Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Be Brave Enough to Be Willing to Fall

By Hannah

Ever since I can remember I have been far from graceful on my feet.  I have fallen and picked myself up more times than I can count. Because of that, one might think that I’m an expert, but I’m not.  My constant struggle with physical balance is both literal and a metaphor for so many other things in life. Each stumble, each fall is a reminder that life is uncertain and that me and my body are fallible.  Falling is scary and it can hurt, so being willing to fall is a hard thing to do.

Recently both my body and the universe have been throwing a lot at me and if I was afraid to fall I wouldn’t be able to move forward.  Trusting that my leg will swing through and catch me with my next step is not any different than believing that hard work, preparation and training will take you where you want to go. They both make perfect sense but they both seem very unlikely at random times. Despite the fear of falling, in order to get ahead you have to put yourself out there, even if it’s just one foot at a time or you may never know the strength you have.

Just about a month ago Team A.W.E. participated in an extraordinary event.  We were part of the TedxCrestmoorPark in Denver. The event was about community and breaking boundaries and we were given 15 minutes to speak. We were all comfortable speaking on our own in front of groups of various sizes; but this was a whole new ballgame.  We had to prepare and execute a speech as a team while making a positive impact on the people listening. Being relative perfectionists, in the days leading up to the speech we were unsure and we could have taken the easy route and done something we were more familiar with, but that’s not the kind of people we are. We were out of our comfort zones and at times it was difficult, frustrating, time consuming...


…and so WORTH IT!!

We were the final speakers of the night so we had listened to all the amazing stories of the strong people who spoke before us and knew we had big shoes to fill. 

We got up there, presented ourselves and our speech about as well as we could have, and in return we were given a standing ovation! It was unbelievable and beyond our expectations! We had taken a risk and put ourselves out there and it paid off!! We met many beautiful and motivated people, earned respect as speakers and individuals, renewed our spirits and opened doors to continue to grow as a team. 

Being brave enough to fall really meant that we were brave enough to succeed.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Be Brave Enough to be Surprised

By Carrie
So many hours, so many days and so much stress to make a plan work. As an athlete our training is all about a plan. We structure our goals around the training cycle. Whether it is for 4 weeks, 4 months or 4 years. There are specifics and minute details that prepare each one of us for the best success. As we know "Life is what happens while making plans." It does not matter how hard we try, there are things that we cannot control.
Many times I have tried to achieve a goal and felt defeated because it did not turn out like I expected.  My first thought is usually, "What could I have done differently to change the outcome"? On the opposite side of the coin there were times when I exceeded my expectations. I again ask "How could this happen to me"? There always seems to be questions about what and why things would happen.  In the past few weeks my life has changed. I aspire to be a ParaCyclist atop the podium. However, life seems to have its own plans for me. After the recent Track cycling Championships I felt like my dreams were rolling away. I did not perform to my expectations. I am not going to give up.  No question about it. Since the beginning of September I have started to coach a new swim team. The swimmers are from ages 5-18. By coaching them on a daily basis I have in turn been reminded of many fundamentals as an athlete. When a plan doesn't work, step back and break it down into pieces. The swimmers keep working hard despite the challenges. When you step back and can create a new path to reach the same goal, you dig a little deeper. You work harder and smarter.   After these past two months and my performance I am happy to be surprised. I am not broken or defeated. I am not changing my goal. I still strive to be the best. But I am happy to change my plan.
In the last few days it has been a whirlwind. Just as I begin to regain my plan I am hit with a strong wind of momentum. People have stepped into my life by happenstance. The genuine kindness, support and  assistance have reignited this fire. I never thought that I was without motivation or support.  I never assumed that this would happen. It wasn't a part of my plan.  But now, I am on a recreated path with a plan of action looking forward to being surprised with the outcome.   No doubts, no questions, Being brave enough to be surprised!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Brave Enough to Look Within

by Ryan

Last weekend I went to California for a swim meet. I came back to Colorado with a new American Record in my pocket, yet a lot of frustration about sprinting (which seemed to weigh much heavier than everything else in my luggage.)

