Seeing as I had been dreaming for 16 years already it was okay that I wasn’t able to sleep that much the night before my race. 5:30am the alarm went off and it was then T-2hrs!
The next 2hrs flew by, my heartrate continued to raise and was up to 130 beats/min by the time I was sitting down stretching in the call room 20min prior to race start. Surprisingly I had trouble doing my prerace bathroom run, and barely fit it in before being taken out to the track. But there was no time left to stress over that, it was what it was and I had already resigned myself to doing whatever it was going to take out there. Luckily for both myself and the spectators there were no mishaps.
The game plan for the race was to walk A Standard pace (4:40 per 1km) where Teresa Vaill and I would take turns taking the lead and switch off every 5 laps. I was assigned #9 starting position and she was #1 which meant that I had to cut in after the gun went off so she took the first 5 laps. Our first 1k was slightly slower in a 4:42 and then we dropped to 4:38. I took over and we hit 4:37 and 4:41.
She didn’t switch back with me and we hit 4:43. I continued to lead the race and she dropped back and eventually out of the race. I was still doing the work taking the lead after 6km and Tim told me to drop back and let another competitor Erin Gray share some of the work. Erin dropped the pace for two laps before giving up the front and tucking in behind me. I remember thinking that going back and forth every two laps like this was going to make the race take forever. By 10k we were significantly slower than A Standard pace and with all the bouncing back and forth lead changes it was evident that only the winner would be making the
Olympic Team with a B Standard.
When we came through 10k we had a bout a 30second lead on my fellow TEAMmate Miranda Melliville. After another few laps it became clear that Miranda was closing the gap, it was just matter of time of when, not if, she would catch us. This was great because it would help prevent Erin and I from slowing too much, even if it wasn’t an A standard I still wanted to race a solid time. Soon enough Miranda caught us somewhere around 14-15km into the race. I was waiting for her to make a move and was ready to lock into a fast rhythmed pace but she seemed continent to sit with us. With a little less than 5k to go I decided that I was not going to be able to let anyone pace me, sharing the work up front was not going to work anymore, if I really wanted this than I had to go with it.
By the time it was 4k to go I was feeling pumped, and while it was definitely too early to say the race was mine, that is exactly what I kept telling myself. I knew how badly I wanted it, so bad I would never be able to find the words to express how bad I wanted it, the only way to accurately express how much I wanted it was in how I raced. When the pace dropped back to a more honest pace of 4:43 it actually felt easier than some of the 4:50’s we hit earlier on. This is because earlier on it’s not that that pace was “easy” but easy enough that the mind is free to wander and you wind up finding yourself thinking about how it’s not that comfortable and you become bored and sluggish. However, when you push just a little bit harder it’s hard enough that you cannot waste energy thinking about what it feels like, instead you just go and put the body on autopilot.
Around 2-3km to go Miranda had moved in front of Erin but it was still a string of three girls. I remember looking up on the jumbotron and seeing how closely I was pursued by the two of them and thinking that this is exactly what it looked like in Indoor Nationals, this thought was not comforting and it reminded me that at any moment one of them could have unleashed a move and put on a surge. I was already fully committed to responding immediately and would not relinquish the lead position.
With 4-5laps to go Miranda began to creep up on my outside shoulder and would occasionally attempt a move on the straighaway. I was not going to give into her and pushed the pace back.
By this point in the race my Mom was screaming her head off so much for so long that she sounded as if she might just collapse herself. I remember thinking to myself if my Mom is going to exert herself this much cheering than I sure better do the same racing.
With a few laps to go they were playing Empire State of Mind and I had a boost of confidence flow over me. I was a true New Yorker, that lived and trained in NY, who battled the cold snowy winters in Central Park as well as training the hot humid summers while going to grad school. I lived in NY, trained in NY, worked in NY and I was going to bring the gold medal back home to NY.
I always dedicate laps to people in the race. And with 3 laps to go I was racing for Dziadzi. This was perfect because while I sadly could not bring him home the gold to NY, Nana was eagerly waiting back home and so I walked laps 48 and 47 for Dziadzi and Nana! The last thing I did with my Dziadzi was take a lap around the hospital floor. The day prior to that last lap he was walking so fast he was seriously flying, especially considering he had just had his kidney removed and was almost 86 years old! In fact he was walking so fast he was faster than Joey three days after his appendix surgery and Joey’s Dad the day after back surgery. He did admit to my Mom that evening that he was walking as fast as possible because he was showing off for me. All these thoughts were floating in and out of my mind with 2 laps to go. Now it was my turn to show off for Dziadzi. I knew he was smiling down from above, probably screaming go Marisha go(my name in Polish) while nudging his Angel buddies and saying that down there is MY granddaughter! On the back turn someone (Jim Bean perhaps) was screaming who wants this, who wants this more, and in my head I was screaming ME! I DO!, I want this MORE!!!
We came up on one lap to go and out of the corner of my eye I read 1:33:09 on the clock, how cruel, if we were done at that moment one lap sooner both Miranda and I would be going to London because we would both have A Standards.
That was a fleeting thought because the reality was we still had one to go. Therefore, it was time to go, there was nothing to hold back, time to kick, or risk being out kicked. I dropped a 1:43 last lap which is sub 7:00 mile pace, and closed my last 1km in 4:28. Miranda fought hard every step of the way and only fell back the very last straight away. I was so afraid of being nabbed at the line that I didn’t’ t stop race walking until I was three strides through the finish line.
I had done it, I had won, I earned my ticket, earned my spot on the Olympic Team, I was going to London, I had BECOME my Dream! I had dreamed about this moment, and wondered what it would feel like, played it out in my head over and over again.
And when the moment finally came I wasn’t able to fully grasp it for awhile. It would hit me in waves when a reporter would ask a question, when I would look up on the jumbotron and see my name as listed first, or during one of the ensuing endless hugs I got from my family, TEAMmates or competitors. This was my moment, I had done it, I was going to London the next month, all those endless hours of training, day in and day out, in the least ideal conditions, endless tired nights only to be followed by more tired mornings. Having to balance being an elite athlete as a PhD student, all the missed social opportunities, the sacrifices my family and especially Joey had to make so I could selfishly pursue my Olympic Dream. It had all paid off, it was all worth it, July 1st I could finally call myself an Olympian!
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Olympic Pin Talley: 26Belarus, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Lebanon, Great Britain, Uganda, Poland, Netherlands, Chinese Tiapie, Bahamas, Costa Rica, Spain, Australia, Jamaica, Luxembourg, France, Sweden, Czech Republic, Russia, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, USA Gymnastics, Italy, Ireland, USA Waterpolo