete. I was not looking forward to the heat and humidity, especially since it had been so cool in Utah all spring, but tried to mentally prepare. The time trial was the most important event because it was also the qualifier for the national paracyling team and was our first race on thursday.

Pre-race meeting with paracyclists and handcyclists at Paracycling nationals in Augusta, Georgia.

Start and finish of the nationals TT at the Thurmond Dam.

I prerode the course on wed. then headed out thursday morning to get ready. It was hot and windy. I got there just in time to watch T-dub start and then bring in the fastest time for the Under23 women and become the U23 National time trial champion. It was an amazing accomplishment and i was incredibly proud of here because i have seen all the hard work she has put into reaching this goal.

T-dub in the start house of the TT.

T-dub just across the finish line of her U23 National Champion TT ride!

Our race wasn't scheduled until the afternoon, and fortunately a storm rolled in which brough the temps down to about 85 (as opposed to 97), and caused the wind to die down. It rained during our TT, but i didn't mind since it cooled things off a bit. If you haven't done a TT before, let me briefly describe how it works. The TT is a race agains the clock, rather than other riders. Cyclists are started at 30 or 60 second intervals and then ride the course and the person with the fastest time wins. Basically what that means is for the duration of the race you are at your lactate threshold, pushing yourself as hard as you can maintain for the given distance. It's painful. Your mind is screaming at you to quit. Your legs are screaming at you to quit. The saying is, you know if you did it right if you feel like you wanna throw up (and i did see quite a few riders throw up as they finished). I didn't throw up, but i put everything i had into those 20K. Two of the fastest riders were starting behind me, and i know i didn't want to get caught by either of them. Fortunately i didn't. As i crossed the finish line i felt good about my ride. I had buried myself to the very end and pushed myself hard across the line. Of course, i had no idea what kinds of times the other riders where posting and didn't know, since i have never raced against these guys, how i would stack up. As we all congregated at the finish line i got a sense from some of the other times and knew that Sam K. had beat us all by a good 40-50 seconds, but that my time was right in there with some of the other guys. It wasn't for an hour or so, however, that we finally got results and i found out i had podiumed with a 3rd place. I was happy with that, not as good as i wanted to do, but certainly happy with it. Given Sam's time, however, i was not confident at all i had made the time cut to qualify for the national team and was a little discouraged and a bit nervous about this since results wouldn't be posted till later in the evening.

Handcyclists racing the TT in the rain. Photo Dave Gaylinn.

Now let me backtrack a tiny bit and say that wednesday night as i was getting a last few things done to get ready for thursday, my dad called me to tell me that my mom's health had taken a turn for the worse. My mom has suffered from a rare neurological disease called progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), for the past 8-9 years. PSP is a terminal disease that slowly causes the brainstem to degenerate, causing a slow loss of both mental and motor functions. It started out with similar symptoms to Parkinson's or Alzheimers, but as the disease progressed, at least in my mom's case, she slowly lost motor function and the ability to walk or speak, although her brain still functioned and was more acute than in a patient suffering with Parkinson's or Alzheimers. My dad told me that my mom had not been able to eat since sunday (the last time i saw her when i went to my parent's house for sunday dinner), and that she was getting weaker. He told me he had talked to her Dr. who told him that she probably had about another week to live, but that her body would gradually start to shut down since she wasn't able to eat. The Dr. recommended letting her live out her last days at home rather than take her to the hospital and stick her full of IV tubes, so my family chose to do that. I talked to my dad for a few minutes, then hung up thinking that i would be able to get home after the weekend in Georgia and have a few days before she passed on.

