Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Journey Home

I've decided that it pays to win a gold medal!  All gold medal winners were treated to Business Class seats all the way from London to Sydney.  It has totally ruined me for flying Economy again so I have to figure out how to make lots of money to always fly Business Class or find a generous sugar daddy! (sorry Russ :-) )

The Australian Paralympic Committee chartered a flight for the entire team.  Just about 400 people, athletes, coaches and staff, so logistically you would think it would be a nightmare.  Getting all that luggage and people from the Paralympic Village, to the airport and making sure that all of it was tagged properly to all the individuals home states.  But I must say I have never been involved in something so big that ran so well!  We were all given times to check our luggage at the village, have it loaded on to a van, have ourselves booked on a bus and then go through the process again once we got to the airport.

And even wearing Qantas PJ's
 The Qantas staff were amazing and so friendly.  And being in Business Class we were treated like royalty!  I think the best part was being able to lie flat and sleep.  The first leg was London to Bangkok, a 10 hour flight and it was the fastest 10 hour flight I have ever been on!  I slept for about 6 hours of it and the rest of the time was taken up eating or watching the entertainment system.  We stopped in Bangkok for a refuel and a change of staff and then it was back up in the sky and head for Sydney and I got another 4-5 hours sleep. We were told there was quite the reception waiting for us in Sydney.

Waiting media

Upon our touch down in Sydney we were greeted with a water cannon welcome by the fire brigade and the gold medallists were asked to exit the plane first, wearing our medals.  At this point we were greeted by Acting Prime Misister Wayne Swan, the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, a number of other politicians, Greg Hartung the President of the APC and a number of photographers and tv cameras!  We then headed through Immigration and through the baggage area where we then waited for the rest of the team to assemble.  We were then ushered through a door to waiting media and families with music blaring.  The amount of cameras was amazing and the families and friends waiting for the athletes were cheering and clapping.  All around the walls of the room we were in, were large blown up photos of some of the athletes and a number of tv screens that were showing video footage.  There was a short ceremony hosted by Stephani Brantz and a number of speeches, then more photos and interviews of athletes.

I, along with a number of others left the room to make our way over to another terminal to catch our next flight.  I couldn't wait to get home, I wanted to share my experiences with Russ and all my family and friends.

Upon my arrival in Melbourne my coach, Helen, was there to greet me.  It was great giving her a big hug, showing her my medal and thanking her for being my coach.  Arriving home was even better when I was able to hug my husband!  Boy I certainly missed that!  It was fantastic being home and I have organized a number of social gatherings of friends from different areas of my life in order to celebrate with thme and than them for their support throughout my campaign.  Without their support this dream would have never been fulfilled.

So where to from here?  The World Championships are in Canada next year and I missed out on that World Championship win last year, so I will be out to get that title. 

Then who knows...I've never been to Rio!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Journey Comes to a Close

This amazing experience is coming to an end and what an experience it has been!

There are so many things I would like to tell readers about but I don't think I would be able to do some of them justice.  How do you truly explain the hype and vibe of over 4000 incredibly talented athletes in one village speaking every language you can imagine in the world.  Or of having athletes from nations who are at war with each other actually being on the same sporting ground competing or sitting in the dining hall just meters away from each other without nary a bullet being fired?  I've seen people, with disabilities so severe that not that many years ago would have been locked away and forgotten, up on a podium receiving medals with smiles on their faces brighter than the sun!

How do I explain the feeling of thumping that goes through your entire body while walking into the athletics stadium for the closing ceremonies, when you hear 90,000 people cheering...incredible!  It is all too fantastic for words.  I hope that when I am home to just put a blog together with photos, maybe that will help, but it wont do  the sights or sounds justice.

I think that the one thing that has stood out here is that every athlete whether a podium finisher or not, was happy to be here and share in the joy of knowing that they had done their best to make through these doors.  Yes we all want to be winners but that didn't stop those who didn't win a medal from approaching those that did and congratulating them.  I am sure that there are those that were disappointed at their results but the only tears I saw were tears of joy and that was so refreshing!

