DNF is an acronym that means Did Not Finish.  For the purpose of this story it means what a friend of mine shared with me via text, “DO NOT FORGET”  His text to me read,”Do Not Forget, we sign up for these races for the “intel”. 

I signed up for the Oilmain Aquabike the day of registration opened, long before the Waco 70.3 rush. I put myself on a 3 year 70.3 plan because I am completing a 50 States Endurance Challenge which includes a half marathon or a marathon in all 50 states and I wanted to complete 70.3 Arizona, by the age of 50. Each year I was supposed focus on one sport. After training for my 1st Olympic I realized that for a 70.3 I have to give up all my racing to focus on that training, that just isn’t fun for me. I have an interest, but I’m not committed to that idea. I have to train extra hard because I don’t have one limiter. I am not good at any of the events. This Aquabike was a test to see what my baseline was. I needed to know if I could swim 1.2 miles in race conditions. When I signed up, I couldn’t find a team of people with disabilities or a team that would allow me to swim. What was I to do? Yep, sign up for an Aquabike. I trained to ride, but not as much as I swam. Each race I prepared for I focused on the swim hoping the following years to focus on the bike and then the run.  My three year 70.3 plan.

Needless to say I had an awesome triathlon season which included triathlons in Texas, Illinois, Arizona, Indiana and Wisconsin. I completed five sprint triathlons, my first Olympic Triathlon, two duathlons and participated in an Aquabike.  Believe it or not, I completed my 1st duathlon the day after my first triathlon of the season.


I’m a coaches nightmare!  I failed to mention I sprinkled in some B2B (2 consecutive) half marathons in two different states in the same weekend. I ran 2 marathons, 2-5ks and completed some organized bike rides.

I had a 1 mile personal record at my second duathlon. I ran my fastest race mile  in 9:50. I hopped a bike and the fizzled, 😂 that’s another story.   I qualified on my 1st Olympic distance for Life Time Triathlon Championships in New York in 2019, but that wasn’t half as exciting as how I finished the season. My season ended with a bang; a shot gun sounding bang! This past weekend was the best weekend I have had this year! I was in great company and the laughs never stopped.

WARNING: If I offend you it is not my intention, I apologize ahead of time. Blame it on my traumatic brain injury (TBI), or my mom for my lack of filter and never the alcohol!

Adessa and Me having a pre-race photo shoot

My teammate, Adessa accompanied me on this journey. She had one of the most fulfilling memorable days since her accident and I was there to witness it. That was PRICELESS in my book. Achilles International has a saying, “With hope there comes possibilities.” She definitely has hope.
I am a slow parathlete which means most athletes do not want to train we with me because I can’t keep up. Believeit or not I have had a few people say that, but it is quite alright. Those that don’t mind training with me live  about 1 to 1.5 hours away.  I have driven a 3 hours round trip to swim 45 minutes or to ride for 2-3 hours.  Adessa is the one person that will train with me as she finds her way back to herself. She is a combination of both beauty and the beast.

Pre-Race Photo Shoot at La Toretta Resort

One day in August she met me at the pool and we were doing a Build workout. As we swam I worked hard to keep up with her. She swears that I am faster than her (lies she tells). It was that day I decided to work on convincing her to do a 1.2 mile swim relay in November at the Oilman  70.3 2018. It took some weeks to convince her. I offered to pay for the race. She agreed to do the race if I found her a team. It took me 30 minutes to get a team willing to support her. She was worried she wouldn’t make it out the swim, but I had faith she would. In preparation for this she completed her 1st Triathlon as a para, unfortunately I was away racing and missed out on that awesome day. Words can not express how proud I am of her. It just makes me feel good to see her excel.

Oilman’s First Parathletes

Most look at her with the TBI and Spinal cord injury and only see the amputation. They don’t understand she was an athlete. She ate, slept and shit Ironman. {For the Record you are not an Ironman unless you complete 140.6 miles within the time constraints. If you DNF the swim, but they let you go on and you cross the finish and you hear them say, You are an Ironman!” Then later you find you DNF’d a portion of the race. You aren’t an Ironman.} My training partner is a 7 time Ironman finisher and followed USAT rules to the letter, but I digress.

