Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's 1991 - A 25 Year Flashback

It was the Christmas break of my first full year of teaching in Canada.  I was a 24 year old single guy who had just finished celebrating Christmas with my family in Toronto.  I was living in the small and friendly town of Norwood, ON.  At that time Toronto did not have an NBA team and my favorite team was the Celtics.  This was back in the glory years of Bird, McHale, Parish, DJ, etc.  Long before the internet, I got a travel book and found a place on Comm Ave. called the College Club, booked a room, a flight, and off I went from Dec. 28th until Jan 3rd to explore Boston on my own.

The main goal of my trip was to try and see a Celtics game at the Garden (the old one!).  So the day after I arrived I took the T up to the Garden and tried to buy my first scalped ticket.  I still don't know why the scalper wouldn't take the traveler's check.  I had to head into a pizzeria, get a slice with a $50 check, and pay him with the change.  I can't remember how much the ticket cost, but I found out what "obstructed view" meant.  It wasn't what the scalper had said!

Well there was neat group of fans standing in an area behind some seats and they invited me to stand with them.  We had a great view right at center court.  I explained I had come from Canada to watch them play and we had a really great time. This was my first exposure to the AMAZING SPORTS fans of Boston.  Just as the game ended (the Celtics CRUSHED the Knicks - with Patrick Ewing) one of the guys (I just remember he was from Providence) said he had a ticket to a game a few days later against the Suns (with Barkley) and he couldn't use it.  He also asked me if I would be interested in heading to Hellenic College to watch a Celtics practice.  I said sure.  So I told this total stranger where I was staying and the next day he drove to Comm Ave. and I got in and off we went to Hellenic College.

What a great experience!  I got into the practice and got to meet Parish, McHale, Ed Pinkney, and Brian Shaw.  I took pics from a distance of Bird and Reggie Lewis but didn't dare approach them.  I even said "Hello" to Red Auerbach,

When the practice ended we headed back to Boston and I bought my new friend some lunch at the Boston waterfront.  I just remember we ate at huge fish market type place and the fish I had was amazing.

Now comes New Year's Eve (25 years ago TONIGHT).  I had asked one of the employees where I was staying where a great place for a New Year's Eve party would be.  She mentioned the Four Seasons had a big bash.  I had brought my nice suit and so off I went to get a ticket.  I can't remember the cost, but it was pretty expensive.

The party itself was a lot of fun.  Some drinking and dancing (with total strangers of course) but the highlight of the night came when I felt someone tap my shoulder and when I turned around, I had to look up, WAY UP, to see both Robert Parish and Ed Pinkney standing there.  They had remembered me from the practice.  Robert asked me if I would like a drink.  Of course I said "YES, please." I sat with them for a bit, but soon realized I was the third wheel as both of them had 3 or 4 lady friends draped off of them.  I said thanks again and quietly moved away.

I waited until midnight, sang Auld Lang Syne, had a sip of champagne and called it a night.

I think it was the next day when the Celtics played the Suns and crushed them as well.  It was always fun to watch Charles Barkley lose.

I headed back to Canada after having a great trip to the area of the world I would move to 12 years later with Sue and Owen.

Happy New Year!!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

On the Verge Of 2016.

I would like to ask a favor. PLEASE STOP POSTING the "What's your excuse?" memes with the picture of someone with a visible disability doing some athletic feat. It sends SO MANY mixed messages, the main one being, if you are able-bodied and not working out, you should be, because this "amazing" person is.  Another one I can't stand is, "The only disability is a bad attitude".  As if I can will myself to slam dunk a basketball simply by trying harder.  There are 100's of people out there with non-visible challenges as well, who simply get disregarded because we can't see how hard their life can be.  Instead of asking yourself, "Why aren't I doing anything?" ask the athlete "Why do you do what you do?" You will more than likely find out, it is for the same reason any other person competes, and that's for the personal satisfaction of being better than he or she was yesterday.

I'm the first one to admit I probably post way too many pics and details about my work-outs and races.  I'm not doing that so people say "Look at that dwarf-athlete"'  I'm hoping that over time, people will forget that I have dwarfism and simply see me as some soon-to-be 50 year old guy who decided almost 7 years ago, to take control of his life.  Do I want to be the first person with dwarfism to complete an Ironman triathlon?  Heck ya!  But if someone else does that first, that's not going to take away from what I will eventually do and I'll be the first one to congratulate them.  I simply want others with dwarfism, especially young children who have been told countless times, sometimes by people who love them dearly, "You can't do that because you're too small" to realize there are no limits to what the human heart desires.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The End of my 7th Season of Racing......and on the Verge of Turning 50 Years Young.

As I prepare to start my official training for IRONMAN ‪#‎IMMD16‬ I think it's important to reflect upon what got me to this point. There are far too many people to thank at this point and I will certainly leave someone out if I try and made an exaustive list. Suffice it to say that Sue and Owen are certainly the two most important people in my life and if it wasn't for the two of them I am certain I would not have taken this path. My mother Bernice taught me that you never give up and always finish what you start.
It's funny though, that one single act from our friend Tina is what got this idea of triathlon to germinate in my mind. She sent me the link to the following video. I watched it intently at my desk at work, and as happens to many who watch this, tears started to stream down my face. I remember it well because as the video ended a student came up behind me to ask for some help with their math. As I turned around, I must have totally freaked them out with the tears streaming down my face. They asked if I was OK and I had to explain I had just watched something that was somewhat emotional.
After watching, I thought that if Dick can do that with his son Rick, maybe I could complete a triathlon. I think that what got me with this video wasn't so much the physical feat by the two of them, but more so, the love and devotion each of them have for each other. I have raced with them both numerous times now and consider both of them, KathyBryan and the rest of ‪#‎TEAMHOYT‬ my dear friends. I hope as I continue to race, I demonstrate to Owen that it isn't so much how fast you finish, or who you beat, but simply that you try your best each and every time.
At that point I was not at all thinking of an Ironman distance race. So I started to search out in 2009 and found out about a sprint distance race in Lowell, MA called the Mill City Triathlon. I contacted the race director, Claire Cloutier (Jeffrey), to explain, that I had dwarfism and wanted to compete in her race. I was SO HAPPY as she said she had no problem with that. Well, that's how it all started. I finished that race, and wanted more. I joined up with Comprehensive Racing that year and raced with them until I joined up with Achilles NYC in late 2012.
I never dreamed it would bring me to where I am today. 35+ triathlons, including 7 half-Iron distance races, 10+ half-marathons, and 6 marathons and a proud member of Achilles International and the Merrimack Valley Striders.
Every time the training or race gets difficult I think back to all the people who told me, "You can't do that because you're too short." and that helps to push through whatever pain I am experiencing.
Prove the doubters wrong. And always remember, that YOUR WILL NEEDS TO BE STRONGER THAN YOUR WON'T.

