Year in Review – 2015

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I know going outside of your comfort zone is a scary thing to do. Within it, you know what to expect, what’s going to happen, and feel like you can contro things. But if you’re willing to take the chances, take calculated risks and be uncomfortable, you’ll get far more than you could ever expect.

In a nutshell, my 2015 exploded and was amazing because I went out of the comfort zone. This is what my entire 2015 was supposed to be
:
Shamrock Shuffle, BTN Big 10K, Naperville Sprint Triathlon
Trips to WI and MI

This is what my 2015 ended up being:
Run As One, Shamrock Shuffle, Celebrate Differences 5K, Sly Fox 10K, Dare2Tri Tri It Tri, Naperville Sprint Triathlon, Batavia Half Marathon, ITU World Triathlon Grand Finale, Fraidy Cat 10K, Team RWB San Diego 5K, Team RWB KC 5K

Rock climbing for the first time

Trips to WI, MI, NY (including a drive back west) & KC

Introduction to the VI community, Team RWB and Dare2Tri

Volunteer opportunities with Reverb (which I had to decline due to great aunt’s passing)

Dare2Tri PT Camp

Swim classes as part of Tri training

Oh, and all of the media coverage, which started with a simple interview and grew into a huge snowball. Please see the link above for all of the links.

Throughout the year, my coaches have pushed me, not just to get to what I need for the race(s), but to continue going further. I am truly grateful to all of them, although I’m sometimes uncomfortable during the workouts. But no pain, no gain — and you don’t get better by being comfortable.

Through the introductions to Team RWB (which started because of my reading of rules), I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing people – both former service members and civilians. And the introduction to Dare2Tri (which started because it’s Executive Director was the Shamrock Shuffle AWD coordinator), gave me opportunities that I didn’t even know existed. Not just from the raining or race aspects, but more from the human aspect. Getting to meet, interact with, and spend the weekend with the group changed my thinking on many things. For more on that, please see the Dare2Tri Camp blog here

While 2015 was an amazing year, I’m looking forward to 2016! I’ve got 22 events planned, along with several personal trips. I will share the event schedule once everything’s finalized. The first race with be the Life Time Indoor Tri this coming Sunday in Romeoville.

Finish. Always. – 9.19.15

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For those of you who know me well, you know that there times where in frustration, profanity comes out in spades. But even in that time, there are words that you’ll never hear me say. Simply because they’re not in my vocabulary. Another word, which you’ll never hear me say had a 3 letter acronym. If you change the F to a C, you’ll get DNC.

Yesterday, the PC Open race at the ITU Grand Finale bent me but couldn’t break me. Even with the challenges of the day, it was an incredible one.

The swim was the worst part of it. Even though we were inside of the break wall, the waves were still bad enough that I couldn’t get my head in and keep it there to do a normal freestyle stroke. And the tether broke shortly into the swim. Luke figured out a plan B to deal with that and kept pushing me along to finish even when I felt like there was nothing in the tank. I was really concerned that we were going to get pulled out of the water (which would have ended the race), but we finished and headed back to transition.

After transitionwe headed out on the bike for our ride. This particular course would have been impossible for me to do without a guide, as about 1/3 of it was on lower Wacker Drive in the dark. But with Luke as the pilot, it went well. The extra padding in the Dare2Tri suit helped from the last time I was on the race tandem.

We then came back to transition and out for the run. About 1/2 way through, my lower back started to tighten up and it got hard to run for any long length of time. But I kept pushing with Luke encouraging me on, and we finished (2:21 total), and I was so happy for the post-race massage. 🙂

Even though it was a struggle yesterday, many positives and many things to work on for the 2016 season.

1) Even with Lake Michigan utterly kicking my ass, the difference in the finish time at ITU and Naperville as about 1 minute. And that’s with an additional 350m in the water at ITU. I see that as a HUGE psitive.

2) There will be a lot of early mornings this fall and winter for swim training. And I need to find a way to make it down for Open water sessions in Lake Michigan next spring/summer.

3) The struggles of yesterday did nothing to discourage the long term goals. It only fueled me to push harder to reach them. To that point, Naperville (8/7/16) is already firmly on the schedule and about 15 other events (Tris and running races) are in pencil.

One final thing — THANK YOU to the ITU event staff and all of the fans that were out there yesterday. As usual, there was a tremendous amount of encouragement and support for us out on the cours and at the finish. And a special thanks to the kind woman from Canada who lent us her phone so we could coordinate the post-race meet-up.

Christmas in August – 8.1.15

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Yes, I’m well aware that Christmas falls on December 25th. However, it’s now figuratively Christmas Eve… in August.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the media piece started as just a print article, then grew into print plus video. Yesterday, I was told that the snowball has grown. Tomorrow on ABC7 Marie Wilson will be sharing my story! She is the reporter that I met with, and who has helped to continue growing this.

I am extremely grateful to her and Bev for everything that they’ve done and continue to do for me. To re-cap for everyone:

Triathlon @ Centennial Beach (Naperville): 7A Start
Daily Herald Print Article – Sunday Edition
Daily Herald Video Piece – Online on dailyherald.com on Sunday
ABC7 Piece – On TV @ 8:45A, online on abc7chicago.com at some point on Sunday or Monday.

Hope to see a lot of you out there tomorrow! 🙂

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.

Let’s Shuffle…

06 - Pre-Race


Towards the end of 2014, I decided that I wanted to run the Shamrock Shuffle this year.  So while it was still cold, I went to the gym and started pushing towards 5 miles on the treadmill.  And once it got nice outside, Terri and I went running on different paths.  By the week before the Shamrock Shuffle, we were at 71 minutes for 5 miles, which was within the time limit.

Keri Serota, who is the coordinator for athletes with disabilities (AWD) helped us to get everything in line for the race, and the start.  Terri and I first met her when we picked up all of our packets the Friday before the race.

On race day, we arrived at the tent about 20 minutes before the start time, and checked in.  We got to meet Israel (another AWD) and his guide, as well as Lisa who works with Keri.  Keri walked the 5 of us out to the start line about 10 minutes prior, and we were stationed behind the wheelchair athletes.  We started about 2 minutes before the rest of the field, but the elite runners quickly caught up to us in the dark tunnel.

While it was a challenging race, it was a great experience.  I lost count of the number of people that were encouraging us as we ran.  I wrote a longer post about the weekend for The Imperfect Journey.  You can read it here.