After coming down from the ‘triathlon-high’ that is and will always be my favorite race, I’ve had some moments to reflect and here’s what I’ve surmised. In my bull-like single-minded focus to pursue points towards Rio in 2016, somewhere I lost a little of the ‘fun’ that this sport so beautifully represents. Having the ‘luxury’ of racing in my home state of NY, with a fellow Challenged Athlete and dear friend as my guide, in a race that represented only my SECOND RACE EVER at this time last year, made for the perfect setup to have a fantastic day.
Going into the NYC Triathlon, the pressures of competing at the international level with Team USA Paratriathlon were taken completely off the table. While NYC Triathlon is the ONLY Paratriathlon race in the world that offers prize money to Challenged Athletes thanks to CAF and Accenture, the notion of making the podium against some world class para-athletes didn’t even register with me. This race wasn’t counted in any way towards Rio. My goal? To beat last year’s time. Given that I’ve had a full year of racing, training and intense coaching behind me, I was confident going in that Patty, my guide, and I were going to have a PR (personal record) and have a TON of fun on the challenging course.
Prior to the race, Colonel Patty Collins, herself an amputee active duty Army Officer at the Pentagon, and myself, a visually impaired triathlete, somehow became the ‘media darlings’ for the entire race. The entire weekend involved television interviews, camera-men filming documentaries, USA Today doing an article on us and much, much more. We were given the royal treatment, a FAR cry from the ITU (International Triathlon Union) Circuit that is the pipeline for the Paralympics, where it’s sort of ‘every man for himself’.
The miserable weather actually ended up being a god-send for the two of us, taking some of the pressure off of us to perform on the bike. I was coming off a bronze-medal performance at Cycling Nationals, and Patty is headed to both Leadville 100 AND Paracycling World Championships. If conditions were ideal, we were prepared to throw down a serious bike split. Given the fact that my borrowed bike is not fit for either of us, and the pouring rain, combined with 4,000 athletes, many of whom were total bike-novices riding the West Side Highway, lined with deep puddles and nasty concrete seams, we determined that finishing upright was faster than finishing horizontal. So, safe and smooth we went, giving shout-outs and whooping loudly to our friends on the course as we passed them (hehe) and some newer cyclists who needed some encouragement on the steep climbs. In other words, we went out and had FUN.
In our transition area, a DJ was spinning dance tracks. So guess what? I DANCED in transition! I figured, hey, why not? I’m having fun and we’re about to go suffer in Central Park! I thought it would be the last time I would smile for the entire day, given my not-so-fast run-speed. I was mistaken.
Along the run, it was electrifying to be able to take in the crowds on 72nd street, screaming our names and cheering us on into Central Park. Having the confidence to know that I had tackled this hilly run only 4 days prior with a friend guiding me while chatting the entire time, made me relax and absorb all the good vibes from the runners surrounding us. Men would pull up next to us and tell us, “You’re so inspiring!” or “Way to go!” “Keep it up”. It was physically impossible not to smile. I think I said more than once, “I’m blind, she’s got one leg, and we’re having the time of our lives out here!”
Having the luxury of taking my time on the course, and knowing that no matter what, I was going to PR by at least 5-10 minutes took every ounce of stress from my body. We were joking, laughing, smiling and teasing each other and fellow runners the entire 6.2 miles. As we climbed the final ascent before the finish chute, I saw a sea of red shirts to my right. Team Red, White and Blue, just as they had promised, were there waiting to cheer us in, and handed Patty the American Flag to run the final half mile with. I screamed out loud like a crazy person, and hopped in the air with excitement. I couldn’t believe how STRONG I felt. My lungs breathed easy. My legs felt light and fresh, and my arms felt like pistons propelling me forward.
I glanced at my watch. 2:52. Well-within my goal of sub three hours, and on target for a sub one hour 10K run. I didn’t need to sprint to get the coveted medal and Paralympic points. I could smile, high-five the crowd and dance-run my way into the finish chute. My jersey said ‘Dixon USA” on the front and back, and people were shouting for us, but what made my heart swell was hearing people who KNEW me, cheering me home, saying “Go Amy and Patty! You’re killing it!” As we entered the final red-carpeted straight-away, the crowd roared. I threw my arms up, telling them to get even louder, shouting, “YES!” the whole way down the stretch. Under the finish line was a long black finish tape, reading CAF and Accenture. I was in disbelief. “Patty, I think they made a mistake. There’s no way I’m in first place. I was not fast today!?” “Just keep running! I think it IS for you.” “No way.” “worry about it later- enjoy this!”
So I did. I managed to smile, dance, and laugh my way through 33 miles with one of my most dear friends and managed to still pull off the win in the Visually Impaired Category in one of the largest races in the world. The lesson? Sometimes just having fun can lead to its own rewards. Thank you to my guide for making it the most fun I have ever had while doing something I love so very much. Love you Colonel Collins!