Behind me is where we swam 

I guess I would be devastated had I not prepared myself mentally of the possibility of a DNF. Prior to the race, I wasn’t afraid of that consequence. I had done the math, I calculated my average speed needed to  complete the event and I calculated time for hiccups. I wanted to increase my speed on race day and I was prepared to do that on dry terrain. 

Days before, I looked at the weather and figured I would get a DNF because I wouldn’t attempt the bike. I don’t ride in the rain. Why? 

Reason 1. PTSD. Although I sustained multiple types of trauma in the military. I will focus on the part that is important for this story. If you know anything about my injuries you know it happened overseas in Germany and resulted in a SKID not a skud missile; we skid on black ice. Which means my part of PTSD is related to moving vehicles any and all types of movements that make me feel like I’m skidding and have lack of control of my body in space. I maintain my anxiety better than some on occasions, but when I wig out beware! I have had almost 19 years of practice. Therapy only helps so much. Prayer and faith carry you the rest of the way. To avoid scaring the hell out of people that look at me and think I’m normal.  I graciously decided to not attempt  the bike portion of the race.
Reason 2. Road bike tires are thin and I skid this past August and sliced my thigh open on a concrete wall and bruising  my rib. I am not trying to do that again.

Deeper than it looks and it took 3 months to heal

I Did Not Forget my limitations.  I Did Forget key factors. Pre-race plan is important when you have volunteers that have never dealt with you in a race environment or volunteers that have never worked with our seen a parathlete. I did not prepare for the cold (my muscles contract more in the cold) nor did I prepare for drops in my already low blood pressure.

RACE DAY
I woke that morning to lightning and rain. I was angry because I knew all week it would rain, everyone around me kept saying it wouldn’t rain. I was disappointed that I actually entertained them.

As spectators walked by I heard them say the race may delayed at the start because of the lightning, I began to get leary.  I couldn’t have that delay, I eat on a time schedule. The race was delayed about 3 to 4 minutes. Hahaha! Down hangry girl!

The Swim:

Pre-Swim Photo taken by a friend’s family member

It was a beach start. That sucks for me, no leg brace. I left my leg brace attached to my shoe placed it on the ground and hobbled down the beach to the water. I begin to swim, in the excitement I forget my goggles were on my head. The water temperature is 63 point something degrees, not to bad. I watch as Adessa swims past me; I put on my goggles and begin my swim again. I am the official last person to start swimming. I pass a couple of people vertical in the water. I notice Adessa keeps looking back at me. I’m like just swim, please! You are 10 minutes faster than me stop slowing down! She did that the whole race. I wished I could swim faster, but I couldn’t.  I felt cold as I swam, but I thought nothing of it. I made the right turn out of the resort area into the rest of Lake Conroe  and felt current, nothing extreme, but current moving against me. My thoughts were interrupted by someone smacking the crap out of my right arm, then smacking the my mid back. I just kept swimming. Praying that wouldn’t wake up the neuropathical pain in that arm. I cursed in my head and called them a SOB. I tried not to focus on that arm. As I’m sighting, I see a guy in a blue cap holding on to buoy. He starts to swim away as I approach. I catch him and pass him. Praying the whole time he didn’t touch me. I make my first left turn. As I sighted,  I saw a paddle boarder opposite me along the buoys and two kayaks in front of me. I slow down ’cause they don’t seem to be moving out of my way. I’m thinking did it take me that long? Are they pulling me out of the water? At that moment I turn to breathe and I feel water go into my nose and mouth. Shit! I have dysphagia (swallowing disorder), if I choke now my race is over. I do the most disgusting thing, but I do a modified Mendelsohn Maneuver in the water. I held my breath to stop myself from inhaling and pulling water into my lungs and breath out in the water with my mouth open. Next I turned my head out of the water and inhaled, then turned my head back into the water and exhaled through my nose. As I continued on I passed life guards in the water that looked like frog men. Each time I passed one I thought they were there to pull me out of the water for being to slow. I sure I was the last one on the course.

