Monday, August 31, 2015

5th TeamUP Tour Stop, 9th Race Event of 2015: Chicago Rock 'n' Roll

TeamUP Tour Stop #5: Chicago Rock 'n' Roll 5K, 10K and Half Marathon

Friday, July 17th:

I'm really happy that this weekend is finally here! I get to see 2 of my TeamUP Co-captains, whom I haven't seen since November of last year. Barbie Barnett is local--she lives in nearby Naperville--and Shannon Poortenga is driving to Chicago with her mom, Janet Bird, from Kalamazoo, MI. We are all planning to participate in this weekend's race events to raise awareness about mobility issues and the Get Back UP Today campaign.

I've recounted the following in earlier blog posts, but I'll give you a brief background again on how I met all of these beautiful women:

Shannon was the first Co-captain I "met", although until 2012 we had only had contact via phone and email...and the Get Back UP campaign wouldn't happen for 5 more years. Shannon had found something online about me running the 2007 Boston Marathon, despite spinal fusions and permanent foot drop, thanks to Allard's ToeOFF brace. She herself had been a runner but eventually had to undergo pelvic and spinal surgeries and was left with foot drop...and clinical depression. Like many of us, she thought "she was the only one" dealing with these issues. Her mom, Janet Bird, suggested that Shannon reach out to me, just to talk with someone who understood exactly what she was going through...but Shannon refused, citing that she was embarrassed to contact me but in hindsight I'm positive that her depression was holding her back as much as anything. In comes the true hero of this story, Janet Bird. That's right, one day my home phone rang and it was some woman on the other end of the line saying that she felt obligated to reach out to me on behalf of her daughter, Shannon, and asked me whether I would make a call to her myself. When I hung up with Janet I sat down on the floor and started crying. Her description of Shannon was nearly identical to my own crisis 2 years earlier, and hearing how much her mother loved her and wanted better for her reminded me of how helpless my own family felt about my struggles. As soon as I gathered myself back together I called Shannon (I needn't have bothered reigning in my emotions because as soon as we talked the tears were flowing on both ends of the line) and the rest, as they say, is history. I'm so grateful that Shannon and I became such close friends, and thrilled that when we first conceived of it she decided to join TeamUP and share her story. She has been so open and generous about recounting her long-time battle with depression, her battles with fitness and weight gain thanks to all her physical challenges but also her triumphs as she makes the choice every day to Get Back UP.  She's so dedicated to paying it forward in hopes that she may help others like herself. Please read more about Shannon here, in her own words:

The way I met Barbie Barnett was pretty incredible, too. Barbie was a teacher in Illinois, a long-time athlete until undergoing spinal surgery which left her with permanent foot drop. Without finding a "cure" for her foot drop, Barbie gave up on her athletic dreams and quietly battled that grief for 4 years while trying to raise her 2 daughters as a single mom. One day in 2012...just months after the beginning of the Get Back UP campaign, Barbie's friend saw our Get Back UP story on a TV news spot and called her to let her know that there may be hope. She had other friends and co-workers rally around her, too, encouraging her to contact Allard as soon as possible. Remarkably, an Allard rep was nearby at the time and within days he visited her at school with a brace for Barbie to try. As she told it, there wasn't a dry eye in the school hallway that day as she ran for the first time in 4 years up and down the hall. Less than 6 months after that TV spot aired, Barbie joined me in running the Rock 'n' Roll 1/2 Marathon in Chicago--what an amazing turnaround! I've said this before, but the only reason I decided to "put myself out there" and talk about my own journey with injury and paralysis was the hope that by doing so others would be helped. Barbie was the first person I got to meet whose life completely changed--and so quickly!--because of our Get Back UP efforts. Since then she's also made it her goal to pay it forward, she's an amazing ambassador for spreading the message and I'm so proud to be her teammate. To read more about Barbie, in her words, please check out this link:

So, I'm excited to be in Chicago once again with Barbie but also to have Shannon join us this year. And it's extra special to have Janet here since she gets total credit for bringing Shannon and I together. We have a short but busy weekend ahead of us! And speaking of busy, I'm on the way now from the airport to check into my hotel and then head straight to the Expo to meet the are the photo highlights:

The view from my room at the Congress Plaza. What a gorgeous day and beautiful view of Lake Michigan.