Monday, May 4, 2015

735 Days...................

It's been two weeks since the 2015 Boston Marathon and I am finally finished with my thoughts about the entire experience.  Those of you who know me are aware of the emotional challenge these last 2 years have been.  They of course pale in comparison to the pain and heartache countless families have had to deal with in the wake of the tragedy that occurred in our city back on April 15th, 2013.  I do not for a second pretend that the depression I have gone through is anything like what others have had to deal with. But this has been my battle, and I will attempt to write down some of my feelings as I talk about what April 20th, 2015 has meant to me personally.
There are SO MANY people I have to thank before I start. I know many wait until the end of a piece to list those who have helped, but I think it's important to start first with my thank-yous.  Of course, none of this could have happened without the love and support of Sue and Owen.  It goes without saying, you were at the finish line on Boylston in 2013 when everything started to happen and you had the courage to come back in 2014, when I wasn't able to make it, and then again, this year.  
I need to thank the Achilles-NYC Paratriathlon Team and Work-Live-Tri.  My team and coaches have been amazing.  Achilles invited me to join back in 2012 and they have supported and encouraged me to strive to do my best.  They have helped me get to races and I never feel happier racing, then when I am in the BIG APPLE.  Thank you to Kat, Ellie, Dick and all of the countless staff and guides.  Thanks to Brian, my coach, for preparing me so well.  I was able to qualify for Boston this past November at the NYC Marathon, thanks to his expert coaching.
I  don't know if I would be racing triathlons and marathons today if it weren't for Dick and Rick Hoyt. When I first saw the ideo of them completing the Kona Ironman back in 2009, the seed was planted. Today I consider many members of Team Hoyt to be some of my closest friends. Dick, Rick, Kathy, Bryan, Dana, Meghan, Tammy, and countless others.  And then my MVS family.  You invited me to race the Feaster Five in 2011 and I haven't left yet.  Tom, Lyn, Denise, and SO MANY others, there are too many to name.  Nothing like starting the Boston Marathon and getting hugged by the entire Human Chain!!!  
After getting sick prior to the race last year I was trying to be really cautious this year about staying away from germs. A lot of good that does for a high school teacher and father of a 12 year old boy.  About a week prior to race day this year, I got a pretty nasty cold.  I tried everything short of going to the doctor.  All sorts of cold medicine, EMERGEN-C, AIRBORNE, and though things were starting to feel a bit better, I was worried I was going to head into the race with a nasty cold and a lack of sleep.

Friday April 17th

I finished teaching and headed down to Boston for a talk put on by the Harvard Book Store at the Old South Church. Meb was going to be talking about his 2014 first place finish at Boston and also a bit about his new book.  It was a chance to listen to him and at the same time get a copy of his book.
It was a nice evening and I got a chance to have a quick "catch-up" with David Willey, editor of Runner's World magazine.  Meb is a terrifice speaker who did an amazing job speaking from the heart.

David Willey, Mary Wittenberg, Meb, Amby, and Scott Douglas
I was also able to catch up and meet one of my local online friends in person.  Christine runs in the area and is married to "BIG BIRD".  Runners in the area know exactly who I'm talking about.  After the chat I took a quick run over to the hotel in Charlestown where the Achilles Freedom Team were staying.  The Achilles team decided to pick up my packet and number at the expo.  I was a little bummed as this is one of the FAV things to do prior to a race.  I'll make sure if I run again next year, I'll ask that they leave my bib for me to get.  This night would end up being my only good night sleep all week.

Saturday April 18th

I had planned to head into Boston early in the AM to watch the B.A.A. 5K and Invitational Mile races to support a lot of my friends.  After chatting with my friend Ric from MVS, I knew being rested for the race on Monday was much more important.  I can go in another year to watch (as I did last year), so I decided to rest at home in the morning.   I  was planning on heading down to the expo to pick up the finish line passes I managed to arrange for Sue and Owen, and to my pleasure, both Sue and Owen wanted to tag along.  It was a beautiful afternoon for a trip into the city.  Prior to heading into the expo we met up with a long-time online friend, Rachel Weeks.  She is a visually-impaired Ironman-finisher and marathoner.  She was there along with her guide, Brian Lane.  It was a super quick visit, but I'm glad we got to finally meet in person.  We walked around the expo and made sure to head to the Team Hoyt booth.  Sue and Owen have met Dick, Rick and Kathy before, but got a treat today as my dear friend and runner, Dana was there with her boyfriend Giancarlo along with another friend Jennifer.  Dana and I have known each other for a few years and try to connect every time I race in New York.
Dana and I together for a moment
in the 2014 NYC Marathon
Usually it's on the race course for either the 1/2 or full marathons.  After looking around we headed back to the car, but managed a stop at the new Marathon Sports "Concept Store" on Boylston.  We met up with the store manager Rusty, who is also a guide for a visually impaired runner, doing the marathon.  Owen picked up a really cool 2015 Boston marathon t-shirt.  We headed home and made a stop at one of our favorite restaurants along route 1, the Border Cafe.  At this point my head/chest cold seem to be on the way out, but I was nowhere near 100%.  I had a 60 minute ride on the trainer in the hope that it might help and relax me.  I tried to make it an early night, but things did not go well, and I did not have a good night's sleep.

