Getting To The National Championships Was A Team EffortBrett Richards
The trip to the National Championships for Team PossAbilities is never easy for anyone. This is my second year traveling with the team and I have learned a lot about travel this year. It takes a tremendous amount of planning and a lot of effort by all of us just to get to the race. This year the race was held in Augusta Georgia towards the beginning of summer so we were all prepared for the heat and intense racing. What we weren’t prepared for was the 15 hour travel day ahead of us that began in the parking lot of PossAbilities office at Lima Linda Medical Centers East Campus. It was 3:00 a.m. in the morning when we piled in the team vans and headed down the 10 freeway towards Los Angles International Airport (LAX). No more than 15 minutes after we left we found ourselves on the side of the freeway with a van door that proved difficult to close. At that time we didn’t see that as a sign of the things to come, but we should have. Quickly we were back up to speed on the freeway and arriving at LAX in no time. At the drop off area we waited for our chaperones to take the vans over to Lot C for parking as the vans are too tall to fit in the nearby parking structures. Quickly they were back and we were at the desk to check our bike boxes.
Our chaperones are one of the most important parts to traveling to these races. They help us with everything from the first loading of the bikes to the beginning of the recovery process after a race and everything in between. This year thanks to PossAbilities we were super fortunate to have a chaperone for every athlete. Pedro our director was my chaperone. He is one of the smartest men I know and has taught me so much over the past couple years. Our knowledge is very different and we feed off of each other. This makes for a great team. He teaches me about faith, world history, diversity, and management while I spew useless knowledge of tech, cycling, and geotechnical engineering.
Getting back to our trip. At the LAX bag check more of the team and chaperones that had driven themselves to LAX have met up with us and all of the sudden we have five athletes and chaperones getting checked in at the same time and place. Our bike boxes that have to be checked and stowed under the plane contain way more equipment than just our bikes and weigh almost 100 pounds. The men and women that work bag check for the airlines are almost always hesitant about allowing them to fly as accessible equipment. Airlines by law can’t charge us baggage fees for accessible equipment. Luckily we got a lady that wanted to get us all checked in as fast as possible and didn’t ask many questions about the contents of our boxes. Every once and a while you get an agent that wants to prove the contents of the box are not accessible equipment. Thankfully this was not the case this time at LAX. I had one instance in Colorado Springs when I was leaving the Olympic Training Center (OTC) where the baggage check attendant knew my box contained a bike due to all the athletes frequently using this airport to access the OTC and asked me if it was used for sport or recreation. I informed him it was used for both and he said technically if it is used for sport he will have to charge me and it would be two hundred dollars based on its weight. Thankfully he said this time he wont charge me. Bless his heart but I don’t think it is fair to charge someone with a disability an excessive amount because their bike weighs more than a able bodied persons bike, but that’s somewhat of a different argument. I like when the baggage attendant asks if its a bicycle because I can confidently say no. A bicycle only has two wheels and mine has three which would make it a tricycle.
After baggage check at LAX we got through TSA quickly and after a quick wrong turn we asked an airport employee where our terminal was and found out we had to get in a line to get on an elevator, to get in a line to get on a bus, that will take us to our terminal. I have never had to do this myself at LAX but of course there was construction going on this time. Time was running out quickly as they can only get two wheelchairs on each bus at a time. An hour later we made it to our terminal just in time to board the plane to Atlanta where we had a little over an hour layover. Thank you PossAbilities for getting s just the right amount of time for a layover and thank you to LAX for getting us in the air on time which is almost never the case flying out of Chicago. Arriving in Atlanta and boarding the plane to Augusta was a breeze. We even had time to grab a coffee and a bite to eat which was much needed. Before you knew it we were on the ground in Augusta Georgia. Upon arrival it was obvious that Augusta is known for their golf course and the Augusta National golf tournament. The terminal looked like a country club from the 1990’s, green carpet and everything.
This is where a long travel day became very long and the entire team had to come together and support one another. Upon arrival the car rental company had not secured our five vans that the team needs. Prior arrangements were made and the rental car company dropped the ball. When I am traveling alone or with one other person this is not such a big deal but in this case we had an entire cycling team with chaperones we had to get to the hotel all at the same time for check in. After an hour the rental car companies found vans 30 miles away that the chaperones would have to go and pickup while us athletes wait in the terminal. This took another hour and a half which I quickly took advantage of and transferred from my wheelchair to some partially padded airport seats to lay down on. Upon arrival with the vans we all quickly started loading to head to the hotel and get some much needed rest. Quickly we found out that one of the vans had the wrong back seats in it that would not fold down. The back seats folding down is a must to make room for our bike, wheelchairs, and luggage. The van had seats in it that didn’t belong and had to be removed the hard way. This took the rental car company another hour to figure out. Finally were all loaded and on the road to the hotel. At this time we’re all tired, hungry, and irritable from the long day. All we want to do is eat and sleep at this point. Thankfully we didn’t have to race the next day and we had only planned a short ride to recon the courses and get our registration packets for the races.
After a 40 minute drive we arrive to the hotel to find out that our rooms PossAbilities secured were not available anymore and had been given away due to a technicality. A technicality that shouldn’t have happened. Team PossAbilities had recently received a letter from the hotel manager thanking us for staying with them for our race and telling us how much they were looking forward to hosting us. Sadly something happened where they could no longer hold our rooms. This was the last thing we wanted to hear after this travel day. Long story short the team ended up a half mile away at a different hotel two hours later with rooms and the ability to finally get some food, lay down, and relax. In the end it what was a rough travel day getting to the National championships but we made it and it could always be worse. These are all first world problems and we all need to sometimes take a step back and think about how fortunate we are to be in the position to even have these troubles. This was time I got to spend with some amazing people that make up Team PossAbilities and I am thankful for that. We overcame many obstacles along the way and I had some great conversations with my piers I will cherish forever. It was finally time to put our game faces on and get racing.