Saturday, October 03, 2015

Lowell, Mark, and the National Track Championships!

Let me introduce you to Stephen Burke (of Burke's Integrated Bicycle Training) and Mark MacDonald... the latest additions to Lowell's para-athletic dream team.

A few weeks ago, Lowell attended an 'intro to tandem cycling for the blind' workshop (offered through ASRAB) where he met Stephen- a national paracycling coach. They went for a ride together and bonded.

Then Stephen became Lowell's cycling coach.

Then Stephen hooked Lowell up with Mark- a seasoned competitive track cyclist.

Last weekend, Mark piloted Lowell's tandem at the outdoor velodrome in Calgary. It was Lowell's second velodrome experience (if you can really count the time we went like six years ago for a casual cycle in New Zealand), and it was Mark's first time on a tandem. Like, ever.

What's a velodrome, you ask? I'll just straight up copy Wikipedia's definition for you. "A velodrome is an arena for track cycling. Modern velodromes feature steeply banked oval tracks, consisting of two 180-degree circular bends connected by two straights." Also, specific bikes are required (fixed gear/no shifting/can't stop pedalling/no brakes). And they speed around the track at 50-60km/hr. Sounds fun right?

Lowell & Mark spent a little more time at the track this weekend. Because of their combined power and Mark's technical experience, Stephen believes they have a shot at nationals. Soooo.. the are heading to Toronto to compete in the National Track (cycling) Championships. THIS WEEK. For real. It's all happening so fast, but Stephen believes in them, and I believe in them too!

I was unable to be at the track for either excursion, but Verdun & Kurt graciously transported Lowell and took on my paparazzi role, and Marc and Tara were also able to witness the magic and text me updates. I HATE missing these things... mama likes to be in the loop!

Lowell & Mark!

Hi Mark!
That's Stephen leading the way!

The gal biking with the boys is Michelle Salt. She's a paracyclist under Stephen's direction. Like that's not enough, she's also a paralympic snowboarder and a fitness model... with one leg. What an incredibly ambitious and inspirational woman. She'll be at nationals this week as well, and I'm eager to follow her progress!

 We are fans. Welcome to our world, guys (and thank you for welcoming us into yours)!

In other cycling news, Fraser (who just turned four) participated in his first charity ride this morning! He raised $140 for the Lethbridge Pregnancy Care Centre... thanks to those who donated! Fraser was a total trooper as he completed the ride in the freezing cold (it felt like -3 degrees) with 60km/hr wind gusts and SLEET. A much deserved Starbucks treat was in order at the end!

Stefan showing some pre-ride pride for his bundled-up-and-ready-to-ride big bro!
My fingers nearly froze off, so photographic evidence of the event is less than optimal... but at least it exists. Kind of.

Speedy McSpeedster.
Poor Stef nearly froze his noogie noogies off on the back of my bike. 
Fraser SORT OF enjoys cake pops.

Give these kids a few more years of growth and experience, and I'm sure they'll be more than capable of piloting their daddy on the tandem! In the meantime, we're thrilled that Warren & Mark have risen to the challenge.

I'm super pumped for Lowell & Mark to head to Toronto this week but I CAN'T BELIEVE I'M MISSING IT. Kids? Work? WHAT?!? Rest assured, we'll be screaming our heads off from afar. But if any of you just HAPPEN to be at the Milton Velodrome on Wednesday and Thursday, feel free to cheer your brains out and generously snap photos (then promptly share them with me)!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Golden Boys!

Despite enormous work stressors which impacted Lowell's training, sleep, and overall energy level, he and Warren competed with the elite paratriathletes at the ITU World Triathlon Series in Edmonton last weekend! While Lowell's mental and physical exhaustion was evident in his performance (especially during the swim), the exercise and atmosphere proved to be a healthy coping strategy and distraction. Plus... they still totally nailed it. 

On Friday, the boys were able to test the bike course and meet fellow athletes- para and non. It was very cold and rainy, and amusing comments such as "You call this summer? I CAN'T FEEL MY HANDS!" were being thrown around by foreigners. Ha! In the evening, Lowell and Warren were honoured to dine and interact with elite athletes from around the world... what a privilege!

Saturday was race day. Thankfully, the rain subsided and the sun even poked it's shy head out a few times. It was still chilly, but much preferable to Friday's miserable downpour.

While the boys were completing their transition set-up before the swim, they overheard a girl with a prosthetic leg call to another athlete, "Hey can you help me with my leg with your good arm?" haha. Amazing. Only in the paras.

Warren pointing out the swim course.
Kissing the water (to climatize). Lowell takes great pleasure in facing Warren and LOUDLY saying things such as, "well... shall we kiss?!" haha. Goof. Not sure if Warren TOTALLY knew what he was signing up for when he volunteered to do this with Lowell. ;)

I always get emotional watching Lowell & Warren together. At this race, however, every athlete made me tear up. The waterworks began when I first saw the handlers helping out. Not only do these athletes have incredible amounts of strength and determination, but the community it takes to assist them is heart warming.

The swim was the boys' slowest yet, but they still looked powerful and awesome to us uneducated spectators! Are we really surprised though? They were, in fact, the hottest men there (totally in my absolutely unbiased opinion).

