January: The Journey makes a stop in Australia and New Zealand

Sam just returned from New Zealand where he competed as one of 50 athletes on the US Paralympic World Championship team.  Over 1000 athletes from 70 countries competed in Christchurch January 22-30, 2011.  Sam made the finals in his event and is now ranked fifth in the world in the F34 class for shot put.  He did not throw his best, however, and is looking forward to improving his competition performance in the upcoming year.  Photos can be seen at http://www.usatfteam.shutterfly.com/.  Sam is in the opening ceremonies and competing Day 1 afternoon and Day 3 afternoon in Christchurch.  There are a few photos of him in the “Aussie competition”, as well.

The team first travelled to Sydney, Australia, where they stayed for about two weeks.  They took one day to sight see and visit the Australian museum and Wildlife Refuge but most of the time was spent getting used to the time zone and training in Sydney Olympic Park.  They had a practice meet before they left.

Traveling was grueling.  Luggage and throwing chairs had to be down in the lobby the night before.  Athletes had to be in the lobby on travel mornings at three a.m. most of the time. At the airports the athletes had to tote their own luggage from baggage claim to the waiting vans and then the coaches broke down the wheelchairs and loaded them.  When the wheelchairs came off the vans at the hotel the chairs were in one heap and the wheels were in another.  Luckily, Sam had marked the axles of his wheels and various parts of his chair with his name as the pre-trip packet had instructed.  He was able to get his equipment relatively quickly upon arrival.

Australia and New Zealand are on the other side of the International Date Line so Sam lost a day during the 14 hour flight.  He spoke to his family and friends in California every once in awhile on Skype with a few text messages back and forth.  When he called from Australia on what was Sunday night for him, it was Saturday night, 4 hours later in California.  Its also the opposite season. While we were having all this cold weather here, it was summer there.

On January 19 the team traveled from Sydney to Christchurch, New Zealand.  It was raining off and on but mostly sunny for most of the two weeks they spent in Christchurch.  They spent the days training with team meetings each night at 9pm.  Christchurch is a small town much like the Union Square area of San Francisco and Sam was able to get out and see a bit of it. It was easy to roll around with little shops along the streets.

The US team was the second largest team.  China sent 100 athletes. Athletes and coaches from many different countries shared the Rydges Hotel and the transportation from the hotel to the Queen Elizabeth II Park Competition Facility, (QEII).  Each team had a designated time to train but competition days were hectic with some competition for space on the buses.

Opening Ceremonies on January 22 included a parade through the downtown area with a performance by the Mau’ri natives on the steps of the Cathedral. 

 Denis Ogbe, an African-born, naturalized American Citizen, carried the flag and walked at the front of the US delegation with the team rolling/walking behind.

The whole town turned out, applauding as the athletes moved through the streets to the town square. It was very exciting with the flags from all the different countries flying on poles along the top step.  The 1000 athletes watched as the Mau’ri  natives danced and sang.  The warriors did a war chant  and the women harmonized. Both sexes danced. Live video of the event was displayed on a big screen TV behind the dancers.

Competition was fierce and this was a terrific learning experience.  Most of the athletes were older than Sam with the gold medal winner in his event 10 years his senior. Many of the athletes have been competing internationally for quite some time. While he was on the field for his events, Sam noticed other athletes had chairs with features that could enhance their performance. Throwing chairs had springs and flexible poles and Sam and his coach will be working on making some modifications to his chair before the next competition.  He will be working on some modifications to his throwing, too.  There was increased scrutiny from the officials at this International meet and they were very concerned with him not “standing up” by raising his hips off his throwing chair, (as you can see from the photo with the official bending down behind him as he throws the discus.)

As he prepares for the next meet, Sam will be working on pushing forward from his right foot and leaning into his left hip, careful to lift his chest but not his left hip.

All in all it was a very exciting and exhausting trip.  After a few weeks rest, Sam and his coach will begin training and traveling to meets including, Arizona, Canada, and, possibly a trip to South America for the Pan Am games next fall.