TIJ Blog Post – James Gilliard: Jumping Hurdles

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As I’ve continued to add events to my 2015 and 2016 calendar, I see very few that talk about athletes with disabilities (AWD) as part of their registration process. Now that’s not to say that the Race Organizers (ROs) in general aren’t receptive to AWD athletes. Far from it – especially since I’ve had two different ones respond in less than 10 minutes both essentially saying ‘we’d love to have you, what do you need from us?’
Knowing that, I think one of the reasons that I’m not seeing that many AWD athletes out there with me is that they’ve had bad experiences with the minority of people that are petty jerks. I believe that those bad experiences in a more ‘private’ arena (i.e. one person being a jerk to them because of their disabilities) makes them not want to deal with the potential of this on a much larger public scale.

I know that’s a hard hurdle to get over, especially if/when those comments or even exclusion because of the disability comes from those close to you. But there are two important things to realize that should help you to clear it.

One is that there are always going to be petty jerks in the world, and if you let them define what you think/do, then you’re going to be a hermit for your entire life. Don’t let them define you or ‘win’.

The other is to remember that for every one person that wants to put you down, there are at least fifty that will encourage and lift you up and support you.

I know that all of that may be easy for me to just say, so let me back it up with an example. At some point within the last five years, my misjudgment of something because of my vision issues led to a viral video. The comments from the faceless petty jerks were rough to say the least (including ‘get out of the gene pool’). While the roughest ones like the gene pool one were removed, people have continued to have fun at my expense since. Now I could have looked at those comments and said ‘oh no, I’ve made this mistake. Time to run and hide.’ But that wouldn’t have done any good, and it’s simply not in my makeup to run and hide. The people who matter know and knew the full story, and those were the opinions that I listened to. I’ve continued to go out and do publicly visible things since, with the mindset that I can’t worry about all of that. If I stumble, and if it ends up as another viral video, then I’ll deal with it as I did with the last. I know that EVERY person reading this has and will have some sort of stumble in their daily life. It may not end up on YouTube, but it’ll happen.

And to the point of more people supporting you than pulling you down, I’ll go back to my comments in the last blog post. I lost count of the number of people who kept saying ‘great job’, ‘keep it up’, ‘keep going’, and other words of encouragement when we were running the Shuffle. As a further thought to that point, I didn’t hear a negative word or see one in print (blogs, etc.) after the race.

So, here’s my challenge to each one of you reading this. Go and do something this week that’s outside of your comfort zone to push yourself. If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines out of fear, go run your first race, even if it’s just a fun run. If you’ve been wanting to do a specific race, push towards it. But the most important thing is to take the first step out of your comfort zone. It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding.

Personally, because I’ve done that, I’ve got a great network of resources (coaches, guides, etc.) that help me and help to push me. For me, that step out of the comfort zone this week was to register for a half marathon in 2016. That will be twice my longest distance for 2015 at this point, and four times my longest from 2014. While it will be a challenge, I know that I’ve got the people to help me and that even if it doesn’t turn out perfect, that it will still be a success!

TIJ Blog Post – James Gilliard: Athlete on the Move

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My name is James Gilliard, and due to an illness at 5, I started losing my sight. There are a few contributing factors, but the main one that I’m dealing with is Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). Growing up, while it limited my ability to play sports, it didn’t really get bad until High School. To that point, I played Little League baseball (although a challenge), soccer, football/basketball with friends and tried to play Pop Warner football. The hurdles to the last were just too much, so I gave up on that – one of my true regrets.

At one of the routine eye exams during my Junior year of High School, I remember the doctor saying that we needed to talk about something serious, and us going back out to where my mom was. It was at that point that the doctor dropped the bombshell of ‘you will be blind by 30’. Not ‘if [x] happens and [y] doesn’t happen, then it’s a definite’. While I won’t ever compare it to the conversation that doctors have with terminal patients, I’m sure it comes in a close second. It was definitely a ‘your life is going to radically change, so get your affairs in order before the coming tornado hits’ type of conversation. Definitely not what I wanted to hear, and it took me about 6 years to get through all the stages of accepting it. And during most of that time, being a hermit would be too kind of a description of my life. The simple truth is that I was terrified that I’d lose my sight before I finished college and so therefore took heavy course loads so I could try and finish as soon as possible.

While there weren’t many diversions during college, one of them was the beginnings of my IT consulting company (Meow Productions – http://www.meowproductions.com). Founded in 2001, it provides IT consulting services of all types, and its largest project to date has been building an online payment system from scratch for a nationwide child care provider. I graduated from Rutgers in 2004 with my BS in Management Science and Information Systems, and after a brief internship in Philadelphia, returned to the Chicago suburbs where I had grown up.

While my vision didn’t start to evaporate as the fear at 17 – 23 had been, I have seen slight drops and then about 5 year plateaus before another slight drop. As an example of what I mean, I was still able to read normal print books at 21, but by 25 I couldn’t read much of any type print without some sort of magnification device (Pebble, CCTV machine, etc.). I’ve seen a couple of slight drops since 25, but nothing I haven’t been able to adjust to. And at 35, I still have about 70% of my sight during the day; it gets worse at night or in dark places.

