I know it’s seems like I’ve been gone forever, but writing isn’t something I joke around about. When I write it has meaning, and I try to tell captivating stories. Lately, I haven’t felt the need to write because I didn’t feel like anything was really worthy of sharing. With the first semester coming to a close it’s always the same stuff, stressed about classes, finals, and what’s to come next. That was until this past weekend when two different visions turned into two unforgettable victories.
About a year ago, I went to volunteer at my first Stand Among Friends Emb(race) event, and there I was introduced to Achilles International. Here was an organization that allowed people living with a disability the opportunity to be true competitive athletes. That day I sat in my first hand cycle, and knew that this was something I wanted to work on. The group of athletes were so welcoming, and fun, and from that day on I knew I would some day become an accomplished athlete like all of them were. After that morning it was like I was bitten by the race bug. All I could think about was the next time I would hop back in the hand cycle. It was by the end of that week that I got the phone call from Chris Holcomb, our Regional director asking me to meet him at the local park for a nice trial ride. After riding for about an hour that fire was still there, I loved the feeling of being in control of something, but still having to work hard to perfect it. After the trial was over he said to me “Steph your going to do the Palm Beaches Marathon in December.” I laughed at him and said, “A marathon?, that’s 26.2 miles I don’t know about that!”, but he had all the confidence in world that I would train with him and do this race. So, I got it in my head and agreed to go on this competitive journey. With many months of cross training, bike adjustments, bike replacements, hard work and dedication Dec 4, 2011 was upon us and this is my story:On a roll to the finish.
I come from one of the most amazing families one could ask for. When something big is happening in someone’s life you can bet the whole Hammerman family knows about it and they are ready more than ever to cheer you on. Well, this was absolutely no different, I had my own personal 20 person cheer squad. Many may not know that I am one of 16 grandchildren. We are all around the same age and grew up more like siblings than cousins, so the energy in the room whether three of us are together or all of us are together is the exact same; fun and exciting.
Friday evening the weekend of fun and craziness began. Family started arriving and I had to get ready for Lynn’s 24th Annual KOR Holiday Gala. Gala is always a fun tradition, but this year was extra special. Not only was it my fourth and final Gala, but I had a hand along with two of my best friends in planning this event. This year the location was our spectacular, new Wold Performing Arts Center. In the past students had to pay for admission to Gala, drinks at the bar, and transportation to and from the event, but this year all of that was changed. The event was extremely welcoming, seeing that everything was FREE! Students were dressed to the nine and ready to have a blast. We had an amazing student student DJ and the room looked absolutely gorgeous. When planning an event you always have fears that something is not going to go as planned, but I must say the night to me, seemed perfect. The place was packed with students wanting to have a great time, and that’s exactly what we did. Feeling beautiful and dancing the night away was exactly what I needed to start this weekend off right. On behalf of KOR, Kara, Jen and myself we hope whomever attended had a night they will forever remember.
Knowing that Friday was a success gave the opportunity to now focus on the big challenge ahead. I was going face to face with a 26.2 mile route and I was ready to go.
Saturday evening my family decided to host a beautiful pasta dinner for all the Achilles athletes, and this was the first time they were going to see me in this kind of element. It was really nice to share this experience with all of them because they could now see that this was something I truly wanted to do. It may sound strange to some but, normally a room full of people with disabilities makes me a bit uncomfortable, but as you walked or rolled into the room the disability was left at the door. This was now a room full of competitive athletes ready to do what we had come there to do. The room was full of positive energy and at that moment the nerves went out the window and I was so glad that I had made the choice to do this.
It’s now sunday morning, 2 A.M., and I am wide awake. My alarm was supposed to go off at 3:30, but I guess I was filled with too much excitement. I opened my computer, blasted my music, (my neighbors must have loved me ), and got myself ready for the morning. After a small personal dance party and some breakfast it was 4:45 a.m. and it was time to head out. That morning I was racing with about 35 other athletes, some were hand cyclist, some were ambulatory amputees, some were wheelchair racers, while one was even on a skateboard! It was 6 A.M and we were about to join 3,5oo able bodied runners. My heart was pumping, my nerves were rock’n and before I knew it, off I went. It was 6:35 A.M, and there was no turning back now. As I said before my family is amazing, not everyone was there, but I was thinking about them all as I was racing, I didn’t want to let them down. They had even created shirts in support of me and the quote on the back is what kept me going the whole time.
With their wild and crazy attitudes, and Scotty’s spirit all around me I knew I could do this. Even as I faced the strongest head winds up the Lantana Bridge at mile 17, I told myself that Scotty was always up for a challenge so, this was my time to show him I was too. Mile 17/18 was probably the most special for me.
Yes, I was extremely tired, but I had made it more than half way and on this turn around as I sped down hill a sea of green shirts were there cheering on the sidelines. My uncle Ira and I have an extremely special relationship, his heart is one of the biggest out there, and when I told him I was doing this race he was one of the first to 100% support my decision from the get-go. He is an avid runner and an accomplished marathoner as well, so for the last 10 miles he joined me! We had a blast, he kept me motivated as we had little competitions to see who could get to certain mile markers first, and he kept me focused on the prize. By the 15th mile I’m pretty sure EVERYONE knew who I was, which family I came from, the team I represented, and what I was on a mission to do. During the last 5 miles I was joined by a police officer named Sean. He was someone who took an interest in me as I finished the race and I don’t think he will ever know how much he did for me. It’s amazing how simple words or positive sounds can keep you going. He would rev the engine to his motorcycle, tell me some great things, and I would get faster. As I got closer to the finish line I saw those lime green shirts, my screaming fans, and I was so ready to make them proud. I crossed that finish line with a time of 4:34:11 and I cannot express in words how it felt. I had worked so hard for so long and at that moment, it was all worth it.
Dec 2-4, 2011 is a weekend I will forever remember. Thank you! to my friends, family, Chris Holcomb, Achilles, and all of the supporters who expressed belief in me. Without you, this weekend would not have been what it was. This journey is certainly not over, this is just the beginning, but I am so glad to have shared this first experience with all of you!
That’s all I have for now,