The Buckingham Fountain is directly in front of our hotel. I actually got a great deal on our rooms by booking
way ahead of time via This location is PERFECT for the Rock'n'Roll races because start/finish
lines are only a few blocks away.

When I checked into my room I was happily surprised to see
fellow RnR Gypsy, Sherry Ricker, in the hotel lobby. She was
also staying at the Congress and was waiting for a ride
"from a friend" to take her to the Expo and invited me along.

Another happy surprise... Her friend happened to by my friend too,
 fellow Gypsy, Krissey Foley. Free ride with friends--love it!

Ironically, Krissey (who lives in Chicago) has the North Carolina Half
Marathon medal hanging from her rearview mirror...I feel right at home.

As we enter the Expo we find more RnR Gypsies, Ted Ruane
and Michelle Bogush, hitting the Expo too.

As I get through packet pickup I find Shannon, Janet and Barbie
waiting for me to shop the Expo with them. We were all pretty
hungry at this point so our first stop was something Janet found
earlier, the Sargento Cheese booth...
Only in the midwest... Sargento was giving out
cheese sticks and "cheese stick koozies" to keep
your cheese cold and fresh.

Say "Cheese"?!

Our Expo tour was more like Trick-or-Treating. We loaded up
on food samples, tote bags, soothing muscle balm and more. Here
Shannon gets a free box of Minute Rice to take home.

Shopping is hard work. We are patiently waiting for Jim to get dropped off at the Expo so we can all ride together
back to the hotel once Jim gets his race packet.

Shannon and Barbie are resting to save their strength for back-to-back
race events this weekend.

Sorry Barbie but I have to tell on you...Barbie "broke" the automatic
parking machine and needed help to get her credit card back out. After a
semi-joking rebuke from the attendant we were finally able to depart the Expo.

...but not before we got our free samples of Coke Zero.

This is how we roll... We parked Barbie's and Shannon's cars for the weekend,
we will be on foot the next 2 days.
Once everyone got checked into their rooms we made our plan to meet in the lobby. We have a 7:00am 5K in the morning so we all wanted to grab an easy dinner and make our plans for the next day. We opted for the Artist's Cafe, a restaurant just 2 blocks away and one at which Jim and I have had good, inexpensive meals on previous trips to the Windy City.

I neglected to get photos of the menu, having too much fun with Barbie, Janet, Jim and Shannon, but here's the link to the restaurant's website, and a photo taken from the internet:

I chose the Spanikopita because it was recommended. I did enjoy it but 1) it
wasn't my favorite of the meals I've had here in the past and 2) it was probably
more "beige" than I've had on my plate in a while. Note to self: next time,
more colors and more greens. :-)

And speaking of beige, my 4 dining companions ordered the Tilapia special, which included fried Tilapia, fried shrimp
and fried potatoes. I guess we're all carb-loading for the weekend.

I love these women! It was amazing how many looks we were getting as we
walked around downtown Chicago. These braces are so "normal" to us but I guess
there's not often 3 braces in the crowd so we got a lot of stares. Bring it on--we
will tell you all about our awesome Allard bracing!

Stunning sunset along the lake tonight. We better enjoy it now, tomorrow and Sunday are
showing big chances for big thunderstorms.

After our dinner we walked about 5 blocks to the nearest drug store. Our mission was to get water and breakfast food
to fuel us through tomorrow's 5K. Bags are full of yogurt, bananas, water and protein bars--nothing but the best for TeamUP :-)

That's right, no limo service for TeamUP Co-Captains...we're doing
our pre-race warm up as we walk back to our hotel for an early
night's sleep.

Sundown over Chicago.

One more view from the hotel before calling it a night. It's funny, the city is just now gearing up for a busy Friday night
while we're drawing the curtains. About an hour past the taking of this photo an outdoor music festival was cranking up in the park... just 2 blocks south of this view. I'm glad I brought earplugs.

Saturday, July 18th: 5K RACE DAY!!

Despite the fact that yesterday's forecast called for morning thunderstorms we awoke
to another beautiful day. Let's hope it holds...

Sunrise over Lake Michigan...time to get rolling.

Our view along the water as we walked north 1 mile to the start of the 5K.

I'm so proud of both Barbie and Shannon for committing to and training for this 5K and tomorrow's 10K. They've
both had health setbacks this year but they stayed determined to participate.
(We wore the jackets for photo ops but it was beginning to get REALLY WARM so they didn't stay on for long.)

