Blind Austin triathlete Patricia Walsh is headed to Paralympic Games in Rio

Austin triathlete Patricia Walsh, who is blind, will compete at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in September. Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez/American-Statesman
Austin triathlete Patricia Walsh, who is blind, will compete at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in September. Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez/American-Statesman

It’s official. Austin athlete Patricia Walsh is heading to Rio de Janeiro for the Paralympic Games.

USA Triathlon today named eight athletes who will represent the United States in triathlon’s debut at the games this summer.

Besides Walsh, who is blind, will compete in the PT5 category for athletes who are visually impaired. She’ll race alongside a guide, who will help her navigate a course she cannot see. (She’s written a book, titled “Blind Ambition.”)

Walsh finished third overall and was the top American at the Rio de Janeiro ITU World Paratriathlon Event last August. She has won seven career gold medals and finished third in the ITU Paratriathlon World Championships in 2011 and 2012. She has also been the USA Paratriathlon National Champion every year since 2011.

Patricia Walsh, second from bottom, swims at the Lost Creek Country Club pool in Austin in this May 2012 file photo. Rodolfo Gonzalez/American-Statesman
Patricia Walsh, second from bottom, swims at the Lost Creek Country Club pool in Austin in this May 2012 file photo. Rodolfo Gonzalez/American-Statesman

Other athletes named to the team are Krige Schabort of Rome, Ga.; Hailey Danisewicz of Chicago;

Allysa Seely of Glendale, Ariz.; Mark Barr of Houston; Grace Norman of Jamestown, Ohio; Chris Hammer of Salt Lake City, Utah; and Elizabeth Baker of Signal Mountain, Tenn.

“We know we have some medal contenders in this group and are looking forward to watching these eight athletes make history in Rio,” USA Paratriathlon Program Senior Manager Amanda Duke Boulet said in a press release.

The triathlon events are scheduled for Sept. 10-11 at Copacabana Beach.

The eight U.S. quota spots were awarded based on international rankings of U.S. athletes from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016. The Paratriathlon Bipartite Commission will also invite additional individual athletes to join the U.S. Paralympic Triathlon Team.

For more information about the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic triathlon teams, go here.

I’m heading to Iowa for RAGBRAI

Cyclists wearing viking hats make their way to Hudson during RAGBRAI on Thursday, July 23, 2015.
Cyclists wearing viking hats make their way to Hudson during RAGBRAI on Thursday, July 23, 2015. Photo courtesy The Des Moines Register.

 

Next month, I’ll be slogging my way across Iowa atop a bicycle, pausing (I hope) for pork chops and apple fritters or whatever the kind folks there cook to keep cyclists pedaling.

Organizers bill the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, or RAGBRAI, as the oldest, largest and longest multi-day recreational bicycle touring event in the world. More than 10,000 cyclists will participate, riding between 50 to 75 miles each day, with the option of riding a full century one day.

Austin cyclist Ian Dille included it in “The Cyclist’s Bucket List,” his guide to 75 of the best cycling experiences on the planet.

Riders work up a hill on their way out of New Hartford on the way to Cedar Falls during RAGBRAI on Wednesday, July 22, 2015. Photo courtesy The Des Moines Register
Riders work up a hill on their way out of New Hartford on the way to Cedar Falls during RAGBRAI on Wednesday, July 22, 2015. Photo courtesy The Des Moines Register

From what I hear, it’s more party than athletic event, although I do have to propel myself up 18,488 feet of elevation gain and cover 419.9 miles during seven days of riding.

The route changes each year. This year’s path cuts across the hillier southern part of the state. (Oh no!) We’ll start July 23 in Glenwood, home of Alice Cooper (the sculptor, not the shock rocker), and end in Muscatine, nicknamed “The Pearl of the Mississippi.”

Riders stop in Newell as RAGBRAI heads toward Fort Dodge Monday, July 20, 2015. Photo courtesy The Des Moines Register
Riders stop in Newell as RAGBRAI heads toward Fort Dodge Monday, July 20, 2015. Photo courtesy The Des Moines Register

Two feature writers at the Des Moines Register, John Karras and Donal Kaul, started the ride in 1973. They loved to cycle, and decided to ride across the state and write about it. The newspaper’s editor suggested they invite the public to join them, and 300 people did. (Well, 300 started; 114 finished.)

