Happy New Year – We’re Back!

January 06, 2014

Wow…where did the time go??!! Hard to believe that an entire year has passed–as they say, “time flys when your having FUN”…guess we have been having way too much fun at Sportable!!

Just returning from the holidays in Connecticut…great to visit family and old friends-though we missed the snow storm-which always makes things a little more festive feeling. Did anyone else indulge in delicious holiday treats??…eggnog, cookies, pies, rich delicious home cooked food (my mother in law and mother spoil me when I am home–as here in Richmond I am the main “chef”).  We actually made it to the Big Apple again for the 2nd year in a row where I was able to indulge a bit on a food tour of the original Greenwich Village—my Christmas present–I am a fan of making memories, especially around the holidays….who needs more “stuff” anyway–though…I got back to Grand Central Station a bit  “stuffed” anyway!

Speaking of making memories and family…I have to say that though it is great to go “home” to where i grew up– I always am excited to come by to my new home here in RVA…and I often miss my Sportable family.  I feel so fortunate to be able to do what I do every day and to work with so many great people…from our incredible staff, to our amazing board, partners, donors, funders, coaches, volunteers….and most importantly our athletes!!

Talk about making memories…I can hardly believe all that was accomplished in 2013??!! The past few days being back I have spent some time sorting through 2013 information to get a handle on our direction and work to kick off 2014…we are a “small but mighty” organization one might say….though you couldn’t tell it by looking at our stats…

  • 3492 program hours were provided
  • 1317 athlete experiences were racked up
  • 318 athletes now on our mailing list: 217 of those unique/one timers, 89 active in 3 or more programs throughout the year
  • Doubled the number of youth and veterans
  • 135 volunteers gave 1335 hours

 

Its hard to believe how far we have come since I took this role in January 2010.  At that point in time we only had 62 athletes on our mailing list! In January of 2011, the Sportable Spokes Wheelchair basketball team braved their first official tournament in North Carolina…what an amazing learning experience for the team, they truly demonstrated the passion and team spirit at the core of Sportable that weekend–whether they won a game or not! Just a few years later, the team headed back down to Smithfield to kick off last year, in January 2013, and do you know they brought home the trophy??!! What a way to start out a year of great memories, huh?

I wish I could outline all the accomplishments of our athletes…but I might lose you as the list is LONG!  I can share with you a closing story that I personally had the pleasure of being involved with to kind of “close out” 2013…and that is the story of perseverance and ingenuity of two of our athletes in November for Richmond’s marathon and half marathon.  Anyone that knows them by now knows there is a slight bit of competition between David and Colin…(friendly and innocent of course)….so, after both committing to training for the half marathon–3/4 into it–they both decided to take on the full marathon.  Now, we had worked with Sports Backers on the logistics and support for the half so, hadn’t thought at all about the full marathon course very much.  No worries though, we always find a way so, we just pushed forward and made a plan to be able to ensure David and Colin were supported and they kicked butt on their own to train (yes, Colin did break a few rules and go out and push alone 27 miles one day…crazy kid)!

On race day it was a bit rainy, perfect day for some–not so good for racing wheelchairs but these two are pros…not phased by it at all at the starting line.  I was responsible for miles 9-15 or so from Pony Pasture through to War Memorial.  In full rain gear I tried to catch them at Hugonut bridge but man, they were fast. So, the chase was on to catch them up off Forest Hill in a neighborhood with some of the biggest hills on the course.  I  was able to get a “thumbs up” from each of them at mile 10… (giving a thumbs up is fairly easy  when wearing racing gloves:)…but then, as I was heading out of the neighborhood- I noticed Colin slowing up.  When we connected…he informed me of a flat tire. Yikes…lesson learned- I need to have extras??!!!  Note however that we later learned that US Paralympic athletes would need to be able to change their own tire and would be carrying a spare tube on them as well–no help from “support staff” like me at that level.

