Craig Vogtsberger, avid paratriathlete, is at it again. Moving forward, pushing himself, and fighting through the pain to achieve his goals!
Craig Vogtsberger Race Recap:
2015 Monterrey CAMTRI Triathlon American Championships
My first race of the season was a little nerve racking. I had to travel to Mexico and anytime I travel out of the country I struggle. I worry about getting sick. I worry about needing medical care. I worry about having my worst days because of my disabilities. I worry about being so far from home.
I pack and try to cover every imaginable scenario, but I know I can’t think of them all. This time I purchased travel insurance and travel medical coverage before I left. I try to think of everything, but it’s not possible having a multitude of injuries and disabilities, including a closed head injury, incomplete spinal cord injury, autonomic insufficiency, and partial paralysis of three limbs.
The trip from home to Mexico ended up being uneventful and smooth. But once I arrived the adventure started. I can speak a few words of Spanish, only enough to get to the bathroom and get some water. Arranging transportation to the hotel would have been a challenge, but luckily, I ended up being on a plane with another Paratriathlete that speaks Spanish and our transportation to the hotel was arranged through him.
My extensive allergies and immune system issues makes eating out dangerous, so foreign travel results in me cooking and eating camping food in my hotel room. Cooking consists of plug in coils that heat the water and bags of dried camping food. This was even more difficult in Mexico because safe water is difficult to find. I had read the safety warning before leaving the states: only drink bottled water. So, everyday the most important task was buying bottled water to drink and to cook with.
Everyone has their own challenges in the off season and I wasn’t any different. I was in the hospital at the beginning of April with pneumonia and 103 degree temperature. I also, ran into the wall with my pinkie toe on my good foot and it was still swollen and black and blue. My recovery had gone well, but I was not 100% on race day, May 1st.
I followed my usual race preparation. I try and relax for the few days leading up to the race. Hydration and nutrition are key, especially when traveling. I watched and listened to my body, moved and trained when needed, ate when hungry, and napped when tired.
Despite the water, food and health issues, the race venue was one of the nicest I’ve been to and was fun to race on. The swim was in a partially elevated “river.” The bike was on a closed road, in a really nice park. The run followed the river and went through the park.
The hardest part of racing is being away from my family. I always miss them and wish they were with me. My boys, Eli and Gabe, had school and sports. Luckily, the race was on a Friday and I only had to miss two practices and would make it back for their games on the weekend.
Race morning came and we all lined up for the check in and equipment inspection. ITU races require race numbers on all of our equipment: helmet, bag, bike, and some of our assistance devices. I always get to races early on race day. It helps my nerves. It helps me to relax. I was about 6th in line for check in and once they opened it, it went quickly. I was to my bike rack and set up in no time. Then the wait started.
The problem with getting to the race site so early is the long wait for the race to start. Sometimes transitions open up 2 hours before the race starts and I’m one of the first ones setting up. I think I became comfortable with the early arrival, because of a couple races where I either forgot something in the car and didn’t have enough time to go back and/or couldn’t get a good space on the transition racks to lay out all my triathlon equipment and braces.
Finally the race began and I waited patiently in the shade for my wave to start. Although I felt calm, my heart rate seemed a little high. I worried a little because in past races an elevated heart rate, while resting before a race, meant that my autonomic nervous system wasn’t working efficiently. In the past, this high heart rate has had really bad effects during race on my body. I hoped that it would work itself out during the race and I’d be fine. I watched each wave before mine head out in the elevated river and disappear around the corner. They announced each of our names as we lined up at the start line. They gave us a 30 sec warning and then the gun sounded.
The river is about 10 yards wide, 5 feet deep, with a walkway on each side and a swim line down the middle. One of my competitors took a quick lead and I could just see him ahead of me. When I turned my head to breath, I could see a coach from another country running alongside the river yelling and motioning to someone behind me. I focused on my breathing and stroke and tried to get into a good rhythm. My heart rate and breathing struggled all through the swim, no matter if I swam fast or slowed a little. It was uncomfortable, but I made it through without any major problems.
I exited the swim in 4th place and made my way down to transition on the wet slippery pavement. Transition seemed to take a little longer than usual and my time afterward was a minute too long. Once I got my shoes and helmet on, I ran my bike to the mount line and headed out on the course. It was a 6 lap course and I was really worried about miscounting. The course had a lot of “S” curves and turns, so it ended up being a lot of sprinting, cornering and losing speed, then sprinting again. I followed one of the racers, not in my category, around the course for several laps. We biked very similarly, so the distance between us rarely changed. It was nice to have someone ahead of me that I could monitor my effort, which left me the ability to really watch my heart rate and breathing.
I felt pretty good on the bike, but several times my heart rate increased and I started having trouble breathing. This happened randomly, sometimes when I would pick up speed, other times when I was just holding a pace. It is always a struggle when my heart and lungs are not functioning, but I push through it and continue on. I passed 3 of the athletes in my category, but knew they would probably pass me on the run. The run is where my nervous system and body struggle the most, even on my good days.
The transition to the run went faster than swim to bike. I felt good on the 1st ½ mile, then my body started breaking down. I could feel the heat and strain on my body. I moved as fast as I could without struggling to breathe, but the pain in my body increased greatly. It is a big mind game at this point, because everything in my body and mind are telling me to stop, walk, slow down, and quit. I fight it. I know how nice it would be to stop, to rest, to not push so hard, but I fight it. The pain form my spine injury on a good day is a 7.5, but on days like these when everything is breaking down and I’ve pushed through so much pain trying to breath and move, the pain is beyond a 10.
When I get to this point in races, the point of quitting because of pain and my body struggling, I know if I just keep moving forward I can finish. If I keep going, maybe I can keep some of the lead I gained on the bike. My hope was to at least hold onto 3rd place, but the athletes I passed on the bike, passed me on the run, plus one other. I finished 5th.
I couldn’t hold my lead for third in this race and that was ok. I struggled with traveling and I made it through. I stressed about my heart rate and breathing, which did affect me, but I pushed through it. The extreme pain always comes at some point, but I push through it. Getting through each day is a struggle for me with all my disabilities and problems, so racing in an international race and finishing is quite an accomplishment.
I am proud of my finish. Proud to be back home with my wife, Brittany, and my boys. Proud that I didn’t quit. Proud that I continue to move forward in life and sport, despite all my challenges and all those that never thought I could do it. So, thank you to all those that supported me and encouraged me during my worst times and all those that stuck with me to my best times. Thank you for your support Team R4V!