The ride has grown into a huge rolling party. So many people want to join the fun that a random lottery is held to select participants. The cyclists camp or stay in gyms, hotels, churches, schools and homes along the way.

Riders roll through Parkersburg during RAGBRAI on Wednesday, July 22, 2015. Photo courtesy The Des Moines Register
Riders roll through Parkersburg during RAGBRAI on Wednesday, July 22, 2015. Photo courtesy The Des Moines Register

We’ll be stopping in towns that range in population from 5,000 to 25,000 residents. On this year’s list? Shenandoah, Creston, Leon, Centerville (home of the “World’s Largest Town Square,” Ottumwa, (hometown of Radar, the fictional character on the TV series MASH), Washington and Muscatine.

I’ll be tagging along with a small group of Austin cyclists organized by Velo Views Bike Tours. I’ve ridden with them before. A few years ago, I joined a Velo Views ride in Colorado, where we pedaled up Mount Evans, across Vail Pass and into some lovely ski towns.

Who’s done RAGBRAI? What’s the most important thing to know before I go?

Riders enter Webster City as RAGBRAI heads to Eldora Tuesday, July 21, 2015. Photo courtesy The Des Moines Register
Riders enter Webster City as RAGBRAI heads to Eldora Tuesday, July 21, 2015. Photo courtesy The Des Moines Register

Andrew Willis talks about last week’s Race Across the West

MonumentValley
Andrew Willis pedals through Monument Valley during the Race Across the West. Photo by Sam Frost.

About this time last week, Andrew Willis was pedaling his way up a mountain, grimacing because it felt like someone was rolling his foot in crushed glass with every stroke.

The pain, a byproduct of a gout flareup, forced him into a 12-hour break in the middle of the 930-mile Race Across the West. But Willis eventually got back in the saddle, finished the ride and returned to Austin, where today he’s soaking in the afterglow of his accomplishment. (He’s also still sorting through mounds of laundry, but that’s another story.)

Andrew Willis rides through the desert with ice packs tucked into zippered pockets on his jersey. Photo by Sam Frost
Andrew Willis rides through the desert with ice packs tucked into zippered pockets on his jersey. Photo by Sam Frost

Willis, 39, rode his bicycle from Oceanside, California, to Durango, Colorado in three and a half days. An early favorite to contend for the win, he managed an eighth place finish. Still, that finish ranks as a pretty epic accomplishment, considering he spent more than 20 hours off the bike along the way.

Willis has coped with gout, the crystallization of uric acid in body tissue, for eight years, experiencing painful episodes every 16 months or so. He tried to control the condition through diet and by cutting out alcohol, but the morning the race started, he felt the start of a flareup.

Three hundred and fifty miles in, every pedal stroke hurt.

Andrew Willis' crew helped him complete the Race Across the West. Left to Right: Lisa Anderson (Odessa), Larry Eads (Odessa), Me, Sam Frost (Austin), Scott Anderson (Odessa), Joni Tooke (Del Rio), Tice Porterfield (Bertram). Photo by Shane Traughber
Andrew Willis’ crew helped him complete the Race Across the West. Left to Right: Lisa Anderson (Odessa), Larry Eads (Odessa), Andrew Willis, Sam Frost (Austin), Scott Anderson (Odessa), Joni Tooke (Del Rio), Tice Porterfield (Bertram). Photo by Shane Traughber

“It was the most excruciating pain, and I could see my shoe bulging (from inflammation),” Willis said this week, back home in Austin. “We considered cutting my shoe to relieve the pressure. Going up the mountain for a couple hours, I would ride 500 feet and have to get off, thinking I needed to throw up from the pain.”

At one point, in the dead of night with a 20-mile winding descent ahead, they pulled off the course and Willis slept it off in a hotel room.

