TIJ Blog Post – James Gilliard: The Human Web

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In past blog posts, I’ve talked about the importance of getting out there. While an important first step is getting off the sidelines and taking your first athletic steps, it’s certainly not the last. You also need to connect with other people. While online ones are okay, the physical, personal ones are better.

Most of the time, these personal connections will come through other athletes with disabilities (AWDs), coaches and those you come in contact with as you compete. And these connections may have connections that can help you. I see this as the human web, as everyone’s interconnected.

As an example of what I mean, you might need access to a specific training facility. You don’t directly know anyone that can help, but your coach may know someone who knows someone who does. I know it sounds like ‘my cousin’s brother’s uncle’s friend’ that people sometimes spit out, but that’s just the way the web works. You never know where these connections will come from, so be willing to be social with people. A great post on what can happen when you say yes to people is Rachel’s latest one on her speaking tour [link].

One thing that I’ve found recently is that there are common linkages within the AWD community. For example, someone that’s handling AWD needs for a race could also be involved in other AWD organizations and help to create even more connections for you. I found that to be true when I met Keri Serota at the Shamrock Shuffle. Not only was she the AWD coordinator for the race, but she’s also the co-founder and executive director of Dare2Tri [www.dare2tri.org]. I will be at the ParaTriathlon camp in May because she made me aware of the organization / camp.

I realize that it’s not always easy to make these connections. But they are so well worth it, both in the short and long term. Don’t be over concerned with whatever disability you have and how others may perceive it. Just be yourself, be out there, and everything else will fall into place as it should!

TIJ Blog Post – James Gilliard: Responsible Running

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A short while ago, a thread regarding hurdles with using guides from running clubs was started in a private Facebook group I’m part of. While I’ve shared parts of this blog post in that group, I’m expanding on it and making it public.
As athletes with disabilities (AWDs), we depend on others to help us, and to help us compete. Those guides are people that we trust, and who have given up their time to help us train and participate. One thing they should NEVER have to worry about is ‘if something accidental happens, am I going to be on the hook for it?’ That sort of question can only lead to trouble for both you and your guide.
Since I’ve started participating as an AWD, I’ve always looked at things this way – if something accidental happens, I’m going to take care of my own injuries and leave it at that. And I expect the same of the guides that I’m working with if it happens to them. I know that there’s an inherent risk in participating, and I accept those; and I completely trust those who are guiding me.
I know that everyone is at a different place in their lives. But, if you’re going to participate with guides, this is a hurdle that you need to get over first. In my opinion, being out there with a guide is an implicit agreement that you’ll each handle things on your own if something accidental happens. But understanding the over litigious society we live in, this is sometimes easier said than done.
There are several ways to combat this fear from / for all involved:

1) Education – Talking with groups that might be a good source as guides, but who are concerned about the legal angle. Tell them about your experiences, your expectations, and how well things have worked with other guides you’ve worked with. Also be up front with them about your expectations should something accidental happen.

2) Visualization – Invite them to an event that you’re running with another guide. Let them see how that guide to AWD interaction occurs throughout the race. As well as how other participants interact with you. Both sides of that should help them to see how well everything works.

3) Exposure – In addition to #1 and #2, explain to them the positive visibility it’s going to give to them. The guide will most likely be participating in club gear, and they’ll be seen as doing a great thing by helping an AWD participate.
While you won’t be able to change everyone’s mind, there are always ways to work around hurdles. But you need to be responsible as a runner yourself for things to work out well.

Responsibility should be part of your core if you’re out there as an AWD athlete!

TIJ Blog Post – James Gilliard: Saying Thanks

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As we all grow up, there are many proper etiquette items that we are taught. Two of these relate to “please” and “thank you”. In the context of this blog post, “Can you please help me with [x]?” and “Thank you for your help with [y]!” While those may seem like simple things, they are both truly important as you move forward on your athletic path. And that’s true for everyone, not just athletes with disabilities (AWD).

Asking for help is sometimes just as challenging as deciding that you want to participate. This is because everyone’s at a different stage of dealing with their disabilities, and may not be ready to ask for help. They may not see or believe that they need it. Or it may be an issue of pride for them that they don’t want to ask for help. I dealt with some of that myself when I was a teenager, and originally said no to some of the help because I just wasn’t ready to admit that I needed it. I did a short time later, and have long since gotten comfortable with asking for the help I need. But I realize it may not be easy for some. The best suggestion I have for overcoming that is talk through what you need with family and friends, and have them be your sounding board. They’ll help to get you through the initial concerns / steps, and it’ll all work out well in the long run.

