For those of you I may not know, my name is Anjali Forber-Pratt. I am a Paralympic wheelchair racer who trains at the University of Illinois. Beijing 2008 was my first Paralympic Games and I was thrilled to come home with bronze medals in both the 400m and the 4x100m relay. And now, I am officially a proud member of Team USA headed to London 2012 to compete in the 100m, 200m and 400m!
I was adopted from India as an infant, and while preparing to go back to India for the first time as a young adult in 2006, I was told to prepare for India's invasion of the senses. Invasion was the perfect word—India was filled with bright colors, strong smells, loud noises, and the entire experience was exactly that—an invasion of the senses. Thinking about this past weekend at the Paralympic Track & Field Trials, I would say that experience was an invasion of emotions. Let me tell you some more...
In Indianapolis last weekend, over 250 athletes came together to perform at the Paralympic Track & Field trials, each one trying to punch their ticket to London. The sheer number of athletes was overwhelming—familiar faces, new faces and even some foreign faces, all coming to participate. It was also three of the hottest days of the year and in the history of Indianapolis. I mean, we were all for breaking records, but that was one record I think we all could have done without breaking---record high temperatures! The ever-popular Twitter hashtag for the weekend was: #hottestplaceonearth. I also believe the extreme heat affected people's emotions in an already stressful situation. As an athlete, there was more than one occasion when it was important to consciously keep one's emotions in check. to be patient with situations beyond our control, and to go with the flow despite feeling hot and tired.
For me, day one was a toughie. I had both the 800m final and the 200m final on Friday night. The 800m has never been my strong suit, but because I finished 4th at World Championships in 2011, I told my coach I wasn't ready to give up on that race just yet. It is important to have goals to work toward and even though this race is not my strongest, I wanted to at least try. I finished 4th in the 800m and will not be contesting the event in London, but it was a huge season best for me. Despite the disappointment, I was happy with how I ran my race and stayed with the pack up until the last 150m.
Because there was not much time between races to really process everything, I refocused and tried to stay in the moment and concentrate on the 200m. This is a challenge many athletes talk about—having to move on and focus on the race at hand. I felt really ready for the 200m, my favorite event! I finished 2nd in the 200m with another season best, which I was thrilled about, but at the same time, I lost the world record to my teammate and good friend. This was an exciting and joyous event for my teammate and for our classification, but it was a bittersweet moment for me. Here was another example of this invasion of emotions—I was both happy and disappointed at the same time. I was extremely grateful for the hugs, and kind words of support that I needed in order to move on to days two and three of competition. It was a challenging day indeed, but knowing and feeling the love and support meant so much to me. The truth is, records are meant to be broken. The fact that records are falling across many races and shows how much Paralympic sport has evolved and how much more competitive it is getting. This is so exciting!
On days two and three, also equally hot, I ran the 100m and 400m. I finished 2nd in the 100m and 3rd in the 400m, posting a fast enough time and positioning myself with what is called a 'start right' in each of those events. At our Paralympic trials, you had to be one of the top three American finishers in order to contest the event at the London 2012 Games, in addition to meeting multiple other criteria. Again, I ran season bests and was quite happy with my performances. I was also extremely pleased for my teammates who were putting up fast marks and times too.
The track meet wrapped up Sunday morning and then we anxiously waited all day for the 5PM team announcement. Athletes were brought into a private room, separated from media, friends, family, and loved ones for the moment we had all been waiting for—the 2012 London Team USA Track & Field roster. I'm not sure how to explain the emotions that surround this type of an event. For most, they had put forth four years or more of hard work, blood, sweat and tears with the goal in mind of representing Team USA. As every name was called, there was cheering and support as dreams came true for my fellow teammates. But when names were not called, hearts were broken. Once again, the emotions covered the whole spectrum.
Team USA is an outstanding group of athletes, and I know we will make our country proud. There are also equally outstanding athletes who will be left at home. Readers should be aware that the process of qualification is far more complicated than just having a 'start right' for your event—it involves the percentage you were off of the US 'A' standard, the number of slots available determined by the International Paralympic Committee, among many other things.
I am not sure when the honor of being selected to represent my country at the second largest sporting event in the world will completely hit me. When I heard my name in that room, I felt a wave of emotions---adrenaline rush, relief, pressure, exhaustion, and happiness. In that moment, though, I had a huge smile on my face and tried to savor the moment. I had a rocky start to my season and all I could say to my coach and teammates who were congratulating me was, "Thank you". When I participated in the 2008 Games, it was a training day after the opening ceremonies, and I was out on the streets of Beijing early in the morning. I turned a corner and saw the flame lit above the stadium, and that was when I realized it was really happening—that my dreams were coming true.
And now, it is happening again! I'm so tremendously excited, honored, and proud to be a member of Team USA. Thank you for believing in me, and I promise to give it my all, and be the best I can be.
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