The next morning he was unsure if he wanted to continue, until a crew member who’d experienced gout convinced him to try again. “He said the taste it would leave in my mouth by getting in the van and not trying would be a lot worse than if I just got on the bike and tried to ride a mile,” Willis said.

Willis consulted with his doctor to make sure he wouldn’t risk permanent damage by riding. The doctor assured him he wouldn’t, so he pedaled on.

Andrew Willis rides as the sun rises near Tuba City. Photo by Sam Frost
Andrew Willis rides as the sun rises near Tuba City. Photo by Sam Frost

“It was a really depressing sensation going back out and getting on the bike knowing I still had 456 miles to go, thinking all I’m doing is driving out here to fail,” he said. “I felt horrible.”

But after a tough 10 or 12 hours of plodding along, things began to improve. Willis paused in Flagstaff to eat pizza and ice cream in the support van, and to pick up some gout medication prescribed by his doctor and treat his worsening saddle sores. Then he got back on the bike and kept going.

“I rode through the night, then the sun came up. Something about riding when sun comes up and you’ve been riding all night is really empowering,” he said. “Something that next day really clicked.”

For the first time, he was facing a new challenge – racing to make the race cut-off time. Suddenly it wasn’t about winning, it was about finishing, and Willis calls that one of the best things that happened.

He rode the last 300 miles better than the first 300. “Faster, stronger,” he said. “I had to. We didn’t have much time left on the clock, and I found a level of motivation to get to Durango I didn’t even know I had, this extra gear.”

Willis started the California-to-Colorado race at about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 14. He crossed under the finish arch in Durango at 1:30 a.m. Saturday, June 18.

The ride took him from the ocean, through barren desert and rocky expanses, into sand dunes and then pine trees and mountains and streams.

“One of coolest parts was climbing out of Mexican Hat, Utah,” Willis said. “It was 115 degrees and so sizzling hot, and you come up over the top and in the distance you see snow-capped peaks. It’s so enticing, knowing that’s waiting for you.”

Sarah Cooper, a mother of four, won the open division of the grueling race. Despite his delays, Willis passed five people on his way into Durango.

Andrew Willis at the finish of the Race Across the West. Photo courtesy Andrew Willis
Andrew Willis at the finish of the Race Across the West. Photo courtesy Andrew Willis

“Aside from starting a family with Holly, this was by far the most amazing experience of my life and I learned so much,” he said afterward. “While I was out there after the setback, I just couldn’t help but keep thinking about how lucky I was to be out there and what an amazing experience this was. Maybe that’s an age thing, I don’t know, but I do know that my younger self would have been stuck on, ‘Why the gout’ and ‘Why me’ and ‘Why now.’”

Now that he’s back, Willis is already thinking about the next time. He wants to try Ride Across the West again, to see how he can do when it’s just about his fitness and not about a badly timed gout flareup.

“There’s a lineup of races in the fall and I’m just trying to hold myself back from getting on the bike too quick,” he said. “I love this sport, and I know it seems insane and all, but it motivates me and that rolls over into other areas of my life.”

This year’s Race Across the West marks Willis’ second attempt at the grueling endurance event. Last year he dropped out after 130 miles, overcome by the heat and dehydration.

Willis is president of Holland Racing, which puts on the weekly Thursday night races at The Driveway in Austin.

Watch a sleep-deprived Andrew Willis talk about his ride here.

 

Colorado River Ramble set for Saturday

The Colorado River Ramble takes place this weekend on Lady Bird Lake. Photo courtesy The Expedition School
The Colorado River Ramble takes place this weekend on Lady Bird Lake. Photo courtesy The Expedition School

 

Gliding down a river or creek on a standup paddleboard or kayak feels a little like walking on water. The green-blue water glints beneath you, the sun exhales hot breath on your shoulders, and a respite from the heat lies just a toe dangle away.

Need a little close encounter with the river this weekend? Head to The Expedition School for the annual Colorado River Ramble SUP, Canoe and Kayak Race.