I have made some incredible friends here over the last week or so and bonded with teammates and staff, a bond that will last a lifetime.  I have been able to share this experience with family, my mom Phyllis, my sister Cindy and my aunt Marjorie and that has been priceless!  It has been an experience I will take to my grave and who knows maybe even experience it again in Rio!

My sister gave me a card that said "Behind very success is effort...Behind every effort is passion...Behind every passion is someone with the courage to try".  I hope that others who have followed my journey will use these words.  

Thank you London for a truly remarkable experience!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Paralympic Road Race

My Paralympic campaign has come to an end with todays Road Race my last event.  I knew that this was going to be a tough ask to medal as riding against the men without factoring (handicapping) was difficult.  In saying that I was confident going into the race as I absolutely love this course.  It really did suit me and I was really looking forward to racing on it for one last time.

We couldn't have asked for better weather, with not a cloud in the sky and the temperature hovering around 23 for the start.  Today at least I didn't have to wait all day to race as my race was at 10:32 in the morning.  There were 18 trike riders starting and I was lucky enough to be called up to the line early and was able to get a start position right at the front and beside David Stone of GB.  He and I had the best start of everyone probably because no one else really heard the starter as he was standing right beside me!  The two of us took off and we were around the first corner along with Hans-Peter Durst of GER first.  I settled in behind the two of them as we left the Brands Hatch grounds and down the first hill I let two other riders in front of me.  So I was sitting right on the tails of the top 5 male trike rides.

The first downhill finishes at a 100 degree right hand turn, which trikes don't go around very well!  I didn't want to get caught up if the men had problems so hung back a bit.  You go from over 50km/hr down the hill to about 20km/hr so the trike doesn't tip over!  Then you are straight into a climb after the corner.  I held on to the guys for about half the hill and then they got away from me.  I thought I may be able to catch up with them at the next downhill but unfortunately that wasn't to be.

Almost at the end of the 1st lap three other riders caught me so I rode with them for a little while, then they too got away from me.  On my last lap, the last long climb, I passed the Columbian who looked to have mechanical problems and my goal then was to stay in front of the approaching female tandem riders (they had started two minutes before us) as it is really scary trying to navigate corners with tandem bikes flying by you.  I knew they were approaching the circuit inside Brands Hatch because I could hear the helicopter that was filming them very close.

In the end I did stay in front of them and rode down the finishing straight with a HUGE crowd screaming and banging on the side boards!  The noise was amazing and really did spur you on!  I felt like I was flying down that home straight and when I crossed the finish line I was 6:05 minutes behind David Stone of GB, who won.  I was the first woman to cross the line 9 minutes ahead of the 2nd woman.  So I was extremely pleased.

I am just hoping that with more and more women coming on board that the next Paralympic games the women don't have to race the men.  With factoring in place it makes it even, but without it, like today, there is no way a woman will medal.  Kudos however to the medal winners, they all deserved to be there, they had amazing rides!

Tomorrow is the Closing Ceremonies which I am really looking forward to. It will be a celebration of the effort, passion and courage we have all witnessed over the last couple of weeks.  I for one will be honoured to walk amongst all of those amazing athletes!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fronting The Media

Today I was taken over to the ABC's studios which are located in a HUGE massive building the size of two football fields.  This is the same building that housed all the media from around the world for the Olympics. I was escorted by the Australian Media staff to do a live stint on ABC2's evening show.  The panel is hosted by Stephanie Brantz (known as the walking sports encyclopedia) with her side kicks being comedians Lawrence Mooney, Sam Pang and Adam Zwar.

I was taken through enormous security (actually there is enormous security everywhere) to makeup.  For those who know me I don't wear a lot of makeup but it is always nice to have a professional pamper you with makeup and hair.

I was warned that the guys would try to be funny and that they had a lot of background information about me.  To say I had fun is an understatement! I think I gave back as good as they threw!  But in all seriousness they were fantastic and asked about my crash in August and then even showed footage of me racing down one of the biggest hills on the course.  I had never seen this so it was amazing watching me tackle the hill!

