World Team Champs 2022

Well what a trip this was!  First off, I fell and fractured a vertebrae in my lower back 6 days after qualifying to represent the USA at the World Team Champs in Muscat, Oman.  It was exactly 6 weeks before race day, and the fracture was expected to take 4-6 weeks to heal.  Then to make things more fun I got Covid the next week.  So after a couple weeks on the couch and then a couple weeks on the stationary bike my physical therapy team got me up and walking for a grand total of 200 km prior to race day.  The recovery was painful and challenging, but I knew that I was fighting for a chance to race for Team USA for the first time since 2019 Pam Am Games.  I had qualified for the World Team Champs in 2020 but they were later cancelled because of the pandemic, and I qualified for the Pan Am Cup in 2021 but USA Track and Field did not send a team again because of Covid.  So in a way I felt like this was my third time making this team, and I wanted to give it everything I had to be there to compete.  

Qualifying for 2022 World Team Champs
Photo Credit: Tom Stuart

The adventure to Oman started with some issues with obtaining our pre-travel Covid tests, they needed to arrive at the lab Saturday morning for processing but were shipped to arrive any time on Saturday, which ended up being about 3 hours too late for them to be processed.  So I was told that I was on my own to find a PCR test Saturday afternoon or Sunday that would be resulted for me to fly Monday morning.  That required lots of searching and phone calls and rearranging of my daughter’s birthday celebration, but I was able to find one last appointment available for testing in the Portland area that would get me results on time!  What a relief!  

The birthday girl getting ready to take out her candles

Once that was all taken care of I embarked on my trip to Oman!  After about 30 hours of traveling and a 12-hour time change, meeting up with various members of the team along the way, we all arrived into Muscat, the only thing that was missing was my luggage.  I filed a lost luggage claim and was told that my bag “wasn’t in the system”, no idea where it was and if/when it would arrive.  The next surprise was when we drove up the course on the way to the hotel.  It was on a hill that seemed to keep going up and up and up.  The bus had to shift into a lower gear and everyone’s eyes got a bit wide, I don’t think anyone had ever seen a race walk course quite like this.  Then, after recovering from that shock, we arrived at the hotel to find out that we didn’t actually have a reservation, so we spent our first few hours in Muscat in the hotel lobby while things were sorted out.  Finally at 2am my roommate and I got into a room with one bed to share between the two of us for the remainder of our 5 night stay in Oman.

Team arriving at the airport in Muscat

The next morning, after a delightful 3 hours of sleep, I called the baggage service in Oman to see if there were any updates on my bag.  There were not.  Some of my team staff arranged a ride for me to the store to pick up some essentials, I was so tired that I almost didn’t go, but they told me that I wouldn’t have another opportunity for transportation if I waited.  So they took me to a mall with a hypermarket where I was able to buy some toiletries and food (I pack a lot of my own food when I travel to race to eat things that my stomach is familiar with).  I was too tired to really think through what I needed and still managed to come back without deodorant (apologies to my roommate!) and I didn’t get any clothes in hopes that my suitcase would arrive soon and I could save some unnecessary expenses.  I think I regretted this decision in the next couple days, but at that point I was too exhausted to care.

I continued to call the baggage service about twice a day, each time without any information as to where my bag was.  (It wasn’t until the end of my stay that I realized that local calls from the hotel were not free and I was actually paying by the minute to talk with the baggage people, oh bother.)  I felt very out of place without my team gear, which is what all those gathered for the event from all the countries around the world were wearing. I definitely stuck out around the hotel, in the dining hall, and out at the training venue.  I was also really starting to worry about how I was going to race without all of my racing stuff.  Everything that I needed to do my pre-race routine and fuel myself before and during the race was in my suitcase and I was getting really shaken up about how I was going to manage.  I talked with my coach and he helped get my mind in a better place and made me a plan to get some help from my teammates to gather up some things that I needed.

We were headed out on a team tour of Muscat, and my roommate loaned me one of her shirts to wear so that I could match the rest of the team.  I can’t tell you how powerful that sense of belonging is, it felt so much better just to fit in with everyone else.  Then while we were on our tour I got a very unexpected message that my bag was in Muscat and they were going to deliver it that evening to my hotel!  Celebration!!  Only they actually took it to a different hotel on the other side of the city.  But eventually I got that sorted out and I had my luggage at last, just in time for my race!

Me and my luggage at the hotel, there were cheers from the hotel staff and the LOC team!!
Team on our tour of Muscat

I knew this race was going to be beyond difficult given that my preparations were far from ideal, I was still recovering from the fracture, and the weather conditions were expected to be sunny and hot, about 40-50 degrees hotter than what I had been training in at home.  Not to mention the hill, about 30 meters of elevation gain over a 600 meter stretch that I would get to traverse 18 times during my 35km race.  My coach called the night before, the plan was to survive and out-suffer anyone that I could.  He assured that I was strong and that I could suffer better than anyone, just take it one kilometer at a time.

Gear and drinks laid out and ready to race

The sun was just coming up as we got started, and the course seemed to get more challenging with each 2km loop.  The uphills just required increasing amounts of grit to get to the top, the downhills were increasingly painful given the biomechanics of race walking and need to maintain correct technique.  I spent the first 19km walking with one of my teammates, Michael Mannozzi, and it was so nice to work together for over half of the race.  We were using towels and ice to cool ourselves the best we could, and despite drinking every kilometer I still had a dry mouth and unabating thirst that meant I was falling significantly behind on hydration.  The last part was brutal, I tuned out most of what my body was trying to tell me and just focused on the fact that God was there with me each step of the way.  And through all the obstacles of the last few weeks, I made it to the finish, over 20 minutes slower than my 35km race that I had done 7 weeks prior.  26th place out of 29 finishers in the field of 34 women that started the race.  

Working it up the hill with Michael, one of our final loops together before we separated
Photo credit: Emmanuel Tardi

The trip home proved to be more eventful than the trip there, most of the team was not able to fly because of (yet again) issues with the timing of their pre-travel Covid testing.  I was able to board because of my positive Covid test from January and the help of a very gracious colleague who got me a letter at a moments notice stating that I was cleared to travel.  I made it as far as Seattle, where I missed my connecting flight into Portland and ended up staying the night before I could get rebooked onto another flight the next day.  Another night without my luggage, and having not learned from the first experience still didn’t pack what I needed for an overnight stay in my carry-on.  I actually thought about this very scenario as I was packing to come home, and my thought was, “I’m not going to loose my bag twice on one trip.”  Well, I proved that one wrong.

Michael and I in medical after the race

In the end, it was a difficult trip for a brutal race.  But I am glad that I went, glad that I fought through, and so overjoyed that I made it to the finish!  These little victories keep me going on the rough days.  And I learned some lessons along the way, like the importance of finding my identity in God and not in myself as an athlete or in any team that I am a part of.  There is so much peace when I can say that no matter what comes, I am a child of God.  And apparently I haven’t learned any lessons about packing yet, maybe for the next time!

At the top of the hill with only a few laps to go
Photo credit: Emmanuel Tardi

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    I raced in a lot of tough conditions in my 30 or so times in the USA vest between 1978 and 2014, but few more brutal than this. It’s appalling how athlete needs are disregarded by the site selection committees for championship events. Well done!

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