After having moved back to Chicago, I decided to pursue a football dream (http://www.jamesgilliard.com/the-dream.php), and attempt to at least partially fix the regret from childhood. Since that point, I’ve played flag football almost every fall and have been at football camps in West Virginia, Mississippi and South Carolina. And in addition to the consulting business, I also work full-time for an agent office of Ignite Payments.

The running part didn’t come into play until last year when Rutgers joined the Big 10 (um, I mean Big 14… :P). After having received the BTN Big 10K race e-mail in late March or early April, I decided to run the 5K race. I found friends to run with me as guides, one of whom ended up being my first running coach. Even though we had to run under the McCormick convention center tunnel twice and be in the dark for about a half mile total, it was still a blast. I did the Naperville Noon Lions Club Turkey Trot Thanksgiving Day with my mom as one guide and Terri as my 2nd.

As I started to talk with Terri early this year about 2015 events, things just snowballed. From 2 races in 2014, it’s already at 5 definite with at least that many probable ones. And the distances this year will be longer, including my first Triathlon.

That Triathlon decision was the start of another chapter in all this. When I first looked at it and saw the USAT rules, I reached out about getting a waiver for a female guide (current coach). I was told no, but then later found out that for smaller events the race director has discretion. But not knowing that at the time, I went on a search for a male Tri guide that started in Facebook groups and eventually led me to Team RWB. In the end, it wasn’t necessary; but I’m glad I was made to go on that chase because I would have missed out on a lot of good stuff without it.

So my first events for 2015 are the Run As One (5K) and Shamrock Shuffle (8K) on March 28th and 29th. I had new Team RWB vests made, and really wasn’t that anxious about the Shuffle until I saw the e-mail from the AWD director, which showed that the AWD group was myself and one other person and our guides. I’ve run with crowds, I’ve been around cameras, and neither of them were going to be an issue. But knowing that there’s going to be a very definitive, small group that starts and is clearly visible has made me nervous since seeing that e-mail.

The weekend started off with a gathering of members, families and supporters of Team Red, White & Blue (RWB), Team Rubicon and The Mission Continues. One of the main reasons for the run was to raise awareness of the challenges, and proposal solutions to the issue of veteran suicide. Sadly, 22 service members that fought so proudly lose their own fight. It was a great run (5K), and a great show of support from and across all three organizations. After the run and break for lunch, I went to Spin class with other RWB members.

The weekend continued on Sunday with the Shamrock Shuffle. After getting through all the preliminaries and waiting in the Elite tent for a few minutes, all of us in the AWD group went out onto the starting grid. While I was nervous about being very visible at the front, I would look at the Eagle on one of my guides’ vests and re-center.

We started 2 minutes ahead of the Elite group, and made our way onto the course. The large dark underpass about a ¼ mile into the course was a challenge, but I made it through there with help from the guides. As first the Elites and then the general field joined / passed us, everyone was really supportive. There were lots of encouraging comments as we all ran. And it was great to see the Eagle flag bearers run past at about 2 ½ miles, along with other members of the team. We finished the course at about 69 minutes and headed back home.

These races are just the first of my season, and you can see my entire confirmed schedule on my AthletePath page (http://www.athletepath.com/jamesgilliard). That will continue to grow as the journey continues.

And while it’s nowhere near over, I still want to thank all of those who have helped me to get to this point. In addition to friends and family, I want to thank the following groups and people for their help and support.

Marshall University Football Coaches and Staff (2007 – 2008, Coach Snyder)
The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) Football Coaches and Staff (2007 – 2012, 2014; 2007 – Coach Orgeron, 2008-2011 – Coach Nutt, 2012 and 2014 – Coach Freeze)
Clemson University Football Coaches and Staff (2011 – 2012, Coach Swinney)
Lacey Love (1st running coach)
Terri Hayes (Current running coach)
Patricia Walsh (who’s providing a wealth of Tri-related help to me through Terri).
Caroline Gaynor (who directed me to Team RWB)
Keri Serota & Lisa (for help in making my 1stShuffle a great one)
A long and ever growing list of Eagles
A growing list of race organizers / races that are receptive to AWD/ADA needs.

Finally, while all this vision stuff isn’t fun or something I like to discuss, I was happy to put this blog post together for two reasons. The first is to hopefully get more AWD participants out there after they’ve read through this. There’s a wealth of good people who are willing to help you participate, and the few I mentioned above are just the start. The resources mentioned on this sites’ resource page are another great place to look at. The other is so that if people who are dealing with similar issues that have questions or want advice can reach out to me. I unfortunately probably made every mistake you can make early on after 17. But I learned from them, and am willing to share that knowledge with others. Feel free to message me on Facebook – just search for Kobeerashi and you’ll find the correct profile.

Imperfect Journey Archive / Reposts

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Prior to the Shamrock Shuffle, I agreed to write a blog post about me and my experiences for another site (The Imperfect Journey). That one turned into many more. That site is currently under construction, so I am posting everything that I had written for it here. Some of these will be re-posts, and some will be new (queued for their site). All of these will start with TIJ Blog Post.

