You know those days that are so perfect that you never want them to end? The ones that leave you feeling high for days afterwards, wishing that you could relive every moment all over again?
Saturday was one of those days for me. That was the day of dare2tri’s first-ever “One-Day Multisport Clinic” in Highland Park. It was essentially an entire afternoon dedicated to learning the skills and techniques in all three disciplines of triathlon. Almost 30 athletes with physical disabilities came out for the event, many of which were completely new to the club.
One of the things that I love about dare2tri is its diversity. At this event alone, there were athletes ranging in age from 6 to 60. There were a variety of physical disabilities represented, including amputation, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and visual impairment. And in the same room, we had “never-ever” triathletes and a two-time world champion in Paratriathlon. And yet, despite all these differences, everyone was able to take something out of the day.
All of the facilities for the clinic—Illinois Bone & Joint, Vision Quest Coaching, and Foss Swim School—were located in the same parking lot, making transitions between the sports very convenient. Each athlete was paired with one of our incredible volunteers, so everyone received individual attention. After doing some dynamic stretching, we were divided into two groups that rotated between cycling and track. My group began at the computrainer studio at Vision Quest, where Coach Stacee led us through a 35-minute profile. We amputees and those that were able to operate a bike with their legs used traditional upright bikes, while those who had more limited use of their lower bodies used arm powered bikes called handcycles. We then moved to the track rotation at Illinois Bone & Joint, a physical therapy/sports medicine facility. The athletes who had less function in their legs were able to try racing wheelchairs that were set up on stationary rollers, and worked with coaches to learn the proper pushing technique. Meanwhile, the ambulatory group went through a series of track drills and then met with physical therapists that worked with us on our individual gaits. After both groups finished with cycling and track, we all joined together for the swim portion at Foss. I shared a lane with three other girls (whom, mark my words, will all go on to become elite level triathletes) and received some great tips from our friend/coach, Eugene.
As we were leaving, one of the younger athletes said that she was sad. When I asked her why, she said, “Because I won’t be here doing this again tomorrow!” If that’s the only sadness that came out of the day, I’d say it was a success.
The best part of the clinic was interacting with my fellow athletes, and hearing all of their stories of accomplishment. In just one afternoon, I met the mother of a six-year old who never knew that her little girl was capable of riding a handcycle or learning how to swim. I met an amputee who, at 13 years old, has already completed two triathlons. I also saw the familiar faces of the club’s existing athletes who never cease to amaze me: a high school junior and accomplished athlete who is looking to pursue Paratriathlon at the collegiate level; a third grade girl who is bullied at school, but who comes to dare2tri and attracts the love of everyone in the room; a stellar handcyclist and swimmer who, after sustaining an injury that has put his own training on hiatus, has refocused his passion by coaching others. All of these people are living proof of what I already knew—that the sport of triathlon changes lives.
Throughout the day, the only word I can think of to summarize my feelings is inspired. I was inspired by the athletes who were pushing their limits, the coaches who were watching their dream come alive, and the volunteers that are dedicated to attending every event. The passion, the commitment, and the drive that filled the air was so contagious that everyone left with the inspiration they needed to tackle any challenge that may lie ahead.
As far as I’m concerned, this event was the perfect kickoff for triathlon season. After being stuck in the winter rut for the last few months, being a part of this clinic was enough to inspire me to really kick my training into high gear. Seeing my dare2tri family made me even more excited for the upcoming tri season, and I am already looking forward to our next event together.
Before I went to sleep Saturday night, I couldn’t help but think about how fortunate I am to be a part of something so great—how that one decision to say “yes” to triathlon ended up giving me more than I ever bargained for. I went to sleep that night with a smile on my face, the true sign of a perfect day.