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2013 Dixie Games

Atlanta, GA

May 12, 2013


The Dixie Games is the first International Paralympic Committee sanctioned event, open to all, in a series of three events leading up to The US Track and Field National Championships later this year. Having just run the 2013 London Marathon on April 21st, I was not sure I’d recover in time to race the Dixie Games. Excited to race on the track though, and following a dream about Atlanta Georgia, I decided to register for the Dixie Games.


Now it was time to find a guide; a local runner was key as it would help me cut down travel and lodging expenses. Friends and I reached out to various running groups including The Atlanta Track Club, The Highland Runners, and the Hash House Harriers. With about 10 days to go to the Dixie Games, I received a couple of responses from two gentleman who agreed to give “guiding” a shot! I had yet to meet them, Andy Gibson and Ryan Purcell, but was already greatful for their willingness to guide me and for making competing possible.


My husband John and I opted to drive down to Atlanta as we calculated this would be more economical, even with an overnight hotel stay, than flying. The drive was phenomenal along the Appellation trail, and past the fields of poppies, cow herds, horses, and more. We packed a cooler with some of our staples including Kefir, almond milk, whole grain wheat bread, and hot cereal to try to minimize any dietary changes and impact of travel.


The drive went smoothly and we arrived in Atlanta Friday evening. Saturday morning, to my surprise, I met three guides instead of two! As it turns out, Andy had caught a cold and hence had recruited Dan Uischner to fill in for him! I was so moved by Andy’s kindness and commitment, it was unbelievable that he had thought about and been able to do this. Andy, Dan, Ryan, John and I all met at the Marietta High School track for guiding 101 and practice guiding me! In a handful of minutes, we introduced the tether, made sure their shorts were tied snug to their bodies, explained how we would get two lanes for each event, and jogged a lap with John guiding me for a visual of how guiding works. Then I handed off the tether to Dan, Ryan, and Andy for a couple of laps with each of them. We practiced starting off, verbal queues for entering and exiting the curves, and the straight-a-ways. Feeling pretty comfortable with each of them, we confirmed plans for race day, and headed off the Marietta High School track.


Sunday morning, we arrived at the track. The weather was cool, low 60s, perfect for racing. The 5K was first, so after a couple of bathroom visits, Dan and I took a couple of warm-up laps on the track. We were ready to start, and set up on the back curve of the track, received the starting command, and the gun went off. Feeling an adrenalin rush, and the excitement, we got off to a very fast start. Suddenly, 300 meters in, I felt like Dan and I were no longer connected! Panic! Reaching down, I discovered that the tether had unhooked from Dan’s shorts. Thanks to Dan’s swift recovery, he continued to guide via verbal queues and with me keeping in contact with his hip,, and he hooked the tether back on.


Refocusing on the task at hand, we settled into a rhythm for the next five laps, which went smoothly. As this was the first time running a 5K on the track for both of us, we were not sure what to expect. Well, lap 7 seemed the longest lap ever, and we couldn’t believe there were still 5 more to go! Thankfully, we pushed through the next 2 laps, with Dan making an incredible effort to keep us both in our lanes especially on the curves. Finally, our pace picked up a touch again, and we finished the remaining laps strong. Finishing time, 21:23.


The event organizers thankfully rearranged the event schedule giving me about 30 minutes to rest before the 800 event. Ryan was ready to go though, so he warmed up as I drank water, stretched, and ate some delicious raw honey. The 30 minutes vanished! Ryan and I were now on the track, the starting commands issued, and the gun went off. I started out faster than I had expected, but my legs felt good, strong. The split at the half way mark was 1:22, and I still felt good. Could I break the 2 minutes and 55 seconds I had set as a goal? I tucked my head down as we came into the top of the first curve, and kept thinking “fast turnover, fast turnover”; soon Ryan was calling out the straight away. “Awesome, get through the 2nd curve and then give it whatever is left” I thought! The wind picked up a bit as we entered the 2nd curve, so I kept my head tucked and arms as close to my body as I could. “Coming out of the curve”, I heard Ryan say, and I could feel my heart beat increase. Time to push, fast turnover, pump the arms, “straight in”, said Ryan. I reminded him to “stay back”, so that he would not be ahead of me at the finish in accordance with Track and Field’s guide rules. I could feel the angle of the tether change and angle back- this let me know Ryan was behind me. Ten steps later, we crossed the finish in a time of 2:50; 5 seconds faster than expected! **Note, we later learned that we didn’t time the finish quite right.**


It was now time to take a lap around the track with Andy! Somehow, John and I managed to convince him that he wasn’t really feeling sick, and that he certainly could make it for a lap! Smile! With excitement and graciousness, he put on the Guide bib and took the tether. We connected the tether to our shorts, and I reached over to double check that it was securely on his shorts.


