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...