The event, designed to help Austin residents enjoy and learn more about river recreation opportunities, includes a kids 1K race, a 1K Battle of the Paddle sprint race and a 1.5-mile Family Fun race, plus 5K and 10K races for more serious paddlers.

The event is scheduled for 4-10 p.m. Saturday in the lagoon in Fiesta Gardens, 34 Robert Martinez Drive. Parking is available onsite in the parking lot near the baseball fields and along the street.

Registration is open through Friday night for timed races and awards. If you don’t care about that, you can still enter the day of the event. Packet pickup is from noon to 7 p.m. Friday at The Expedition School.

The Kids 1K starts at 5 p.m., followed by the 10K at 7 p.m., the 5K at 7:30 p.m. and the 1.5 mile Family Fun Paddle at 7:20 p.m. Live music, awards and a luau begin at 9 p.m. Paddlers of all ability levels are welcome.

No vessel to paddle? No problem. The Expedition School rents standup paddleboards, canoes and kayaks, plus paddles and life jackets. The Expedition School, under the direction of Kimery Duda, is located at 2100 Jesse E. Segovia Street.

For more information go here.

Lance Armstrong launches new podcast

Lance Armstrong and girlfriend Anna Hansen pose on the red carpet at the Mack, Jack & McConaughey Gala held at ACL Live on April 14, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman
Lance Armstrong and girlfriend Anna Hansen pose on the red carpet at the Mack, Jack & McConaughey Gala held at ACL Live on April 14, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

 

This time, former professional cyclist Lance Armstrong gets to ask the questions.

Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner who was stripped of his victories in 2012 after a doping scandal, launched a new podcast today.

The first episode of “The Forward Podcast with Lance Armstrong” features an interview with Tim League, founder and CEO of the Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse chain of movie theaters.

Armstrong and League talk movies, current events and riding bikes across the Rocky Mountains in the episode, which was taped last week in Colorado.

Check out the debut podcast at http://lancearmstrong.com/podcast.

Armstrong says he’ll interview a variety of people, including athletes, business types and musicians, in the weekly show.

To subscribe on iTunes, go to iTunes.

To download the show as an MP3, go to MP3.

To subscribe to the RSS Feed, go to RSS.

No word yet if he’ll talk about the 2016 Tour de France, set for July 2-24.

 

Andrew Willis now just 200 miles from finish of Race Across the West

Andrew Willis downs a slice of pizza during a quick break early this morning during the Race Across the West. Photo courtesy Andrew Willis/Joni Tooke/Sam Frost
Andrew Willis downs a slice of pizza during a quick break early this morning during the Race Across the West. Photo courtesy Andrew Willis/Joni Tooke/Sam Frost

 

After pedaling through the night last night, Austin cyclist Andrew Willis is now about 200 miles from the finish line of the grueling Race Across the West.

Willis started the California-to-Colorado race at about 12:30 on Tuesday. About 500 miles into the 900-plus-mile adventure, he stopped because of severe foot pain caused by gout. After taking a 9-hour break Wednesday night, he returned to the race and has been riding strong ever since, according to crew chief Joni Tooke.

“That long sleep break rejuvenated him,” Tooke said. “Once he got back on the bike and had some tailwinds and downhill cruising, he’s been fine. He’s being himself.”

At 11:10 a.m. this morning, he’d just passed Tuba City, Arizona, and was headed toward Kayenta.

Andrew Willis is now about 200 miles from the finish of the Race Across the West. Andrew Willis/Joni Tooke/Sam Frost
Andrew Willis is now about 200 miles from the finish of the Race Across the West. Andrew Willis/Joni Tooke/Sam Frost

 

“He’s looking good,” Tooke said. “You can tell the boy can smell the barn. He’s focused and he’s taking us in.”

Crews are treating his foot and saddle sores with topical medication. Since returning to the race, Willis has paused only for pizza and ice cream, and to update his social media account.

Early this morning he posted this update: “Wanted to quit so bad last night. So glad I didn’t. We modified my shoe for the gout pain. We changed my saddle position to help my sitting area. Took me 10 hours, with some stops, to go 137 miles with over 10,000 feet of climbing to Flagstaff where pizza and medicine for my foot were waiting for me. From extreme heat and barren deserts to mountains and pine trees. Turned out to be a great day, and now I know I can ride through gout!”