Sunday April 19th

Prior to heading off to church I decided to do my last 20 minute run.  It was a beautiful morning and all went well.  It was a quick out and back from home making it almost all the way to downtown Salem.  Church went well, and has been customary prior to my marathon races, Manny, our parish priest called me up to the front for a blessing.  Again, it was a very humbling experience, but it helps me relax to know that I will be cared for while running.  Knowing that others will be keeping me in their prayers during the long day goes a long way to helping me relax.  After heading home I needed to make one last trip down to the expo.  I was to be checked over by the USTF in order to be considered classified to run for the US Paralympic Track Team.  Well, I now have provisional standing and can compete at events if I like.  The problem is, they don't have any long distance events in my classification and I would never consider myself a sprinter.  Before heading home I had the pleasure of meeting up with Wes Harding and his family from Canada.  He is an amazing athlete who runs for Team Hoyt.  His daughters are the most amazing cheering section ever.
Rebekah Harding and I had to do a "Bandana Selfie"
Once done, I headed back home to pick up Sue and come back for the Achilles Marathon Team dinner at the Constitution Inn in Charlestown.  Owen was going to come along, but he had been involved in a play and chose to attend a cast party instead.  Good choice for him, since no other children attended the dinner.  We got to sit with my dear friend Ariel from NYC who was going to be a guide for "Backwards" Bill.  He is an Achilles athlete from NYC who races in marathons pushing himself with his feet going backwards in a wheelchair.

We headed home soon after the meal and I started to finish getting everything ready for the EARLY morning trip down to the city.  The weather forecast was calling for cool temps in the low 50's with rain coming later in the afternoon. My hope would be to finish before the rain if all went well.  Once Owen came home from his party he had one very important job to do for me.  It's Owen's tradition to put on my shoes to put "SPEED" in them.  For bigger races he also puts on my singlet to put "HEART" in my jersey.  I find it hard to race without Owen doing this.  I had all my clothes ready, including my drop bag and the clothes I would dump at the start line prior to the race start.  With the alarm set for 3:30AM, I went to bed, but it would be quite a while until I finally fell asleep.

Marathon Monday

The alarm went off before I knew it and I was up.  I headed downstairs to get dressed and try to get out the door by 4AM.  I had decided not to eat my breakfast, but instead take it with me and eat on the bus ride to Hopkinton.  A quick look outside and the sky was actually partly cloudly and then I looked at the weather forecast.  They were calling for the rain to start much earlier then originally planned along with some strong winds from the NE.  My immediate thoughts went to the winter of training I had just completed.  Lots of snow and cold temps from the middle of January all the way until mid-March.  I was ready for this!  Once I was all ready to go, I went upstairs to wake up Sue and give her a gentle kiss and hug good-bye.  We each said, "See you at the finish line", and I headed out.

Meghan Cole from Team Hoyt
Of course, the drive to Boston was the quickest ever with no traffic on the roads.  My plan was to drive down and park very close to the finish line and then head over to the Sheraton Hotel for the ride with the other mobility impaired (MI) athletes.  If I got there quick enough I would be able to see all my friends on Team Hoyt before they headed to Hopkinton.  Once I parked the car on Clarendon, I started to make my way to the Sheraton. Things were not looking good on a taxi as I started to walk to the hotel.  According to GPS it would be about a 15 minute walk and I might miss Team Hoyt.  All of a sudden a car pulls over and the driver leans over and says, "HI John.  Where are you heading?"  It was another athlete from Baystate Triathlon driving to his bus and he offered to give me a lift.   I got to the Sheraton and headed upstairs to find Team Hoyt assembling.  I made it!!!  I managed to see all my friends and wish them well.  These were all the charity runners for Team Hoyt who had all raised money for the foundation in exchange for their bib to run in the marathon.

My friend and hero, Rick Hoyt
I headed downstairs to wait for my bus.  I had decided to see if I could ride with Dick and Rick Hoyt along with Bryan Lyons who would be pushing Rick in the marathon for the first time, and Kathy Boyer.  Along with all the MI athletes we loaded up on the buses and then headed out to Hopkinton at about 6:15AM.  The ride is really amazing as we have a police escort all the way to the starting line.  I took the time on the ride to try and focus on the race and at the same time eat my breakfast.  I had my usual pre-race breakfast of an english muffin with PB, a banana, Gatorade and something special for today, one of Sue's homemade chocolate chip cookies.  I also had an apple sauce that I would eat about an hour before the race start, which would go off at exactly 8:50AM.

We arrived at the school near the starting line and there was some confusion as to where the MI athletes were to assemble with some people were telling us to go the tent with the hand-cyclists while others said we were to be in the gym of the school with the wheelchair athletes.  Given the choice with the weather the way it was, I opted to go into the school.  I found a spot on the floor to chill for a while and was able to spend some time chatting with some of my fellow MI athletes like Scott Rigsby, Richard Blalock, Kelly Luckett, Dahn Trang, and Cedric King to name a few.  I made my
Getting ready with
Scott Rigsby
obligatory trip to the bathroom upon arrival at about 7:15 AM and later would realize I never went again until we were home after the race at about 5:30 PM.  I am SO LUCKY when it comes to the bathroom and racing!!!!

