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Monday, August 5, 2013

Swimming with the Sharks- USAT Age Group Nationals

Paratriathon National Sprint Championship in Austin Texas 2013

 "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."- Will Rogers

It seemed like a good idea a few months ago when I signed up for the USAT Age Group Nationals here in Milwaukee.  There are two races, an Olympic and Sprint distance. To qualify for the Olympic race, athletes had to finish in the top ten percent of their age group in a qualifying race. The last qualifying race in the country was at Omaha, the same race where I won the regional paratriathlon championship.

Anyone could sign up for the sprint race at Nationals here in Milwaukee which will be on Sunday, with the Olympic distance race on Saturday. Over 3000 athletes will compete in the Olympic event and 1200 in the sprint race. The sprint distance is a 750 meter swim, 20 K bike and 5 K run.. A nice easy day. Sprints are long enough to be challenging and short enough to still be fun. Plus with this being a hometown race, I would not have to spend the kind of time and money I spent going to Austin, Boston, Chicago, and Omaha this year.  It was more than I could resist.

I signed up because I could and I thought it would be a good experience.  How many athletes can say they competed in a National Championship of any kind? It will be an awesome finisher medal to add to my collection.

I have a regional championship race in Chicago in two weeks and the swim will be in Lake Michigan. This race will give me some needed Lake Michigan swim experience. I also want to get the experience of a larger wave. If I ever get to the Paratriathlon World Championship, I expect the waves to be huge The World Championship last year in Auckland was an ocean swim. The closest I can get to an ocean swim is Lake Michigan here in Milwaukee and Chicago.

That all seemed like a really good idea until I saw the start list for the woman 55-59. There are 44 women, six from here in Wisconsin.  Last year there were 24 in the wave. Since the top 18 advance to the World Championship I had a good chance to make the US team. Last year my average race time would have placed me 12th.  With such a big wave I don't have much chance.

I also had 2nd thoughts when I took a look at the swim course.
National Age Group Championship Sprint Swim Course
All of the women 55 and older will start in the same wave.   I think I counted 96 women in that group. It is an in water start. Hoping they break down that wave into a smaller group. The problem with the swim course is the small bridge over the course as you enter the lagoon. It is the small black structure on the map. It is about 20 meters wide and swimmers will be going in both directions. Can you say congestion?  Big wave, lots of type A athletes competing for spots on the U.S. team.  I better keep moving or I will get run over. I went diving with sharks in Honduras and Belize. That was easier than this is going to be. I literally feel like I' m swimming with the sharks. It is a bit intimidating to think about the caliber of athletes that will travel across the country to be in a race like this. I am probably in over my head.

I had a swimmer swim right over me in my last race and was surrounded by a men's swim wave in a race before that. A few elbows here and there help deal with it. I know I can mix it up with the best of them.
 My strategy will be to start in the back and go wide of the buoys. Let everyone else fight it out and I will make it up on the bike and the run.

The next moment of hesitation was when I saw the bike course.  I don't have the map, but it goes up an over the Hoan bridge over the harbor.  I used to drive over that bridge twice a day to and from work. I have run races over the bridge twice in recent years. The road surface is not in good shape. There are also expansion joints that would pose a hazard for bikes.  Not to worry, USAT says they have special mats to cover the joints and any other area of concerns.

The run course is all good news.  If I survive the swim and the bike I will be home free.
National Age Group Championship Sprint Run Course
The run is flat and scenic, it runs along the lake coming out of transition and then a loop around a park lagoon. Even better my tri newbie friends and coach will be at one of the water stops working as volunteers. They have promised to cheer me on as I pass through. Thanks Scott, Del Lynn, Tiffany and Anne.  I can't wait to see you on Sunday!

Some of my 2nd thoughts are just pre-race nerves.  I know the competition will be tough and I will likely finish well down the list of woman in my age group. That never feels good.  Competing at a big venue is no problem since I have competed at the Paratriathlon National Sprint Championship the last two years in the Open Division. I finished on the podium both years.

Also because I have no shot at the U.S. Team I can now relax and enjoy the experience. This will be a training race for the Mideast Regional Championship in Chicago on August 25th.  I plan on having fun, staying safe and looking for friends among the spectators.  Many of the local triathletes are turning out to volunteer so this race should be a lot of fun despite my 2nd thoughts about some of the courses!

I am also volunteering for the Olympic race as a timer assistant and at packet pick up on Friday night. It is really fun to be on the other side of a race once in awhile. It also gives me a good chance to check out the course before I run my own race.

It is going to be a busy weekend as we welcome thousands of athletes to Milwaukee. I am so thrilled this event will be here and very excited to participate as an athlete and volunteer.

I know it is going to feel so good when I cross that finish line and they put that medal on my neck. I am taking a little bit of a risk by being is such a group of probably very talented and intense athletes.  I feel most alive when I take a risk and I think this is going to feel great.

Chris Wodke
Founder & Manager Team CMT

Team CMT is a group of athletes and supporters working to raise awareness and to find a cure for CMT. We have 127 members in 27 states. We also have members in Canada, Vietnam, Turkey, Finland and Iran. If you wish to join us visit our web site.

CMT or Charcot-Marie-Tooth is the most commonly inherited peripheral neuropathy. It affects over 155,000 Americans (as many as MS).  It is a disease of the nerves that control the muscles. It is slowly progressive, causing loss of normal function and or sensation in the lower legs/feet and arms/hands.

Symptoms include; muscle wasting in the lower legs and feet leading to foot drop, poor balance and gait problems Atrophy in the hands causes difficulty with manual dexterity.

Structural foot deformities such as high arches and hammer toes are common.

Poor tolerance for cool or cold temperatures and many people have chronically cold hands and feet.

Additional symptoms may include fatigue, sleep apnea, breathing difficulties and hearing loss.

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