Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Little “a” and Big “A”

Little “a” is my new name for Alzheimer’s.  I came up with that name from my friends that have battled against cancer and they call it Little “c”.  By calling it Little “a”, it takes away its power.  Since my mother was diagnosed I have given Little “a” too much power.  At times I allowed it to make me feel overwhelmed, useless, and helpless.  I allowed Little “a” to bring the darkness upon me.  The darkness is my name for depression.  I have dealt with the darkness before, such as when I was laid off unexpectedly and when my father passed away.  Little “a” momentarily had me thinking there was no way out of the darkness, that all was lost.  Fortunately with the support of my husband I reached out and got the help that I needed.

Part of my early treatment with Little “a” meant joining a Little “a” care giver support group, going to see my therapist (everyone should have a therapist on speed dial), and being placed on a low dosage anti-depressant.  I know there are many in the African-American and faith communities that look down on those that seek mental health treatment – either it’s for weak-minded / truly crazy people or those who do not have strong faith.  I do not prescribe to either of those ways of backward thinking.  As far as I am concerned, mental health is just as important as physical health.  Unfortunately that even though I was on the right path with facing the darkness, I did not fully deal with it.  I was doing just enough to cope and get by.

To keep the darkness from Little “a” off my back I threw myself into my training and racing.  Being physically active is a great way to battle the darkness, but I was not giving myself a lot of downtime to really process how I was feeling and how my life was changing.  Since my race season is pretty much over, I have had the time to really process my feelings and come to some truths.  More importantly, I’m embracing Big “A,” Acceptance. 

I have Accepted the fact that even though I’m a fixer, I cannot fix my mother.  She has Little “a”.  I don’t how far her illness will progress or how long she will be able to live at home.  All I can do is rely on my faith, hope for the best, and do what I can to help her.  I have Accepted that my mother is dependent upon me and our relationship is changing.  At times I’m more of the mother figure, but there are still days when God blesses me by giving me glimpses of my mom pre-Little “a”.  I've Accepted to no longer fight the additional responsibilities that I have to take on, but instead embrace them.  I have the opportunity to pay her back just a little for all she has done and sacrificed for me.  Even though my mother and I are very close, prior to Little “a” she and I lived very separate lives.  We would talk a couple of times per day several days per week, but we saw each other about twice a month.  I would be doing my own thing and she would be doing hers.  This is a special time for us.  I have Accepted that it’s ok to be angry about Little “a,” as long as I’m not angry at my mom.  She didn’t ask for this and she has very little control over it.  All she can do is take her meds and stay mentally active to slow it down.  Lastly, and most importantly, I have Accepted that my situation with my mom could be so much worse!  There are plenty of care givers who would love to change places with me.  My mom doesn’t give me any trouble; she and I work as a team.  She values my guidance and is very appreciative for everything that I do for her.  Yes Little “a” is a spawn from hell, but I’m determined to make the best of this situation.

As always thank you for reading my post, and if you have not done already, please consider click here to make a donation on my Athletes to End Little “a” fundraising page.          

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Operation Ironman – Phase 1

My tri race season has come to an end.  Overall it was successful with several PRs and great memories, but in all honesty I’m burned out, especially mentally.  I raced a LOT this year.  So far I have done 23 races that included road races, triathlons, and open water swims.  Next year I will not be racing as nearly as much.  Don’t get me wrong I love to race, but with the challenges I have had to face coping with my mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, it was too much.  I only have four triathlons on my schedule for next year (Richmond Tri Club Sprint, Monticelloman Olympic, Rev3 Quassy, and Ironman Mont Tremblant), compared to the eight that I did this year.  I’ll be cutting back on my road races as well.  Now it’s time for me to work on some things during the offseason.

