Hello from London! By Susannah Scaroni

susannahWhat an amazing couple weeks of firsts this has been. First US paralympic team, first time feeling the roar of an F-15 air force jet, first time putting espresso shots IN my coffee (yes, an espresso machine was tucked safely inside Aaron’s race chair–who would travel without one?), first time in London, first croissant (and second, and third…). It is hard for me to believe all that has happened since we boarded that plane, nearly 3 weeks ago. My surroundings and daily experiences are about as consistent as this English weather. For instance, a week ago today I had greeted the morning with my coach and a few teammates at our routine 6:30am “coffee-time” inside our nice suite at Lakenheath Royal Air force Base. We then would join the rest of our US wheelchair racing team, putting in miles out on the road we shared with the friendly humvee drivers. Finished with training, our day usually consisted of exploring around the base, visiting Starbucks and hitting up the fresh juice bar, “relaxing” video game tournaments that consisted of shooting zombies, and without fail a trip to the BX just in case I had missed something in an aisle the day before. For nine days that atmosphere allowed me to adjust to the six hour time change, acclimate to the mildly cool temperatures, and perhaps most importantly, taught me to look the other direction first when crossing the street. I am so grateful we were able to begin our trip with such an amazing team of support. The base truly provided us with love, encouragement and every else we needed to reach our final level of readiness. And ready we were. As wildly as the wind here blows in a new front, our conditions have drastically changed. Arriving at THE London Paralympic village, we stepped onto the grounds that now house us, our dreams, and everything we have worked for. Instead of camo and fighter jets, I now look out the window to the incredibly massive Olympic stadium, a street lined with flags representing the 166 countries that are competing with their best, and the actual people who are fighting to make their homelands proud. Directly in my view, standing tall in the center of this village is the Paralympic symbol, comprised of 3 agitos which remind us all of the motto “spirit in motion”. A spirit of will and determination to act. This has truly been an unbelievable experience for me. Each time I step into the stadium, brimming with excitement to see my teammates race, I am overtaken by the roar of the crowds. As the athletes hone in on the final curve, arms coming nearly vertical and hammering down with strength and determination, the roaring grows beyond just a sound. It becomes a living being that transfuses into me. My face begins to tingle and my heart pounds. This is the experience of the Paralympics. Never before have I felt as if I were floating there, literally feeling time slow down as every stroke is made in the battle for gold. People have been asking me how it is I can wait so long to finally compete, as my event is the very last. It’s not hard to explain. Each day has served to increase my vigor for competition. Every race I watch, every determined face I see, and each image of pure joy and relief has boosted my longing to take my stand out there. I am beyond grateful to have the opportunity to be present in this beating and thriving existence that is the Paralympics. Well, the waiting was finally over. The day had come.  I have been competing in wheelchair racing for 10 years now, traversed the globe, and been in front of seas of unfamiliar faces. However, none of that mattered as I pushed out of the athlete staging that morning, crossing onto the start line. As we came into view, the crowd went wild. I was instantly overtaken by such intense excitement! Then the moment came. I saw my mom standing across the fence from me, bright eyed, “Team Scaroni” shirt on, and I could no longer hold in my emotions. With a slip of tears, I took a gulp and gave a wave. It was then that my heart understood the hours of work that had gone into her being able to be there, and all for this moment. Right then I knew that no matter what, I wanted to make these people proud. I had an uncontrollable desire to put forth ALL that was within me, to make this a special race.   It sure was a special one. This was my fourth marathon, and nothing like the previous three. The course began with a small two mile loop, then another three 8-mile ones. It was said there were sixty some turns, which is pretty significant to a wheelchair racer, as the act of turning demands careful control of speed–meaning there was a lot of decelerating/accelerating that day. For me, this truly took a toll on my power. However, as my arms began to complain in exhaustion, my mind became my strength…and I spent the rest of the race clinging to this. I didn’t look at how many miles were left, but focused on the fact that THIS was the marathon, EACH stroke was the marathon, and I was there to do a marathon. As I made my way through the final lap, denying my throat the water it so eagerly desired, my eyes were unable to focus, and my arms felt heavier than I could even believe. But I was almost there! When I came around the final round-about, in front of Buckingham Palace, I was cheered on with a roar of “U-S-A”‘s. It was an incredible moment, and from somewhere within my burning arms came a flow of energy and joy. As I came across the finish line, a wave of relief flowed over me, I truly knew that I had left it all out there…I had raced my marathon with ALL that was within me. As a cool towel was placed over my head and fresh water brought into my parched system, I felt so grateful to have had the chance to be there that day, and motivated to continue on a path where I get to make each stroke matter.

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