Sunday, August 9, 2015

On Pins and Needles

In my 9 years as a pro triathlete, I’ve been relatively lucky when it comes to injuries. Of course there are always little niggles to look after, but only 2 foot injuries come to mind when I think of injuries I’ve had that required a boot, complete rest, and over 2 months off from racing. These types of injuries are what I’d refer to as “type A” injuries, and I treated them similar as someone using a GPS device to predict their time of arrival would. What I mean is that most people race the GPS device, trying to squeeze in an extra green light or do everything in their power that will allow them to arrive at their destination quicker than the predicted time, even if it’s only by a minute. I believe this same mentality applies when rehabbing from a type A injury. An athlete can perfectly follow the plan prescribed from their doctors and physical therapists, in hopes of getting stronger than before and facilitating a quicker return to racing than originally promised by the doctors.

The other type of injuries, I’ll refer to as “type B.” Remember that scene in “Meet the Parents” where Ben Stiller and Robert de Niro are racing home from a restaurant as Ben Stiller is frantically trying to cover up evidence that he lost the family cat Jinxy and replaced it with a fraud? While they are racing home, they are forced to stop at most every red light along the route. Time after time, they hit the gas pedal, and are quickly forced to slam on the brakes seconds later. This is similar to a type B injury in that it takes a long time for an athlete to even be properly diagnosed with their injury and learn what the steps to recovery are. Many tests are done and the athlete is hopeful that a solution will come about soon, only to realize that they are back to square one when the tests come back negative or inconclusive (even though there’s obviously an issue).

Unfortunately, in 2015, I’ve experienced both a type A and type B injury. While trail running in January after a weekend of (much-needed) rain in SoCal, I hit a slick patch of mud and slid out, only half-falling as my hand caught my body from completely sliding out. I immediately felt pain in my right calf, and hobbled 3 miles back to my car hoping my leg would loosen up and ease the pain. A few days later, I visited my doctor fearing the worst and was relieved to get a diagnosis of a pulled muscle and advice to stay off of it as much as I could. However, as a couple of weeks went by, I noticed that despite resting it, my leg was just getting more painful and more swollen until it grew to be about 2 times the size of my left leg. When I woke up to a completely blue foot and the pins and needles feeling one morning, I knew it was time to take action and go to the ER. After a few tests, I was diagnosed with a torn gastroc and a massive blood clot behind my right knee. I was told several times how extremely lucky I was to be alive and that the clot hadn’t broken off and spread to my lungs (pulmonary embolism). After 4 months of physical therapy and 6 months of Coumadin and weekly blood draws, I am happy to report that my leg is feeling better and my blood clot has cleared up.

As I mentioned above, I’ve also been dealing with a type B injury this year. Late last year, I experienced two episodes in a short time span where I temporarily experienced vertigo and blacked out for a few seconds. The first episode occurred during a triathlon in northern California. The sensation only lasted a couple of seconds before it subsided, so I wrote it off as a freak incident and continued on racing. The other came while I was driving on a teensy weensy little freeway in SoCal called… the 405. Luckily, nobody was injured in either incident and I somehow managed not to crash into anyone in the latter incident (thank God!). At this point, I started to think that my body was trying to tell me something.

In the following months, these vertigo episodes became more and more frequent, getting to the point where they were daily occurrences, mostly happening while I was lying down trying to sleep. In addition, I’ve lost the ability to balance on my left side. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve seen physical therapists, ENTs, neurologists, ophthalmologists, audiologists, neurosurgeons, and interventional neurologists, all who performed different tests to figure out where my issues are stemming from. These tests have included: 8 MRIs, 1 MRVenous 2 CT scans, a cerebral angiogram, an ENG, and a handful of ultrasounds. I compare the amount of times I’ve been to the hospital this year to the amount of times I’m usually at the airports traveling to races. The hospital workers now recognize my face in the same way the airport workers at DIA and now LAX do.

As I strive to rid myself of these vertigo and balance issues, I take comfort in the fact that the brain is truly an amazing organ. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment. By doing physical therapy exercises that focus on balancing, I’m creating new neural pathways that will compensate for whatever damage I may have. While my balance may never be as great as it once was, my goal is to improve enough to where I feel comfortable doing things such as riding my bike outside or doing weight exercises balancing on my left leg again.

Although this past eight months has definitely has been a struggle, I have faith that this experience will only make me stronger. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank those friends and family members who have constantly checked in on me, sent me cute cat videos, cards, etc. to make me smile, and most importantly, been a shoulder to cry on when I needed it. No names needed, you guys know who you are, and I know that a shout out on a blog will never be enough to say thanks!

