AHHHHHHHH!!!! (yes, I am screaming that) What. A. Day. It's been 10 days and I am still on cloud 9. I seriously can’t believe it that everything turned out this way. From having Dallas, to not knowing if I was going to even race in Rio, to dealing with my leg injury, this was in my mind, the perfect ending. I mean, it actually happened. A USA sweep on 9/11 in the Paratriathlon debut. It doesn’t get much better than that.
I woke up on race morning just so excited to be there. I had nerves but they were the good kind and I just wanted to live in the moment and enjoy each step of the way. Being that it was Sep 11th, the day had even more meaning. I told myself that morning that every swim stroke, pedal and step on the run were going to be for those that gave the ultimate sacrifice. I was racing for them.
Keri and I got to athlete check in way before it opened and I was first in line as I like to be. This also meant that Keri was first in the stands and got to claim our Team USA area which makes Keri VERY happy.
I went through athlete check in and got on my bike for a warm up ride on the trainer. While I was on the trainer my family came by with 3 jumbo Dallas heads and I got my first chance to see them and think about how this was the culmination of it all. All the training, all the time away, this was it.
I got off the bike and went to set up my transition area. The blue carpet area was magnificent, like it should be at the Paralympic games. Set along the waters edge with the huge grandstands where my family and friends were setting up ready to cheer as loud as they could. I did a warm up swim and felt great, I was so ready for this. I got to give my parents and Brian a few hugs. I knew how much this moment meant to them. Wanting to see their wife, daughter and sister do well and have all their dreams come true. I can’t imagine how tough it is for them to sit by and watch it all unfold. I just wanted to make them proud.
They did the athlete introduction which is a cool moment where they announce your name and you get to wave and hear the roar of the crowd as you move towards the start. As we stood there, Allyssa, Hailey and I were all next to each other and we had a moment wishing each other good luck and saying that this was it. We could do it. Competitors, teammates, but friends first. We were out there doing this together.
We swam from the beach a few hundred yards out to the pontoon dock where we would start the race. As we sat there, we could hear the announcer and the fans in the stands. We sat there looking out at the beautiful Rio landscape imaging all the great things we were about to do. Hailey and I sat there and had a moment just before we got it. Just being happy that we got to be a part of this journey together. This was already the perfect day.
We got in the water and the horn sounded. I took off expecting to be battling for the front spot with a few others and I found myself all alone. With each stroke I told myself to pull hard and to breathe and to go harder. I was shocked when halfway through the swim, I was still on my own. For the first time in over a year, I was actually leading the swim! This continued to the end and as I got out, I was able to get my wetsuit off, running leg on and headed into transition before anyone else came out of the water. Talk about starting the race off right! As I ran into transition the crowd was deafening. I took a second to look up and smile at all of them. This was the Paralympics and I was determined to enjoy it.
I went into T1, got my biking leg on, ran to the mount line and was off. It was a 4 loop bike course and we were able to see the stand on either sides of the loop which meant a lot of cheers. I led for the first loop but saw that Allyssa and Hailey were fast approaching. At the start of the second lap, Allyssa passed and I told myself to just keep her in my sight. Hailey passed soon after and I told myself the same. But man, Hailey and her bike were on fire and she was out of sight before I could count to 20. As we rounded each corner she got further and further ahead of Allyssa and I and ended up coming into T2 a full 1:30 ahead of us. Allyssa and I got off the bike at the same time and entered T2 together. We changed into our running legs and were off on the run within seconds of each other.
The run was what I was most nervous about, having gone a full 10 days without running prior to this while trying to let my leg rest. As I stepped out on the run, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I felt heavy and I just hoped my quad would hold out. Allyssa was off like a cheetah and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hang with her. I knew from the start that I would be running for 3rd. For that podium spot. Around the course I could see coaches and Brian and they were giving me splits. At the start, I heard that 4th place was a full 2m behind me which I knew I might need. The run was 2 laps and every time I heard a split, she was getting closer and closer. It went from 2 min, to 1:30, to 1 min. Brian in his usual encouraging, frantic yell kept telling me how far I was from first. At some point, I pointed back and asked about 4th because that was my worry. But leave it to him to believe I can run down any amount of time. I love him.
As I got closer to the finish and the blue carpet, I saw one of my best friends Tiffany on the side and she yelled out, she’s 100 feet behind you! Talk about making my body doing what I thought it was too tired to do! Getting on that blue carpet, pushing myself faster, seeing Allyssa and Hailey on the other side of the finish holding up a flag and telling myself ‘do not mess this up’. The finish line was blur, doing whatever I could to take that last podium spot. I had dreams of running across the line with the American flag but I didn’t want to stop in case 4th was that close.