Towards the end Stephanie told me to look straight down at the camera and send a message to Russ.  She could have warned me as it took me off guard and my brain ran at 1000miles an hour to think of what to say.  In the end I just waved, said "hi honey, I'm heading out to get one more tomorrow", then gave him the thumbs up.  Sounds kind of dorky right? Well it was!

When I left the studio and grabbed my stuff, my mobile went nuts with text messages and the first one was from Russ, telling me that I had made him cry!  And I thought I was dorky!

It was a lot of fun and my first dealings with the media as a Gold Medallist!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Paralympic Time Trial

The last 24 hours of my life have been surreal!
Just over 14 years ago when I was told I had MS and that my life was over as I knew it, who would have thought that the doctor was right!  After yesterday, my life as I knew was over all those years ago, because a new life with new opportunities was about to begin.  As I have said before I would never change my diagnosis because it has made me who I am today.

And today I can call myself a Paralympic Gold Medallist!

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever believe I could feel so overwhelmed, excited and proud all in one moment.  My race went exactly as I had planned it, right from the time I woke up, to getting on the bus to Brands Hatch, to my warm up, then my race time.  There were no hiccups at all.  I was starting 6th last with the faster riders behind me.  As I had to race the men as well (this Time Trial was factored, in other words handicapped) I knew that I had to pass some of the riders in front of me but also stay in front of GB Rider David Stone for as long as possible.  All riders start 60 seconds apart and I knew that if I was only 90 seconds slower then the fastest man then I would win this race.

At the start of the race I managed to pass 3 riders within a very short time and just kept thinking about how much I believed in my ability and myself, but also repeating in my head "stay in front of David, stay in front of David".  Where I expected him to catch me didn't eventuate which was fantastic and spurred me on, then out of no where he caught me but not that far from the finish.  I had two hills to conquer and not let him get too far away from me.  Down the finishing straight the noise was incredible with people cheering and pounding on the side boards and all of a sudden it was over. I knew I had given it my all as I had nothing left in the tank.  Now it was a waiting game.  I had no idea what time David had done and there were still riders to come in and good riders, the Italian, American, French and German, all of who could pip me at the post.

I retreated to our garage and proceeded to do my warm down, with members of our team coming up to say they thought I had won.  To be honest I didn't want to believe any of them until the official results were up.  When I was finally told the results were final I had won the Gold, I still didn't believe until a GB staff member came straight through our garage, held out his hand and said to me " absolutely amazing ride, congratulations", when he walked away I burst into tears!  There were hugs all round from the team who had supported me 100%, Peter D, Tom S, Muz L, Peter G, Anouska , Jenni, everyone!  I was able to call Russ my husband and Helen my coach back in Oz (although it was around 3am, I didn't care!) and tell them the good news.  I don't think either of them were able to get back to sleep!

The presentation seems like a dream!  I met up with the other medal winners Han-Peter Durst (GER) who had won Silver and David Stone (GB) who won Bronze and we all hugged one another.  That is the good thing about Paralympic athletes we were happy for one another.  The three of us are also friends through social media and keep in touch, so it was great that the three of us were standing there.  When it was time to stand behind our podium places I must say I was shaking, but I'm not sure if it was because it was very cold or the nerves had set in, probably a bit of both.  But I must say that it is the most unreal feeling hearing your name and moving forward to receive that medal.  My family was only about 10m away and to be able to share this with them was fantastic!  When the anthem played I sang every word, I figured if I didn't I would cry!

After the presentation I was able to head over to my family and of course that is when the tears started on both sides of the fence I might add. But what a wonderful feeling!

Coming back to the village was amazing as everyone already knew the result and the hugs and congratulations has been never ending.  Being a part of social media has also been overwhelming with hundreds of Facebook messages, tons of Twitter messages (even one from Adam Gilchrist,  that blew me away!) and this morning 65 emails, as well as Telstra Hero Messages!  I have read every one of the messages, responded to all the emails, but have been hard pressed to answer all the other messages, other than the Hero Messages from school kids...those have definitely been answered!  So to those I haven't responded to apologies. Your support has been greatly appreciated.