  1. Find a long term companion / caregiver for my mom.  Since my mom was diagnosed I have had a couple of people to help out with my mom.  For one reason or another things have not worked out and I find myself in need of another caregiver.  Since I’m not racing and my training is not as intense, I’m really going to take some time to find someone who will look after my mother for the long term.  As I do my research and interviews, I will take it upon myself to look after my mom during the week.  That does mean four trips down to the country per week, but that’s ok since I know it’s temporary.
  2. Work on my flexibility and functional strength.  I’m as flexible as a pinto bean and my core, hips, and lower back are very weak.  Not a good combination for an endurance athlete.  I’m incorporating functional strength training into my training schedule twice a week and I’m doing yoga once per week.
  3. Drop more weight.  I reached my goal of losing 10 pounds for Ironman 70.3 Raleigh, but for Ironman Mont Tremblant I would like to lose between 3 – 5 more pounds.  I’m going to continue to use Weight Watchers online, but I need to clean up my diet a little bit more.  The main culprit is that legal drug called sugar.  I love sweets, especially Lucky Charms cereal.  I have decided not to eat any more Lucky Charms until after Mont Tremblant.  Hopefully when that time comes I won’t crave them anymore and that Lucky Charms leprechaun can get to stepping.   
  4. Read as many books as I can about Ironman and anything that will help me be better prepared for Mont Tremblant.  So far I have read You Are an Iron and Be Iron Fit.  I plan on reading the following books by the beginning of March, if not sooner:  Becoming an Ironman, Going Long, Unlikely Finisher 140.6, Iron Heart, 10 Minute Toughness and Breakout.  There’s one book I have already read, but I plan to read again – I’m Here to Win by pro triathlete Chris McCormack (“Macca”).  A lot of athletes and fans of the sport think Macca is arrogant, but I believe for one to take on any type of endurance sport you have to have a certain level of confidence.  Macca’s level of confidence is just higher than most.  Furthermore, Macca has a great understanding of the mental aspect of the sport.  
  5. Become comfortable with performing basic bike maintenance.  I know the steps to change a bike tire, but I definitely do not feel comfortable in doing it on my own, especially during a race.  I do have the book, Bike Maintenance and Repair for Dummies, so I probably need to add that to my reading list too.  So this fall and winter I will definitely be practicing changing my front and rear tires and getting to know my bike on an intimate level.

I think everything that I have planned for Phase 1 is doable.  I just need to really utilize my time wisely to ensure everything gets done. As I stated in my previous post I applied to be part of the team Athletes to End Alzheimer's with the Alzheimer's Association.  My goal is to raise at least $10,000 raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer's research, care and support.  I hope you will click HERE to check-out my fundraising page and donate.  Thanks in advance!  Until next time.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Oh Sugar Honey Ice Tea, It’s On

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” 
T.S. Eliot

On Monday, August 19th, I signed up for my first Ironman – Ironman Mont Tremblant!  As I waited for registration to open at noon, I thought I was going to either pass out or lose my mind.  My heart was beating crazy fast and my breathing was sporadic.  When registration opened there were already 100 people ahead of me.  There must be some Flash Gordon typists out there because I started the registration process right at noon.  When it was my turn to register, I was a nervous wreck!  I’m a pretty good typist, but I couldn’t type to save my life.  I finally got it together and completed my registration.  When I saw my confirmation I let out a whoop and started to cry.  I know, that is sad, but this race is so much more than just a race to me.
 Ironman Mont Tremblant - in the Village
(This photo is from the IM Mont Tremblant Facebook Page)

Ever since I completed IM 70.3 Augusta I knew I wanted to do an Ironman.  I didn’t know when or which one, but I knew doing a full Ironman would be part of my future.  My desire for completing an Ironman became even stronger when I crossed the finish line at IM 70.3 Raleigh, which is very surprising since Raleigh took me to a very dark place during the run.  I guess that’s one of those things about triathlon….you go through all this pain and discomfort, but as soon as you finish you can’t wait to sign-up for the next race. 

My decision to do an Ironman in 2014 was kind of made for me.  Next year I will be the big 4-0 and I want to do something special to celebrate such a significant occasion.  Also, if you add up the numbers individually for 2014, you will get the number 7.  The number 7 is a very significant number in the bible.  It means completion.  Once I complete Ironman Mont Tremblant, I would have completed all of the triathlon distances.  Furthermore, next year will be the third year of IMMT being held.  The number 3 represents the Holy Trinity and wholeness.  So in many ways the numbers are on my side! 