Sometimes volunteers at races tear down water stations early. In my mind I could see the frogmen removing buoys. As I continued to swim I realized I was getting close. I raised my head to sight and saw a life guard. I could hear him say, ” Keep going you are doing great!” I smiled briefly and continued to swim, thinking to myself I know, “I’m doing great! Ya’ll ain’t taking me out of this water alive. I’m getting out of this water under my own power.” As I approached the pier, I was greeted by carpeted stairs and volunteers. I tried to grab the rail with my right hand, but my fingers wouldn’t extend. Why is that still a surprise that I can’t open my fingers? As I tried to use my Vulcan mind trick to get my fingers to open to grip the railing a volunteer grabbed my left arm. I shuffled up the stairs with my limp. My back was locked up so I had to will all of my body parts to move. I was greeted by the happiest person in the world, Bernie. She is the sweetest person alive.  She is like Snow White, I swear she can talk to the animals and they can do things for her. She is the Director of the Achilles Houston and just a wonderful person to know. I saw her coming toward me, but I was trying to figure out why. My head was in a fog. I am always in a fog after I get out of the water. But today seemed different. My routine is to get stripped and sit down. She was coming over to me, why  is she coming? Is she coming to tell me I did not make the swim?!

I didn’t have an opportunity to see the swim exit. It was raining and dark prior to the start and I was pushing my teammate in a wheel chair. After we grabbed out chips  we went back to the room. I totally forgot to take care of myself. Which means I had no exit plan, nor did I rehearse one during the swim as I always do.

As I stood there, I felt overwhelmed and bombarded, there were so many people standing there. I was rushed  and I just went with it. I was frazzled because I hadn’t crossed the timing mat which means my time is ticking. I need to get to the mat. These people are obstacles in my way. I’m not equipped to think right now. “Process Candice”, I screamed inside my head. At that moment, I heard a very calm voice, “Babe focus.” All of the chatter around me was silenced. I refocused and saw Bernie trying to hand me my shoes. I’m upset because my shoes look different, what’s wrong with my shoes? Brace, the brace isn’t attached to my shoe? Is my brace broken? As I freak out I put on my shoes and I see strippers. Not the kind at the club, these are wetsuit strippers. That’s when I realized I still had my wetsuit on.

Now, I have to spend time taking off my shoes, unzip my suit pull it down to my waist and lay on the carpet to be stripped. As I do those things the strippers are standing there in awe. I tried to kick my legs up, but my body isn’t moving like I want it to. I wanted to scream out take off my suit, but that’s rude. Someone grabs the ankles of my wetsuit to pull it off. Once my suit is off, I try to stand. As I try to get across the mat Bernie is trying to hand me my shoes. I wasn’t trying to be rude, but I could care less about my shoes and disassembled leg brace. I just want to cross this mat to stop my time. This was first time I ever crossed a mat barefoot. I didn’t care if I crawled or rolled across the mat, I just needed to get there. I hurt so bad, but pain would just have to wait. I was trying cross the mat. I felt like someone was holding my ankles and I was dragging them with me. I made it barely across them mat but I made it under 1 hour and 10 minutes.

These are the WORST pictures EVER!

The photographer did a great job of capturing the moment. You can definitely see the struggle to will my body across that timing mat.

I learned a very valuable lesson at Oilman. That lesson is to always walk your volunteer to the race exit and explain exactly what you need.
I wasn’t upset with them, but I was definitely pissed at myself for getting caught up in the moments prior to the race. I had difficulty with my mental clarity at that time. I couldn’t formulate words to get my thoughts out. I could hear sounds, but couldn’t make out words. My adrenaline was still pumping as I got my my bike. This may be something able bodied athletes are faced with. From experience I know, if you have a cognitive disability it is extremely difficult and you must follow a routine. 