I took my usual ALEVE prior to race start and was itching to get outside to start stretching.  And of course, the rain started, far earlier than expected.  I went back inside for a bit, but then decided there was no time like the present to get used to the rain.  Prior to heading outside I lubed up my feet in preparation for the all the rain and rubbed some Arnica creme on my legs and hips.  The final step was to roll-on some BIO-FREEZE on my lower back. I quickly ditched my rain pants, tied up my drop bag and headed outside.  I was left with only one remaining piece of clothing to ditch, a hoodie I picked up from Savers.  The other athletes headed outside a few minutes later and then as a group we were lead to the starting line. For the 3rd year in a row, I was to be in the starting wave of the most amazing race in the world, the BOSTON MARATHON.  One of the MANY amazing parts to the marathon for me, is the Human Chain that holds the runners at the start.  I have been blessed to be a part of the Merrimack Valley Striders (MVS) for the last few years.  The majority of the volunteers in the chain are from MVS.  My dear friend Lyn, organizers this group of amazing people, so rather than list some of the names (you know who you are) and miss out on someone, I will simply say, that seeing Lyn and all the others reassured me that I was going to have an amazing day.  I got a hug from my dear friend Dave (the race director) and even Tom Grilk, the CEO of the B.A.A. came over to wish me luck and remind me that I had a job to do.  This was HAMMER-TIME!!!!

My 3rd time at the starting line of the Boston Marathon
The rain had stopped for the time being and I was well-dressed.  I had shorts, three layers on the top (a short-sleeved compression shirt, long-sleeved shirt from a Feaster-five race and my Achilles singlet), gloves, my MVS red headband to keep my ears warm, and my CAF visor.  I had sun-glasses to help with the wind if needed, but I don't think I ever used them.

At precisely 8:50AM, the race was started and off we went.  We were warned to keep to the right, but I knew we had a long while until the wheel-chairs would start, so I ran the tangents as long as I could.  I was doing my best to keep to my planned splits and like my coach Brian had suggested, I was focusing on my 5K splits instead of each mile.  The race is downhill at the beginning and I did my best to pull back and not go too fast.  I was to hit the 5K at 39:12 and in fact, did so at 39:11, so all
Early on in the race by Eric Conti
was well.  The first few miles are sparsely populated, with a large crowd though at a restaurant in Ashland,  They had a live band again and the crowd was amazing.  Once I got into Framingham there is a bend to the left in the road at Waverly Place I think.  There was a huge crowd of college students (guessing from Framingham State) on the right side, being help back by police.  I was alone at this time and so I tried to get them to react and so I ran over by them and stuck out my hand.  They went crazy to try and slap my hand, so much so that the police were asking me to move back towards the center of the road.  It was awesome!!!  By this time the wheelies and hand-cycles had passed me and then I was passed by the pro-women.  I consider myself extremely lucky as very few marathon runners ever get the chance to be racing and then be passed by the fastest people in the world. Of course, when the women passed I yelled out encouragement to both Shalene and Desi.  Before the men caught me, Bryan and Rick caught me.  I got a hug from Bryan and a big smile from Rick.  That really boosted my spirits.  As the men soon passed I of course yelled out to MEB to stay strong.

Photo by Bradley Rhoton
Keeping track of my time, I was to hit the 10K at 1:21:39.  According to the tracker, I hit it at 1:21:33.  So far all was working to plan.  Of course, then one of the downpours we were to experience happened and for a few minutes we were in a huge soaker.  It was at this point last year that my stomach started to bother me.  As many of you know I only made it as far as Natick Center before being violently ill, only to have to withdraw.  So wouldn't you know it, for a moment my stomach started to feel a little weird. Was I getting sick again?  I literally had to yell out loud, "You are NOT getting sick again.  Suck it UP!!" Well, I started to slow down but made it through Natick and on  towards Wellesley,  My times were starting to slip though and it was at this point I think I realized I might not make my BQ time of a sub 6 hour marathon.  I got through Natick, noticing the same group of firefighters who helped me and I even waved at the med tent where I withdrew last year.  But I was really starting to slow down now.  Don't know if it was the wind, rain, or something else, but at least I wasn't feeling cold or getting the chills.  At about mile 12, I came upon some friendly people, First, I saw Deb Jackson and she came over to give me a big hug. I told here things were not looking good for a fast race and she said not to worry about it. It was her late husband Jim Logan who first convinced me to do my first triathlon.  I remember telling him I had never ran 5K before and he said so, "Walk if you have to."  Now here I am running the Boston Marathon 6 years later.  Thanks Jim.  I would also see Neil Bernstein wearing his Pesky Pole.  And then off I went to Wellesley.

Dr. David Driscoll
The Scream tunnel came next and I managed to pick up my pace somewhat as I ran through and gave a few of the girls a "high-five".  I stopped and kissed one, totally picked by random, and then proceeded into Wellesley.  I came upon the medical tent past the 13.1 marker.  At this point my 1/2 time was a 3:08:56, a sure sign that my race now was a quest to finish.  One of Sue's co-workers from Harvard Vanguard is a doctor who volunteers at the marathon.  As I pulled up to the tent, I asked for Dr. Driscoll and David came running out. We had a quick chat, he snapped a picture and off I went.  It was then that I saw Jason Carraro, a good friend from Wicked Running in Salem and we had a couple of quick words.  Down through Newton Lower Falls, up over HWY 128 and onto the Newton Firehall, the first of only 5 turns in the race.

The next few miles were the Newton hills, culminating in Heartbreak Hill, just prior to Boston College.  I saw lots of friendly faces along this part of the course including but not limited to;  Bill Pennington, all the Wicked Runners (Mike Fitzgerald for sure!!!) at the gel stop, Team Hoyt Support (thanks for the fig newtons Corey!!!), my friends at Breakthrough Performance (Marty!!!), and Bill Burnett of Streamline events at the water stop.  If I'm leaving anyone else out, I'm
Around mile 17.  Photo by Mike Fitzgerald
sorry, as you all really helped get me up those hills!!!! It was at this point where a mother approaced me that I realized WHY I continue to do this.  She was a runner and as she passed me she turned around to tell me, that she has a son who is 16 who has achondroplasia, the same type of dwarfism I have.  We hugged and  I said to her, "He can do anything." She nodded and I think we both started to cry, at least I know I did.

