Project Athena Foundation | What will you do in 2015?

Happy New Year everyone!  Today I wanted to write a post about an organization that is very near and dear to my heart. This organization is Project Athena Foundation. Seeing as it is the beginning of a new year and we are all trying to think about what goals we want to set for ourselves (I’m still brainstorming!), I thought I would share a huge goal that I reached last year with the help of Project Athena. This accomplishment changed the way I looked at what is possible with the IDEO and it is my hope to inspire you to set a fitness goal for yourself this year in 2015! You never know what is possible until you try 🙂

After receiving my IDEO in November 2013 – I couldn’t wait to set a goal for myself. Literally the week after I got my IDEO, I went out and ran a 5K… Looking back I probably should have taken time to train for it, but I just couldn’t contain myself! Close to four years of not being able to walk 100 yds without pain – all I wanted to do was run again! I’m sure many of you can relate. Over the next couple months, I started getting myself back into shape with a local bootcamp called Camp Gladiator – which focused on core work, calisthenics, agility, and body weight exercises – all of which really helped to rebuild my balance and conditioning again (Jared would be proud!). However, I felt like something was missing. I needed a breakthrough – some type of challenging race to prove to myself that I was no longer a victim of an injury that plagued me for so long, but an athlete again. One day my parents were in town visiting and as they left, I remember my dad turning off the TV. Not giving it a second thought, a few days later, I turned on the TV again and it was tuned to CNN (which I don’t often watch.) The show that was on was called “CNN Heroes”. I was intrigued by the story of a girl with a prosthetic leg, kayaking, biking, and running across the Florida Keys. As I watched further, I learned about the incredible woman behind the foundation whose mission with Project Athena Foundation is to inspire women (like this girl) who have overcome medical setbacks (like herself) to achieve an amazing athletic dream of a lifetime and see themselves as athletes again. This amazing woman is Robin Benincasa and little did I know she would change my life. As the program came to a close, words flashed across the screen on how to apply to be a recipient of a PAF grant and put your medical setback behind you with an athletic dream of a lifetime. I was so excited about it that I ended up applying that same day. {See a theme? :)}

receiving IDEO test device | 1 year later

Fast forward a few months to June, I was in Yosemite National Park for a friend’s wedding hiking over 25 miles in the park – AMAZING. First big hiking trip with my IDEO and it felt great. I didn’t have my phone on for much of the trip, but one morning I turned it on and received a call from a CA number. It was Project Athena… calling me to tell me that they had chosen me as a grant recipient for the 120 mile Florida Keys Adventure in November! A bike + kayak + run event of 120 miles from Key Largo to Key West! I was beyond excited – I think I even cried I was so happy! I received my training plan in July and hit the ground running. (I literally fell off my bike the first day and hit the ground haha) My training plans consisted of 5 days/week of biking + running + kayaking – in combination with strength training. I mostly did my long bike rides on the weekends with a local bike group, but during the week I put in a lot of hours as well. If you couldn’t find me at work, I was outside exercising! It took a lot of dedication to stick to the training plan but I found myself getting stronger as the weeks went by (Click here to read my lessons from training!). One of the funniest / scariest parts of my training was when I went on a 4 hour solo training adventure down the Trinity River… Up to that point I had only been training in a lake so I thought a river might bring a little more excitement to my life and boy was I right. Not more than 15 minutes into my trip, I hit a stump (yes, I was trying to take pictures…) and flipped my kayak. Water quickly filled in and I knew I had to do something to save it from going down! I looked to my left and right as water moccasins swam by and I watched as my Camelbak and paddle floated off down the river and my sack lunch and Raybans sunk to the bottom. I managed to flip the kayak upside down (with my uber IDEO strength) and floated on down the river with enough air somehow underneath the kayak to keep it afloat. I secured my paddle but couldn’t find anywhere to get out of the water- it was not like the pictures Google showed me of lush Texas land… it was more like the Amazon! Then I remembered what the Kayak rental people told me about watching out for alligator gar. I really didn’t think I would fall in on the trip and I wished I had paid more attention on what to do if I did… They had also mentioned that I would know the way to go by following the largest body of water… that was no easy task either! A little ways down, fighting off more water mocassins with my paddle, I found a place to dump out the water (most of what I could) and I got back in and kept going. I figured I had made it through the worst of it and the next three hours hopefully wouldn’t be as bad.. I came to a point where the water got really still. I noticed up ahead that the trees must have fallen down from the rainstorm a week ago. (Again, wondering why I didn’t think about this before coming on the trip!?) Seeing no way to get through, I did what I didn’t want to ever have to do again. Get back into the water. I got out of my kayak, climbed the tree debris, pulled the kayak over and pushed it back into the water… only to see it float away. A snake lined the tree next to me as I jumped in after my kayak trying to keep moving and not freak out. I had to do this a few more times down the river before I made it to a place where I could get out and have the rental people come for me. Thankfully a few hours later I made it without injury, however I did learn that another kayaker that day was not as lucky. Note to self: Never go kayaking on a river alone and always wear your life jacket. On a brighter note, at least after this trip I felt like I was definitely ready for the Florida everglades!!

what started off as a nice day on the Trinity River… ahh!

In the days leading up to the adventure race in Florida, I was both excited and nervous hoping that I was ready for what was to come. I boarded the plane for Florida and didn’t look back . Upon arriving in Key Largo, I was greeted by the wonderful PAF team and other adventurers and grant recipients. I could already feel the excitement in the group! We loaded in vans and headed to a campsite where we would be heading out from first thing in the morning. Each day the plan was to do a combination of kayaking + biking + running until we made it from Key Largo to Key West = 120 miles. We ended up having a lot of rain during the 3 days of the adventure but to me, it made it that much sweeter to cross the finish line knowing you didn’t give in despite the elements. The day to day details from the trip would probably take me a few pages to write… but what I want to get across is about how being able to kayak +bike + run 120 miles gave me back my vision of what is possible. It was the challenge I needed to remind myself that I am an athlete again. Crossing the finish line reminded me who I was. Though the injury took a lot away from me it didn’t take my spirit and because of the IDEO technology, the sky truly is the limit. I want to thank Project Athena & Robin Benincasa again for selecting me as a grant recipient this past year. Not only did I meet such incredible, caring people (every person really was amazing and inspiring), but along the journey I found within myself the person I knew I once was and could be again. Before I had the IDEO device, I was told many times and reminded daily by my pain that I might just have to accept never running or being active again, but I never let myself believe that and Project Athena through their generosity and support helped me see that I was not just going to be a survivor, but an ATHLETE again.

My friends & fellow Project Athena grant recipients

One year ago, an adventure like this didn’t seem fathomable and now I feel like there is no limit to what is possible 🙂

BRING ON 2015. May this be a year of new beginnings and adventures in your IDEO and may you find within you the person you know you can be again.

 

Sporting Hanger Clinic along the 120 journey
PS – Definitely check out the Project Athena website and look at their adventures for the upcoming year! I definitely recommend applying if you are interested!

Best wishes!

🙂
simply amazing

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