Dear friends, family, and members of #ZoesPack:
As the year and decade come to a close, it is important to reflect on what opportunities we were afforded, where we are headed, and what we can do to foster positive change. Ten years ago I was living in Washington DC learning about sight loss and what it meant. For me, it meant leaving DC for a bit to go to Harvard Law and learn a new way of life. Much of my advocacy in the blind community came about through the creation of #ZoesPack—a social media movement that was built to share authentic stories about persons who are blind and disabled with everyone. Mapping the course of social progress and ending hate is challenging, but I have found that honest authentic conversations about our differences can lead to change. Heading into 2020, we will continue to share our stories about our similarities and differences. You can check out Zoe’s Tips for a Zooming New Year to learn a little more about #ZoesPack.
Two big take-aways from this year were learned from being a part of someone else’s challenges and journey. My 94 year-old grandfather’s leg amputation illustrated that consistency is key for success and gratitude brings a golden attitude. Being with him as he learned to use a wheelchair, took steps on his new leg, and regained his independence was motivating. His willingness to allow others to contribute to his success in any small way brought joy to many and was illustrative of creating strong communities. While in the waiting room with him at his last appointment he commented that, “It gets harder to learn new things when you get older. I never would have guessed that I would learn so much this year.” It was telling that he was focusing on what he had accomplished this year, rather than what he had not or what he had lost. We continue to be grateful for the messages of healing and strength sent to Grandpa George and understand that his PO Box was closed and are trying to sort it out with the post office! We will post an update about this soon. (Click here for a video of Grandpa walking)
In search for a more stable place to train, I headed to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for a track racing camp hosted by the United States Association of Blind Athletes. I confronted some of the ongoing challenges of chronic illness and racing ore really living any aspect of life to the fullest. Living with a chronic illness has taught me to cherish the things that matter most. I am grateful for access to healthy food and needed medications, a comfortable warm bed, and people who support me.
Friends and family that have endured in their own life have compassion for others and acceptance of people who are often scorned by others. At the close of a decade, it is important to acknowledge that we carry both the suffering we have endured and our happiest moments. All of these things make us who we are and we are free to mold them into our own work of art. Lots of my friends are doing their own amazing work and I encourage us to build interconnections of strength, love, and support through our differences.
Looking back on the year, I feel most humbled by those who continue to lift me up through their support, love, and kindness. After cycling camp, bike pilot Ash and I moved to Woodland Park, CO where we were hosted by a wonderful family. I posted in one of my Peloton cycling groups for housing help in the Colorado Springs area and Steve and Lin Vela generously offered their space for a month. This allowed Ash and me to train at the velodrome in Colorado Springs. Steve Vela also joined us on the track after taking a break for too many years. Lin Vela is a judge in Colorado Springs and set-up a day for me to shadow another visually impaired judge, which you can read about here.
We were sad to leave our new friends, but also excited to get to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving with my brother, sister-in-law and one year-old niece and get on the LA velodrome where we would be racing. We were also welcomed into the home of another friend from my Peloton community, Paulina and Albert Onofre. Paulina is in one of the Peloton groups and our friendship blossomed when she came to watch me race last year. Ash and I had fun playing with her 4 year-old, and even got to go visit Santa with their family. I am reminded each day of how things that appear to be a punch in the gut often turn out to be gifts. I would not have met these amazing friends without being a part of the para-athlete community and I could not have achieved any of my goals without their support.
Ash and I raced the 2019 Para Cycling Track Open on Dec 7-8. This was the qualifying race for Track World Championships. During our time in Colorado and in Indiana we spent several hours each day cycling, lifting weights, and doing yoga and stretching to prepare for the race. There were several other pieces to preparing our bodies and minds for the stress of training and race weekend, including daily check-ins with cycling coach Kendra Wenzel, meditation, and sports psychology. The events that we raced were the one kilo (4 track laps), the 3 kilo (12 track laps) and several sprints with a men’s tandem team and then sprints against the other women’s teams. Ash and I had personal best times in each event and won two silver medals and two bronze medals, but we did not meet the standards we needed to be selected for World Championships, which means we will not be chosen for Team USA track cycling.
We felt good about the improvement we made on the track and our efforts, but felt mentally and physically exhausted at the end of the weekend. There is no question that we gave it our all.
I returned to Indiana after our track cycling race and find myself very excited for road cycling season, where there are several big races coming up. I am looking forward to the Road Qualifier for Worlds, which will be in Fort Wayne, Indiana in April and the Paralympic Road Trial Qualifier, which will be in Minneapolis, Minnesota in June.
I will also be working with two amazing cycling companies—#bikeflghts.com and #TenSpeedHero—this year. These companies help enable me to race and just as importantly, they have great missions of their own. TenSpeed Hero is a Midwest based cycling apparel company and was able to get Ash and me amazing race kits for our December event and I will be visiting their Chicago studio in a few weeks. We loved the “sprinkle watts” design and look forward to sporting them for the rest of the season. We will share more about #bikeflights.com in upcoming blogs. #sprinklewatts #tenspeedhero
I have been doing my best to keep up with the projects I am working on and am grateful for the small team of ladies that help me keep #ZoesPack moving forward. A draft of Zoe’s Memoir is being reviewed by a few publishers and I would appreciate any contacts that you might have in this field. I am looking forward to a January talk at University of Chicago Law School and hopefully a trip to New York for another talk.
Please reach out if you need a speaker for an event or your business is looking for someone to help with diversity and inclusion or leadership training. The expenses of training are probably clear from this message and you can help support my upcoming training efforts to training, bike entries, and travel by donating at the following link. You can also donate to help us give more talks and educate more about the work we do.
Each year when I publish Zoe’s Tips for a Zooming New Year, I am reminded of the impact Zoe has on my daily life. We will be celebrating 7 years together on January 9th and Zoe will be approaching her 9th birthday on St. Patrick’s Day. She is doing well and still finds great joy in working. I will continue to assess what is best for her as the time flies by and hope that she will be by my side another year. We pray that our road is long.