Friday, July 8, 2016

Track and Field Trials -- The Final Chapter

For Matt, the Road to Rio ended in Charlotte.  It was a fun, hard two years of running for Matt.  He rain as fast as or faster at 36 than he did in college.  He will never have to wonder “what if” when he thinks about the Paralympics.  He knows he gave it his all and made his family very proud!  Emily, Marisa, and Zachary all love to run, have the itch for races, and have perfected high knees and butt kicks (or hiney kicks as they call them).  And in the end, that’s enough.

The specifics.

The 5000.  The 5000 meter race was on Thursday night.  It was hot and humid, but bearable (says someone that just had to yell splits from the sidelines).  There were three in the visually-impaired heat, down from the six that had originally signed up to compete.  Matt took the first mile hard -- 5:06 -- which he needed to if he was going to have a shot at a qualifying time.  He started to slow down a bit between laps 5 and 7.  I knew he needed to hit 75 second laps and somewhere around lap seven the times were getting more and more off of the target.  As he put it, he went into pure survival mode.  It was also around that point that the sun came out and was shining very brightly for 7 pm.  He finished third, in an overall time of 17:12.  It wasn't a personal record (PR) and it wasn't a qualifying time.  He looked great from where I was standing.  The first place finisher, Chaz Davis, who also has Lebers, took off from the very beginning and never looked back.  He had a qualifying time and was the only visually-impaired distance runner to make the U.S. team.  He made it look so easy!  I could see that Matt was disappointed, but after a few minutes recovering near the field, he put on a smile and headed up to say hi to his huge cheering section. 

The 1500.  The 1500 meter race was on Saturday evening at 5 pm.  It was hot.  The heat index was over 100 and sitting in the bleachers I felt every degree of it.  I can't imagine what it felt like on the track.  He had been feeling low energy in the late afternoon so he had a black coffee, which he normally doesn't do, to help.  Then we were running late getting to the track because I couldn't find the car keys so Matt ended up only having about 20 minutes to warm up.  I took my place on the track to record Matt's splits.  He knew going in that he didn't have a chance at qualifying for this event, but after his disappointment in the 5000, Matt was really hoping for a PR.  Matt isn't exactly sure what his college PR was (somewhere between a 4:23 and a 4:28), but he hasn't run that fast since college.  Matt looked good from the beginning.  I could tell early on that he was going to PR.  Chaz Davis took the lead early on again in this race.  At the 0.5 mile point the fourth place runner passed Matt and took second place and Matt followed.  With 600 meters to go, Matt took the 3rd place slot.  
With 400 meters to go, Matt was about 5-8 yards behind the runner in second place.  Matt kept shortening the gap and even went into lane two in case he could catch up.  He was about two strides behind, but there wasn’t enough distance left to pass him.  In the end, he finished less than a second behind him in 4:28.  Although we aren’t entirely sure, we are going to call that a PR.  Even if he had a faster time, he hasn’t run that fast in at least 14 years.  What an awesome finish to an awesome journey.  A little aside, but he was wearing my neon green running socks because he didn’t have an extra pair clean.  Maybe they were good luck.  After a lot of hugs and high fives, Matt picked up his bronze medals and we went out to celebrate.  

The Future.  I don't know the fate of Daddy's Blind Ambition.  For the moment, Matt is taking some well-deserved time off.  We hope to watch many Paralympic events from the comfort of our living room and cheer on the amazing athletes that will be representing the United States in September at the Paralympics.  I hope the kids are old enough to remember watching Matt race in Trials and witnessing the athleticism of other visually, physically, or mentally impaired athletes.  I know I won't forget this weekend!  Matt plans to return to the marathon distance and will be running in the California International Marathon in December, which, as I've written about before, hosts the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes Championship Marathon.  

A huge thank you to everyone who made donations to Matt to offset the cost of his travels, everyone who traveled across town or to a different state to see Matt race, and everyone who rotted for him from afar.  You've helped make this a memorable journey.  Thank you.  

I'll leave you with some pictures from our weekend in Charlotte.  

Our big cheering section for Matt for the 5000!

Matt early on in the 5000.  