Fish in a Storm – 7.6.15

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Sunday was such a perfect day for a swim; Monday was not. I thought that Mother Nature would scratch Monday night’s swim like she’s done so often this summer. But we were fortunate enough that the storm held off until we were done.

We got in about 600m during the swim, both in deep and shallow water. I still need to work on the breathing part, as my head is coming up too much at points and taking me off course. It was interesting to swim the laps back as the storm kept threatening and would then move around us.

Super Fish – 7.5.15

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After a break for the 4th, we picked up the training again, with Mother Nature smiling for the first time in a while. Weather was in the low 80s and the water temp was about 70.

We were fortunate to have very little traffic during the adult float, and thus were able to get in about 1000m before it ended. As we left the beach, there was a long line and people were continuing to show up. So it was a REALLY good thing that we had gotten our swim in during adult float. Although practice in that crowd might have been some good race-day prep.

But instead of staying around, we went for a 4 mile run/walk. It got hard towards the end as the humidity picked up and we weren’t in the shade. But we made it back. 🙂

Oswego Bricks – 7.3.15

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As a finale to the first three-day run of sessions, we headed to Oswego for another bike/run session. It was great to see the new Oswego Cyclery store — great layout and more space for them.

With the Camelback on for the first time, we headed out for the normal ~9mi ride. It had been 2 or 3 weeks since the last bike session, so there were a couple of hiccups along the lines of the first one. But once we got going, it all came back just like riding a bike!

One of the challenges for me was learning how/when to grab the straw from the Camelback. Doing so meant taking one hand off, which was a concern. But it all worked out well. More practice is definitely needed with both the Camelback and the drinking process.

After returning the tandem, we went for the normal 3 mile run. Unfortunately, about 1.75mi in, the IT band on my right side got extremely tight. Yes, that was painful both during the last 1.25mi and even more so post-run.

But no pain, no gain. At least tomorrow’s a day for R&R before the second three-day run starts.

Another Thank You to my sponsors – 7.3.15

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I am extremely grateful to everyone who has helped me to this point, and continues to help me, with this journey. Several of them have surprised me with needed gear out of the blue. Today was another example of that, as one of them gave me a Camelback. This was something that I still needed for the bike, as there’s no possible way for me to reach down to a wire cage.

I am working on a way to make sure that all of them to this point get visibility on race day.

Stretchy Bands – 7.2.15

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After yesterday’s ‘fun’ IT band stretches, followed by another set in the AM, I was a little more loose today. Good news, for the most part.

We started off with 700m in the pool between the deep and shallow ends, including experiments on positioning the golden tether so I could get my left arm higher up. More testing is needed, but good results for the day.

This was followed by a 4.5mi run, during which nothing felt tight. The photo at the top of the post is from where we turned around. Great view, but quite the challenge to get to the top of the hill.

While everything was loose during the swim/run, a tiger was clearly hiding under the surface. The post-run IT band stretches were painful to say the least. Think root canal without novicane…

IT Bands, take 1 – 7.1.15

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Today’s brick session started off well in the pool. We did 550m between the shallow and deep ends. Even more so since this was the first session without the wet suit (being repaired). However, things did NOT go well with the run.

About 1/3 of a mile into the run, it started hurting when I tried to run. We stopped, and Terri helped to stretch out the IT band. But it wouldn’t allow me to run much. We did 3 mile with the vast majority after that point walking. One small upside to that was finding the FD/PD memorial, which I had never noticed before.

While there was pain during the run, that was minor compared to what I felt during the post-run IT band stretches. But I’d rather have that minor pain now than 4+ months of PT and being sidelined. So those stretches will continue…

The Thin Red Line – 6.26.15

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I know that a common saying if not an actual quote is that there’s a thin line between genius and insanity. And based on what many of us do on a daily and weekly basis there is also a thin red line between passion and insanity. That thin line is made in the blood from our scrapes and breaks as we chase our goals.

At this point last year I was struggling with how in the hell am I going to get ready for this 5k? That was my first race and the goal was really just to finish. As I mentioned in an earlier blog it went really well and was a start of the insanity.

As the year has progressed the snowball has continued to grow. From an original plan of three races at the beginning of the year to now a minimum of 11 will the 12th planned in January 2016 It’s a little overwhelming at times. But the way I continue to look at it is reaching that first stretch goal and then pushing towards the next one.

So back to the original line about insanity and red lines. Earlier tonight I made the commitment to do itu in September. The swim will be about twice as long as the August triathlon and open water There’s also a possibility of getting run into by the crowds and maybe ending up with a bloody nose. Even with all that I’m still excited to push forward towards it and continuing to build up distance and endurance after the August triathlon.

Am I insane for trying to do this much in my first full year? Some may say so but I look at it has just continuing to push forward. And with all the good people I have in my corner I know it will all work out even if it isn’t perfect.

Don’t worry about the labels Just be confident in yourself and abilities. everything else will take care of itself. Take a walk out of your comfort zone and go do something incredible!