I now have the Road Race on Saturday, it will be tough to medal as this race is not factored, so it is strictly first across the line.  The men are much stronger over the longer distances, but hell anything can happen!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Brands Hatch Training Day

Today we headed out on buses to Brands Hatch where our Time Trial and Road Race will be held.  Now for those of you who don't know, Brands Hatch is  a well known motor racing circuit.  Not one piece of flat road, it either goes up or comes down with a lot of technical corners!  And I LOVE IT!

We were lucky enough to have ridden it back in June after the European tour we did and since then I have been able to view and "ride" the course via video.  That has been the most valuable piece of training along with what is called a computrainer which has the course and the gradients in it.  I honestly now think that the computrainer is harder than the actual course!

Although my Time Trial race is only one lap (8km), I did 3 laps today working on different aspects of the road.  I absolutely loved riding the course today and although there were a number of trike riders on the course I was able to effortlessly ride by them.  Now that could mean a couple of things, 1. They weren't really trying hard, 2. They were doing exactly the same as me or 3. I've gotten much faster!  I would like to think it is the latter!

It has been a long day, but I am really looking forward to racing in 2 days and to be honest I am quietly confident.  I read a great quote the other day from an unknown  author and I think this will be my new mantra:
"Believe in your dreams and they may come true; believe in yourself and they will come true."

Monday, September 3, 2012

Goodbye France, Hello London

While on the road to Bordeaux for our flight to London I penned a few thoughts.  I don't think I can even explain the emotions and feelings in my own head! Excited, nervous, apprehension, fear, confident, happy, humble, inspired...the list could go on!  But one thing I do know is I can't wait to meet up with the rest of the team.  Seems like it has taken forever but on the other hand I'm scared it will be all over so fast!

I'm about to experience something that very few people in the world will ever get to do, experience my lifelong dream and I am humbled by it.

When we arrived at Gatwick airport we were treated like celebrities!  We had a number of official greeters who met us at the plane, took us directly to immigration where even staff were yelling "Go Aussie's", then to the luggage pick up where they got our bags and we even had a woman with her young son come to us and ask for a photo, then out to waiting LOCOG cars.  Each of us had our own vehicle and driver, to take us to the Paralympic Village!  Frieda was my driver, a lovely 64 year old woman who was an Opera singer and even gave a rendition of a song!

Upon our arrival at the village the security was amazing and we eventually got through that and our accreditation process and were then escorted to the Australian main office known as "The Red Centre".  Here we were welcomed as the "last" of the Aussie athletes to arrive and as we were being given our keys the rest of the cycling team came into the foyer.  It was fantastic to finally be with everyone else and there were hugs and kisses all around!  Luckily for us we had arrived just as everyone was heading to dinner, so after dropping off our bags off we went to the Food Hall.

Now what can I say about the Food Hall that hasn't already been said...absolutely amazing.  If you don't know what you want to eat before you walk in it will take you 30 minutes to decide as there is everything imaginable!  Finding a seat if there are more than 4 of you can also be a challenge!  But the Cycling contingent of Aussies have stacked out a claim so at least we know where to find everyone!  So after a good feed it was back to the room to unpack and make my room home for the next 10 days, then hit the sack after a very long day.

Today, the first full day of this amazing journey and I really wanted to experience the sights and sounds of the crowds so headed to the velodrome to see the last day of track racing.  With my accreditation I was able to go right into the pits.  For someone who hasn't really seen a lot of track racing I was standing there in awe.  In fact I was quite overwhelmed by the crowd.  Not just that there were about 6000 in the audience, but the noise that they made!  Yes they were mostly there to cheer for the GB riders but not matter who was out racing the crowd would cheer just as loud.  I don't think I could actually say anything for about an hour, it was just incredible!  God knows how the riders actually focus with the noise.

The rest of my day was spent in appointments with our Physio Anouska, our Recovery specialist Jo, changing clothing sizes, training (yes I did some of that too!) and preparing for tomorrow.  The course we are racing on at Brands Hatch will be open for the first time and we are all heading out there for training.  So it is off to bed for me!

In one last note the Australian team have been doing amazing!  We are currently sitting in 3rd place overall with 14 Gold Medals, how cool is that!