I have never been known as much of a sprinter, before or after my accident. I have always struggled with being able to perform in such short spurts of time and energy. In high school it never seemed to add up to much of a problem because I would just swim something else; however, in the world of para-swimming there really isn't anything else.

My American Record was set in the 200 backstroke-- four times the distance that I am asked to sprint. My sprint events were terrible, but on some level I set myself up for that.

I am no stranger to self-deprecation, as am I no fool to placing blame on a weak performance. I know that sprinting is about confidence and courage and believing in yourself FAR more than it is about technique and training time and dedication to the actual sport. With all of that said, I know that it is, without a doubt, my fault that I can't sprint.

I can sprint in practice in beautiful strokes of confidence and poise. I can sprint with a smile and encouraging times. I just can't do it in a meet. This, I know, goes far deeper than just stroking, swimming, and sprinting...

For the past few months, I have begun challenging my athlete brain with the comforts of a sports psychologist. We have discussed many things that directly relate, and oddly don't relate to my performance in the water. Right now we are focusing on my sprint.

It's so scary and disappointing to acknowledge that I am the thing responsible for holding me back. It isn't my lack of motivation. It isn't my lack of desire. It isn't my willingness to train.

It is my own negativity and lack of confidence that stem much further than simply sport.

However, I am up for this challenge. I recognize that I am willing and wanting to repair my self-doubt and deprecating thoughts. All that I know is that I care enough to take this on. This challenge is far more difficult than any physical training and preparations I have ever known. It is unsettling and it is raw.

BUT for the first time, I'm brave enough, at last, to look within...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Brave Enough to Be Forgiving

by Trish

Have you ever fallen short of your own expectations and found that you just couldn’t get over it? It happens to me all the time. I have learned over the years, that not only am I my own worst critic, but sometimes I am downright unforgiving of myself. I have been working on this and continue to work on it, because the best athletes are the ones who have this skill down pat. When things don’t go well in a competition, and you dwell on it, it ruins the rest of your practice or race and holds you back from truly excelling. I remember it on the balance beam as a high school gymnast. I had one meet where I fell not once, but FOUR times. And I was the gymnast on my team who had previously had the most “no fall” routines of everyone. But I let this one fall take me totally out of my game. And because I kept thinking about it, it took my attention away from the rest of my routine. Same thing in age group swimming—100 back, crappy first turn and the rest followed suit. Triathlon? I’ve had bad bike legs turn into even worse run legs. I battle this consistently and then I even have a hard time forgiving the fact that I can’t forgive. What an ugly and unproductive circle.

It wasn’t until recently when I got totally called out on this hang-up that I decided it was time to revisit this issue and remind myself to let the mistakes roll right off my back and move on. Because once you do that, I believe you have a whole new world of possibilities.

On a row one day in Oklahoma City, Coach “Muff” and his girlfriend Marina (who is also a rowing coach), were riding next to me on a motorized boat to watch my form and oversee my workout. Several times during my row I would not get the oars placed in the water correctly and on some occasions I would miss the water completely. When I did that, I’d usually utter a four letter word under my breath, shake my head and then, you guessed it, miss the water again on the next stroke.

It was then that Marina told me when I miss a stroke I need to be quick to forgive myself and move on. She said “it’s not the stroke that you miss that is a problem, it’s the four or five or six subsequent strokes that you miss because you were beating yourself up that are the problem.” And in that moment it really hit me. She didn’t tell me something I didn’t already know, but sometimes just having someone else point something out, verbalize it and stress it, that makes the difference.