Andrew Willis getting back on bike, hoping to finish Race Across the West

Andrew Willis, who took a break from Race Across the West last night, is getting back on his bike. Photo courtesy Andrew Willis
Andrew Willis, who took a break from Race Across the West last night, is getting back on his bike. Photo courtesy Andrew Willis

 

Nine hours after he dismounted because of severe foot pain, Andrew Willis is getting back on his bicycle in an attempt to finish the Race Across the West.

“I’m going to get back out there and try,” he said at 11 a.m. Texas time today. “Obviously being in contention for the win is out window. Now the goal is to carry on and see if we can make Durango and finish.”

This year’s race marks Willis’ second attempt at the grueling endurance event. The route, which starts in Oceanside, California, and finishes in Durango, Colorado, spans more than 900 miles.

Willis decided to get off the bike and take a break at about 2 a.m. Texas time, about 500 miles into the race. He slept at a hotel room in Palo Verde, Arizona.

“We were at top of a mountain pass and had a 20-mile twisty windy descent in the dark,” he said. “You need to be able to focus 100 percent on descending and not on how much your foot is hurting. I was out of it – not just the gout, but to relieve the pressure on my foot I was sitting on the saddle funny. I tore up my knee and sitting area.”

Willis, president of Holland Racing, which puts on the weekly Thursday night races at The Driveway, suffers from gout, a form of inflammatory arthritis. Last night, the ball of his foot became inflamed and swelled to the size of a tennis ball. To alleviate pressure on his foot, he adjusted his position on the bike seat, which made his knee and rear end hurt.

“We were considering cutting my bike shoes open last night to make my foot fit,” he said.

The swelling in his foot has diminished this morning, but it’s still inflamed. He called a physician, who advised him not to take Ibuprofen, because it restricts kidney function.

“Outside of that, it’s just pain,” Willis said. “I’ll apply cream to various parts of me.”

At 11 a.m. his support crew was loading up his bike to take Willis back to the point where he dismounted last night.

Willis was leading his solo male rider division when he stopped.

“It’s not a question of having the fitness, and I’ve worked hard to get here. I’ve got great sponsors and supporters … I was hoping to bring home victory.”

Willis is off the bike, ‘re-evaluating’ whether he’ll continue Race Across the West

Andrew Willis, shown here about 150 miles into the Race Across the West, had to get off the bike last night due to foot pain. Photo by Sam Frost
Andrew Willis, shown here about 150 miles into the Race Across the West, had to get off the bike last night due to foot pain. Photo by Sam Frost

 

Andrew Willis is off his bicycle and “re-evaluating” whether or not he will continue his attempt to finish the Race Across the West.

Willis, president of Holland Racing and creator of The Driveway Race Series, started the 900-plus-mile race Tuesday in Oceanside, California. Last night, about 500 miles into the ride, he had to get off his bike because of foot pain.

At about 1:30 a.m. Texas time, his wife Holly Ammerman posted this:

So, Andrew Willis had to take a break from the race 😦 He occasionally suffers from gout in his left foot. It’s really painful. When it’s at its worst he can’t even have the sheets or a blanket on his foot in bed, it’s that sensitive. He hadn’t had an episode in over 6 months, but for whatever reason it chose to flare up at RAW. Currently his left foot is super swollen and barely fits in his shoe. Every pedal stroke was agonizing. His crew and he have marked the course and called it into the race refs and are driving into the nearest town to get a hotel room and sleep and consider options in the morning.”

At about 10 a.m. today, Willis posted this update:

“Major bummer and not how I wanted race to go but these things happen. I had to sit and pedal funny the last 10 hours or so to relieve some of the pain in my foot and its torn up my knee and “sitting” area. I was in so much pain all I could focus on was the pain and we had a winding 20 mile descent coming up in the dark. Just wasn’t safe. We decided to find a hotel and sleep. Reevaluate this morning.”