I took this with me tucked it away as i raced on thursday, and then thursday night went to the podium ceremony where i got my bronze medal and got to see T-dub get her Gold and national champion stars and stripes jersey. After the ceremony Sam K. grabbed me and said he looked forward to racing with me because he had heard that we were going to have a strong team of C4s (C4 is the handicap classification level that i fit into with a below-knee amputation; there are 5 levels from C1-C5) on the national team this year. I hadn't heard anything yet about team qualifications, so i found my coach Mike and asked him if he knew when they were going to post the qualification times, and with a big grin he said, yes, in fact, he had a copy of it right there. He pulled it out and showed me that i had placed 5th overall (out of about 100 total para-athletes) based on the formulas they use to determine team standards based on different levels of disability (don't ask me to explain how this works because i don't understand it). I was starting to get excited, but still wasn't sure what it meant, so i asked Mike, "so what does this mean in terms of the national team?" He just grinned again and responded, "what are you doing in september? Interested in going to Denmark to race at paracycling worlds?" I was ecstatic. T-dub was with me and gave me a big high five and hug and i grinned from ear to ear. I hadn't done quite as well at the TT as i had hoped, but my main goal was to qualify for the national team, so i was elated. I shot a text home to the artist and mentioned that i didn't think i would be able to do Lotoja this year because i would hopefully be in Denmark racing with the national team instead.

T-dub in the stars and stripes champion jersey with Gold medal!

Podium for C4 TT with Sam K. (gold), and Jon C. (silver).

My phone was dying, so T-dub walked back to my hotel room to charge our phones real quick before we set out for a celebratory dinner. When i got back to the hotel room i noticed the artist had called a couple of times, so i plugged my phone in and got a charge to call him back. While my phone was charging he called again. "Wow," i thought, "the artist never gets this excited about anything, but he's called me three times, that's weird." After our phones charged for a minute we walked out to the car and i called my brother as we were pulling out to go get dinner.
"Congratulations," he told me, then asked, "why didn't you answer your phone?" I explained that my battery had been dying, and then he let me know the news, "mom died about an hour ago."

I asked a few questions and he answered as much as he could. This was obviously much sooner than any of us had anticipated. T-dub sat next to me and held me while i talked to my brother, then i hung up and sat there in a little bit of shock. Even though i had known this was coming for 4-5 years now, and even though with my dad's call from the night before i knew it was imminent, it had happened much more quickly than i anticipated. Within the space of an hour i had gone from great news about the achievement of one of the goals i had been working towards all year to the news that my mom had died.

Kathleen Linebaugh Bradley, 1947-2011

T-dub and i got dinner, and then i called my dad and talked to him for a while. I asked him if i should change my flight and come home the next day, but he encouraged me to stay and finish the races. "Mom would want you to stay and finish, and if i was the one who had passed away, i would certainly want you to stay and finish," he told me. So I stayed and raced the next two days before packing up and heading home on Sunday. At nationals I got another podium 3rd place at the crit, but then at the road race I went on an early attack when I eased off the front without a chase, and hoped someone would bridge up to me. I knew if no one made the bridge it was an all or nothing deal with the odds much more strongly favoring nothing. Unfortunately no one could get away from the main group to bridge, so I got caught with about 15 k to go. I was a little spent from doing just shy of half a lap on my own, so I didn’t have as much at the end as I would’ve liked and finished in 5th.

My two bronze medals.

Coming through the start/finish of the RR on the first lap when i had opened up a gap of about 15 seconds. Photo Dave Gaylinn

I wasn’t too pleased with that finish, but I knew that was a risk when I went on the attack and put in the best effort I had. All in all it was a great weekend. The racing was hard, but it was great to meet so many other incredible athletes who make adaptations and figure out how to keep racing their bikes irrespective of the challenges or disabilities that life has thrown at them. I’m extremely excited for the opportunity to train and race with the national team, now I just gotta figure out how to take the first couple weeks of the semester off so I can make it happen. I also want to give a big, public shout out to my coach Mike Durner as well, who despite my impatience and frustration, kept me on track and has steadily helped me improve my fitness and get back towards race form. Thanks Mike!

After the road race Saturday I started to pack and get ready to come home. I had been able to bump my flight up a little, but still had to wait till Sunday to fly home. I got home Sunday afternoon and went straight to my Dad’s house where I spent the rest of the afternoon with my family. My mom’s passing has been bittersweet. PSP took my Mom years ago in the sense that it had stripped away so much of who my mom was. Of course, she held on till the end with the same kind of strength she had always exhibited, but the woman who was bright and well read and loved to garden everyday and walk every morning had been gone for years. Her quality of life had declined so much in the past year that it was a good thing for her to go, to move on and leave the body that had betrayed her. Of course, it is always hard to lose a loved one, especially your mom. As I reunited with my family and had the chance to look through old photos and over the next few days as I heard stories from family members, neighbors, and friends, it was a wonderful opportunity to remember my mom for who she was, not what PSP had done to her.