I’m glad she said that because as I raced this season, I wanted to stay strong in my mental game. I knew that in my actual rowing I was still learning, but I have been an athlete all my life and I know that half the battle is being in control of your thoughts. Each time we go out on the water now, if I miss a stroke, I breathe through it, don’t utter a word, let it go, and row on. It sounds so simple, yet it changes everything. And, it’s amazing what a big difference it’s making. Rowing is a sport of patience, rhythm and timing. When it’s executed correctly it’s smooth, flowing and beautiful. But, like anything—even everyday life—it takes time, attention and effort. One stroke at a time…strong, steady and forgiving. With a strategy like that, eventually you get through even the deepest waters.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Be Brave Enough to Unite

by Trish, Ryan, Hannah, & Carrie

Team AWE kicked off its first official event at the inaugural Denver Triathlon last Sunday, July 24th.

Four women. Three sports. One and a half teams. One purpose.

We competed in the relay event, in which each member took on portions of swimming, cycling, and running. However, our teamwork began long before the actual race. After weeks of not planning, entering the race ended up as a last minute endeavor and was finalized late into the night before the triathlon.
"Carrie, my dog ate my handlebar tape. Do you have any??"
"Do you have any sunscreen, Hannah?"
"Ryan, do you know that we can't park at the lake in the morning and have to take a shuttle?"
"Is the shuttle accessible, Trish?"

Ironically, after all of the lack of planning we ended up at the same spot just before dawn. In the parking lot of Invesco Field, under the Colfax bridge,getting geared up and ready to go--a perfect spot to meet a team ready to rally for the competition to come. Most of our concerns seemed to resolve themselves as we sat in the parking lot.  With one able bodied guy from the race staff and Carrie running through the median between the cars, we came up with a game plan for the day.
One of the more difficult aspects to this particular triathlon was that it had 2 transition areas at 2 different locations.  In order to make it work for us; Trish and Ryan convinced the race officials to let Ryan park at the lake, so they loaded Hannah's bike & Ryan's wheelchair into the car and headed to the swim start and transition 1 at Sloan's Lake. Carrie hoped on the shuttle with her pilot for the day and also went to the lake. While waiting Trish took a nap in her car after being exhausted from a tough week of training in Oklahoma City and a delayed a flight the night before. She awoke to a text from Ryan saying she was out of the water and couldn't find Hannah on her bike. Finally Hannah found Ryan in the transition area and was on her way. During this whole process Carrie had completed a 13 minute swim and was well into her bike ride. Ryan loaded back up into the car and met up with Trish in transition 2  preparing  for her run. Trish crushed the run in a short time of  just over 16 minutes!  Job well done ladies!!

For something that started with such uncertainty, we came together and united at the finish line.  We took all of our individual strengths and made them work for one common effort.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Brave enough to Move Forward

by Trish

It has been said that variety is the spice of life. That’s why I thought I had it so good as a triathlete. Always something different. There was swimming, handcycling, pushing. Tons of workouts to choose from, different distances of races. It was so much fun for so long. But eventually I began to feel like I was in a rut. After nearly ten years of competing in triathlon, I found that I was ready for a new adventure. It was hard to convince myself that moving forward was the right thing to do. I’m a triathlete, I thought. How could I do something else, something new? Oftentimes, I think, to realize how you feel about different elements in your life, whether it be a job, relationship, possession or passion, you have to step away and take a breather. And that’s exactly what I have done. This year triathlon has taken a back seat and I’ve become a rower. Well, I’m not entirely ready to drop my former identity, so I’ll call myself a triathlete with a rowing habit. I love the breath of fresh air it’s given me, the new perspective and the challenge of trying something different. I’m not saying goodbye to triathlon forever. In fact, I have one on the schedule in September, but here goes something new. If it can open a new door or window in my life, or make me see something different, then let it be. Time to be brave enough to move forward and see where it takes me.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Be Brave enough to be EMPTIED

