Saturday, June 29, 2013

my cool prosthetics job

Hard to believe that tomorrow is the last day of June. How'd that happen?! And Tuesday will be the 6-month mark of when I started working at Walter Reed. Since my last post almost 4 weeks ago, I've been busy with work as usual, and at the same time actually started to train for triathlons again. On a much smaller scale of course. Current goal is to hit 10 hours of training each week, and I'm not quite at 9 yet. But I am swimming or biking or running almost every day, and started biking to work instead of walking.

While I had said I was re-inspired by the girl I used to be, the one who dared to dream big dreams, I'm honestly more inspired by the patients I'm working with. I have a few who are triathlon newbies or aspiring triathletes and how can you not get an extra kick of motivation when you work with people missing one or both legs that want to get into the same swim/bike/run craziness that you have loved for the last 13 years? (Whoa. I know. I can't believe I've been a triathlete for that long either.)

A couple weekends ago I went up to NYC for the Challenged Athletes Foundation running clinic, which is my 3rd consecutive year going. I got to reconnect with my good friends Sarah Reinertsen, who I had met at Wildflower back in 2004 before she got into Ironmans and before I started prosthetics school, and Carolina V, who was my best friend in Dallas when I was doing my orthotics residency back in 2006 and had just gotten recruited as a "pro development athlete" for teamTBB.

Carolina was my running buddy in Dallas, and now lives in Manhattan. We went on a 9-mile run through her 'hood in the morning before showing the amputees how it's done. It's always fun to bring someone outside the prosthetics world and give them a glimpse of the stuff I see every day. It's something I'm used to now, but I don't ever stop thinking how amazing these athletes are!

I was chief support crew for my patient Lisa, who I had just fit for her first running leg, and it was pretty amazing having her take her first running steps since she was in high school over 25 years ago! She will be doing her first sprint tri in August, the Irongirl Columbia race which is local to here.

And now for some other cool legs we get to play with at Walter Reed...because I know you're curious!

Super shock absorbing legs for jumping out of airplanes and/or hard-core motocross and/or mountain biking:

My first attempt at a cycling-specific foot for one of my triathletes:

There was also the external-fixator protector for one of my sled hockey guys:

And then the so-realistic-it's-creepy ones:

One of the big things I talk to with my patients are their goals. I ask:
  • What are your goals?
  • What activities did you used to do that you'd like to get back to?
  • What have you not done before but want to try?
  • Is there anything about your prosthesis (or prostheses, plural) that is limiting you from achieving your goals, and how I can make it better?
In essence, it's basically my job to troubleshoot the prosthetic socket and components in order to keep them from limiting the patient's functional potential. Of course, there are sometimes other health issues going on that are keeping them from their goals, but I find that those with great attitudes and high motivation levels do the best!

Another cool thing to check out, is this video that the occupational therapy department at Walter Reed put together with some of our patients. It's very inspirational, although the first 3mins are a bit slow. Keep watching!

So, yeah, work is cool! I'm enjoying it and happy I was able to let go of the past so I could move onto this next phase in my life, which is a ton more rewarding than the pro triathlon thing. More on my own new goals coming soon...

Monday, June 3, 2013

how to know that I have "MADE IT"...

Oh, hello! I was MIA for a while. I still need to update some of the nitty gritty details of this blogsite (outdated sponsors, employer, etc here and there) but I've been meaning to blog more. Really. I have a new roommate now (Kevin) and we have been spending quality time together prioritizing this new transition in life. So blogging and training went by the wayside, and I really had no desire to do anything tri-related for the first few months of the new job. But the good news is, I put White Tiger back together on Friday and rode outside for the first time in 7 months. I might even swim this week!

As I'm cleaning and reorganizing our studio apartment (600 sq ft shared with a 6'9" boyfriend), assembling our new IKEA furniture and such, I came across a couple of old notebooks during my O&P residencies that I had from when I first got recruited onto teamTBB and prior to going to any training camps. Dated May 16, 2007 and June 21, 2008.

It's kind of creepy, actually. I gave myself deadlines of "making it" according to my own standards by my 30th birthday--November 25, 2011. This was my 30th birthday blog post, and I sort of officially announced my retirement from pro triathlon a couple weeks later, on December 7th.

So it's eerie to see handwritten notebook entries where I had written things like "If I am nowhere near my goals as an athlete by the time I turn 30, I will return to O&P full time" and a list of "How to know that I have 'MADE IT' as a pro triathlete...according to my own standards by the time I turn 30".

What's crazy is that I achieved most of these goals, and during the process, kept raising the bar and then extending my deadline. After my successful rookie season in 2009, I really thought I'd still be racing as a pro triathlete until my 35th birthday, and then would re-evaluate then (I'm 31 now). I'd almost forgotten about my original 30th birthday deadline until just what's on the 2008 list, and how did I do?

