2014 Junior Nationals

I have decided that this year was probably my last year for the National Junior Disability Championships. I qualified for the adult nationals this year, but didn’t go because there was a conflict for my family. But I really think I enjoy the meets where the other competitors are more my age.

Here I am, near the end of my 100m race on Wednesday.

Here I am, near the end of my 100m race on Wednesday.

Still, last week at junior nationals was very productive for me. I set two new Personal Records — in the 100m and 200m sprints. I was very happy with my times, 18.99 for the 100m and 41.94 for the 200m. That is more than a second off of my 100m this year and nearly 2 seconds off of my 200m. My goal for next year is to get under 18 seconds in the 100m and to get under 40 seconds for the 200m.

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I have to confess that I didn’t get a PR in my long jump as well. That really is my favorite event. I had a nice jump early in the event, just a tiny bit shy of my PR of 2.61m. But something was off with my approach after that, and I jumped early for the last three of my tries. I cried. I was so frustrated. If I had been jumping off at the corrrect place, I would have easily broken my PR by a fair amount. Oh, well. Some days are just like that. Still, it was very disappointing.

Because one of the other competitors scratched for the 100m open on Friday, I had another chance to run that. And I think I did really well, possibly beating my new PR that I set earlier in the week. But I’m still waiting to find out what my time was for that event. The times weren’t posted at the track, because a thunderstorm broke out shortly after I ran. And the times haven’t been posted yet online either. I’m trying to be patient, but I’d really like to know . . .

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Running the Fast Cow and Indy International

I was in Indianapolis Thursday and Saturday grabbing a chance to run on the famously fast IUPUI Mondo track. This is where Florence Griffith-Joyner set the women’s 100m world record (10.49) at the 1988 Olympic Trials, a record that still stands today.

I was there to participate in the Fast Cow and Indy International meets. Both are para meets, historically for wheelchair athletes. But this year the meets were opened up to para-ambulatory and open/masters (able-bodied) as well. And, wouldn’t you know? I was the only ambulatory runner there. That makes me the very first ambulatory athlete to compete at the Fast Cow and the Indy International!

Okay. So it was a little humbling, to feel like I was in their space. But then I thought about how many of the wheelchair athletes have to race against able-bodied, ambulatory athletes all the time when they are on high school and college teams. Now I know a little bit about what that might feel like, to stand out like that.

There I am, lining up for my first 100m sprint against a field of wheelchair racers.

There I am, lining up for my first 100m sprint against a field of wheelchair racers.

So guess what? I got to run two heats in the 100m against Tatyana McFadden – well, and several other racers too. Yeah, she beat me. But it sure was fun anyway. Tatyana beats everyone. She has a lot of Paralympic gold and she has won the wheelchair division of the Boston marathon, the New York marathon, the London marathon – well, just about everything she races. So I didn’t mind so much.

Me and Tatyana McFadden at the end of the 2014 Fast Cow.

Me and Tatyana McFadden at the end of the 2014 Fast Cow.

I didn’t get any new PRs in Indy, but my times were respectable and I made a lot of new friends. Now, all the wheelchair athletes know who Anna Day is. I kind of stood out. And I watched several new world records being set, Tatyana with two new records at the Indy International and several other new world records at the Fast Cow on Thursday.

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The Great Lakes Games

I competed this past Saturday and Sunday in Lake Forest, Illinois. The competition was the Great Lakes Games, hosted by GLASA. This is probably my favorite regional game every season. It’s well-attended, especially by a number of girls in my disability class. Also, there are a number of regulars in other disability classes who I see at many of the same regional competitions, and after a while, we all have developed friendships.

Also, I am a member of Team GLASA. The coaches on this team look out for me at my competitions and make sure I know the heat order for the events, when I’m supposed to run, that I have water — and ice packs when I need it. I don’t generally train much with GLASA, because they are more than a two-hour drive from where I live. At best, I get to one or two meet-ups a year. But I always feel I am in my comfort zone when my teammates are there competing with me.

Amanda Malowski (T37, right), Aubrey Headon (T35, center) and me (left) finishing our 100m race.

Amanda Malowski (T37, right), Aubrey Headon (T35, center) and me (left) finishing our 100m race.

I set a new personal record (PR) for my 100m, running the event in 19.63 seconds. I suppose I should be happy about the new PR, but I ended up being a little disappointed, because I know I could have done better. I messed up my start by hesitating. It might have cost me only a quarter of a second, but it definitely slowed me down. And then we had to run into a pretty gusty headwind. Of course, my competitors had that same disadvantage, and it probably didn’t affect the finish order. But we all were kind of disappointed with our times. I would like to get my 100m time below 18 seconds before this year is out.

Isn’t it weird that, even with success, a runner like me is always looking for something better? There’s always something keeping me back from doing my best.

My 200m time was respectable at 43.18s. I’m aiming to get my 200m time below 40 seconds this year. The wind probably kept me from a PR, as I was only .15 seconds from that time (43.03s). But I’m going to have to work on my endurance more to break that 40 second goal.

In long jump, I didn’t jump past my PR of 2.61. Again, we had to run and jump into a gusty headwind. But I was very, very close to my PR, so it was a respectable result for me. I seem to be leading the top of my class in long jump among F37 women in the U.S., but I have a long way to go to reach the level of jumps that are being posted internationally.

Well, now I have more than a week off before my next meet. I’m signed up to run the 100m only at the Fast Caw and the Indy International Para competition, which is hosted by the Indiana chapter of USA Track & Field.