The Scream Tunnel at Wellesley is great, but I truly think the students at BC are more enthusiastic.  Maybe it has something to do with the kegs of beer!!!  As I reached the summit and started to head into Brookline, I knew I would finally be achieving our goal.  I say our goal, because I consided Sue and Owen just as much a part of this journey.  As I cruised down past the church at BC and down past the green line turn-around, the crowds were starting to really fill in.  I think it was at this point that my friend, Scott Rigsby caught up to me and asked if we could run together,  In my mind, that would be the same as Wayne Gretzky asking if I wouldn't mind having him skate with me for a bit.  Scott was the first double amputee to finish the Kona Ironman and he has done it twice.  He is truly a hero of mine.

Running with my friend, Scott Rigsby.
Photo by D. Fitzpatrick
Heading up Hereford
I would now start to see a few familiar faces, I might be listing these out of order, but here goes. Melissa Gleaton from MVS, Dominic Fitzpatrick, a colleague from Pingree, two former students Jamie Berman and Caitlin Doherty, and Taylor Hartz.  These friendly faces got me all the way to Charlesgate Road, where I was stopped back in 2013.   I was hoping to finish the race with Scott but he had to make a pit-stop to use the bathroom and so I continued on my own.  Maybe it was fitting I finished this last 3/4 of a mile alone, since unlike so many others, I was not able to finish my race back in 2014.  The tears certainly started to flow on and off.  Once I reached the Mass Ave bridge and truly realized I was now in uncharted waters on the course, I got an idea to raise 4 fingers in the air.  This was not premeditated, but simply something I felt I should do to honor  the lives of Martin, Krystle, Lingzi and Sean.  I didn't keep my hand up the whole way, but on and off as I ran that last mile I would hold those fingers up in the air.  I made the right onto Hereford St and the crowds were still pretty big.  I passed Newbury and up the slight incline and took the left onto Bolyston.

Almost there.
And then I saw it, the finish line.  About 2/5 of a mile away.  I ran and cried holding up the hand at times, at other times outstretching both hands, not looking for cheers, but merely a release and an acceptance of what was waiting to complete.  This was a 735 day quest, from April 15, 2013 to April 20, 2015.  As I reached the grandstand, I looked and could not see Sue and Owen, but they were there.  The final few steps were finally done.  I walked along in a daze and then I saw Bill and Henry Richard cross the line and as I turned around a dear friend, Jackie also from Salem, was also finishing.  I then saw my dear friend Tom from MVS.

I was lead away to the VIP tent where they kept all the MI bags.  I called Sue to have her answer the phone cheering that they had seen me finish.  We were done.  My finish time, 6:39:52.  The most important word being, FINISHED!!!

Photo by Joe Kelley

Monday, January 5, 2015

My take on "UNBROKEN"

This is by no means a professional movie review.  As I've told many people, I am not a book reader, but when I picked up "UNBROKEN" last summer, I could not put it down.  It is by far, the best book I have ever read.

I also understand that most people believe that a book is always better than the movie.  Now don't get me wrong, I loved the movie.  It was well done, and stayed true to the story as told by Hillenbrand.

There are two important areas I truly feel are lacking in the movie and I thought I would take the time to write them down for anyone else who cares.
The real "BIRD"

Casting of Watanabe (The Bird)

Besides Louie Zamperini, this was the next most important person to cast.  When reading the book, I pictured a person very different from whom Jolie cast.  Takamasa Ishihara seemed much more slender and weaker than the person I imagined.  Even the one picture of the real BIRD included in the book looked like a tougher and more stocky person.


It probably didn't help that I knew before seeing him that the actor portraying him was also an accomplished rock singer and music producer.

I also remember a scene in the movie where it showed a close-up of his hands.  They were slender and well-manicured.  They didn't look like the hands of someone who relished dishing out savage beatings.

Louie's Family

Now the movie was a little over 2 hours, but I feel the end of it arrived so suddenly.  Louie got off the plane, hugged his family and then the movie was over.  Of course, there was the epilogue type updates with some pics, and then a video of the real Louie running with the torch for the Nagano Olympics.

The movie left out all of what his family was going through while he was missing and presumed dead.  Why was Louie such a strong person? I would imagine a lot of that came from his family, but we saw so little of it.  I remember reading about them and two very important parts of the story were not brought to life in the film.

When the War Department officially declared Louie dead the author goes on to say how his family would never admit that he was gone.   His parents refused to believe he was dead.  Of course, when they heard him on the radio broadcast, they knew they were right.  I feel this was really important to show.  It would have gone a long way to help show us part of what made Louie so strong.

Of course the movie mentions nothing about the struggles Louie went through when he came home.  They glossed over it in the epilogue, but  so many soldiers return home after war and feel so alone in their struggles.  I feel it would have gone a long way to honor all of our vets who have dealt with so many of these struggles, i.e. addiction, abuse, suicide etc.

One of the most poignant parts of the book I recall was when Louie's family replayed his taped interview from Japan to him after he had come home.  He immediately lost control and ripped up the tape never wanting to ever hear it.  Of course, I can totally understand why.  Again, this would really have added a lot to an amazing movie.  I know, it's easy for me to sit here and make a few suggestions.  Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Letter to the Editor

I sent this letter to the two local papers in Orangeville, ON.  It pertains to some running I did  while in town during our Christmas holiday trip back to Canada.

Unwanted Cell-phone Picture Subject

My sister and her family have lived in Orangeville for more than 35 years.  My mother lived there for more than 15 years until she passed away last spring. I even lived there in the fall of 1987 when I was a student at the University of Waterloo.  I visit at least once a year and since moving to the U.S., I consider it my home whenever I visit my family in Canada. Back in 2009 I decided to change my life and become more physically active.  I started at first competing in sprint triathlons and slowly moved my way up to longer distance races including half-Ironman distance triathlons and marathons.  I have competed in more than 30 triathlons, the Boston marathon, and have twice completed the NYC marathon.  I will again be running in the Boston Marathon in 2015.  I have done all of this in my 40’s, but what’s even more rare, is that I have achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism and I stand 4’4” tall.

