May 2019: Advocacy, Athletics & Adventures
“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
– Marcel Proust
Our team is excited to share another busy month with you! Tonight, we will take you on our journey to cycling camp in Colorado Springs, talk about accessibility and fitness, and share some web updates.
USABA Camp- Bikes, Dog Play, and Team Advocacy
I just returned from a week in Colorado Springs at the United States Association of Blind Athletes Tandem Racing Camp at the Olympic Training Center (OTC). This is the second year I have attended the camp and it is a life-changing experience. Pam Fernandez, a former tandem racer and gold medalist in two Paralympic games puts the camp together, and Coach Simon Bennett and Jim Alvord were exceptional leaders. We stay in the dorms at the OTC, eat in the dining hall, and have meetings each night to review what we have learned. Better yet, there were 8 guide dogs and they had a mini-camp and played hard each night with each other! Zoe cut her leg at some point during the week and literally did not notice until it was wrapped to keep it clean, at which point she started carrying it and limping and it ruined the next two days!
VD: Zoe and 4 other dogs run, play, and jump around with each other in the hallway. They are having a great time and look so energetic!
There were 12 tandem teams at the camp, many that had never raced together. It takes a lot of trust on the part of both the stoker (blind racer) and the pilot (cyclist guiding the bike) to head to a camp as a team having not been on a bike together! The first day we focused on drills that would help us be a better team on the bike, which included doing turns in and out of cones in parking lots and handing our water bottle back and forth while we were riding. We also worked on keeping our paceline safe on the road. A paceline is when you ride in a line to conserve your effort and rotate spots after a given amount of time.
On the second day, we headed to the Velodrome-or the track! Ash, my new pilot for this year’s camp, and many of the others had not been on the track before, so it was very exciting! The first time you do an effort on the track at full speed it is exhilarating…you are going so fast and track bikes do not have brakes…you just pedal as hard as you can go! There is a 45% banking on the end of the track, which helps the bike gain more speed.
The next few days we did road rides, including the Gold Camp Road Climb. This is a very hilly climb, where we do hill repeats. It was fun to compare the data on my rides from last year to this year and see that I have gotten stronger! The last day of the camp all of the athletes ride a 20K time trial. It was in the 40s, windy and drizzling the morning of the time trial, but Ash and I were ready to go! We had a plan for our race and were ready to crush the course. We took off and things were going pretty well, but I started to feel the wind at the turn around and realized that we had a headwind in both directions! We pulled back a little, but still improved my time from last year.
The entire group (pilots, stokers, coaches, and admins) also acted like a team on several occasions and it was an important learning experience for all involved. In one instance, the US Olympic Committee required that all athletes that are on site take an online training that ensures that the environment is a healthy and safe training environment. Unfortunately, the current training is not accessible to blind athletes and they were going to take several hours out of the blind athletes time at camp to do the training, whereas the sighted pilots were able to take their training before coming to camp. The entire group went to the trainer and stated that this was not a reasonable accommodation and were hopefully able to catalyze change in making the Safe Sport Training accessible. Due to the team’s advocacy, we were able to receive a shorter in person training during our dinner that did not take away from our scheduled training. We were all a bit surprised that the training was given with a power point to seven blind individuals, which also made parts of the in person training inaccessible! In all seriousness though, making the training accessible is especially important since women with disabilities are abused at higher rates than other demographics and receiving this information is very important.
I was battling shingles right before camp and was uncertain if I was going to be strong enough to be able to go after spending many days in the hospital. I felt pretty bad when getting home from the hospital because I, like many other people with autoimmune issues, have lots of food allergies, and hospitals do not serve healthy food. I was lucky that I have friends that brought me some things I could eat, but I am accustomed to cooking for myself. I reached out to the staff at the OTC (Stephanie and Flower are amazing!) and talked to them about my allergies and they worked to ensure I had something to eat at every meal. However, I was surprised to learn that they do not use any organic fruits or veggies due to costs and there are other things, like brand sponsorship, that further limit what foods they get. For example, Chobani is a sponsor, but they do not make any dairy free yogurts. I am able to easily get the calories I need with meal replacements and bars when working out and always carry those with me, so I was more than prepared for camp and travel, but it seems that the hospital and the Olympic Training Center are two places that we should invest in providing organic, non-GMO foods that are essential in allowing our body to build and repair.
Even though I was in the hospital the week before camp, the connections that I made last year were so strong that I didn’t want to miss that opportunity again. I chose the Marcel Proust quote on friendship and gardening to lead this newsletter, because friendship is one of the most important pieces of this camp. Ash, my pilot this year loves flowers and cycling so much that her nickname is “Pedal/Petal,” so this was the perfect quote. Sport is a vital community for the blind and visually impaired in so many ways. It is not just a way to be healthy, but it is a way to be a part of a team, to set goals, to channel frustration, and so much more. I feel grateful that I had this opportunity again, to make more friends that are so important to me and give so much to our community. I encourage everyone to check out the USABA camps.
The Clip Out
When I returned to my apartment in DC to do indoor training, I become ever more grateful for the pilots that give us their time for training and races. I don’t let my mind look backwards and think about the days when I could jump on my single bike whenever I pleased to train outside, but when I return from a week of riding outside in Colorado it is hard not to yearn for more rides in the fresh air! I don’t mind training indoors because I do a lot of it on my Peloton, which I enjoy. I love the community that the Peloton offers and also the mix of training classes. Earlier this month I did an interview on a podcast called The Clip Out, which is a podcast that is about Peloton and the Peloton community. I talked transplant, my vision loss, and also about how para athletes use fitness equipment, how it could be made accessible, and of course lots of talk about Zoe the Seeing Eye Dog. We are hopeful that this conversation sparks more dialogue among the fitness communities about accessibility. (My interview starts at 26 minutes, click here to listen) If you are considering buying a Peloton, let me know and I can give you a referral code that will get you a $100 gift card.
You might notice that we have made several changes on the website. Check it out and let us know what you think. We continue to make design and accessibility changes over time. We also received several questions on Zoe’s facebook page this month and will continue to highlight those in the newsletters and on our social media. Feel free to submit questions on the website and via email. We are also starting to put our plans together for the fall. If you are interested in having me speak at a conference, event or for Disability Awareness Month please reach out at email@example.com
The upcoming month is busy with more work on accessibility and advocacy for companies and non-profits, and of course more cycling. I head to Texas next weekend for a race and look forward to sharing that adventure with you! Thanks for your time and allowing me to share another month of experiences.
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