A lot of people out there enjoy the month of October because of Halloween. I personally love the month because it means it’s time for a celebration…a birthday party!
Yes, my birthday is October 19, and even though COVID killed any real get-together this year, I was still showered with virtual love and kindness from family, friends, and loved ones (see a couple below). Oh, and I received some awesome gifts as well. Can’t forget that!
There’s one gift that I really want though, and it won’t be ready until next year. Let me set the scene for you.
I went to my first Paralympic Games in 2004. 19 years old. Fresh out of high school. First time in Athens, Greece. Heck, first flight across the Atlantic Ocean. I remember walking into the stadium and hearing the fans, the cheers, the excitement. I remember running down that runway and soaring to my first Paralympic medal. It was silver. Not bad for a first shot. Right? I don’t think so, especially when I had been working with my guide for about two weeks prior to the competition. Of course, I wanted gold, but it was my first Paralympic competition of any kind.
2008 was my second Paralympic Games, and my first-year training at the Olympic Training Center in California. This was the year when Wesley and I began to work together full time. Fast forward to the competition in Beijing, China. I remember being in the silver position. The Chinese athlete was sitting in the gold medal position. I had one last shot to take him down. I took off down the runway. I’m moving like the wind, as fast as lightning, and something weird happened. I usually take 16 strides in the long jump. Once I take that last step, I should be smack dab in the middle of the takeoff board. Well, on this day, I messed up. I made a huge mistake and leapt from step 14 and not 16. This basically means I’m much further away from the long jump pit, but it also means that I lose that distance because the officials measure from where the takeoff board is. I was so sure I would nail that jump and take down the Chinese competitor in his home, but I jumped the gun. No pun intended. I ended my second games with another silver medal.
In 2012, I got injured two weeks before our Paralympic trials. I’m off the track for about four or five weeks. When I finally return, I have about five weeks to get ready for London, my third Paralympic Games. Let’s talk about that injury though. I strained my quad during a race in Canada. I remember feeling the pop. I fell to the ground. I immediately knew that something was wrong. Team USA had me on the next flight out of Canada to begin the healing and recovery process. I returned, took an MRI, and received the dreadful news. A torn quad. Fortunately, I work with some of the best pros in the business, and they whipped up a plan that would have me ready to compete in London. At that point, I’d never really been injured. Although my medical team had gotten me back on my feet, I began to second guess myself, and wondered if I could hit it as hard as I did before. Will the leg give out? Will it affect my jumping abilities? Just for the record, my left leg is my jumping leg. I had injured my right quad, but I wondered if that would have some sort of negative impact on how far I could fly. Long story short, I make it to London. I compete, and once more I land in the silver medal position on the podium. Third time, but this one felt different. I didn’t know how I’d be able to compete having had to sit out for a month. Then I only had about five weeks to prepare for the biggest stage. I’ll take it.
2016. Rio de Janeiro. If you don’t know the story by now, open my book and read chapter 8. By far, one of the most heart-breaking things I’ve been a part of. I believed that was my gold medal, and for reasons outside of my control, I didn’t get it. Another silver medal goes in the war chest.
The greatest gifts are the ones we give ourselves…
I’ve been competing for 16 years now. I began training for the Paralympic Games in high school. I’ve been doing this for half of my life. I won plenty of gold medals, at every level: national championships, Para-Pan American Games, World championships. But the one that is missing from my collection is a gold from the games. That’s the birthday present that I really want. I’ll have to wait until August to have an opportunity to get it though.
People ask, “Are you annoyed with always getting silver at the Paralympics? Does it sting sometimes?” Yes! I don’t go into competitions saying, “I gotta get that silver today!” I train to win gold.
Think about it. You study to ace the test. You cram knowledge in your head to pass the bar exam, to get your nursing certificate, or earn your insurance license. It takes work. And I’ve put in A LOT of work. Yes, I haven’t aced my test yet. But do you know what? I believe everything happens for a reason. I believe if it’s something you really want, you go after it relentlessly until you get it. Winning a gold in Tokyo would make for a great story, wouldn’t it?
I received some remarkable gifts this year. But I’m working hard to get myself the gift that I’ve been wanting for almost 20 years…the gold medal and Paralympic Champion crown. When that happens, October 19, 2021 will be a birthday bash to remember!