Whenever I visit Orangeville, I usually have to spend some time training.  I have been able to get up early in the morning to swim at the Tony Rose pool and have also done a lot of running around the town.  I was home along with my wife and son for Christmas this past week and was able to go out for a morning run on both Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.  Both days I was startled to find people taking unwanted cell-phone pics of me running.  Until you have had this done to you, you have no idea how uncomfortable it makes you feel.  The first time it happened on Christmas Eve it was at about 11AM at the corner of First and Broadway.  A young girl, about 14 or so, pulled out her phone and as I passed her, I could see her turn around with her phone aimed right at me.  I stopped and stared at her, and she quickly put her phone down and started to walk in the opposite direction.  I could accept that maybe she was an immature teen, thinking it would be “funny” to show her friends a pic of someone who looks “different” running down the street.  I continued on my way.

What happened on Boxing Day morning was far more upsetting and concerning to me.  At about 10AM I was running down on First near the Tim Horton’s across from the Canadian Tire Store.  I approached a couple with a girl who seemed to be about 7 or 8 years old.  As I approached, I heard the dad clearly say as he was holding his phone, "I haven't started it yet." As I ran past, out of the corner of my eye I saw him lift the phone and turn to get his shot. I immediately stopped and turned around to stare at them and said, "GET A LIFE!!" They quickly turned around and walked away taking their daughter's hand. I stood still staring until they turned around again to see what I was doing and I yelled, "SERIOUSLY?"  What kind of example are these parents setting for their child?   What kind of a parent feels it’s acceptable to take the pic of a person, simply because they look different?

I passed many others both mornings greeting them by saying “Good morning” and virtually all of them replied in a friendly manner.  What upsets me most is that these inconsiderate people are what I remember most.  And of course my sister and her family are mortified that this happened in their town.  I do not want to attribute it to a “small town thing”, because believe it or not, it’s happened to me in larger cities too.   I am writing this letter simply because my nephew who grew up in Orangeville and now lives in a nearby town is embarrassed and asked me to write the letter in the hopes that just maybe, the people who took the pics will think twice about doing this in the future. 

Just take a moment and try to think what you would feel like if someone took pics of you simply because they thought you looked “funny” and possibly wanted to share them with others.  As a Canadian who has been living out of the country since 1999, with twelve of those year in the U.S., my American friends constantly talk about how caring, friendly, and welcoming Canadians are.  I would be honest to say, that is not how I felt when unwelcome photos were being taken of me on the streets of Orangeville, especially during the season of peace and goodwill towards all.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Timberman 70.3

WARNING:  This blog post contains some graphic descriptions of some bodily functions that some people might find a little gross.  Be forewarned.

I have been up to Timberman 4 out of the 6 years I have been racing triathlon.  This would be the first year I would race the 70.3 distance race.  Having raced 3 other 70.3 races, I knew I could do the distance, but from all who have completed this race, all I heard about were the HILLS, especially on the bike.

I've had a great season racing a total of 5 other triathlons (3 sprint and 2 Olympic distance), which included a PR in both distances.  My body felt the best it has in the last couple of years.  Through all of my races I've dealt with little pain in my back and legs.  All would be perfect, right?

I had connected with 3 friends through Baystate Triathlon/QT2 and was able to stay with them up in Gilford.  So happy that Susan, Shannon, and Tina and a place for me to stay.  We also had some great food while there as well.  More about that later.

Training went well leading up to the race thanks to Brian Hammond from WORKLIVETRI, our coaches for Achilles NYC.  Taper was going well and I was excited and then it happened, Owen got sick during the night on Tuesday before the race.  Of course, all I thought about as I was cleaning up the mess he made in his room, was, "PLEASE!! Not the Boston Marathon again!".  When I awoke in the morning I started to feel under the weather as well, so both Owen and I decided to stay home and rest.  We both SLEPT a ton during the day and I was hoping that was all I needed.  I got up Thursday morning and Owen was still not well.  I was feeling better so I went to do my SAT tutoring job and Sue stayed home to be with Owen.  All went well during the day, but then in the evening, I took a turn for the worse.  It started with the worst head-ache I have ever had and then the diarrhea came (remember, there was a WARNING at the start).  All the hydration I had built up was quickly leaving my body.  How would I be ready to race for 8+ hours in 3 short days?

On Friday Owen mentioned that his ears were hurting and so we went to the clinic and he was diagnosed with a double ear infection.  I was hoping that his vomiting earlier was possibly due to extreme post-nasal drip, which has happened to him before.  Maybe my upset  gut was just nerves?  Oh ya, I forgot, I also had a temp of about 101 on Thursday night, so no such luck there.

It was at this point that I seriously considered not racing on Sunday.  There was certainly no sense making myself REALLY ill.  As Friday progressed I was feeling better so I packed up with the intention of getting up at 4AM on Saturday in order to head to Gilford, NH to watch a few good friends race in the Sprint triathlon.  Well, I was up 10 minutes prior to the alarm and all seemed well (I am sure the IMODIUM helped).

With AMAZING friend Robert Head
The drive up there was fine and I headed right to the house where I would be staying.  I arrived a little after 6AM and Shannon was up to great me.  Susan was up soon as well.  I unloaded my gear and made my way to Ellacoya State Park to watch the sprint race.  I got there in time to meet up with one of my REALLY great friends Robert Head.  He has been working as a massage therapist at Timberman since my first year racing there back in 2009.  I got a HUGE HUG from him and started to watch the race.  I kept my eyes out for Colleen Alexander, Tammy Stapleton, and Serenity Coyne and was able to cheer all 3 of them on at different points of the race.  Both Colleen and Tammy would be racing on Sunday in relays as well.

Colleen, Amber, and Sean.
When I had seen my friends a couple of times on the course, I decided to head back to the house where I would be staying.  When I arrived everyone was up along with some other visitors. Rob Cannata was another Bay State triathlete staying at the house as well.  They had a nice breakfast waiting for me.  The pancakes with fresh homemade blueberry syrup were amazing.

