Worlds Recap: Kiwi Edition

About a month ago, I returned to America after having conquered my first world championship race.  It’s hard to believe I’ve been home for so long, and I apologize that it’s taken me this long to write out the details.  But here you have it.

The dare2tri crew left Chicago on a Monday night and got into Auckland on Wednesday morning.  The flight itself wasn’t terrible, and I found myself adjusting to the time change pretty easily.  Most of the 31 athletes from Team USA were at the same hotel, and we pretty much took over the entire place with our loads of equipment and loud personalities.

Opening ceremonies with Keri–the reason I started this crazy sport

The Paratriathlon race wasn’t until Monday, so we had a full five days to do nothing but get ready.  Most mornings started with a light “first breakfast” at the hotel, a workout with the group, and the now infamous “second breakfast,” in which we took full advantage of the expansive hotel breakfast buffet.  The rest of our days were spent exploring Auckland, watching the other races, drinking espresso, and trying to find wifi (we concluded that New Zealand as a whole is stuck in 2001, and widespread wireless Internet isn’t really a thing).  By Saturday, I was getting a little restless.  I was feeling ready to race, and just wanted to get it done with so that I could finally stop thinking about it.

I woke up on race day ready to go.  The forecast for the day was great for racing: high 50s and cloudy.  However, the water temperature was cold (mid-50s) and by Paratriathlon law, the swim had to be shortened from 750m to 300m.  I was happy with this decision, as the swim is my weakest sport, and is usually when my competitors gain time on me.

The race wasn’t until 3pm, which was a little strange since most races start first thing in the morning.  The team headed down to the race site around noon, before I had a chance to eat some lunch.  Now those who know me well know that when I don’t eat, things get scary.  But on this particular day, the combination of hunger and an imminently stressful event induced a full-blown breakdown on my part.  Luckily, my loving (and surprisingly understanding) handler, Joanne, tracked down a sandwich from the racing officials room.  My blood sugar levels immediately returned to normal and peace was restored.

Before I knew it, we were lining up to begin the swim.  I sat between the two US athletes in my category, Melissa my mentor and friend from Chicago, and Jen my friend from Texas who I raced at Nationals.  We listened to the announcer call our names, wished each other luck, and waited for the gun to go off.

Exiting the swim

The water was disorientingly cold, but after the first 100 meters, I had forgotten about how much my face hurt.  Aside from the two practice swims I had done that week, it was my first time swimming in salt water.  I ended up swallowing quite a bit, which was pretty terrible.  Luckily we weren’t in there too long, so I just pushed through it.  I exited the water just seconds after Jen, and made my way over to transition.  The bike is usually my strongest of the three, and I embarked on the ride feeling confident.  There was a strong wind, making for some pretty uneven splits on the three-loop course (I always thought Chicago was the windiest city in the world, but we’ve got nothing on Auckland!).  But I powered through for 12 miles and came into transition ready to run.  By the time I got on the run course, I was solidly in second place, with several minutes between me and my competitors.  I knew that if I stayed strong on the run, I would finish right where I wanted to.  Whether it was the speedwork I’d been doing in the months prior, or the energy of the crowds cheering as I went by, I had my best run splits off the bike to date.  I picked it up on the fourth and final loop, determined to leave every ounce of energy on the course.  As I rounded the final corner into the finish chute, my friend and dare2ri coach Keri was there waving an American flag.  She handed it off to me and I ran the last 100m with my flag held high, taking everything in.  I crossed the finish line with a huge smile, knowing that I had nailed second.  There waiting for me was Melissa, now a three-time world champion.  A few minutes later, Jen crossed, making for a USA sweep in the TRI-2 category.

USA Sweep!

An hour later, I experienced my first international medal ceremony.  Standing on the podium was something that I will remember for a long time: standing on that tier with two incredible ladies at my side, looking out at the supporters who stuck around to cheer for us in the pouring rain, then watching three American flags rise as the national anthem played.  In that moment, I had never been more proud to be an American.  I was both flabbergasted at the direction my life has taken, and humbled by the fact that it led me here.  Truly an unforgettable moment.

Queenstown–not like it takes my breath away.

After the races, the real fun began.  That night, Team USA celebrated the 13 medals that we as a country would be bringing home, as well as the great performances across the board.  While some of the team began leaving the next day, a few of us decided to extend our stay in New Zealand.  We figured there was a good chance we would never be back (although now I’m not so sure) so we may as well take advantage of the experience.  We flew down to the South Island (for reference, this is where Lord of the Rings was filmed) and spent a few days in Queenstown.  Since we were in the “adventure capital of the world” we decided to do some crazy adventure things, like canyon swinging and jet boating.  But honestly, I was perfectly content just taking in the scenery, and enjoying what was without a doubt the most beautiful place I have ever seen.  After a 6-month season of racing, it was nice just to take the week off, overindulge in wine and desserts, and enjoy the company of my teammates.

Being at my first worlds event caused me to fall even more in love with the sport, and reaffirmed my goal to compete in Rio.  Being in that competitive environment ignited a spark in me, and made me all the more determined to get better, faster, and stronger.  While I was happy with my second place finish, I know I can do better.  I am looking forward to using this winter to improve myself and prepare for an even greater season in 2013.  I know that as Rio draws closer, the field will become more competitive, and I will be welcoming this competition with open arms.  I am truly excited for the future, and can’t wait to see what the next few seasons have in store for me.

Celebrating my ampuversary in NZ.
Talk about a full circle moment.

This post wouldn’t be complete without extending a huge THANK YOU to everyone who helped me get onto that podium.  I am still in awe of the support, both financial and emotional, that I received: how my family and friends did not hesitate to step up to the plate to help me with fundraising; how people I didn’t even know were willing to give what they had to help a stranger fulfill a dream; how the overwhelming outpouring of love in the form of Facebook posts brought tears to my eyes as I read them in the hotel lobby.  Please know that every dollar, every message, and every word of encouragement played a part in getting me that silver medal.  Each of these things was a way of telling me that you believed in me, and I used that belief as fuel to put up a good fight and (hopefully) make you proud.  I wish there was something I could say that adequately expresses how grateful I am to have so many amazing people in my life… but I guess all I can really say is thank you.

All my love,

Hailey

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