Going forward, my return date to triathlon racing is TBD since there really is no timeline for my recovery at the moment. In the meantime, I look forward to running that other race with perseverance: LIFE! and doing the best I can to enjoy the day as much as possible while I regain my health.

Thank you all for your continued support and prayers and I wish you the best in all your endeavors.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Stopping to Smell the Roses

Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to stick to our daily/weekly routines and not check out the sites and activities that are right at our fingertips and in our backyards when we live in a certain location? In Los Angeles, there is no shortage of fun things to do no matter what your interest may be. However, prior to the beginning of this year, most of what I’d seen included stretches of PCH and canyons to bike up and down (very beautiful, I might add!), beaches that I’d practiced open water swimming in, and trails that I frequented for my runs.Ahh, the triathlete lifestyle.... Now that I’ve had some forced downtime due to injuries (blog post coming on those soon), I’ve also had a little time to explore more of my non-triathlon related surroundings.

In late March, I had the opportunity to check out the Cherry Blossom Festival at Descanso Gardens, a turnaround point for one of my favorite bike routes in Pasadena but somewhere I’d never actually stopped in. I’d always heard of the gorgeous Cherry Blossom Festivals in Washington DC and wanted to go, so was very excited when I heard one was just miles away from me. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the flowers in the garden, especially the rose and tulip gardens. But the highlight of the day for me probably had to be making an origami flower at the kids station: in my defense I didn’t see a sign stating an age limit and I’ve always been a kid at heart haha! Good times! Ironically, in the following weeks, I noticed that most of the intros for the show “The Voice” before the live performances were shot at Descanso Gardens. My husband, Tony, and I constantly found ourselves saying to each other, “Hey, I know that archway!” or “Remember that tree?!” Too funny... The benefits of living near Hollywood I guess?

Another little gem Tony and I discovered is Mount San Jacinto State Park which is actually located at the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway about 8500 feet up in the air. After about a 10 minute trip up in a rotating car, you're there! After climbing stairways to get access to observation decks, you’re able to get even closer to 10,000 feet and see breathtaking panoramic views of the desert. Just walking around and taking in the views, this was a great reminder of what acclimating to altitude was like in Colorado – lots of deep breaths needed and a good workout for my heart! In addition to the altitude, I was a fan of the cooler temps – about 40 degrees cooler than the entrance to the Aerial Tramway down below and cool enough for a down jacket for this native Floridian. While walking around the grounds of the park, I learned how to tell the age of the trees (counting the rings) and also how to identify the various types of birds that were flying around (among other things). Since the park allows you to do as little or as much as you choose, this is definitely a location I’d recommend for all ages and family vacays too!

I look forward to exploring more exciting locales in my area in the near future and sharing their “fun” rating with you!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Crystal Pepsi & Redefining our Comfort Zones

It was the first day of the fall semester at FSU. Just another first day like any other I’d experienced in my past 17+ years of school (yes, Preschool and Kindergarten count here), or so I thought. When most people enter a classroom or any type of room for that matter, they do what best allows them to stay in their comfort zone: look for people they are friends with, people they’ve had classes with before, or look for people who are dressed similar to them. Since I always came to class straight from my morning run and weights practice, I tried to look for the other people (athletes) who were…what’s that word?....oh yeah… sweaty, just like me.:)If all else failed and there were no athletes to sit next to, I’d always try to sit next to whoever looked the friendliest. But anyways, back to my story.

On that first day of my English class after we’d chosen our seat and settled in, the teacher instructed us to try and throw away our stereotypes based on looks and get a little bit out of our comfort zone this semester. To help us do this, she had us write down on a piece of paper something from our past that we wish could be brought back: a toy, food/drink not sold in stores anymore, or any tangible object. As many thoughts ran through my head, I decided on something that I liked and thought nobody else would have thought of: Crystal Pepsi. Surprisingly, in a class of 22 there were a lot of requests for Furbies, and I do believe that their dreams for a comeback came true a few years later. Even more shocking to me was that someone had thought of the same response as me! As the teacher read out our responses by similar categories and read our names to go along with them, she asked us to shuffle around our seating arrangement and sit next to whomever shared our “blast from the past” desires. As I moved to sit next to my new Crystal Pepsi BFF as well as a guy who’d put down Surge for his response and was obviously on the same wavelength as us, I realized that I probably wouldn’t have made an effort to get to know these two had our teacher not placed us next to each other. Just more proof that change is usually unwanted, but often creates a great result. While this story doesn’t end with me becoming best friends with these two or hanging out on the weekends, I am happy to report that I was able to get out of my comfort zone that semester and make a connection with people I may not have gotten to know otherwise. And you can bet I made sure to smile and wave whenever I’d see them around campus during the remainder of my time at Florida State.