The boys are still working out the complexities of an open water swim... how to communicate when you can't see, can't talk, are swimming with 100% effort, and are attached by a tether (which slipped off and required adjusting...yikes). Oh, and Lowell apologizes for the multiple times he inadvertently punched Warren in the head.

Done the swim and headed to coveted blue transition mat... just like the elite elites!

The bike. They ROCKED it. Warren controlled that beast with confidence and precision, and their combined power made them fly. They rode a borrowed older style, light-weight race bike, and noticed a significant improvement compared to our humble $1200 touring tandem. I think this racing duo has proven that they are serious, and ready to invest in some proper gear!

Even during an official, sanctioned event, Lowell still has time for his shenanigans!
Huge thanks to Danny for lending Lowell the race helmet, and to Stu & Jason for lending the bike.... the appropriate equipment makes a big difference!

The boys were only 20 seconds behind the fastest bike time of the entire elite para race. Warren was a skilled, aggressive pilot, and their combined leg strength was a mighty powerful engine.

During the bike, the boys caught and passed USA's Amy Dixon and her guide, so us spectators were a little confused when the amazing Americans ran out of the transition area like a minute and a half before our boys! It turns out that Lowell & Warren's tether got stuck in a wet suit. Whoops! Just the night before, the boys had determined that for future races they should have TWO tethers- one for the swim and one for the run. A tad late on that call, but ah well... these two are always learning and improving. And let's be honest... this was only their third triathlon together.

Run boys run!

After the boys headed out on their second and final loop of the run, the announcer started talking about Lowell. He caught my attention when he said, "I know Lowell personally." I was all "huh?!" Then he continued, "I also know his wife, Julie." and I started looking around all wildly like, "WHAT??!! Who IS this?!" He went on "The family is here cheering him on somewhere..." and- of it's own volition- my butt jumped right out of the seat and I started hopping in circles, frantically waving "I'M HERE! I'M HERE!" It turned out that the announcer was none other than our friend, Steve! His wife, Lyndsay, was one of my best friends from grad school. I knew Steve helped organize these events AND that he'd be racing the following day... but I had no idea he'd be announcing. What a delightful surprise!

Hi Steve!
Lowell and Warren had a very respectable run time (although they still think they can shave two minutes off of it), and finished strong!

First of the PT5s to cross the finish line!
Oh don't mind me... I just need to wipe a few more prideful tears from my eyes. *ahem cough cough*

Our squad immediately swarmed our heroes. Look at the cheering section our boys generated!

It really meant a lot that everyone came out to support the boys. Without family, friends, and community, these events would not be possible. We didn't get clear photos of you all, but you know who you are, and we love you! Warren's mom (now known as Grandma Ann to our boys...we totally bonded!) accompanied him for the weekend while his wife, Becky, stayed back with their FIVE kids (I know... saint, right?). My brother-in-law's parents (Grandpa Sid & Grandma Marge) were our wonderful hosts, and were very invested in the entire process. Between Sid & Marge and my Auntie Wilma & Uncle Vern, the kids were taken care of so I could pursue my self-appointed paparazzi duty. Also, Lowell & Warren's coach, Lori, from Sports Science Institute has been invaluable. And Warren's colleagues swapped shifts with him so he could race. Seriously... we can't thank everyone enough. What wonderful energy!

Lowell with our nieces (Katelyn, Emily, & Julia) and our boys!
I'm still feeling a little left out in the family shoe department, by the way...
My cousin Dorothy (far right) and three of her four kids. I'm proud to say that Victoria is my doppleganger... in looks AND acts. I love that I have someone to pass along my torch to ;).
The G family representatives... Auntie Wilma & Uncle Vern and my cousin Ben with his daughter Allison!
Our golden boys!! Lowell and Warren ended up with TWO gold medals. One for the actual race (against international competitors), and one for the Canadian Nationals!

Lowell with his proud mom, dad & sister Janelle. And photo-bombing Fraser of course ;).
What an incredibly inspiring event. Watching each of these athletes overcome their various disabilities was sensational and SO admirable. I only wish I knew each of their stories. Seriously... every single one of them. Incredible. I get goosebumps when I view the para gallery at amazing!

I was also so impressed with the guides... especially our very own Warren. He has proven that he can compete on the international triathlon stage on his own, but he has chosen to forego his own glory to help Lowell achieve his goal. Warren couldn't resist the urge to race with the age groupers on Sunday, though, and- NO SURPRISE HERE- he got first in his category and third overALL (0.2 seconds off of the second place finisher)... even after emptying his tank the day before, having very little sleep under his belt and racing in the butt freezing cold. It was actually so cold (and wet) that the race was switched to a duathlon: run-bike-run. We were SO proud to cheer him on as he raced! Only Warren could snag three gold medals and a chance to compete at the world championships next year in Mexico ALL IN ONE WEEKEND...

We missed photographing the start of the race, but caught up with Warren at the first transition!

Grandpa Sid also raced with the age groupers and finished FOURTH in his category. What a feat!!

Yay Uncle Warren & Grandpa Sid!
As we were heading out of town after Sunday's races, our friends Kim & Greg texted us a picture of the Edmonton Sun. They spotted this goofy grin staring them down as they were walking to church...

HAHA! Priceless. The heading is rather unfortunate (and unrelated), but the photo is an absolute classic.

Thanks for the good times, Edmonton. We'll be back!