Here is my update from the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Winter Games. Parts II and III will follow in the next two days.
From the moment that Sochi was announced as the host city for the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Games, you knew it was going to be a show. In the end it was much more than just a show, it was a grand spectacle! It started with the Olympic Games. From the very first moment of the Opening Ceremonies I had a feeling of being impressed. The harmony of human movement and astonishing lighting and effects led to one of the greatest displays of grand scale creativity. The Opening Ceremonies set the tone for the following two weeks. As the athletes played out their roles by crafting the greatest sporting moments in memory and we stood in awe. When it appeared that there was nothing else that could amaze us; Sochi had one more treat in store, closing out the Olympics with yet another astounding symphony of brilliance.
Sochi wasn’t finished there. As the smoke drifted away from the fireworks after the Closing Ceremonies it was not the end; merely halftime. Two weeks later they were at it again putting on a show that would dazzle the World. At 20:14 the Opening Ceremony began for the 11th Paralympic Winter Games. I was focused on my first race of the Games; therefore I had to skip walking into the Fisht Stadium. I made it a point that evening to watch the parade of Nations. That was all I saw of the Opening Ceremonies until yesterday. It turns out that the Opening Ceremonies were another magical display. The cauldron was lit in what I think was one of the most amazing ways I have ever seen. And so it started.
The cauldron was just getting warm when I was starting my first race of the Games, the Biathlon Short. As I was riding the shuttle from the village to the Cross Country Stadium that morning I saw the streams of spectators making their way to the stands. It was impressive to see so many people come to watch the races. It is hard to explain the feeling I got as I stepped out of the shuttle and heard the crowds cheering for an on-going race. But when I saw and felt it all together that was one of the greatest moments. I went to ski the trail and looked at the stadium and the spectators. The stands were full, noise of thunderous applause echoed in every direction. I had to smile, seeing the people and feeling the roar and energy from them was one of the few realizations of where I was; at the Paralympic Games. A year ago here, I learned a valuable lesson in racing. I came into Sochi with a solid lead in the World Cup overall. The first race I was more afraid and focused on not losing the lead then going out there for the win. My result suffered from that. The next day, I forgot about everything else and focused solely on what I could control and what I needed to do. For the past year I knew what my focus was to be going into this race. The preparation and focus before this race was the best I have ever had. I had confidence that my skis would be rockets. That my fitness, though not tested, was at the best it had ever been. My shooting was right where I needed it to be. Everything was falling into place for me to have the race I know I was capable of. To give the fastest skiers the best snow conditions, the officials reversed the start order, meaning the fastest would start first. I was the second to start. I started well, the racing felt natural. The first lap flew by and I was right where I wanted to be. Coming into the range for my first bout of shooting. My set-up with the rifle was solid, right on with the first shot, second, third, fourth then I started to think. Thinking ‘I got to hit this one, don’t miss this last shot.’ I took that extra half second to ensure I hit it. As I was on target I thought ‘I got it!’ Before the pellet left the barrel I was already getting out of position. Meaning I missed the target by the smallest of margins. I knew instantly that I’d messed up. I had opened the doorway for someone to take advantage. I wasn’t finished, now I had to fight. My next thought was probably what saved my race. As I entered the penalty I suddenly realized that it skied to the left. Playing right into my hand, literally. It allowed me to push outwards with my pole, letting me generate more speed and accelerating out of the penalty loop. I knew right then I could get back into this race. Not sure how I did it but the second lap was even better than the first. It came down to hitting five targets in the second bout. I set-up in the very same way. Hitting the first, second, third, fourth, keeping my mind clear- I hit the fifth. A sigh of relief. I got up with a renewed energy, attacking the last lap like there was nothing else in the World. I kept pushing for more, every stride I took I wanted more from it. The trails were beginning to break down in a few spots so I focused on what I needed to do to get through them as fast as I could. My coach, Robin was yelling that it was extremely close, that I was still in the hunt for a medal. As much as I wanted to start early and set the time to beat, I was a nervous wreck in the athlete’s tent waiting for the skiers to finish. John, the team’s psychologist was with me and we turned off his radio to avoid hearing everyone cross the finish line and whether they were ahead or behind. I had done everything I could do, with that one miss there was a chance for others to take advantage of that. The ski was the IMG_0714greatest race of my life. I had no idea how close it could be, as far as I knew everyone else had cleaned. Robin comes in looking shocked; saying that was the best race he had ever seen me ski. Congratulating me on a great race, when I asked where I’d finished. He smiles, and then says “Lekomtcev, Arendz, Karachurin.” Then he adds the part that I was behind by 0.7 seconds and ahead of third by 0.6 seconds. I was a Paralympic medalist, a Silver medalist! It is hard to describe the emotions I went through right then, there were so many all at once. The longest lasting was the smile on my face. That was an incredible race, one of my finest ever.

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