Twitter has helped but I still suck at brevity. For all my TL;DR friends you’re in luck
- This week I raced my bike in the 2015 World Transplant Games in Mar del Plata, Argentina
- I pushed the pedals hard and won the 5k time trial
- I pushed the pedals hard and won the 20k road race
- This event is full of truly great and humbling stories from across the world. It was an honor to compete with other amazing transplant athletes.
If you’re bored at work I’ve got you covered…
Mar del Plata
On Saturday morning August, 22 I left SFO for Mar del Plata, Argentina to compete in the 2015 World Transplant Games (WTG). Held every two years, the WTG is an opportunity for transplant athletes around the world to compete in an olympic style competition.
My trip was long, involved a suffocating middle seat, and a 7 hour bus ride. Despite these first world problems I finally made it to the opening ceremonies just as they started on Sunday, August 23.
I was blown away as I walked into the sports arena at the heart of Mar del Plata. Close to a packed house, throbbing electronica, 44 countries represented, and a professional dance troupe presenting a sizzling history of the tango. I’m tired, I’m hungry, but this is awesome.
Heart, bone marrow, liver, kidney, double lung; Most of us in the arena have fought intense battles, but this evening is a celebration of how ridiculously grateful we are.
Grateful for supportive families. Grateful for medical professionals who dedicated their lives to saving ours. Grateful for health insurance. Grateful for those who signed up as organ and tissue donors. And in the case of live-donor recipients like me, grateful for donors who gave part of their body so one of us could live.
After slapping some aero bars on the Allez, I headed out to the short 5k time trial on Tuesday morning, August 25. The course was a short out and back along a coastal road. The headwind was howling and the tailwind was screaming. I checked out the course the day before and made mental notes of the potholes and seams in the pavement. Forget taking the shortest line, I was opting for the one least likely to give me a flat.
I had done a few trial runs around the 5k distance back in Sacramento and had a ballpark power target of 340w for the first leg. Today the headwind was a beast and riding with power offered a huge advantage. No guesswork, don’t be a hero. Be conservative no matter how slow you feel in the headwind, peg it at 340w, open the throttle as you’re approaching the turn around.
5k Time Trial
I come down the ramp feeling amazing but I know it’s mostly adrenaline telling lies. Stick to the plan…340w…keep it down…340w. I’m looking at instantaneous power, average lap power, and distance. My Garmin is a safety net for when I get all stupid and start feeling invincible. I’m approaching my minute man as I get to the turnaround and I’ve still got a ton of gas left in the tank. First split 344w…not bad.
As I hit the turn around the tailwind is shoving me down the road. I’m at 30+mph and feeling really strong. I’ve got goosebumps I’m going so fast. Now’s the time to open the throttle and leave it all on the road. I’m sitting around 370w with the tail giving me all kinds of free speed. I pass my minute man and give an extra kick up to 34mph I’m so excited. Motor, motor, motor. About 500m out I’m dumping it all.
I’m the strongest I’ve ever been in my life because a former student agreed to give me half his liver. That thought is overwhelming me as I cross the line.
20k Road Race
The following day we line up for the 20k road race on the same out and back course as the TT. Our group is a combined field of riders in the 18-29 and 30-39 fields. By this time in the week I’ve had the privilege of meeting some really cool dudes. Matt Spencer from Australia. Michel Stückelberger from Switzerland. Gijs Geerards, Freek van Empel and Tim Hartman from the Netherlands. William Laughton and Joe Matthews from the UK. We’re all transplant recipients trying to smash each other on the bike. There’s no other place in the world I’d rather be.
Before our race I watch a beautiful bunch sprint in the 50-59 category won by Ermanno Manenti of Italy. Probably the best post-up I’ve ever seen. I don’t know much about Ermanno’s story but I felt witness to greatness in that moment. Winning a bike race is cool. Coming back from a transplant and winning a bike race will make your head explode.
Say No to Bunch Sprints
As much fun as it was to watch Ermanno’s win, a bunch sprint was the last thing I wanted in our race. Mohammad Javad Hefzi from Iran had the closest time behind me in the TT and I was convinced he could hand me my lunch if we were left to sprint for the line.
While we’re lining up I figure my best bet is to immediately isolate Hefzi and force him to chase me. With his strong TT I’m expecting other riders will smartly look to him to bring back any attack I throw off the front.
I knew I wanted to get off the front early but was unsure of the best way. Flat course, no wind today, two teams with multiple riders. The course starts directly into a 180 and I’m confident I can snap in my pedals the fastest, rail the 180, then give it the beans from the start. One big move to test the waters and see if I can catch Hefzi by surprise.
In the Red
I come out hot and bury it for 1 minute, checking over my shoulder every few seconds to make sure I’m not giving any free rides. I see Hefzi making the commitment to bridge but there’s enough daylight I know he’s hurting as badly as I am. Keep it in the red, keep it in the red. I’ve done these efforts 100’s of times before. 460w for 1 minute out of the gate, commit until the rope breaks. I keep checking over my shoulder until I see him drift back to the bunch.
Now my job is to settle into a sustainable intensity then punch it a bit extra at the turnaround to give a visual when I pass the group that it’s a waste of energy to contribute to a chase. Perfect…I can see the group already hesitating as I pass. Dial it back, relax, get as aero as possible, and sit on 300w.
I’m right where I want to be sooner than I thought possible. It’s not the most exciting way to win a race but today it’s the most sure. 15k…10k…5k… It’s in the bag but I don’t want to stop riding hard. I’ve worked for two years to be in this spot.
The Brits are lined up on the side of the road giving me the business each time I pass. They’ve been an audible support from the gun. It’s an incredible experience to have people cheering for you. The British team has been a force at the WTG for several years but in this moment they’re contributing to my dream.
After crossing the line I watch the bunch sprint. Hefzi wins by a huge margin and is understandably thrilled to take the win in his category. He would have crushed me in the sprint. I made the right call.
On the podium I get to stand with Matt Spencer from Australia and Michel Stückelberger from Switzerland. Before the race, Matt was experiencing a heart arrhythmia as a result of 8 years of dialysis. He wasn’t sure if he would start but did. Michel is a double lung transplant recipient with an unbelievable story. He personifies courage and toughness. I was honored to stand with them both.
We’ll be Waiting
In 2017 we get to do it again in Malaga, Spain. If you’re a transplant cyclist who missed the games this year commit to coming to Spain. If your health sucks and you’re soon facing a transplant, power through. We know the drill. Get on the bike and start clawing your way back. We’ll be waiting for you.
Be the first to know about new blog posts while getting inside training tips delivered to your inbox. No spam, ever, I promise.
For a complete archive of my blog posts click here