Getting Gusty One Mile at a Time

Every muscle in my body was screaming at my brain to run. My heart was pounding in my ears and I tried to keep my breathing as regular as possible. It felt completely surreal as I looked up and saw Jon Stewart, yes, (that Jon Stewart) giving a speech just a few feet away from me. I took a deep breath, looked straight ahead and prepared to face one of the bravest moments of my life.

It all started seven months ago. I was entering the Spring Semester of my senior year at Rowan University and was looking for a final internship opportunity. I asked for advice from mentors at Rowan, and was put in touch with Achilles International.

Achilles International is a non-profit based out of NYC. Its mission is to help wounded veterans and people with disabilities get physically active again through marathons. They provide training, equipment, and encouragement for anyone who wants to get involved.

My gusty moment began when my supervisor asked if I’d like to participate Achilles International’s 5th annual Hope and Possibility 5 miler. The race is held every year in NYC’s Central Park. I’m not a veteran, but I was born with a physical disability called Cerebral Palsy which effects my muscles and my ability to walk without a walker or wheelchair.

I would run the race by using a hand-cycle. A hand-cycle is similar to a bike, but instead of using pedals, the machine is propelled using my hands. I hadn’t had the opportunity to participate in sports before, so my immediate answer was a hesitant yes. I was nervous, but was assured by everyone that I would be fine.

The months rolled along and before I could blink the day of the race was here. I was excited, but I was equally as nervous. Travel constraints prevented me from practicing with my hand cycle, so the first time I used it would be race day! I did my best to practice for little bit before the race, but my inexperience and clumsiness with the machine was obvious. Luckily, I had two experienced guides and my sister to help me during the race.

I sat at the beginning of the start line with the sun in my eyes and a thousand thoughts in my head, the biggest being, ‘Don’t crash, don’t crash, don’t crash’. Suddenly, the speech ended, the bell went off and I started my race.

Thankfully, my crashing was minimal and I completed the race. It took me a long time and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I don’t regret one second of my experience. I jumped into a challenge with both feet and my eyes wide open to a new adventure.

Getting gutsy is all about stepping outside your comfort zone to reach your goals and live a life that makes you truly happy. This post is my entry for Jessica Lawlor’s Get Gutsy Essay Contest. To get involved and share your own gutsy story, check out this post for contest details and download a free copy of the inspiring Get Gutsy ebook.

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Hope and Possibility: Soo W Lee

As Hope and Possibility quickly approaches, I had the pleasure of interviewing Soo W Lee, a woman who’s participating in this year’s race. Lee is a 31-year old native New Yorker who has Cerebral Palsy and has been involved with Achilles International for a number of years.

How did you get involved with Achilles International?
I started my involvement with Achilles four years ago. I was sick in late 2009, early 2010, and after recovering I wanted to try something different and get involved with something physical. I had heard of Achilles, but I initially didn’t think it was for me. It was only after I started attending training sessions at IWD that I changed my mind, and started becoming more involved.

What’s your favorite part about racing?
My favorite part about racing is the process that’s involved when preparing for the race. The training, getting my body ready for the race.

What separates Hope and Possibility from the other races?
Usually in preparation for a race, there’s focus on previous racing times and improving your time; one of the best aspects of Hope and Possibility is that it’s a race for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you have a lot of racing experience or you don’t, it’s a great event for everyone involved to come together and see old friends, make new ones, and just have a great time at the race.

Do you have any racing goals for this year’s race?l
I don’t have any specific racing goals for Hope and Possibility. I want to enjoy the race, enjoy the day and just have a great time.

This year’s Hope and Possibility Race is on June 29th at 9am in Central Park.

Register Here: http://www.nyrr.org/races-and-events/2014/achilles-hope-possibility-5m

Boston Strong: One Year Later

“No problem is insurmountable. With a little courage, teamwork and determination a person can overcome anything.”

~Anon

 

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John Masson (Boston Marathon 2012)

On April 15, 2013, the Boston Marathon was nearing its end. The racers were crossing the finish line in a cloud of sweat, excitement and joy. Tragically, the shouts of happiness turned to horror only minutes later when two bombs exploded near the finish line, claiming three lives and injuring nearly 300 more people.

 

It’s been almost a year since the 2013 tragedy, and in less then a month, on April 21 the racers will take their positions and run and hand-cycle through Boston once again. The Achilles International Freedom Team of Wounded Vets will be among those participating in the famous event.

 

I had the privilege to interview two of the freedom racers, Lt. Cameron Kerr and MSGT John Masson.

 

Masson, an Army veteran, 42, was injured in Afghanistan, resulting in a triple amputation of both legs and an arm, he was introduced to Achilles during his recovery in Walter Reed. Masson told me following his injury it was difficult to adjust to his new reality, but Achilles and the Freedom Team were an integral part of changing his outlook on his injury.

 

Typically, after an incident as devastating and as scary as the Boston bombings, the emotional response ranges from fear, anger, and apprehension. Masson told me that while last year’s bombings will be in the minds of spectators and racers alike, “the goal of terrorism is to create and spread fear, and America will not be defeated by terrorists.”

 

 Cameron Kerr, 26, lost a leg while fighting in Afghanistan, is looking forward to participating in the race despite some fear surrounding last year. “I definitely don’t want to get blown up, but there will be so much more security this year so we’ll be safe.”

 

Overall, both Kerr and Masson look forward to the Marathon, “there’s nothing like the crowd, and the atmosphere of a race, it’s so much fun” says Kerr. Additionally, “the camaraderie between the racers, regardless of military background is always special” states Masson.

 

Kerr said he also enjoys the community and the connection he has with other amputees. “We understand each other’s challenges and are always supportive of one another.” He hopes he can show other amputees that you can live a full, happy, and productive life despite the obstacles amputation can present.

 

The bombings at last year’s Marathon are permanently woven into Boston’s history, but one of the most beautiful aspects of the human spirit is its resiliency and the ability to face tragedy and become stronger in the end.