By Carrie

  I have done sports for the majority of my life. Each sport at different times served as an outlet. Either I was trying to go have fun or I had a goal in mind to achieve. Whether gymnastics,dance, swimming diving volleyball, basketball, track, or cycling. They have all had a profound impact on how I go about my life. Like any other skill we learn as a child, the skill becomes used and manipulated to serve the purpose in the moment. We learn to walk with one foot in front of the other and then we dance. We learn to bend over backwards and then we learn to tumble.  For every sport I gave every thing I had towards my goal at the time. There is a true peace of mind when you leave the court of play knowing that there was nothing left to give. Almost three years ago I started the sport of tandem cycling. I ride on the back of a two person bicycle and pedal until my legs fall off and then pedal harder and faster.   I am forced to put my goals and faith in a shared apparatus. Last July I was fortunate to compete at the US Paralympics Track Cycling National Championships. We earned a spot to represent the United States at the World Championship to be held in Montichiari, Italy in March of 2011. While in Italy I learned a g great deal about the sport and a great deal about myself. In all of the years I have swam I can remember a hand full of races that I felt there was nothing left to give.   Swimming is a little different than cycling. Technique is more important in swimming than in cycling, generally speaking. I suppose in my subconcious I reserved just enough to deal with life after the workout or after the race.   

My nerves were pretty good before our first race at the ParaCycling Track World Championships. I was use to the pressure from past experiences as a swimmer. I was ready to GO!!! After 4 laps all out and a great start lap I was EMPTIED. I was physically unable to put feet on the ground and walk with any sort of normal muscle connection. As hard as that race was I was never more proud of my race than at that moment.All of my teammates had cheered and I felt a part of something so AMAZING!!  Shelby and I dropped 5 seconds off our best time. I have always been a  person to see how I could improve even on my best performances.  This time I walked away with a big smile knowing that even at 13th It was a good race. 

This new sport has tapped into a new realm of maturity as a person and as an athlete. I still want to be the best. I still want that perfect race. I still want that medal around my neck. Because of Para Cycling and the tandem experience, I have a new appreciation for what "sport" means to me.  It means to be absolutely emptied physically, mentally, and emotionally towards what you love. I do my job because I want to prove something to others but I do my sport to prove sonething to myself . To be emptied and yet so fulfilled, What a complexity but yet AMAZING. Being brave enough to be EMPTIED

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Brave Enough to Be Different

by Carrie

I remember several moments when growing up that my pale skin and white hair were an attraction for questions.  They came from children in the most truthful form and with hesitation from adults. Both were curious and all questions were an attempt to erase ignorance. 

I was born with albinism and the directly related visual impairment. Though the visual impairment plays a part in how I do things the white hair and pale skin become the symbol of something different.  As a child with a difference it was hard to blend in but as an adult conforming or blending in is not as important. I still get questions but they are not as harsh or challenging as they once felt. 

The other AWE ladies are not so different. At least I see more in common than different. If anything was to be pointed out I suppose it would be the lack of eyesight and the ability to drive. All four of us have a very similar mindset towards life and our passion. The way in which we go about our lives is no more different than that of any other group of individuals. We all are sportswomen. 

My life in sports and in everyday tasks have been molded and reshaped by a creativity in order to adapt and adjust with my disability.  

While growing up many are taught to believe that different is something negative. I did not realize that different could be positive until high school. I am artist and did not realize the scope of my skill until my peers saw my work.  They were very receptive and then they asked more questions that usually started with “HOW?”   

Now, fifteen years later, I have learned many lessons because of my disability and the challenges I face. I try to express by my experience as an artist proves following your dreams or reaching for a goal requires creativity. As an athlete I must continue to dig deep within myself to find something unfamiliar and redefining of my potential. Both art and sports share in this respect for the rules and guidelines but exude that the exceptional soon become the norm.    

Friday, July 8, 2011

Brave Enough to Change Your Mindset

by Ryan

A year ago I would have never thought that I would be here today with the fierceness and fire to swim and sacrifice so much simply for the sake to do so. However, now sitting here in this position, I couldn't imagine it any other way.