I unpacked some of my gear and then decided to head over to Gunstock to pick up my race packet.  As a para-triathlete I had my stuff with all the Pros. Check-in went smooth and I got to see Erin again.  She is the contact person with WTC that I've dealt with and she has been amazing all spring, answering all my silly questions.

With Kona Ironman, Minda Dentler
I hung around the Expo for a while and decided not to get any gear in order to make sure I didn't jinx myself.  I headed back to the house in order to go for a 35 minute ride.  I simply went out and completed the run course and also the big hill out of transition.  I got back and loaded up my bike and got some swim gear together in order to go for a little swim at the race venue.  Check in with my bike was no problem at all and it was at the time that I realized I wasn't going to the only paratriathlete.  I ran into my dear friend, and KONA Ironman finisher, Minda Dentler.  It was real neat realizing we would be heading out in the swim wave with the pro women at 7:05AM.

As I headed down into the water, I ran into my friend Travis Hawkins.  He is also one of our coaches with Worklivetri and a pro as well.  He would be racing tomorrow and we decided to go over and swim a bit at the swim start in order to see what the area would be like race morning.  We swan a bit and talked a lot.  A lot of info I certainly needed.  Travis was aware I was under the weather and gave me some tips should my insides start to rebel tomorrow.  I learned two good piece of info.  First, if I was sick, resist the urge to replace the calories right away.  More than likely, they'll come right back as well.  He said it was important to give your body a chance to settle down.  Secondly he said, if sick, drink COKE.  We swam some more then I decided to head back to the house and Travis headed back to his place.  As I walked out to get changed, this would be the first time since arriving in NH, that I would start to feel a little ill again.  I don't know if it was the breeze and the lack of sun, but I started to shiver quite a bit. I ran into Colleen and we had a quick chat about the big day tomorrow.  She was concerned I did not look well.   Of course, I lied and said I was fine.

When I got back to the house, I arrived just in time for some dinner.  Maybe that's what I needed.  There was a nice pasta dish made with chicken and broccoli.  Well, it seemed to work.  With a full meal in my belly, all seemed OK.  We talked about logistics for the morning and I headed downstairs to repack my gear and head to bed.  

Once I was ready, sleep came pretty easily.  I set my alarm for 4AM and then, as is the usual case, I awoke at 3:58AM, right  before the alarm.  When I got up and headed upstairs, most others were already awake, ready for what was going to be an AMAZING day.  I felt good, no chills, and for the most part, my belly felt OK.  I had my usual breakfast with some toast (cinnamon, raisin toast in fact, that Susan had brought, MY FAV) with some PB, a banana, some coffee and some apple sauce.  Dan and Donna showed up, so we loaded up my car and the 3 of us headed down to transition.  The first person I saw as I went in was my friend Scott Graham, who is charge of the transition area, and has been for years.  He is a local guy who has been involved in the Timberman race long before WTC took over.

I managed to get into the main parking lot again with a spot, not too far from the entrance to transition.  Donna took some gear and would be setting up the "Baystate Triathlon Team" tent.  Dan and I headed in to be body marked and set up our transition area.

One benefit of racing as a PC athlete at a WTC race, is we are racked with the pros.  So as I was getting ready it was neat to chat with Andy Potts, Amanda Stevens, Kate Anelauskas (think we did at least 3 of the same races this year), and Dede Griesbauer.  We even had our own porta-pottie to share with them.  Of course being able to connect with Coach Travis again was the biggest bonus of all.  I also had a pep-talk from good friend and Wattie Ink athlete Jon Miles.  The weather was not looking great at this point with some menacing clouds in the area.  Again, worry about what you can control.  So I left my shoes in plastic bags and hoped for the best.  I headed down to swim start with Travis and got in the water to get ready.  As we walked down, it started to rain, but alas, those would be the only few drops we would see.

Taken by Robert Head
The race started promptly with the pro men leaving at 7AM, followed by Minda and me with the pro women at 7:02AM.  One really nice thing about WTC races is that they don't skimp on the swim buoys.  There was no question where we had to go.  It is a rectangular course involving right turns.  The turn buoys are gigantic compared to the smaller guide buoys, so it is pretty much impossible to get lost.  Of course, all I had to do was follow the other swimmers as they caught up to me wave after wave.  The highlight for me during the swim was when Diane Jackson (mother of pro Heather Jackson) swam by and patted me on the back and stopped to say HELLO.  It's nice to know you're swimming with friends.  I did a good job at the turns and was pretty happy with my swim coming in at 59:21.  My time in T1 went pretty well as I got out on the bike in 3:47.  I would chalk down a lot of that to the run from the beach into T1.

Out on the bike.  Taken by Meghan Cole
The start of the bike course involves a long hill out of the park, but knowing about this hill, it really was no big deal, just a slow way to start your race.  The course goes along matching much of the sprint bike route for a while.  All of my friends who've done the 70.3 course said, MILE 10, when I asked about the bike course.  And I'll tell you, it did not disappoint.  This was by far, the longest and steepest incline I've ever had in a race.  As I got up a little more than a 1/3 of the way, I noticed people up ahead getting off their bikes to walk them up the hill.  If you know me by now, you are aware, I've had a streak going in that I have never walked my bike up a hill.  Well, I was able to keep my streak alive.  It was SLOW going, but I keep going.  A number of people exclaimed how amazed they were that I was able to keep my bike with 20' wheels going.  The deceptive part of the this hill is that inclines to the left, so it takes a long time until the crest is view.  Good thing, but once I could see it, I feel I was only about 1/2 way up with a LONG way to go.  Another trick I learned is not keep looking at the top.  Look just about 6 feet in front of the bike and occasional glance up.  It truly works, as I was able to beat this hill in little chunks.  What followed that hill was a very nice FAST decline.  I got into aero position and enjoyed the rest and recovery going down. I was starting to feel some tightness in my left glute and was hoping it was not going to bother me on the run.   There were three bottle drops on the bike and even a gu stop, so keeping hydrated was not a problem.  I was also able to keep taking one gu every hour.

