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2012 Paralympic Cycling Olympic Trials Race Report

Two weeks ago Kara and pilot Mackenzie arrived on the start line of US Paralympic Cycling Trials.  Given the past 10 months this was no small feat.  Most of our regular blog readers know last September 11th Kara and Mackenzie crashed at world championships which resulted in Kara shattering her scapula, breaking her collar bone and sustaining a concussion. (See, World Championship Part I, Part II, and Part III for a recap).   

What most do not know is Mackenzie broke her leg at the start of the year and was on crutches for at least a month.  For good measure Kara tripped over something left on the deck of her home and sprained her ankle in early May resulting in a week on crutches.   I always say it’s easy when everything is going according to plan; it is what you do when everything is going wrong.

Adding to the challenge a few months before trials the UCI without notice created a “ring-fence” of impairment divisions.  There was a very slim chance of making the team, one slot for all divisions offered at Trials and all others awarded ahead of time based upon results at World Championships last September and Track Worlds last spring.  

While the goal became near impossible, we acted like nothing had changed.  No way could a dream of over two years could be given up on thanks to some new rules on paper.  Anyone who has dealt with the highly bureaucratic world of the US Olympic Committee and its National Governing Bodies knows such developments are simply par for the course.  Physical injury had not stopped Kara and Mackenzie so this was looked at as just another bump in the road. (See, An Update on Kara: Thoughts on the Synergy Between Rehab and Performance)

A combination of tangible and intangible factors came into play to get Kara and Mackenzie to the Time Trial start line in race shape.  Most importantly was 100% commitment by the athletes.  You can have the best coaching, equipment and medical care but if the athlete is not committed it does not really matter.  Next to commitment I would say the most important factor was how well everyone worked together.  This was a true team from athlete to coaches to medical.  No stock training plan can prepare anyone for this situation.  Individual care was paramount.  Tradition was completely out the door for this 47 year old, single, working Mom.  When “life happens,” there’s no recipe you can follow…you just take what ingredients you have in the cupboard and do the best with what’s available!

I arrived in Augusta the day before the race alongside my friend from the medical field.  She had helped Kara to get to the start line and had generously shut down her practice for two days to help and experience trials.  What did I say about team commitment?

First item of business was the pre-race meeting.  Usually there a few good things can be learned at the pre-race meeting.  A trick I have picked up on over the years is to take pictures of the power point presentation to latter be reviewed. It cuts down on the sloppy scribbled notes.  This time there was no power point and it turned into an hour long spirited conversation about the “ring-fence.”   Back at the hotel we had quick team meeting to review the schedule for the next day.  At this late in the game all the mental and physical preparation was done and not much needed to be said.

Kara’s start time was in the heat of the day.  Remembering the lessons of how the 2004 US Olympic marathon team walked away with silver and bronze medals, I was armed with ice.  We arrived at the race venue with enough time to spare if something did not go according to plan but also did not leave excessive time to mill around in the heat.  Things were kept light with Kara’s 9 year old daughter stuffing ice down Kara and Mack’s sports bras and backs.  I had also advised Kara and Mackenzie to warm up the least amount needed.  What was really funny was when Mack and I rode down to bike check!  My feet could not even reach the pedals and Mack had to pull me the entire way!

I followed Kara and Mackenzie right down into the start area keeping them cool as much as possible. There was a huge sense of calmness as Kara and Mack got ready to start. Literally nothing else could be done and the result had to play itself out.  Their start position was second to last in the blind/visually impaired division with riders starting every 30 seconds.   As soon as they started the waiting game was on since no follow cars were allowed on the course.  So what do you do when your athlete is in the middle of the most important race of her life and you are literally in the dark?  You go by the athlete’s kid a chocolate ice cream cone from the ice cream truck parked close to the finish line!

I stood at the barriers waiting for Kara and Mackenzie to come in.  Coming across the dam I could see three helmets, all white as required, coming in together.  I prayed all were riders Kara had passed. Literally time went into slow motion as Kara and Mackenzie zipped past the finish line leading the other two tandems.  They rode their best race possible on that day.  It resulted in a second place finish, only being defeated by the current world champion.

At that second I knew our road to London was over but was really proud of everyone involved.  If you do your best possible job and have the best possible race, you really cannot be upset.   After the race I discovered that Kara and Mackenzie had dropped a chain early in the race on a hill, the worst possible location, forcing them to start from a dead stop on an incline.  Having lost by only 28 seconds, this small misfortune could have easily been the difference in the result. 

If Kara had been classified in other divisions, she would have been named to the team.  Up to three riders in some classifications are going to London.  In the end no Blind/Visually Impaired tandems were named to the team.  Even the current world champion was excluded from the London roster.  Fortunately, everyone is keeping their head high and an eye to the 2014 World Championships which will be held in the US. 

Comments

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