My world has turned into something I could have barely dreamed before. Somehow I have pushed myself to become someone like the swimmer I have always dreamed of being; but I am not sure if my psyche knows exactly how to keep up.

Last week, I sat among Olympians and Paralympians eating their lunches and going about their days just as "real" people do. Some kept under a strict diet of fruits and veggies. Some consumed upwards of 5,000 calories in that meal alone. And some just sat in the dining hall to enjoy the company of their teammates.

After being named a part of the ParaPan American Games Team, part of the requirements were to join the rest of the team in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center for a meet and training camp for a few days over the summer. 

In the manner that I always seem to work myself up, I spent countless days and nights fretting about both meet and camp to the point where I think it actually affected my meet performance. Granted, I still swam my very best... but I couldn't help but feel that something extremely daunting and uncomfortable was holding me back. As always, it was myself. 

This training camp has taught me a lot, mostly about things that don't fit into a pool or sports complex of any kind. This camp taught me about how my mindset has to be as practiced and trained as the rest of my body. So for now, I will be spending extra attention and strength to get those things as fine-tuned as I am capable of so that the next time I spend a meal at the OTC, I won't feel like I have to question the invitation to do so.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Be Brave Enough to TRY

by Hannah 

Everything in life is a challenge if you aren't good at it or don’t know what you’re doing. The catch is that in order to master anything at some point you have to take that first step and try it. 

New adventures and activities can be very humbling and my latest task proved no different. Inspired by my good friend from Slovenia and the great ladies that are part of Team A.W.E. I decided to try out the sport of Paracanoe. I packed my blazer up and drove 1200 miles to Seattle with my puppy in the passenger seat. I knew when I left that it was very likely to be tough and that there was a real possibility I would not be good at all. Thing is, "You can’t win if you don’t try" so I was going to give it a solid attempt.

I spent a total of 6 days on the water at Green Lake with Robert Picardo and Vadim Kin from the Seattle Canoe and Kayak Club (SCKC). My first day was almost comical as I completely embarrassed myself. I had been traveling for lots of hours with very little sleep and my body was not happy. Vadim and I spent some time setting the boat up so I could try to paddle and no sooner did I get away from the dock, and trying to stay balanced than I was tipped over and taking a swim. The air temp was about 63°F and the water a whopping 55°F. It wouldn’t have been so embarrassing if a former US Canoe/Kayak team member hadn’t been there on the dock to watch the whole thing and then I was so worn out and cold that I couldn’t stop shivering enough to get back in the boat. Not the start I was looking for, but I’ve never been easily deterred, so I showed up the next day to try again.

All but one of the days I was on the water I tipped over and had to swim back to the dock or shore with my boat and paddle in hand. Sometimes it was a long swim and the water didn’t warm up. My drive to improve kept me going and motivated me to get back in the boat cold and wet whether it was sunny or rainy. My boat handling skills progressed and was assured that I have potential to be a good racer. I might not be ready to enter a regatta tomorrow but I got better each and every day. 

 I was brave enough to try and I might have just found a new sport!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Brave Enough to Be Introduced

by Ryan

Team AWE is the brainchild of four motivated and gregarious women that were all looking for much of the same thing. Conceived over a latte and some warm conversation, it was immediately evident that what these women each lacked on their own, could be found when uniting together.

And so it was.

The Able Women Empowering to make a change of the face of women in sports, women in disabled sports, awareness of physical challenges, support for new women athletes, and everything in between. These women--Tricia Downing, Ryan McLean, Hannah Pennington, and Carrie Willoughby-- have never been so excited to prove to the world the power and passion that lies within a team, this team, Team AWE.

The team has dedicated their efforts to improving themselves and their own sporting ventures, but--more importantly--to leave an impact on audiences of willing individuals brave enough to take a look at their own challenges and desires, and make the willing decision to go for them.