Much of the middle of the bike route is a LONG gradual downhill until the turn-around point.  We ride past the NH Motor Speedway just before the turn around and then head back.  There was a point heading back where we were passing a long line of traffic going in the other direction.  I thought it might be nice to yell out, "Thanks for your patience" to the drivers.  Most waved and said "No problem", but of course one guy had to yell at me to "Go F*** yourself."  Can't please everyone.

Now as I headed back in I started to recall another person telling me there were some hills around mile 48 of the bike.  I was thankful for the warning as this was another tough hill.  A little shorter than the hill at mile 10, but it seemed a little steeper.  The problem with this one is that every time you got the crest, you realized there was another hill.  This happened 3 or 4 times.  Now the downhill that followed this hill was AMAZING.  I would later check my data and realize I would travel down this hill at 42 mph.  Again, I got into aero position and enjoyed the ride.  I was hoping to finish the bike under 4 hours, but alas, it was starting to sink in that maybe my pre-race illness was going to be a factor.  I got off the bike in 4:21:55.

Run out.  Taken by Scott Graham
T2 went well, including a quick hug and some good wishes from Colleen Alexander.  My time getting out was 3:45.  At least I was consistent.  This 13.1 run would be a real test.  There were lots of people around to cheer me on, including a quick visit from WATTIE INK team member, Roger Thrall.  He ran with me for a bit as I headed up the road.  The run course is a double loop, consisting of a 3.3 mile run out and then a turnaround, that you complete twice.  This is where I started to get concern, as my legs and back felt fine and it was just my gut that was bothering me.  I tried to start our slowly, running 1 minute and then walking for a 1 minute.  My hope was to do that for a bit and then simply increase the length of the running segments to a max of about 4 minutes, followed by 1 minute walk breaks.

Looking pretty happy!!  Taken by Shawn Hawkins
Well things didn't really change for the most part.  I ran 1 minute and walked 1 minute.  The only sustained running I was managing was during some of the downhill portions.  Things did not not  go well.  I was passed by lots of friends like Diane Jackson again and Tina Green.  When I got up to the turn around a little past mile 3, things started taking a real turn for the worse.  Just before that though, right near a marina where there was a small crowd a I heard a young girl yell out, "There's THE midget."  In no mood to educate, I quickly yelled at her, "NO I'M NOT!!!".  What made me think is why did she use the word THE.  Had word passed around about me racing or had she seen me earlier in the day.  Anyway, when I came back that way, she was gone.  But the problem with me now, is that I started to get dizzy.  I had been drinking at each water stop so I'm not sure what the cause was.  But I had to find a spot to sit or I was going to fall.  I found a spot and sat for a bit taking some real deep breaths.  One guy walked by and yelled at me to get going, that I could not quit.  To be honest, had I seen a medical tent, I might have stopped.

Anyway I got going again, and the dizziness seemed to disappear.  My running was really not getting any faster, as I was still pretty much doing the 1 min. run to 1 min. walk.  I was so happy to run into my dear friend Alett Mekler on the run as she was finishing up her 2nd lap.  I talked about my dizziness and she suggested I might need some salt.  I looked at my hands and I noticed my fingers seemed to be fatter than usual.  I remembered that was a sign in the past that indicated I might need some salts.  Even though I had been taking in a lot of PERFORM, Alett offered me her last 2 salt pills.  THANKS SO MUCH Alett!!!

As I got close to transition and entered the park to turn around, the race official told me I had plenty of time to finish my second lap.  I pretty much walked the entire turn-around and managed to remember seeing Shannon and Robert, but I'm pretty sure my face was showing a lot of the discomfort I was feeling.  The dizziness had gone and been replaced with some real pain in my gut.  It didn't feel like I was going to puke, but I definitely needed a stop at a porta-pottie.  The first one back out of transition was busy or there was no TP.  I resolved to keep running and make it to the next stop about a mile down the road.  The crowds were thinning out as were the other runners.  And then all of sudden, my left leg went numb and started to tingle.  Most other LPs know the feeling I am talking about.  It rarely ever happens to me when I run, so things were not looking good.  This is the first time during the day, that something about my short-stature was affecting me.  I knew what I had to do.  As many know I carry a couple of tokens from LPs to help me along.  Ones who have had a much together time and me and my family.  So I called out to Katie, Vivian and Addie (she just had decompression surgery) asked them to help the pain go away.  And as is always the case, it was quickly gone.

Before I knew it I saw the porta-potties.  I went on in and was able to relieve ALL of the pressure I was feeling.  I got out and promised that I would start to run some more to finish the race.  The number of runners were quickly dwindling and as I neared the turn-around and I knew I would not see a lot of runners behind me as I headed back in.  I counted them, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.  And then I wondered, how many would catch me?  WHO CARES I yelled to myself and as my friend Verity once said, 'Don't look back, you're not going that way."

Well, only one of them caught me and I managed to run a lot of the last 3 miles.  Just as I neared the park, I saw my coach Travis, coming out to check on me.  He said he was worried, but was real happy to see me still going. It was then that he told me, he had finished 5th OVERALL.  I was so proud of him!!!

I managed to run down the chute and was so pleased to see Robert there waiting for me and even see and hear Andy Potts lean over to congratulate me on my finish.  I figure my 13.1 run was well over 4 hours, but was happy to find out the final time was 3:35:58, giving me an overall time of 9:25:46.

My goal was to finish 8:15 or faster, so of course, I did not reach that goal.  But I did finish, and given the state I was in just a few days before the race, I am proud of what I accomplished that day.  And I know, I will return to Timberman 70.3 again to finish stronger and faster someday.

With Wattie Ink stat Maggie Freeman

First place (and only) male paratriathlete.
With coach and 5th place pro, Travis Hawkins.