As I maneuvered into transition, I saw Adessa, sitting on the ground next to my bike. She was still wet from the swim trying to take off her wetsuit. To my right directly outside of the fenced area were some awesome cheerleaders. Members from both Hissy Fit Racing and the Conroe Triathlon Team.

They were talking to me and I just smiled. I had no idea what their words meant. I still couldn’t take on the sounds and make them words. I could only understand my thoughts.  I am unsure what I said to them. I only had a few preprogrammed words in my arsenal. ” No, I don’t need that” and “Thank You”. I rehearsed those words for every triathlon. I tried to put on my Achilles Cycling Jersey it had all my food in the pockets. I had Perpetuem in one race bottle and Pedialyte mixed with water in the other. With all the commotion around me I was unable to focus. The first words I formulated in my mind were Fuck Off. The next words I heard were not my own. They were words in my head of my BB (Battle Buddy) Nate, “Not Appropriate” I smiled again and said nothing. I couldn’t get my zipper to act appropriately and I was out of time. The bottom was open the top was zipped. I was a hot mess.
The Bike
Because it had rained, I didn’t have Elektra (my WalkAide) I use that device to get me out of transition. I can run with my electronic leg brace and it helps me to cycle. I can’t run without a brace attached or inside my shoe. Since I was wearing bike shoes I had to improvise. As the military taught me, “adapt and overcome.” I grabbed my bike and side hopped all the way to bike out. My back was killing me, but I knew it would stop as soon as I mounted the bike.
As I mounted the bike I waited for the pain to subside, it didn’t. I was overtaken by the breeze of cold wind. That Northerner the meteorologist predicted had come for me. I rode slowly to get out of the complex, I drank some of my nutrition.

NOTICE  THE JERSEY

At the edge of the Red parking lot. I felt woozy, my blood pressure dropped and I was trembling. I thought to myself, ” You need to stop!”  “Nah, you got this”, I said to myself and continued to pedal. Then something hit me. Was that a low flying bird? Whatever hit me in my face, smacked me in my eye. I shuttered from the pain. I tried to open my left eye. I couldn’t see anything. My vision was impaired. There was something in my eye. It felt like a mosquito had flown into my eye and was trying to sting its way out. I could feel something crawling around in the bottom of my eye between my eye and lid scratching my eye. I removed my left hand from my bike and tried to hold my eye. I had forgotten I was on the bike for a brief moment. I tried to open my right hand to grasp the brake gears, but I had trouble manipulating my fingers to control the braking mechanism. I decided to just let my bike roll until it stopped. I decided that it was time to quit. I was cold, I couldn’t see and in pain. I stopped a few inches from some volunteers and told them I was a previous spinal cord injury and had hypothermia previously, they called for an ambulance. I began to cry as I told them I quit.

For the record: Its important to know when a person has had a previous cold weather or hot weather injury. They are more susceptible to them again. (See, I learned stuff in the Army).

As I waited I sat on the cold cement (mistake that makes you colder). A female cyclist passed by, I was like dang so I wasn’t last.  If I start now I could ride with her, I thought. A volunteer gave me three heavy duty jackets that blocked the wind. I felt toasty, my vision in my left eye returned, but I was still in pain. I heard the ambulance before I saw it round the corner from the parking lot. As it got close I rose to greet them. The volunteers gathered around as if they were waiting for the ice cream man to pass out ice cream. I told the paramedic team all of my symptoms and told them I felt better. The EMS ladies were kind and helped me to get my jersey zipped properly. They asked me if I wanted to go on.  Without hesitation I said,”Yes!” One of the volunteers had taken had taken my bike away from me. I had no recollection of  that fact until I saw them walking Jeffray over to me.
I mounted my bike, the EMS team told me they would keep an eye out for me on the course and that they were rooting for me. I was so excited and got caught up in the moment. I forgot the ground was wet and I only wanted to complete the swim and go back to my room.

Zipped up and ready to roll

For three lonely miles I convinced myself I could catch the rider that passed me. Then I began to focus on right hand not functioning, I was trembling and worried about skidding. As I pedaled faster, I dodged large clumps of mud in the roadway. I then tried to problem solve how I would brake without use of my right hand. As I pedaled I realized I couldn’t feel my left side. No biggie I just recently started having sensation on that side.