Matt in his last mile of the 5000

He was all smiles even after the 5000

Still smiling

We took a break from running on Friday to visit with our Charlotte family

Here are all of the visually impaired runners being taken to the start

Chaz Davis crossing the finish line
Matt trying to finish second

And the end...with a PR (or close to one)

Matt and Chaz shortly after the 1500
Lots of high fives
The Rodjom crew (minus Zachary who was a bit overheated)

Cousin support
Sporting his two bronze medals

This time with the girls sporting the medals

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Trials are in one week!

Matt will fly to Charlotte for the U.S. Paralympic Trials next Wednesday. He'll spend the day getting adjusted and testing out the track at Johnson C. Smith University.  He'll enjoy a quiet night in the hotel room before the kids and I arrive on Thursday afternoon - one week from today.  Then, on Thursday evening, he'll race the 5000 meters against other visually-impaired athletes, all vying for one of the coveted spots on the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Team.  Two days later, he'll race in the 1500 meters, but this more for fun as his times are too far off of the standard.  Though we'll know if he hits the times immediately, the U.S. team won't be announced until Sunday.  NBC will be airing coverage of the  U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials that will be going on in Eugene, Oregon, so they will break to cover some of the Paralympic trials and the team announcement.    

Although I've joked with Matt ever since he said he wanted to make this journey that I want to be able to say I'm married to an Olympian, the truth is I'm already married to an aspiring Olympian and an inspiration to me and our three children.  We'll be there along with lots of family to cheer Matt on in Charlotte and help him celebrate this amazing journey.

His competition are kids 15-20 years his junior.  He has a full-time job and a family, and yet he's still found time to log more than 60 miles a week.  He hasn't actually ran 5000 meters consecutively at a 15:40 pace, but he's logged lots of time on the track at his target pace.  I can' t wait to be there to see him give it his all during those 12 and a half laps in the Carolina heat.

The article I shared in a previous blog post that was featured in the summer edition of Run Washington has been posted on the Run Washington website and featured in its blog and email.  If you haven't already, you should check it out here.

I promise to document the weekend with lots of updates and pictures.  And, since I haven't had a post in a bit, I wanted to share with you a few pictures from Matt's last race.  He placed second overall at the StarKid 5K on June 5.  (A high school runner beat him.)  Before the race was a 1k family fun run.  The kids and I ran that together.  Even little Zachary managed to run most of it, except for a block or so where I carried him.  Arendelle's Princess Anna was running the race, too, and helped cheer him to the finish.  Also at the race were Queen Elsa and Captain America, a bounce house, and lots of other fun kid events.  As fun as the race is every year, we love doing it because all of the money from the race goes towards the Inova Children's Heart Program.  Medical programs like this are so important, as we learned first hand when Marisa was born with a congenital lung condition and underwent surgery and extensive follow-up care with Children's National.  And now, several years later, she's running in her first race.  She said after that a 1k wasn't long enough.  She wants to do the 5k with Daddy next year. We'll see!

Beginning of the race.  The kid in red won.

Matt and his guide Chuck.

Matt heading to the finish.

Look who we ran into?

Zachary was very excited to meet this guy.
All three kids went up with Matt to claim his prize money.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Desert Challenge Games: A Recap

Don’t worry; I didn’t forget to post the results of the Desert Challenge Games.  Since I wasn’t there I had to wait for Matt to give me his thoughts on the two races.  Also, I am pleased to be able to include video of Matt’s awesome finish during the 1500, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  Before we can get to Saturday, we have to talk about Friday.  I’m going to give you most of Matt’s own words.  In case you haven’t been able to tell from all of my posts, I’m Matt’s biggest fan and  I would describe Matt’s run on Friday as just one more step towards Rio.  The time didn’t matter as far as his chances of making the U.S. team.  It was hotter than hot at gun.  But that would be my inner cheerleader.  So instead, I’m going to give you Matt’s raw emotions about having a tough race and a final time that he doesn’t like. 