On a sadder note the medications that my mother is own for her Alzheimer’s is supposedly effective for two years. So in my mind I only have a two year window to knock this Ironman out.  I know there are new drugs on the horizon, but I don’t know if they will be available in 2 years or if they will help my mom.  Alzheimer’s is such an ugly and unpredictable disease.  It’s a thief that steals the mind of the one affected and steals the affected person away from his and her love ones.  With all this in mind, I decided on Mont Tremblant. 

I want my first Ironman to be a once in a lifetime experience.  From what I have heard from my friends and read on blogs, IM Mont Tremblant is one of Ironman’s best races.  The location is spectacular and the people of Mont Tremblant are excited to have an Ironman event held there.  Furthermore, my coach, retired pro Karen Holloway, is Canadian.  She won Ironman Canada in 2005.  So by doing IM Mont Tremblant, it is my way to honor her.

IM Mont Tremblant will not just be about me, it will also be about the fight against Alzheimer’s on the behalf of my mother, those that are battling the disease, the caregivers, and the families affected.  I have teamed up with the Alzheimer’s Association of New York to become part of their Athletes to End Alzheimer’s team.  In the upcoming weeks I will begin fundraising to raise money to fund research and the services provided to caregivers and those afflicted with Alzheimer’s.  As my mom’s primary care giver, I know first-hand some of the resources the Alzheimer’s Association provides such as a 24/7 hotline, support groups, and a website that is a wealth of information.  My support group has been such a blessing to me.  They are helping me deal with the grief of daily losing my mom and showing me how to navigate through the world of Alzheimer’s.  Completing IM Mont Tremblant will have so much meaning for me.  I’m so excited to be on this journey.

As I began the planning process for this race I decided to email my second favorite female pro triathlete, Linsey Corbin (my coach is my favorite female pro triathlete).  Linsey had recently won IM 70.3 Mont Tremblant and I wanted some Ironman newbie advice.  Some people may think I was wasting my time emailing a pro, but I knew from a previous experience that Linsey would respond back.  And boy did she respond back in a big way.  Here is her response to me:

Hello Sabrina,

Thanks for taking the time to email and congratulations on signing up for IMMT! You couldn't have picked a more perfect venue for your first Ironman experience. I also think the first Ironman is one of the best – you don't know what to expect and the journey just to the start line is such a rewarding one.

I guess my advice for doing your first Ironman would be a few things:
1. Have fun with it - it's a long journey just to get to race day. Recruit some good training partners (a
masters swim group, or a group to do your long rides with) to share in the adventure with you. Training
partners will also help to keep you accountable when you lose a bit of motivation as well.

2. Find a plan - either find a coaching plan, or an online plan. I know that Purple Patch Fitness has premade Ironman plans for a reasonable price. Take out the guess work of when to ride and how hard to ride - get a plan and believe in it and follow it to help you attain your goals

3. Make a specific goal for the race besides "Just finishing" - having lots of mini goals along the way, sort of as stepping stones will help you stay on track to your ultimate race day goal.

4. Consistency is key. Try and be consistent both with your nutrition and your training. Consistency breeds success.

5. Ironman is much more than swim, bike and run - I would include some sort of strength/flexibility program, look at your nutrition, rest & recovery as well.

Have fun with the journey and I hope to see you along the way! Best wishes - I will be cheering for you!


Linsey Corbin

How amazing is that?!  I couldn’t believe she had given me such a detailed response.  That’s one of the things I love about triathlon – most of the professional triathletes are accessible!  

I’m thrilled to be on this journey and to share it with you.  I know I will face challenges and be pushed to and beyond my limits, but I know once I cross that finish line… will be worth it.

IMMT here I come!     

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Facing My Ghost

“Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them.  How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives.  To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.”  Judy Blume

On Sunday, May 5th, I will be returning to Lake Monticello (Charlottesville) to participate in the Monticelloman Olympic triathlon.  The first time I attempted to compete in this race, things did not go well.  I DNF’d.  I didn’t make it past the 1500 meter open water swim portion of the race.  I lost valuable time from panicking in the water and did not make the 50 minute time cut-off.  I was pulled out of the water and brought to shore.  I was embarrassed, angry and inconsolable.  