We were ready! The gun went off, and boy did I see Andy’s speed! He was like a bullet! He steadily guided me in and out of the first curve, and at the end of the first straight-away, we were at 200 meters in 35 seconds! I just had to hang on now! Into the 2nd curve, and their came a gust of wind, or maybe it was just me trying to breathe deeper! Whichever it was, I could hear Andy still guiding me through the 2nd curve, and then came those magnificently relieving words, “Straight, straight”! Into the home stretch we went, trying to pump my arms and lengthen out my stride. Down to 25 steps or so away from the finish I tried to remind Andy about not finishing ahead of me, but I could hardly get the words out. A few steps later, we had crossed the finish in 1:14- a Personal Best for me. **Note, we later learned that we didn’t time the finish quite right here either.**


The 1500 meter distance was the last event I would run for the day. I needed water, a bathroom break, and some stretching. The prior three events had tapped into my energy reserves. As I returned from the port-a-potty, I was approached by one of the Officials. She said something like, “Ivonne, I’m Malinda, one of the race officials. I have some bad news. We had to disqualify you from the 400 and the 800”. “What?”, I exclaimed, completely shocked. “We have your guide finishing ahead of you at the finish for both events”, she continued. “But I recall reminding them to stay back, and I thought it felt like the tether was angled back and away from me”, I replied. “Sorry, the pictures show otherwise”, she said.


A moment of sadness swept over me. I had just run Personal Bests in both the 400 and the 800. This was also Ryan and Andy’s first time guiding, and they’re much taller than I am. So, their legs and torsos are longer than mine- “Could it be that I had a case if the pictures showed the variance in our leg lengths? I asked to have the pictures shown to us, primarily to John and me; this would allow John to describe to me what he saw in the pictures.


We were shown the pictures, and realized Ryan and Andy’s torsos were indeed leaning forward slightly ahead of mine. “Well, so it goes”, I said. This can happen to anyone anytime. I could hear surprise and disappointment in Ryan and Andy’s voices, but the truth is: I know the times I ran, and I ran them with my own legs. While they don’t officially count, they serve as a new bench mark for me as to the speeds I can run for these events, and that’s definitely a confidence booster! Plus, there was one more event to go.


Ryan and I resolved to take the 1500 meter event calmly, and to try to control the speed on the first lap. This plan worked perfectly well. Ryan guided me smoothly in and out of the curves, and communicated splits perfectly. Two laps in my legs felt drained though, and they just couldn’t speed up. So we ended up holding a pace of 95-96 seconds for the first 3 laps, and finishing in a total time of 6:00. This time, we got the finish right!


Each event is a new experience filled with lots of excitement, nerves, but best of all, learning opportunities to grow. Dan, you have a great sense of humor; Andy, your excitement and energy are fabulous; Ryan, your incredibly relaxed and calm, which helps keep the nerves at bay! Thanks to Dan, Ryan, and Andy for graciously guiding me at this year’s Dixie Games; I couldn’t be out there competing without each of you. Thanks to John for his unwavering support, and for all that driving. Finally, thanks to the Dixie Games’ staff, Blaze Sports, and everyone else who was involved with this year’s Games.


Things I Could Have Done Differently:

1. Practiced event finishes more – this would have helped my guides and I truly figure out the proper distance apart we needed to be so that the Guide’s torso would not be ahead of my torso in any way at the finish. (Finishing pictures indicated that my guide’s torso ended up about 1-2 inches ahead of mine in the 400M and 800M. Therefore, those results were nullified.)

2. Had some pictures of proper finishes to show all of my guides during our Guiding 101 session. I now have some to show.

3. Bring the IPC rules with me for reference; I learned after the Dixie games that for distances 800 meters or greater, the guide is allowed to be “at most” one stride-length ahead of the athlete. This makes perfect sense given that’s wha the guide is doing, “guiding”. But the guide must not finish ahead of the athlete when the athlete is crossing the finishline.


Thanks for reading!


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