Then I realized that I could no longer feel anything on my right side. Do I honestly want to ride 4 hours like this ? That’s when reality kicked in. Candice started talking Kandi Kane. “Dude you are cold, you are never cold and you can’t feel on the right side of your body. You need realize this AIN’T Boston you can’t go med station to med station to warm up.” Kandi Kane replied, “I got this!” I kept cycling, I began to feel loopy again, my breathing changed. Then I got smack in the head again with  a stronger pain. I screamed in my head, “Fuck it, I’m done!” I saw an officer and volunteers on the corner and said politely, “I quit.” As I explained I was the last cyclist, the guy in the blue cap that hugged the buoy rode by. I started thinking to myself. Go ride with him. The pain reminded me to stand fast. I wanted to go out there and ride with him, but my body refused to cooperate. I needed to get warm ASAPUALLY!

Cathy, was the name of the wonderful volunteer that picked me up. I was really hurt that I had to put my dirty bike in her SUV.  I wasn’t sad, I was actually happy as I told her, “I loved the race and volunteers. I would definitely come back. I wouldn’t do the Aquabike, but definitely the relay swim portion. The bike is too unpredictable for me. If it rains, I’m not comfortable, if the wind is too strong and moves me sideways I’m uneasy. I can’t risk being the weakest link on the bike due to anxiety.”
I further explained, “Athletes want to win and get medals and trophies. I want to finish. I am not a bling whore contrary to popular opinion. It’s not about the medal for me. It’s about the finish photo. Seriously it’s about the completion, the photo is my memory.”
I began to explain to her that I had never been and athlete. At 27, I was an NCO in the Army and a mother of 2 year old who was soon to be 3 who lost ability to read, walk and talk. I completed my 1st marathon at the age of 42 and my 1st triathlon at the 44. I further explained, I had nothing to prove to anyone. I had nothing to prove to myself. I felt great in my accomplishment. My longest my longest time swim in open water. I wanted to focused this year on the swim and that is what happened.
She said she was happy to hear that I wasn’t giving up. I was really proud of myself. I was a little angry that I was on auto pilot at transition and had forgotten I was supposed to take my DNF there. It was closer to my hotel room and I could have eaten pancakes. Nonetheless, I had the opportunity to share my testimony and that is what I was supposed to. Sometimes what you think you are supposed to do isn’t what God has planned for you.
Cathy made me promise to see the EMS upon my return. I did exactly what she asked, I returned with a smile and sat in the EMS truck for 40 minutes to warm up and received a badge of honor. They wrapped me in the blanket below.  I sat in the back of the truck alone in thought.

Warmest Blanket EVER

Not feeling my best, I hopped out of the truck. I cracked a few jokes about my disability and my race experience. Shortly after I went on a quest for food. I couldn’t tell my team I DNF’D because they had my phone and where nowhere to be found. After I ate I showered. Then the cheering began. I cheered for everybody and anybody. About 45 minutes later I retrieved my phone and started snapping pictures. I was allowed to stand at the finish and pass out medals. Although I didn’t earn the medal for the event I wanted the medal to put it in a shadow box  and celebrate my first timed 1.2 mile swim and my Aquabike DNF. 

My triathlon season ended with a my triathlon season with a bang, a DNF on my Aquabike.  I had one of the best support systems. I think I may be the happiest person in the world of sports to receive a DNF.  To know me is to know I am not a quitter; I don’t give up easily. When I finally quit, you best believe it’s over.

I don’t start things I don’t think I can finish. I have some lofty goals, but if I start…watch out!

I’m not disappointed in myself at all. I’m not down on myself one bit, I don’t have to talk myself into a happy place. Why is that?

I accomplished 3 things. I made it out of the swim in less than 1 hour and 10 minutes and gave my teammate hope. I could not have asked for more. Last but not least I had a story to tell. 

 

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