Jim and I are showing our support for TeamUP Co-captain, Virginia, as well as the rest of our wonderful
CMTA family. For those new to this blog, CMT stands for Charcot-Marie-Tooth disorder, one of the most
common genetically-inherited neuromuscular disorders in the world.

Look Virginia and Darren--a squirrel!!
(Just a small inside joke about the attention spans among some of our co-captains. I spotted 3 guys wearing these
matching singlets--I love the squirrel image)

The Gypsies somehow manage to find each other, even without
a plan and among huge crowds. Hyalker is the first we see...

...then more arrive...

...and still more. Ron is still the selfie-king in the group, even managing to get a reluctant Janet Bird in the shot.

Big crowds show up for today's 5K but what this photo doesn't reveal is that it is becoming quite hot...over 80 degrees
already and they say it's 82% humidity.

Despite the heat Jim made a last minute dash for coffee as the rest of us peeled off some layers before
checking our bags--and signs--at gear check.
Thank you, Gear Check Volunteers for your help today...
and for keeping my sign safe while I run the 5K.

On your mark, get set...

I was surprised to see so many corrals of runners for today's 5K...I'm thinking it may be
a record crowd for the Rock'n'Roll Series' 5K.
Shannon, Barbie and Janet set out to walk the 5K together. Jim and I ran the 5K, albeit at a relaxed and easy pace due to the heat and humidity. After all, we have a Half Marathon to run tomorrow in similar conditions so we weren't interested in pushing ourselves too much...but we wanted to finish in time to come back and take photos of the rest of our team coming to the finish.

Despite the weather conditions, Ron Carino had a PR
(Personal Record) for his 5K today thanks in part to Al's
coaching efforts. Congrats, Ron--I think this is the first time
I've seen you even remotely tired!!

I can't believe it, Shannon and Barbie did the whole race with the TeamUP sign! Nice move,
ladies, I heard that it was a great conversation-starter and you gave out a lot of great info this morning.
Kamika found Janet Bird walking slightly behind Shannon and Barbie and opted to finish
the race by her side. I love the Gypsies!!

Heading into the final turn to the finish this time the sun, the heat and the
humidity were really affecting most of the participants. I think Kamika is looking forward
to shade, something not present on the entire last mile of this 5K.

Hot and happy at the finish!! One race done, one to go.

I took the opportunity to give a long-overdue GetBackUP medal to Janet to go along with today's
5K medal. Great job today, Janet...and I am so grateful for all your support of the
Get Back UP campaign and continued support of TeamUP.

Gypsies chilling in the shade post-race.


By the time we all caught our breath at the finish of the 5K the weather began to change. A few of us took some time to
relax at the concert but as the clouds became more ominous we walked the mile back to the hotel.

Just in time! The afternoon was filled with thunderstorms--actually fun to watch from out hotel rooms. The afternoon
agenda was REST. Most everyone took naps or caught up on emails as we waited for the skies to clear.

By 4:30 or 5:00pm the rain began to let up so we made plans to meet downstairs before heading out for dinner.

We brought our rain gear just in case but the walk to and from tonight's restaurant was free of rain (though with the
high humidity we all were drenched after our walk anyway!)

Jim had done some reconnaissance during the late afternoon to find restaurants near us that 1) could easily seat all of
us and 2) that offered good, healthy food for our second pre-race dinner of the weekend.

As well as the usual sandwich and burger selections, this restaurant featured specialty pastas and's a link
to the entire menu:
I ordered grilled Salmon on a bed of greens with fresh asparagus and tomatoes. Delicious! (And, I got my colors
on the plate this time!)

Jim ordered a small salad (gone before I got the photo) and the Three Cheese Tortellini...

Shannon ordered the Pasta Primavera...

Janet ordered the Truffle Mac 'n' Cheese...

...and Barbie ordered a special, Shells Bolognese. By all accounts, the dinner was wonderful...and hopefully enough
to fuel Jim and I through the Half Marathon and Barbie and Shannon through their 10K tomorrow.

Sunday, July 19th: Another RACE DAY!!

We lucked out again, weather-wise! Although it will be hot and humid again today it looks like the strong storms
will hold off until we're done with the races today. This is the view from the street right in front of our hotel.