Once you get the help you need, you need to make sure that you thank those that have helped you. It doesn’t need to be huge or spectacular; it just needs to happen. Remember that the people associated with the race/event have helped you to have a great experience, and your guide(s) have given up their time to help you. At a bare minimum, say it verbally to them before you leave the race / part company with your guides.

While it can be as simple as that, you can get creative and as personal as you want. One thing that I do for all the Race Organizers (ROs) that have been kind enough to help me out is to send them at least one group photo from the race in addition to saying thanks. I feel it’s more personal than just a plain ‘thank you’ e-mail, and it shows them that I truly had a great experience. Another thing that I’ve started doing recently is finding the RO’s Twitter accounts and thanking them personally via after I’ve registered if they’re on Twitter. I’ve started doing that so others can see that that RO is receptive to AWDs. Hopefully that will get others to register. J

When it comes to your guides, find a personal way to thank them. Throughout the training process for the event/race, both of you should have gotten to know each other. Not just on a ‘this needs to be said at this point so we don’t stumble’ level, but also on a personal one. As I’ve trained with both of my coaches, we’ve had these, and so I’ve found personal ways to say thank you for their help.

To that point, I know that my current coach Terri is part of the Celebrate Differences 5K (http://www.celebratedifferences.org/5kinfo.html) race committee. As soon as I found out when the race was, I added it to my schedule, even though I had a 10K the day before. Now with a training run on Friday, I’ll have at least 20K of running throughout the weekend. The total distance doesn’t matter; the point here is that I wanted to help support someone who’s supported me. And after learning that Celebrate Differences will be the charity partner for the FraidyCat races (10K/5K/1M – http://www.fraidycat5k.com/) in October, I’ve already added that to my schedule. I will be registering for the Ghost Run 10K once registration officially opens.

So here’s the bottom line – please ask people for help when you need it, and say thank you to them when they do. While I had a long list of people I thanked in the ‘Athlete on the Move’ blog, I need to add one more. Thank you to Rachel Weeks for allowing me to share these blog posts on her site!

TIJ Blog Post – James Gilliard: Honest Commitment

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Commitment, in and of itself, irrespective of whether you win or not, is something that truly makes your life more worthwhile” – Harry Chapin. I first heard that almost 20 years ago as we were driving down to Atlanta for the 1996 Olympics. That quote, among a few from other musicians, have shaped some of my core values since. Another is “I give honesty without regret”, which was part of Simon & Garfunkel’s Voices of Old People (Bookends album) recording.

I know sometimes that the first step is the hardest. Whether it’s because past attempts have fallen flat, or because you believe that it’s better to be on the sidelines because of your disabilities. But once you take that first step, it gets that much easier. As an example, in 2014 when I went into a gym for the first time in at least 5 years, I couldn’t run for more than 30 seconds. Even getting to the 1 mile mark as walk/run was painful, and I hurt badly that evening. It would have been easy to just say ‘screw it, this is too hard.’ But I had made a commitment to run the 5K and to my friends to run it with them, so I stuck with it. You can see where I’ve gone from there by just reading the previous two blog posts because I did.

While making that first step is crucial, so is being honest with yourself and those helping you. Having a goal and something to push for is great; but you also need to be realistic. If you’re just starting out and say that you want to run a marathon in a short time frame, that’s just not going to happen. One of the best ways to make sure that you keep yourself on track, grounded and realistic is to find someone you trust as a coach. Once they know both your current limits and goals, they’ll be able to help push/encourage you while making sure that you don’t go too far too quickly. I’ve got a half marathon on the schedule for 2016, and was seriously looking at the Chicago Marathon for 2015. Thankfully my coach helped me to see that that wasn’t the best idea at this point.

And as you push towards those goals, it may not be perfect. I think the best bar of pushing forward is just to be active for whatever amount of time is comfortable for you each day. That way even if you can’t get the specific activity in for whatever reason, at a minimum, you’ve still gotten the exercise in. My belief in that goes back to what several football coaches have told me over the years – that once you lose a workout, you can never get it back. So in my opinion, 60 minutes of walking when you can’t get a run/bike session/swim in, is far better than nothing.

If you find yourself slipping from that, you can always reinforce the daily workout schedule by creating a challenge with your friends. It doesn’t have to be for money or a prize. Pride in / drive to be on top should be enough. In March, I was part of a Spring Challenge against other Team RWB chapters, and that really helped me. Not just for making sure that I put in my effort for the chapter, but also in pushing myself to try and beat a specific Eagle. In the end, I put in over 3,600 minutes of activity (walk, run, spin, etc.) for the month. And that spark has carried over to April, even though most has just been walking to this point.

So get out there, find your pace, and keep it moving forward!

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.