My mom and I didn’t always agree on issues. In fact, more often than not we disagreed, but I credit my Mom with giving me and helping me develop two of the loves that are a central part of my life: education and gardening. My mom was always involved with education, from the time she started teaching 2nd grade after she and my dad were first married, to her years of involvement with the local and state PTA, to her time volunteering in classrooms. She was also adamant that we, her children, took full advantage of the educational opportunities that were available to us. I remember one particular instance that highlighted both her commitment to public education and her commitment to her own children’s education. I was finishing up my 7th grade middle school year, literally it was the 2nd to last day of school. Practically no one was at school. It was “senior sluff day,” but of course, that meant sluff day for all. People went to school, met up with their friends, then left. I did just the same. I went to school, met up with a few of my friends, and we left, but luck would have it that as we were walking down the street my very own mother would drive by and see me. She immediately pulled over, ordered me in the car, and summarily drove me back to school. See, my mom not only wanted me in school, but she also knew that the way the schools got their money was based on attendance, and no child of hers was going to sluff school and cause the school to lose even that little bit of funding. I remember my mom sitting with me in the worst of my teen, grumpy, hate-everyone-and-everything years and make sure I got my AP European History done. I hated the homework. In the moment, I hated my mom, and it was certainly not easy for her to sit there with me seeping my bitter resentment, but she did it, and I got my homework done, and I passed that stinking AP test, and it was in great measure because of my mom’s dedication, patience, and willingness to deal with a moody and broody teenager. I also fondly remember sitting at our kitchen counter reading through the newspaper and being able to have conversations about just about any issue in the news with my mom as she was cooking dinner. She always knew what was going on, and she was always willing to engage me with the issues. We talked about everything that came up, but I remember most distinctly the many conversations we had about education and specifically vouchers. Even though my mom was overall rather conservative, she was adamantly opposed to vouchers for the very reasons she supported public education as a whole: my mom was a staunch advocate of educational opportunity for everyone, and from her perspective, vouchers and any sort of privatization of education set up a system that would leave lower-income or those without the necessary cultural capital behind those who could afford to use public money to supplement private education. This is one of the few political issues on which we agreed.

I also fondly remember walking with my mom through her garden in the morning and learning so much from her. Of course, like any kid, I hated weeding. I hated weeding the garden, I hated weeding the flowerbeds, i hated weeding. But as I got older, I grew to appreciate and love gardening, and many summer morning I would walk through my mom’s flower beds with her as she taught me the names of plants, the difference between annuals and perennials, the blooming periods of the different perennials, and so much more. I specifically remember my Mom’s war on snails and slugs, something she engaged in with an animosity that I rarely saw in her. I remember her walking through her hostas every morning plucking snails from the leaves and unceremoniously depositing them in the big blue trash can outside the garage. This is one place where my mom and I found common ground, and I cherish the time I was able to spend with her under the morning summer light at the foot of Lone Peak learning the names of plants and picking weeds and snails with her.

My Dad and Sofia at the burial.

The grandsons looking at photos of my mom and some of her horses.

Despite the sadness of a funeral, it's a good time to be together with the family.

and with my brothers, will certainly result in many awkward moments.

So now I’m home from Nationals, my mom is buried, and I’m trying to return to some sense of normal, though I’ve long lost any notion of what normal is. This last year has been such a mix of both pain and loss and accomplishment and joy that I’m not really sure how to ground or center myself. I’m a little lost regarding what to expect for the future, as many of my expectations and basic perspectives have certainly changed. I’m certainly more cynical about a lot, but on some levels continue to be hopeful and excited. I’m angry at times, but that doesn’t serve me or anyone else too well, so I try to focus my energy on other activities that will bring about some sort of positive outcome. Hopefully i can find a way to revisit some of my values and priorities because everything feels just a little up in the air or scattered on the ground at the moment.

On a hopeful note, a note marked by the beginning of new life and all the potential it entails, this morning, just a few days after my mom’s passing, my sister-in-law brought twin girls into the world. Congrats to the artist and the epicure and the newest additions!