It's dark but the team is ready to roll! Janet is sleeping in a bit and will meet us at VIP

As the sun rises over downtown Chicago the TeamUP Trio is ready to go!

OOPS...I meant the TeamUP Quartet!

Another Andrew sighting--always great to see our Texas Gypsy.

See you at the finish, Drew!

Joe Harris sighting...I caught up with him as he made
his way into the VIP tent.

Shannon and Barbie enjoying pre-race festivities in the VIP tent.

Pre-race Rock 'n' Roll Gypsy photo. It would have been a selfie but we haven't yet
found Ron (or Susan)...

Jim and I make our way to the start line of the Half Marathon just a block from
VIP. Unfortunately for Barbie and Shannon, they had to walk a mile-and-a-half
to the start of the 10K...and they're starting with sore legs thanks to yesterday's 5K.
Good luck to all of us!

Chicago is always one of the more popular RnR destinations and today is no exception.

Selfie before we cross the start. Jim is planning to walk/run today
since heat and humidity are not his friends. I'm planning to keep a
steady pace, hoping to catch up to Barbie and Shannon not long after
they finish the 10K.

Just when I needed a boost at mile 11 I spot Meb Keflezighi! He
was at the water stop cheering the runners from the sidelines. Thanks for
the photo op, Meb! I was much lighter on my feet to the finish after
this special encounter

I was so excited to find that both Shannon and Barbie successfully completed the 10K
without incident. Shannon's been struggling with a painful foot but powered through it
this weekend. My heroes!!

Janet was at the finish cheering us all in. What a great mother-daughter team!! YOU ROCK!

Meb shows his support of our Get Back UP campaign...what an amazing ambassador
for the entire running community.

Drew sports the bling he's earned this weekend:
5K medal, 1/2 Marathon Medal, Remix Medal
(for doing both this weekend) and his Roadie Medal
(for completing 5 RnR events in 2015).
Congrats, Drew!!

Barbie adds her signature to the sign...

...and Shannon follows suit. This sign--and the autographs
collected on it--are great reminders of the tremendous support
we've gained across the country.

TeamingUP with Meb Keflezighi!

Joe Harris gets his Rock Idol heavy medal for completing 10 Rock 'n 'Roll Half
Marathons so far this year. Congrats!

Barbie enjoys the perks of having done 2 races in 2 days.

While we were out running/walking today Janet was sharing
the Get Back UP message with everyone she met. Janet,
thank you for everything you do towards spreading awareness, you've
done so much to help others over all these years and I'm so grateful
to have you on the team!

Shannon enjoys the best VIP perk of all...

...I think we've lost her to the VIP masseuse.

So excited to meet a new friend, whom I noticed because of
her shirt. You may not be able to read it easily but its a Homicide
Hunter promotional shirt. HH is one of my favorite shows, I
love the true recounting of Lt. Joe Kenda's long career as a homicide
detective. After talking to Ilona Merino here I am informed that there's
a good reason for her wearing this shirt...

...Her husband, Carl Merino, plays the young Lt. Kenda on the series!! So nice to meet you
both and I'm looking forward to seeing you at the next Rock 'n' Roll event!

Carl shows his support of our Get Back UP awareness campaign.

Gypsies Gary, Ron and Kevin have all successfully finished another Rock 'n' Roll weekend.

Crazy bling!

Al, Joe, Ron and Susan are all official Rock Idols this weekend--congrats to you all!

Here's the bling I added to my collection this weekend: 5K medal, Remix
Medal (for doing two races in Chicago), Half Marathon medal and the
Six-String Heavy Medal for completing 6 Half- or Full- Marathons in
the 2016 Rock 'n' Roll series. Slowly working my way to the Rock Idol!
This weekend seemed to be over as soon as it began. After our VIP lunches, massages and visiting with our RnR family Shannon, Barbie, Janet and I had to part ways. We hurriedly made our way back to the hotel to check out in time then all of us went in different directions: Jim and I to the airport, Barbie to nearby Naperville and Shannon and Janet on the road back to Kalamazoo. I miss everyone already! While we did not secure any media attention this week we were all successful in sharing the Get Back UP message and handed out lots of information for people wanting to know more about the latest in brace technology. I was so proud of Barbie and Shannon for muscling their way through the 5K and 10K this weekend...both have been dealing with some injuries and yet they didn't let these deter them. Way to go, ladies--I am so proud to be your TeamUP teammate!