At a young age, it was very clear that I wanted to be one of the greatest athletes of all time. As I watched professional sports games and the Olympics, I would often envision myself standing in front of all those people scoring the winning touchdown or crossing the finish line in first place. No matter what sport it was, I could see myself being the best at it. I could hear the "Star Spangled Banner" being played in the distance as the greatest flag of all time was raised and I stood there in the number one spot. Now, I just needed to find the sport that would get me there.
Since the age of 5, I have been in search of the sport that would lead me to the top. As a child I dabbled in swimming, fast pitch softball, volleyball, cross-country and track and field. But it was triathlon and mountain biking where I truly started to see that vision unfold. In the span of two years, I went from a novice racer in mountain biking to possessing my very first pro license. A month later, I earned the same status in triathlon.
These may seem like two very different sports. One is on the road and involves swimming, biking and running, while the other is off-road biking. I didn't quite understand it myself. I just knew that I loved racing both of these. It was then that I discovered Xterra, an off-road triathlon. I was hooked.
How could I, a 2004 Xterra World Champion and super health nut, have cancer?!
It didn't take long for me to rise to the top. My third time racing was on a small island called Saipan where I was up against the reigning World Champion and a few other veterans. I crossed the finish line in first place, 11 minutes ahead of second place. At that moment as they placed a flower crown over my head, I knew that this was my sport.
Over the next seven years, I had epic battles with my biggest rival, a Canadian superstar. We constantly went back and forth with first and second place. I racked up more championship wins than any other male or female with 37 wins. I earned six U.S. titles, two European Tour titles and a World Championship. Life was great. I was just hitting my peak as one of the all time greatest Xterra racers. My goal was 50 titles, more World Championships, then shifting my focus for the Olympics in Mountain biking.
In 2008, that all changed. I was in the most excruciating pain. On a scale of 1 to10, I was at 20. I hadn't been able to run for three months. I could no longer bike. I couldn't even get through a night of sleep without waking up screaming in agony. I was growing delirious unable to stand the pain.
I went from hospital to hospital, doctor-to-doctor, diagnosis after diagnosis, but no one could figure out what was wrong with me. I was told I had sciatic nerve issues, a ruptured disc, ovarian cysts, over usage injury, and so on. It wasn't until a friend persuaded me to go to UCSF medical center that I finally got answers. They got my pain to drop to an 8 and after more poking and prodding, they discovered part of the problem. It was the farthest thing from my mind.
Two doctors came into my room one morning. One introduced himself as a chemotherapy doctor; the other was a radiation doctor. They proceeded to sit down and go over my options. "If you choose chemo ..." "If you choose radiation ..." For a brief moment, I couldn't figure out why they were in my room talking to me about this. And then it hit me like a brick wall. I tried to fight back the tears, but they came flooding out.
I sat there quietly with the flood gates open waiting for them to finish. I finally spoke up, "Do I have CANCER?" It was the hardest question I've ever asked not really wanting to know the answer. One doctor got up and left while the other sat there and nodded his head.
At 31 years old, I just found out I had cancer. How could I, a 2004 Xterra World Champion and super health nut, have cancer?!
I turned my head towards my dad, tears still pouring out of my eyes and repeating the words, "I don't want to die!"
Most of my friends and family believed I would have the Lance Armstrong story -- beat cancer and return to racing stronger than ever. I believed it. I hoped for it. That came crashing down the moment the doctor asked me to wiggle my toes and my left foot didn't move. Shortly after that, a physical therapist came in to help me learn to walk again. I simply couldn't wrap my brain around what was going on. I didn't understand that the doctors had to remove a section of my sciatic nerve because the grapefruit sized tumor was growing out of the nerve sheath.
Just as I was adjusting to life with a disability, I now had to readjust to the fact I was going to be a mom of twins.
No one told me my lower leg was paralyzed. I would never be able to run again. My pro career was over. The likelihood of getting back on anything more than a stationary bike was pretty slim. I couldn't even put weight on my foot.
Just when I was getting into the grove of walking a half mile a day, swimming 3000 yards and lifting weights before going to radiation, I was told the tumor was back and much more aggressive than they realized.
Another surgery, this time removing my entire left glute muscle. Then sepsis nearly killed me. If I had waited one more day to go to the hospital, I might not have lived to tell this story.
Now, I had drains coming out of everywhere. Antibiotics were being pumped into my body 24/7. My kidney could no longer drain properly, so I had a drain coming out of my back. Jpeg drains coming out of my leg. One set-back after another. I couldn't keep weight on. I was down to 98 pounds (my race weight was 115.)
Then things started looking up again. One by one the drains came out. I was back in the gym. My recent cancer scans were clear. Life was improving, and I was adjusting. In order to get the last drain out, I needed one more surgery to move my left kidney to my right pelvic area.
Everything seemed great. Three weeks post-surgery, I took a slight turn. Something wasn't right. I waited one more week before heading to the nearest hospital.
I feared the worst. I was terrified the cancer had returned. Maybe I was rejecting my own kidney, if that is even possible. What else could it be? Can I just catch one break?
That's what I was told after sitting in the ER for 13 hours. I looked at the doctor and said, "No way. You need to retest me." So she did and I was still pregnant.
I was hauled off to another room for an ultrasound to see if the pregnancy was viable after we realized I was pregnant during my third surgery. It is in this small, cold room while alone with this technician that I found out it was not only a viable pregnancy but that I was having TWINS!!
Just as I was adjusting to life with a disability, I now had to readjust to the fact I was going to be a mom of twins. They tried to come early. At 27 weeks I was hospitalized doing everything possible to keep them in the oven. I lasted until 34 and a half weeks. They spent the first two weeks of their life in the NICU. I don't really remember much of their first year of life. It was a lot of eating and sleeping, changing diapers and the occasional bath.
My dream of being the greatest athlete appeared to come to an end. But it really hadn't.
My dream of being the greatest athlete appeared to come to an end. But it really hadn't. This entre time I still dreamed of getting back on the bike. Because of the Co-Founder of The Challenged Athletes Foundation, Bob Babbit, I knew there was this thing called the Paralympics. I knew I could still race competitively as a bike racer against other athletes with physical disabilities. I just had to get back on the bike.
It took three years and a special brace made by Allard before I took my maiden voyage and started riding again. I haven't stopped since. I finished the Leadville 100, won six World Championships on the road and learned how to ride a track bike on a velodrome earning three more World Championships and setting two world records as a paracyclist. I also won an ESPY for best Female Athlete with a disability.
It is 2016, and the Road to Rio is getting closer and closer. The chance of being the greatest athlete in something is almost here. I can hear the National Anthem. I can see the American flag being raised.
Sometimes the road to our dreams can change, but it doesn't mean our dreams have to change!
To learn more about all Olympic hopefuls, visit teamusa.org. The Paralympics begin on Sept 7.
-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.
Source: Healthy Living Huffington Post