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My Disability

I run in a disability class for people who have hemiplegia, a weakness or semi-paralysis on one side of the body. Lots of my competitors, like me, get the “cerebral palsy” label because our brain injury — our neurological impairment — happened very early in life. I had a stroke on the day I was born, probably right before I was born. Other competitors have had strokes in childhood. Some had traumatic brain injuries, a few in combat.

But while hemiplegia puts me in the T37 and F37 disability class, it is not the disability that gives me the most challenges and obstacles in my life.

The thing is, I have a seizure disorder — epilepsy — that also resulted from my stroke. I take medicine for the seizures, but even with the best neurologists around working on my case, the seizures are not well-controlled. The medicines keep me from having grand mals. I haven’t had one since I was 10. Instead, I have seizures in just one-half of my brain. But I have a lot of them.

I don’t know any other athlete in my disability class who has as many seizures as I have. While I can go two to three weeks without a seizure, often I have many seizures a day, sometimes more than a dozen. I have to take more medicine to stop the seizures, and that medicine makes me very, very tired. Some days it is a struggle to train. I frequently get discouraged, but I keep going.

My last eeg.  I was supposed to stay a week, but they got all they needed after two days.

My last eeg. I was supposed to stay a week, but they got all they needed after two days.

What I think about when I am struggling with my seizures is that I am also running for the people with epilepsy. I represent them. I want to prove that even a serious seizure disorder can’t take running away from me. I want to prove that I can still train and compete, even with this disadvantage.

I’m grateful to have a coach who doesn’t give up on me. I’m grateful for amazing facilities to train in. I’m grateful that God gives me the courage to keep competing.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be the top woman sprinter in my disability class. But I am going to keep trying, because I think it’s important to show that even multiple disabilities don’t have to hold us back.

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2014 Thunder in the Valley Meet

I returned home frustrated by my weekend at Thunder in the Valley.  There were problems with the time-keeping equipment, and even though my time for the 100m was respectable, that was after running the heat three times before we were told the problem was solved.  My 200m time as posted also was far off what I typically run – and so were the times for the rest of the girls running that heat – but who wants to repeat a 200m when you still have other sprints yet in front of you?

I supposed I can report that I once again beat my Personal Record (PR in sports lingo) in long jump.  Well, I beat it by one one-hundredth of a meter – which is a little less than a half inch.  So, even that victory had to be taken in context.

All in all, I guess I have to look at the entire meet as a learning experience.  But never could I say that it was a waste of time.  For example, I met a new athlete in my disability class and we are the same age, so it was fun spending some time with Erika getting to know her.  Erika was in a car accident four years ago and suffered a traumatic brain injury.  Before her injury she was on her high school track team, and this was her first return to the track.

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Meeting Erika is one of the reasons I love the Paralympic movement so much. It isn’t just about trying to run your way to the head of the pack. It’s about the people you meet along the way who have their own set of challenges and obstacles but who are out there fighting to be the best they can be. Competing in track and field gives a person a way to measure where you are now and where you find yourself after putting in some hard work.

Which gets me back to my frustrating meet. This past year I have been conditioning like crazy, and I am in the best physical shape of my life right now. And now, for the first time, I have a coach, a great coach who is helping me find ways to improve my running and jumping technique and showing me how to train optimally for my competitions. And I want to see how I’m doing, and that’s why precise measurements – my times – are so important to me and why I bring them up so much. It is how I can measure whether or not all of this hard work is paying off. It isn’t about bragging (well, maybe sometimes, just a little bit) but of finding out what is my full potential, running toward the best that I can be on the track.

So now I look ahead. I have another meet next week in the Chicago area, the Great Lakes Games, which is hosted by my team, GLASA. I live a couple hours drive from my team, and I don’t get to practice with them much except for one or two meet-ups each year. So once again this competition will be a chance for me to spend some time with friends, old and new, who I’ve gotten to know in my years of competition and training.

Another good thing about running: you’re always looking ahead. When I was running that 100m sprint for the third time, I was thinking about one of my favorite Bible verses. “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

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Running Again – And Meet My Coach!

I was forced into not competing last year and ended up healing from minor foot surgery instead.  But now I’m back.  And this year I have a really amazing coach, thanks to a generous grant from Challenged Athletes Foundation in San Diego.

I’m incredibly grateful to be working with Kyle Ekberg, who is both men’s and women’s track & field coach and cross-country coach at Rockford University in Rockford, Ill., where my grandparents live.  Kyle grew up in Rockford, and was an All-American at Augustana College.  I can’t even begin to explain how incredible it is to have Kyle’s help to reach my full potential as a sprinter and long jump competitor.  Until now, I have not had anyone’s continuing in-put into my athletics.

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So in early April I competed for the first time in the Paralympic-affiliated Mid-Atlantic Games in Richmond, Virginia, earning a new personal record in long jump (2.6 meters) and getting some solid running times in my sprints.  After such an awful bitter winter with little opportunity to get my running legs (snow and ice still covered the ground back home), I was really happy just to see I hadn’t gone backwards after my year off from competition.  This coming weekend I will compete in my second regional event of the season, the Thunder in the Valley Games in Saginaw, Michigan.  This will be a fun opportunity for me also to connect with many athletes I have become close to over the last several years.  Wish me luck.  Kyle has been working with me on my funky starts.  I’m hoping to set some new personal records in my sprints on Saturday.

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2nd Time: Named U.S. Paralympic High School All-American in Track & Field

I’m very excited to report that U.S. Paralympics once again named me to the High School All-American Team in track and field for my competition results in long jump.  You can read the complete story here.  It’s great to be included with so many other amazing athletes, and many of the people on this list are my friends.

 

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