As I crossed, one of the greatest moments of my life came to fruition. There on that finish line with Allyssa and Hailey. We had done what we had only dreamt of for so many years. A USA sweep. Allyssa on that top spot, Hailey with a silver and myself with a bronze. All of us representing the USA on 9/11 and proving to the world that dreams can come true. What a moment. History in the making.
To say I was excited was an understatement. I actually don’t even know what I was doing. I was screaming and jumping everywhere. There was the media mix zone which was all a blur. At the sight of Brian and my family I went completely crazy, running around everywhere. Any pain I had in my leg was gone and it was one of the greatest, craziest moments of my life. After all that led into this race, my bronze felt like a gold and I couldn’t have been more proud. This moment. The one we had all dreamed of.
Allyssa, Hailey and I stood in the medal ready room and just looked around in disbelief saying over and over that we did it. WE ACTUALLY DID IT! As we walked out to the podium, the crowd was crazy. We got to stand there, see 3 American flags go up, hear our national anthem. Something I will never ever forget. Then we got to stand in front of the crowd and celebrate with them. Hailey and I again with our awesome dance moves, jumping and screaming in excitement. Oh what a moment it was.
(As a quick side note, the medals we got are pretty remarkable. Each colors, gold, silver and bronze has a different sound when it shakes. So if an athlete is visually impaired they know what color it is. There is Braille and engraving on it. And it’s heavy! Much heavier that I was expecting.)
All of Team USA had such an amazing day and races to make all of us proud. I couldn't think of a better group of people to have as teammates and was honored to be one among them!
We all made our way back to the hotel and family and friends were there waiting at the hotel with champagne and another round of cheers for all of Team USA. This perfect day just kept going.
That night was the night I had been waiting for as I got so finally spend it with all 20 of Team Melissa who had made the trip to Rio. We celebrated with a true Brazilian steakhouse (is it still called a Brazilian steakhouse if it’s in Brazil?) and hung out at my friends Air B&B right by the ocean, with the night air of Rio coming in through the windows, playing games and laughing until the early hours of the morning. It truly was the perfect day.
My friends and family made me feel so special for making the trip down to Rio. To see all the friendly faces along the course, to hear their cheers, to get the post race hugs and to feel all the love from them. I really am the luckiest girl in the world to have such a strong network of amazing people in my life. They have been with me every step of the way and I don’t think I’ll ever know how to express my thanks to all of them. If you are reading this now, to all of Team Melissa, thank you. I love you all more than you’ll ever know.
We were in Rio for the 2 days following the race. We got to see some of the sights to include Christ the Redeemer. We got to watch Team USA swim for gold at the swimming venue. I got to relax with my family and friends and just sit by the pool drinking a cocktail and reflecting on life and how truly great it is.
Two days later we flew home and my #mommyroad2rio truly ended when I was able to give my medal to Dallas. The culmination of a dream and everything that went into it. And I hope that someday he will bring that medal into school and show all his friends that it doesn’t matter if his mom has one leg or two, but she can still do all this. I hope it teaches him to dream big and to be a dreamer. And I hope he knows that he was one of the biggest motivators of all.
I know I’ve said this before, but if you would have asked me what I wanted my life to be like 4 years ago, this is it. I still have to pinch myself to actually believed it all turned out this way.
So now what? Well, I’ve been asked that question about 2,319 times since the race and I needed take a few days to just let everything sink in. The first day I was back, I wandered around my neighborhood with my medal in my pocket eating not 1, but 2 scones and trying to come up with a plan on what I was going to do now. I have a few ideas that revolve around continuing to speak, coaching and being a mom, but what I do exactly will be laid out in the weeks to come. I can tell you that we hope to expand our family in the very near future so that’s a start.
As for athletics, I don’t think I’m done. I feel like I might have another 4 years in me and Tokyo 2020 has a nice ring to it. But in the meantime, there will be a big break, hopefully a baby, and then figuring things out from there.
And in the near, near future? Lots of cookies and wine.
Thank you to all of you that have followed my journey and believed in me along the way. A special thank you to BP for taking care of my family while they were in Rio. You helped their trip be one of a lifetime and one they will never forget. Another thanks to all of my other sponsors who let me train to be the best athlete I could be while being a present mom. To Chobani, Ralph Lauren, Under Armour, Sleep Number, KT tape, Smuckers, Deloitte, USG, Budweiser, P&G and Wintrust; someday I will find a way to express my full gratitude for all you have done for me and my family. To my coaches Jen and Liz, to Dare2tri, to my prosthetist Dave, our team manager Amanda, our national coaches Mark, Wes and Chris and of course my parents, sister and Dallas. Thank you.
What a beautiful journey and what a perfect ending. I know there will be more journey’s ahead and whatever they are, I’m excited to see where they lead.
Thanks for all the love.