Over the next couple of days after the race, I considered quitting triathlon.  I honestly thought I was not good enough to be a triathlete.  I didn’t want to face my husband, coaches, especially my swim coach, teammates and tri friends.  I felt I had let everyone down.  All I wanted to do was mope around and have the ultimate pity party.  Fortunately for me the same people that I thought I had let down, were the same ones that were there to lift me up.  After numerous pep talks and learning I was not the first person to DNF (imagine that), I decided to continue my journey. 

My journey so far has had more ups than downs.  I have completed several tris, including a half Ironman, but I’m still haunted by my DNF at Monticelloman.  The raw emotions that I felt that day still linger.  I feel like I cannot fully celebrate my accomplishments as a triathlete because of that blemish on my race record.  I am compelled to attempt this race again, but I am afraid.  I’m afraid of not completing the swim in time and failing again.  I’m afraid my swimming-induced panic attacks will get the best of me.  I’m afraid that my best will not be good enough. 

But even though I am afraid, it will not stop me from towing the line with the other triathletes on May 5th.  I have to face my ghost, Lake Monticello.  No longer can allow this phantom to haunt me and keep me from reaching my full racing potential.  I can swim 1500 meters in less than 50 minutes.  I know how to manage my panic attacks so I am still able to compete.  My best is now better than my best from last year.  I can be my own ghost buster.

Fear is a part of life.  Either you can face it and learn something about yourself or you can flee from it and possibly miss out on some of the greatest moments of your life.  I choose to face my fear and propel myself forward.  Because even though I’m afraid, I’m a fighter.  Fighters don’t run from fear, we meet it face on.  So Lake Monticello, here I come.  Ready to fight.        

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Training to Cope

“I know God will not give me anything that I can’t handle, I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.”  Mother Teresa

My training plays a daily role in my life (I consider rest a part of my training too).  It allows me to prepare for my races and meet the goals that I set for myself.  Most importantly, my training helps me to cope with life’s challenges.  On New Year’s Eve I was faced with one of the greatest challenges of my life; my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. 

I am an only child.  My mother and I are very close.  She raised me on her own and instilled a strong sense of faith, family, and determination in me.  She and I talk almost every day, sometimes several times a day.  She is my best friend and advisor, and I can always count on her to have my back.  At the age of 71 my mom received her master’s degree in divinity.  She is vibrant and loves to bake.  I could not ask for a better mom.

So why at the age of 73 has my beautiful mother been diagnosed with such a horrible disease!?  Devastated does not begin to describe my initial reaction.  It took everything I had not to break down in the doctor’s office.  I didn’t want my mom to see me upset, because I knew it would upset her.  Surprisingly my mother was very calm when she received her diagnosis.  She told me that she would do whatever the doctor and I told her to do, she was going to fight the disease with all she had, and she knew that God would be with her.  That’s my mom!

So as my mom leaned on her faith and coped, I was falling apart.  I found myself crying almost every day and losing my motivation to do much of anything, especially train.  I had so much going through my mind.  Why my mom?  What can I do to help her?  How long will she be able to live alone?  My head was spinning.  All I wanted to do was to crawl into a hole.  My mom means everything to me, and knowing that this disease was going to slowly take her away from me….I just couldn’t handle it.  How do you mourn the loss of someone who is still alive?  I know there have been medical breakthroughs with the treatment of Alzheimer’s, but there still isn’t a cure.

I knew I had to get it together for my mom and I needed to get back on track with my training, so I reached out to my coach and teammates.  I told them I needed them to keep me accountable.  I asked if they would either text or call me to see if I was coming to our workouts.  In my mind if I knew someone was expecting me to be at a training session, I would show up because I felt obligated to do so.  Well my coach and team stepped up big time!  They texted me and sent me Facebook messages to make sure I came to the workouts. 

It wasn’t easy at first to get back into my training groove.  I felt this heavy weight on me, but the more I trained the better I begin to feel.  I was still upset about my mom’s diagnosis, but I felt more emotionally and mentally equipped to handle the situation.  I am now completely back on track with my training.  My mom and I are working together to make things as easy for her as possible as we begin this journey.  And on those days when I feel down, my training sessions serve as my special time to work out everything that I am feeling.