First, a few pictures from the week:

Matt’s own words on the 5K:
Disappointed is the only word to describe how I feel tonight. Tonight was supposed to be my breakout night and show the world I was ready for Rio and my spot on the U.S. team.  But tonight I only flopped.  What when wrong?  I’m not sure. It was 100 degrees out for the race and so far this season I have only trained in the mid-70s.  That can be my excuse.  But excuses don’t get me to Rio. Excuses are what other people have. I did a good bit of warm-up.  It takes me awhile to get lose nowadays. It is just part of getting old, I guess.  So now  the race. I took the lead from the start. At half mile I was on 5:00 pace and going to transition to something more comfortable.  Then at the one mile mark, the two Mexican runners in my heat came on my side and passed me. I try to coaster and stay with them but something was off.  I was only 5 laps in and was already sucking wind bad.  It was hard to breathe.  But even more than that, something was off.  Normally I should have been able to duck behind them and follow.  I keep trying to figure out what was wrong.  I do weigh a few pounds more now after a week in Disney World and another shorter trip.  Was it the heat? Not sure. But for the next two miles I had trouble finding a groove and keeping a good pace.  My final kick wasn’t even that great, and it usually is very strong.   I finished in 17:34.  I was the first place American.  The two Mexican contenders finished in 16:49 and 16:54. Even those times are not fast enough for Rio.  There was so much time and effort put in to this race and now only for such a crappy result. I got home and took an ice bath. I forgot how much ice baths hurt.  On a brighter note, I made a new visually impaired Canadian friend and finally got to meet Donald Balcom who lives in Maryland.  I found out that Dave Dobbins, my fraternity little brother is in the Phoenix-area for a dental conference and may come out for the 1500.  It would be great to see an old friend. 

Matt’s own words on the 1500:
Saturday was the day to just find something to do.  I got up early since I was still on East coast time and got a light breakfast downstairs.  Still had 11 hours to kill.  I went to Walmart for some Advil and then went and saw the new Captain America movie.  At 5pm, I went over to the track.  It was still hot – about 103 degrees - but at least tonight there was a slight breeze.  I was able to fit in a light warm up and then they were already calling last call for the 1500. I picked up my spikes to go check in.  They even measured them for the race which doesn’t usually happen.  There weren’t too long, thankfully.  On the walk to the start I heard Dave.  There was still a little time to kill so we did warm ups in the javelin area.  I requested the starter to provide us splits since everyone in my heat was visually impaired, but he did not have a watch. The first lap was hard and fast.  There was a lot of bumping going on, which I haven’t experienced since college.  Of course, most of my competitors are still in college.  There were six in my heat (three from Mexico, one from Canada, and two including me from the U.S.).  I had trouble getting around the T11 Mexican runner and his guide because he kept swerving.  In laps two and three, I was in last place but still holding an ok pace. With one lap to go I kick with everything I had. I was able to pass the other U.S. runner with about five yards to the finish. I was happy with my kick at the end, but not the time. Afterwards, with the two races behind me, I went out with Dave and his friends to a micro-brewery to catch up.  So glad he could be there!

Matt and Dave after the 1500

For the first time ever on the blog, and thanks to Dave, here's a video of Matt's awesome finish!

So these were not the result I was looking for this weekend. But I am not out yet of Rio contention.  My workouts show I have the capability.  I need to keep pushing.  I’m not giving up.  Next up is the StarKids 5K on June 5th.  It is a road race, but one I really love running.  I’m down, but not out.

Here are the official results for the two events.

Results 5000:
First Place T11:  1 Alejandro Pacheco Sr. 25 Mexico 16:49.55

First Place T12 (Matt’s classification wasn’t updated): Matthew Rodjom 36 United States 17:35.10
Donald Balcom 42 United States DNF

First place T13: Isidro Tavera Sr. 19 Mexico 16:54.88

Results 1500:
First place T11:Alejandro Pacheco Sr. 25 Mexico 4:26.07
First place T12 (Matt’s classification wasn’t updated) Matthew Rodjom 36 United States 4:44.07
T13 order of finishers

1 Isidro Tavera Sr. 19 Mexico 4:18.69
2 David Garza 21 Mexico 4:21.30
3 Nick Neri 18 Canada 4:33.14
4 Michael Kinoshita 20 United States 4:44.86

The kids loved getting Daddy's medals.  He only won two, but the race volunteer gave him an extra for Zachary. :-)  