Ant any rate, I contacted the part of our team stationed at the finish line and we quickly mobilized getting an extra tire…the issue now became where to meet up to make the exchange, given the many road closures.  The best we could figure was spot nearly 3.5 miles down Forest Hill Ave (for those of you familiar with the area…this road seems flat but is literally a steady incline almost the entire length of this section of the course).  If you have ever tried to ride a bike or push a stroller on a flat, you know the challenge that this would present.  Not to mention that competing in a marathon is not only a physical test of strength and endurance but also mental.  I could see Colin’s excitment and hope after mounting those hills in the neighborhood start to fade from his eyes….I decided that what I need to do was not go crazily into the traffic to try and get the tire–likely only getting stuck in detours and road block but to stay with Colin and keep him motivated until we arrived at the War Memorial.

So, if you were traveling by foot, chair, or car that morning between 830a at 1030a on Forest Hill Ave you may have seen a crazy women driving east on Forest Hill Ave in a silver Volvo shouting out the window into a crowd of marathoners, then parking and running back to meet up with a courageous 15 year old boy in a bright yellow racing wheelchair for a block or so…into the car again…up a few more blocks and back again. Repeat!  Until one of Sportable’s amazing volunteers came up behind us about half way to our goal tire stop, where she took over and I set forth in my car to brave the traffic and find Colin’s sisters who had commandeered a tire and were waiting at the War Memorial.  We connected along the dreaded bridge (in my opinion the most mentally challenging part of the course) and ran on foot back to meet Colin and end his misery….

In the midst of this I received a call from one of our board members who is an Ironman (woman) and had volunteered to keep pace for some of our half marathoners…who had now crossed the finish line. She was ready to catch up with our marathoners and “bring them home” as well…she was inquiring about a call she received from her friends at a bike shop along the course…not too far from where Courtney, Mickey, and I were waiting for Colin.  She said one of our athletes had stopped in with a tire issue….Hmm???!!  But here I saw Colin coming in now– I had been with him?  There was no bike shop in our travels?? Then, it occurred to me…David??!! %&@#!!!

After getting the “thumbs up”at mile 10 or so and then shifting my focus to Colin, not seeing David again, I had assumed all was good.  Honestly, I figured he was blowing Colin away…and knowing how competitive the two of them are, I kind of avoided the David subject along that stretch of Forest Hill.

The next thing we realized, there he was..pushing through a crowd off runners. The look on his face was somewhat frustrated…but again, I got the “thumbs up”… and “ok now!”.  I found out later that David’s spokes malfunctioned and he instinctively asked a police officer for a bike shop…ironically there was one.  David popped in and the team there made a quick fix…he got a power bar…and back on the road  again.  I could tell he was a bit relieved  when I told him quickly that Colin too had tire issues (that is why we were standing there with an extra set of wheels)…the race was back on!!!

Not too far behind was Colin, he pulled over in the fire station…the girls and I resembled somewhat of a “pit crew” changing out the wheels with Colin snug in his racing chair….we even got a few cheers from the Firemen spectating outside the station!

Both Colin and David were off and were somewhat neck and neck again…the way they like it.  I believe in the end David finished slightly ahead however the sportsman that he is was very modest…he demonstrated resourcefulness and the true character of athleticism that Sportable stands to support and foster within our athletes.  My post race speech to Colin however was one that reminded him that regardless of who crossed the finish line first…Colin’s determination and “keeping his head in the game” along that 4 mile stretch said more about him as an athlete at 15 years old than any time could ever tell.  All this after having had back surgery in March and being in the hospital with several complications over the summer.  His crossing the finish line at all was inspirational to me!

I am so thankful for this opportunity to support just two of our athletes…it is the reason why I founded this organization to begin with.  To create these opportunities for true athletes that too often are left on the sidelines. My role has changed a bit in the last few years and I certainly gain a lot of perspective in being able to be “out in the field” whenever I can.  It revitalizes me in some ways…reminds me whats at the core of our programming–our athletes and their accomplishments!!!

I start out this year extremely grateful for my Sportable family…though I love going “home” to CT— I truly feel I am at home here, working with so many amazing people, doing the unthinkable and making a difference in RVA!!

THANK YOU to the numerous individuals that share in this passion and commitment to Sportable…our staff, board, volunteers, partners, athletes, etc!  We could not break down these barriers without you!

Bring on 2014!!!

-Kristen Lessig