No word yet on if he’ll continue.

Andrew Willis riding strong nearly 400 miles into Race Across the West

Andrew Willis pedals toward Congress, Arizona, in this photo taken this morning by crew member Sam Frost.
Andrew Willis pedals toward Congress, Arizona, in this photo taken this morning by crew member Sam Frost.

With nearly 400 miles under his Lycra shorts, Austin cyclist Andrew Willis has already charged well past the point he dropped out of last year’s 900-plus-mile Race Across the West because of overheating and dehydration.

Willis began his second attempt to ride from Oceanside, California, to Durango, Colorado, in the grueling race at 12:37 p.m. Tuesday. At 11 a.m. today he’d covered 389 miles.

That lump on Andrew Willis' back is a bag of ice tucked into a pocket sewn into his jersey. Photo by crew chief Joni Tooke.
That lump on Andrew Willis’ back is a bag of ice tucked into a pocket sewn into his jersey. Photo by crew chief Joni Tooke.

You can track him live here. http://raceacrossthewest.org/live-tracking.html. He’s race number R101.

“He’s doing really well,” said support crew member Sam Frost, speaking by phone from the road near Congress, Arizona, just outside of Phoenix. “He’s staying very well hydrated and his nutrition is doing quite well. Everything at this point is going according to his plan. He did really well through the heat in the desert.”

Last year Willis scratched about 130 miles in, at Westmorland, Calif. This year, cooled by a jersey his wife Holly Ammerman modified to include pockets where he could stash baggies of ice. The custom jersey beats his earlier solution – stuffing ice into an XL sports bra from WalMart.

In this photo taken Tuesday, Andrew Willis gives the thumbs up time as he pedals across California. Photo by Joni Tooke.
In this photo taken Tuesday, Andrew Willis gives the thumbs up time as he pedals across California. Photo by Joni Tooke.

“We commemorated the moment briefly,” Frost said of Westmorland. “We nodded and had a moment of silence.”

Today Willis will face more rolling and hot terrain, including a 100-mile section loaded with 10,000 feet of climbing. He’ll also get off the bike for the first time tonight to catch an hour or so of precious sleep.

Willis’ spirits are good so far, said Frost, who used his tablet to show the cyclist photos of his Austin supporters as he pedaled across the desert.

“He’s trucking right along,” Frost said.

Willis is competing in the solo open division of RAW. So far he’s in second place, behind Sara Cooper, a female ultra gravel racer from Iowa. According to online data, Willis’ average speed is 18.6 miles per hour.

“He’s doing his thing, he’s in the zone, I think he’s going to kill it,” Ammerman said. “I think we’ve come a long way.”

Reminder amid rash of deaths on Barton Creek: Drowning is silent

Patty Wilson surveys the water at Gus Fruh park on the Barton Creek Greenbelt on May 26, 2016.   LAURA SKELDING / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Patty Wilson surveys the water at Gus Fruh park on the Barton Creek Greenbelt on May 26, 2016. LAURA SKELDING / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

Three people have drowned on the Barton Creek Greenbelt in the last few weeks. That’s three too many.

One was a lifeguard for the city of Austin, which proves that even strong swimmers aren’t immune to the perils of rushing water.

The rash of deaths spurred a conversation earlier this week.

Why so many drownings now? Is it because we’ve been lulled into complacency by years of drought? We expect placid creeks, where we can perch on rocks while lazy fingers of water curl around us, when in fact the water is swirling with force enough to drag us under?

Or is it a result of our booming population? So many more people are taking a dip in our favorite swimming holes that the percentage of folks who get in trouble is on the rise?

Regardless, it’s a problem – and a reminder that you may not recognize the signs that someone is drowning. Drowning’s not noisy and splashy, it’s silent.

Read my article from a few years ago about what drowning looks like here.

And condolences to the families and friends of the three people who lost their lives on the Greenbelt recently:

  • Hansel Rene Hernandez-Garay, a 15-year-old male from Houston, went missing while swimming in a stretch of the creek near Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360) on Saturday. He was found dead the same day.