Friday, May 13, 2016

Reclassification - Mixed Emotions

Yesterday, Matt had his appointment for his International Paralympic Committee reclassification.  It is valid for two years.  Matt was originally classified in Arizona during the Desert Challenge Games in 2014 as a T12 athlete.  As I mentioned in my post earlier in the week, it would be detrimental to Matt's Paralympic dreams if he were to be reclassified as a T11 athlete since he has not trained with a guide on the track and he has never raced (or even worn) blackout glasses.  He was so concerned, but as it turns out he was reclassified.  Only he wasn't reclassified as a T11 athlete, but rather a T13 athlete.  Until this year, there were different standards for T11, T12, and T13.  This year, the qualifying times for T12 and T13 are the same.  This is good -- otherwise, Matt would have had harder qualifying standards to meet.

So what does it mean that Matt is now a T13 athlete?  We have no idea.  We should be happy that he is a T13 because it should mean his vision has improved, except that isn't true.  Sixteen years of testing by highly renowned neuro-ophthalmologists has never revealed an improvement in his vision.  After the initial period of onset that lasted several months, Matt's vision has been stable and that's okay.  Matt has learned how to navigate life with Leber's.  The "T" designation is the international classification.  The United States uses a "B" classification, but it has three categories, too, B1, B2, and B3.  Matt is a B2 athlete so that should marry up to the T12 classification.  Yet still, the doctors yesterday said that his left eye was improved since his testing in 2014.  The only thing we can think of that is different between his testing in 2014 and yesterday is the guidance they gave him during the testing.  In 2014, he was not allowed to move his blind spot, which is his entire central vision, to help him see during different aspects of the test.  In 2016, he was instructed to move his blind spot.

We do not know if this will impact his chances of making the U.S. Team.  The standards are the same, but how does Matt stack up against other T13 athletes, compared to other T12 athletes?  We won't know until July 3rd when the U.S. Team is announced.  But for now, we have mixed emotions about the new classification.

On a brighter note, Matt is scheduled to race at 7:15 pm (10:15 EST).  There is a high of 102 in Phoenix today, but it should be around 95 at gun.  I know it is a dry heat, but that's still hot!

Stay tuned for updates!

A picture of Matt nearing the finish line at Nationals last year.  

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Desert Challenge Games and I'm Not the Only One Writing About Matt

On Wednesday, Matt will depart for the Desert Challenge Games, which will be held at Arizona State University, May 11-15, 2016.  This event is part of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletics Grand Prix, and the only event taking place in the United States.  Matt needs to attend to renew his IPC classification, which expires this year.  Two years ago, Matt was classified as a T12 athlete.  In order to receive his classification appointment, we had to provide lots of updated paperwork on Matt's vision.  Unlike some visual impairments, Leber's Hereditary Optic Neuropathy is not degenerative.  That doesn't mean that age won't negatively impact his vision one day, but it does mean that since he was diagnosed in 2000, his vision has been stable.  Every year Matt goes in to see his Neuro-Ophthamologist for what Matt calls his annual "I'm still blind appointment."  We expect that Matt will once again be classified as a T12.  Matt does not run with a guide on the track because his peripheral vision, the only vision he has, allows him to see the track lanes.  If he were to be categorized as a T11 runner, he would be required to have a guide and to wear blackout glasses so he would not have an advantage over the other T11 runners.  Both would be detrimental to Matt -- he's never trained on the track with either and he would have no guide with him to compete.  But again, we expect he'll be reclassified as a T12 athlete.  His classification appointment is on Thursday.

Friday night, he'll race the 5,000 meters.  There are currently five runners registered for this event so he will have competition.  This will hopefully push him to run his fastest.  He needs to shave 79 seconds off of his 5K time to meet the Rio standard.  The Desert Challenge will give us a good indication on whether that is possible.  I hope it is.  