Now, I realize that besides my parents and my cat, most of my readers are triathletes. So, now that you’ve seen an example of redefining comfort zones in a social situation, it’s time to triathlon-ize this post… how can this relate to triathlon? The truth is, this topic is relatable on many levels. First, I’d like to highlight the observation that it is easy to get complacent in our daily routine and our expectations for training and racing. However, it is impossible to achieve better results while going about things in the same way. Therefore, it is very important as we strive to grow and become better as both athletes and people to ask ourselves how we can get out of our comfort zone and promote change.

I believe that most of this change needs to come in the way we train so that it will carry over into our races. We need to ask ourselves what our weaknesses are and figure out the steps necessary to addressing them this season. What did you not like about your training plan from last season? Would you respond better to a different kind of strength plan? Do you need to incorporate more hills and power drills into the training plan? Did you swim enough yardage to be comfortable with your race distance? Similarly, did you do enough intervals to be comfortable with switching gears in a race? Where do you feel you played it safe? These are just a few of the many questions you need to be asking yourself and your coach when it comes to maximizing your triathlon performance.

In my case, there are many times during my professional triathlon career when I’ve been forced out of my comfort zone. For example, when I realized I needed to work on my biking strength early on in my pro career, I decided to move Colorado and train in the altitude and mountains, although I didn’t even know a handful of people. This was a not an easy decision and it was very lonely starting out. I often thought about moving back to Florida and accepting a slot in the Master’s program I’d put on hold. However, I felt that God had a purpose for me there. For me, this was probably the biggest leap of them all during my career and I am so thankful I stuck it out! Also, once I was a couple years into my racing career, I realized that although I was burning a ton of calories training, I could not in fact eat whatever I wanted and that a healthy, balanced diet would be a better option than a Smashburger and milkshake, a typical dinner for me. I accepted that it was part of my job as a professional to be healthy for myself, and be a good role model for others. I slowly stopped buying frozen meals and ordering myself pizzas for dinner, and finally took the time to learn how to cook. It was a small yet a little overwhelming change in my daily routine that I feel greatly helped my training, racing, and overall health.

These are just a few examples from my experience (there’s many more I could write about), and I hope these spark some ideas for you on how to get out of your comfort zone this year. I look forward to your feedback and hearing your personal goals and ideas on this topic as well. Let’s keep growing, keep loving, and keep giving thanks for the abilities God has given us – both as triathletes and otherwise!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Finding Balance in 2015

As I sit here looking through my blog (which basically serves as a diary for me), I realize that I've been keeping it for over 7 years now - whoa Nelly! That's a realllllllly long time. As I look back through the memories, some make me smile (fun times experiencing other cultures, races where family and friends came to cheer, podiums, etc), others make me cringe(how did I swim to the wrong buoy?!), and still others spark my memory as to what I didn't share about certain races. Hey, this a "tell-most" not "tell-all" blog after all... ;)

But, mostly what I notice while I'm looking through my blogging archive is that my amount of blogging has declined steadily since 2008. Not good! So, one of my resolutions for this year is to kick that number back up, especially since I enjoy writing so much. I doubt I'll reach the 25 posts mark that I had in 2008 as an excited newbie, but am thinking somewhere in the teens would be a good goal.

Another resolution for this coming year is to put less pressure on myself. Yes, being a pro triathlete certainly has its strains, but it's very important to enjoy the process and not get caught up in race results. This is something I've been working on for a couple of years now, and if I'm being honest, I've made progress but still have a ways to go.

As I enter my 9th year as a pro triathlete, I'd first and foremost like to thank my sponsors who have kept me going for all these years and those that are supporting me this coming year... Sklar Exploration, Serious Cycling, Premium Remodeling, and Rudy Project, you all are very awesome and most appreciated!

At the moment, I'm dealing with a nasty sinus infection turned ear infection (tis the season) which has kept me out of the pool now for over a month and derailed my winter training quite a bit. Once I get healthy, I look forward to a year filled with lots of hard training, hard racing, and lots of fun along the way. It's times like these where I'm always able to check myself to make sure that I'm being the best wife/sister/daughter/friend/triathlete that I can possibly be. God gave me these roles knowing that they'd be a lot, but I also trust that he will never give me more than I can handle! I look forward to the growth that will take place throughout the year, and to becoming my best version of myself.

To my readers, I wish you much joy and peace heading into 2015. I hope that this is the year you will chase those impossible dreams (whether they be in work, racing, relationships, etc) and not be afraid to fail... for we all know that great failures lead to great successes.

Until next time,