1. Be featured on an ad in a tri-related magazine.

2. Break 10 hrs in ironman.

  • CHECK! two times in the span of two weeks, IMFL and Greatman in 2009.

3. Break 4:30 in 70.3.

  • NOPE. But the last time I did a half IM, er 70.3, was when I did a 4:51 as an amateur to qualify for my pro card, then raced exclusively full ironmans. So who knows if I coulda, woulda, shoulda.
4. Win $5,000 in prize money.
  • CHECK! literally, and sometimes cold hard cash. I won at least $5k in my rookie season (in U.S. dollars, Korean won, and euros), which was the surprise of the century. If the WTC prize money rules hadn't changed the following year, I would've won more. That 8% rule bit me hard, and financial hardship was one of my top reasons for returning to the real world.
5. Date a pro triathlete boy.
  • kinda. that's all I have to say about that.
6. Raced/trained in 5+ different countries. and 3+ continents??
  • CHECK. Trained in the Philippines, Korea, Switzerland, France, Thailand, and the USA. Also raced in Singapore, Malaysia, China...I'm sure I'm forgetting some. The three continents would have to be Asia, Europe, and N. America. I meant to make my way to Australia/NZ and Africa and S. America, but it wasn't meant to be.
7. Be recognized and asked for my autograph at a triathlon.
  • CHECK x 1 million. Ok, maybe not a million, but combining this with an item from the 2007 list "fan asking for photo op/autograph" I was shocked at how popular I got on the race circuit, meeting random people who knew who I was and asking for photos, how many people cheered for me by name (or "Wongstar") during races... Maybe I never "made it" financially, but this was a huge one in my own terms of "making it."
8. Sign a sponsorship deal with an Asian company.
  • Check. Other than the team sponsors, I proudly went after the sponsorship with Haamonii Smooth Shochu on my own and hit a home run (the company and its website is currently under the radar like its former triathlon superstar, but their Facebook page still exists). Even after I retired, I met up with James, the founder of the company, and he mentioned that one thing that he'll always remember about our first "business meeting" was how well prepared I was and the way I presented myself. And this is coming from a guy who has had many corporate meetings with the heads of big businesses; he said I was more prepared than the big shots! I knew I was very good at marketing myself and selling myself, and had a whole list of other sponsors that I intended to go after...but it was always under the clause of "when I get faster, I'll try to get sponsored by XYZ." The "when I get faster" didn't quite happen...
9. Inspire younger Asian girls in the sport.
  • Check! I am good friends with some of you to this day. What surprised me was this included both Asian-American girls and the Asian-Asians. In Asia. You know.
10. Top 5 at Ironman China.
  • Not so much. But then they cancelled IM China the year I was ready to hit the podium, and well, I did get top 5 at Malaysia, which is close (but no cigar).
11. Move up to a solid "Lane 2" at Menlo Masters.
  • Nope. I got better swimming, but Coach Sutto also had a very different style of swim training I did at home that didn't involve masters swimming.
12. Have a superhero six-pack - i.e. figure out the eating/weight thing.
  • Sort of, but at the same time, this is still ongoing. I figured out how to get really skinny, and it wasn't through a very healthy or sustainable way. My weight battles from training camp still haunt me sometimes, but transitioning to my so-called imperfect Paleo eating style has helped. The six-pack will return!
13. Work at prosthetic clinics in Philippines, Cambodia, & Vietnam.
  • Half check. Philippines and Thailand! Thailand instead of Cambodia and Vietnam, but I'd have to say that I got the gist of it.
14. Credit card debt in control, student loan payments being met by the time I turn 35.
  • Um, well. If we go with the "by the time I turn 35" clause, then this could potentially still be a "check." I don't know what I was thinking at the time, or how much money I thought I'd actually make as a pro triathlete, but it's kind of laughable! Triathlon helped me rack up $15k in CC debt by the time all was said and done, and it wasn't until recently I could make a big dent in it. (Not just by trading in the tri life for a grownup job, but being VERY diligent about managing the $$$.) I should be out of that by September of this year, and then plan to pay off the $95k of student loans as aggressively as possible. Which would still take until my 36th birthday if all goes well, or maybe earlier, if all goes extra awesome.
15. Easily break 90min for half marathon.
  • Nope. At my fittest, I never raced a half marathon. So who knows? I still think I'm capable, and just have to train for it. I'm signed up for the Navy-Air Force half marathon in September.

Conclusion? Amazingly, I accomplished a lot of what my 25yo and 26yo self put down on paper. What I didn't account for is that success is a moving target, as it should be. Do I still wish I was racing pro? Not really, but I do miss being fit and traveling to fun places. Being famous was fun too. But hey...I can still be fit, travel to fun places, and be famous in my own right...or at least, be important to those who are important to me. If anything, I'm re-inspired by the girl I used to be, the one who dared to dream big dreams.