Saturday night, Matt will race the 1500 meters.  It is less likely that Matt will meet the Rio standard in this event, but he will race it anyway.  It is a long way to travel to only do one event.  Twenty people are scheduled to race this event.  
Neither of these events at the Desert Challenge Games will impact his chances to make the US Team.  The sole determinant for that is his times at Nationals in June.  But as I have said before, we are expecting that he'll close in on that 79 second gap.  I plan to have several posts between now and Saturday giving you updates on the Games and Matt promises to take lots of photos since I won't be there with him.  However, the whole family will drive down to Charlotte in June. Who doesn't like a cheering section, right?!

I'm not the only one who is writing about Matt these days.  There is an article on Matt in the Summer 2016 edition of Run Washington.  If you're local, you can pick up a print copy in your local running store.  I plan on picking up a lot.  For those out of the area, here is a link to the digital copy (his piece starts on page 41).  The photo was taken a few weeks ago on a freakishly cold day in April on Braddock Road, about a quarter mile from our house.  

And finally, I'll put in another request for you to consider making a tax-deductible donation to Matt via the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes here to help offset Matt's travel expenses for this final push to make the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Team.  Other than a free Brooks running outfit and set of racers, we have funded this journey ourselves.  

More soon...

Monday, April 4, 2016

And That's How You Do It!

On Saturday, March 26, Matt competed in two events at the Gallaudet University Invitational, the 1500 and the 5000. Field events started in the morning, but track events started at noon.  We arrived shortly after thinking we had some time since the first event was scheduled to be the 10,000; however, there must not have been any runners because it was no longer on the schedule.  That meant Matt had about five minutes to change and warm up before the 1500.  Our friend Matt and his son Sean arrived just in time to see the race and help cheer.  

There were five runners in the 1500, including Matt.  One of the other runners, Alex, remembered Matt from the StarKids 5K.  Matt and Alex (briefly) warmed up.  There was only one heat.  Matt didn't want to go all out for the 1500 since he still had the 5000 to race.  He was worried he'd have lactic acid buildup in his legs.  According to Matt, he ran at about 80 percent effort and finished in 4:36 (a second slower than his time at Nationals last year).  He only needed to complete the 1500 in 5:00 to be able to compete at Nationals so he was pleased with his time. The winner completed the event in 4:27.

Matt had some recovery time after the 1500 so that he could properly cool down and sit a bit before the 5000.  Due to the number of runners, they decided to combine the men and women (there were only two men including Matt and one woman).  It all happened so quickly so I didn't get my stopwatch started at gun, but was able to start it when he crossed the finish line after the first half lap.  I yelled splits and Matt took photos every lap.  Gallaudet was very accommodating to us.  Everyone remembered Matt and they even made sure to call out the laps since Matt could not read the lap sign.  We had one exciting moment about halfway through the race.  Sean was playing with a ball and somehow it managed to roll under the fence and on to the track.  I don't think it could have happened twice.  Luckily, one of the timekeepers saw the ball and was able to pick it up before the runners reached us.  Mishap averted.  

Matt needed to run at least an 18:30 to qualify for Nationals.  Here are his approximate splits:

Lap 1:  80 secs
Lap 2:  79 secs
Lap 3:  81 secs
Lap 4:  80 secs
Lap 5:  81 secs
Lap 6:  83 secs
Lap 7:  83 secs
Lap 8:  84 secs
Lap 9:  85 secs
Lap 10:  86 secs
Lap 11:  84 secs
Lap 12:  72 secs

He completed the 5000 in 16:59 -- a new personal record (by 3 seconds).  The other male runner in the 5000, a freshman from Gallaudet, kept up with Matt for the first five laps, but then couldn't hold.  He completed the event in 17:07.

Matt went into the track meet with the goal of qualifying for Nationals and he did that.  Next up is the Desert Challenge Games in Arizona.  Thankfully the two events will be on different days with the 5000 being first so that he can race all out and get his times down. We're getting a lot closer to our destination!  

Crossing the finish line

My cheering team

This past Friday, Matt picked up my bib for me at the Cherry Blossom 10-miler expo.  While there, he got a photo with Olympian Meb Keflezighi.  I knew he was going to be there so I sent Matt with a photo album from the 2010 Boston Marathon that had pictures of Meb and Matt on the winners podium after the race.  He signed it -- so cool.  Maybe both will be on Team USA in Rio?  I hope so!  

Matt and Meb at the Cherry Blossom expo