Back on Track; February 17, 2014

February 23, 2014

At this point, much of 2013 is a blur. And, coming on the heels of a spectacular 2012 and being the year I officially turned old that wasn’t entirely unexpected. Looking back, which I do a lot now in my old age, one of the most positive things to come out of 2013 for me was regaining my motivation to win.

Following the Paralympic Games, I was the first to admit that I was simply going through the motions. This wasn’t entirely without merrit – I had much family and friend time to make up for missing over the past few years. Although great for the psyche, it meant my work and training ethic were woefully inadequate. This was painfully clear in every international race we contested last year and none more than the Road World Championships in Canada. In short, finishing all our World Cup and World Championship races with double digit placings was the swift kick in the pants I needed to recommit myself to training with the purpose of winning. This process, which is already baring fruit and by no means complete, began shortly after Worlds in the fall by getting back to the basics.

While in Colorado Springs for a wedding last September, I hung out with the participants of an U.S. Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) Learning to Race Development Camp. This was the same camp where I was introduced to tandem racing in 2006. The enthusiasm of the new riders was infectious. They helped remind me how far I’ve come and why I want to do this: to challenge myself and be the best (in tandem cycling specifically and in everything, ever, more generally).

In November, Dave and I attended an intermediate level training camp at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center. This camp mixed athletes from the National Team with new athletes who are showing potential. More structured than my time at the USABA camp in September, this camp gave Dave and me valuable time together on the tandem and let us train with (and against) other men’s tandems who would like nothing more than to knock us off as the top men’s tandem in the U.S.

Along with suffering through another NFL season for the Washington Professional Football Club in my basement training dungeon for hours at a time, I made my way to Tucson in December to stretch my legs on the open road, and again, get valuable tandem time with Dave. The past few months have gone a long way to building a firm foundation for the high intensity training and racing ahead of us in 2014.

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Dave and me mid kilo.
Photo: VeloImages

And as previously stated, recommiting myself to my goals is already baring fruit. This past week, Dave and I competed at the L.A. Para-Cycling Open, the U.S. Para-Cycling qualifying event for the Track World Championships scheduled for April in Mexico. Winning gold in both the men’s tandem 4km Pursuit and 1km Sprint, Dave and I surprised even ourselves with our February form and fitness.

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Dave and me catching our opponents in our 4km Individual Pursuit.
Photo: VeloImages

Rachfal and Swanson dominate on final night of track cycling championships

November 25, 2013

http://m.teamusa.org/US-Paralympics/Features/2013/November/24/Rachfal-and-Swanson-dominate-on-final-night-of-track-cycling-championships

By Katie Branham | 11/24/2013 6:46:41 PM

CARSON, CALIF. -  Clark Rachfal and David Swanson dominated the men’s tandem sprint on the final day at the 2013 U.S. Paralympics Track Cycling National Championships held in conjunction with the LA Grand Prix.

The team of Rachfal (Annapolis, Md.) and pilot Swanson (Colorado Springs, Colo.) made a decisive move in the tandem sprint with nearly two laps to go to claim the national title in dominant fashion. Kevin Meyers (Greenfield, Wisc.) and Robert Springer (Sturtevant, Wisc.) took second, while Davian Robinson (Raleigh, N.C.) and John Croom (Rock Hill, S.C.) claimed bronze. It was the first national podium for Robinson and Croom, who are also the two youngest competitors in the championships.

“I think in a race like that, it comes down to a lot of technique and experience, and we are the most senior tandem pairing here,” Rachfal said. “The fact that we have ridden together so much, and we know how each other moves and operates gives us a strong advantage. I think this will go a long way to kick-starting our road season to Greenville 2014 for the championships.”

In the women’s tandem sprint, the team of Karissa Whitsell and Jennifer Triplett of Colorado Springs, Colo. pulled ahead to a clear victory. The duo made it a clean sweep this weekend as they won all three races in their class.

In the 10k scratch race, Jeffrey “Scott” Martin (Oceanside, Calif.) made his move with 2,000 meters remaining and never looked back as he won his second national title of the weekend. Martin extended his lead by more than half a lap to cross the line first in 13:14.777. Jonathan Copsey (Colorado Springs, Colo.) took second, and Chris Murphy rounded out the podium in third.

For more information, please contact Katie Branham, U.S. Paralympics, at 719-237-9407 or Katie.Branham@usoc.org.

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Road Worlds 2013 in Baie-Comeau, Canada

September 19, 2013
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The dominating U.S. Para-cycling team in Baie-Comeau, Canada

The U.S. Para-Cycling Team’s art is winning, and in Canada, the team painted a masterpiece. As a whole, the team dominated the year’s final World Cup; handily won the World Championship’s overall medal count; and brought home 12 World Championship titles, including those won by first-time Para-Cycling World champions, Greta Neimanas, Jamie Whitmore, Muffy Davis and Aaron Keith.

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Some of the team’s Time Trial winners and medalists

To this haul, Dave and I added two flat tires, a wobbly training wheel, four double-digit finishes, and oh yeah, a cracked road tandem frame.

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Getting a push after a flat tire and wheel change

Last I wrote, I was reflecting on whether it is better to be lucky or good. As a team in Canada, Dave and I were neither. And as previously stated, if luck favors the prepared, then our preparations were inadequate. And, it’s probably more accurate to replace “we” and “our” in the previous sentences with “I” and “my.” Also, while we’re at it, “probably” should be replaced with “definitely.” But hey, we’re a team, and that means Captain Swanson gets to go down with the ship!

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Dave and me during our time trial in Baie-Comeau

For me, my lack of preparation stems back to my glorious off season where a didn’t touch the bike for a couple months, and when I did in the winter and spring, my riding was aimless and without purpose. And, although I made progress and grew stronger over the summer, I was building my strength on an unstable foundation. Worlds was an eye-opener that last year’s training, granted enough to compete domestically, was not enough to perform at the highest level.

Deep down, I think I knew this to be the case. When asked, I told whomever that my goal was next year’s Road World Championships in Greenville, South Carolina. Why? Because it will be awesome to win on American soil! And probably also because I knew I had not put in the necessary work to be competitive this year. On the plus side, I find losing to people I’m usually better than highly motivating. For the first time in several years, I wasn’t waiting to hang up the bike and frolic through life for a spell following Worlds. I’m energized and looking forward to putting in a long off-season of conditioning and training to be my best and do some painting of my own in Greenville.

Just caught the end of a beautiful sunset with Greta Neimanas at the hotel in  Baie-Comeau, Quebec, Canada

Just caught the end of a beautiful sunset with Greta Neimanas at Hôtel Le Manoir where the team stayed in Baie-Comeau, Quebec, Canada

Canada Bound

September 19, 2013

Over the past month, I completed my fourth RAGBRAI (ride across Iowa); attended a World’s Team training camp at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center; and finished my World’s preparations riding with Dave and the regular local cast of characters in Tucson. Now, we’re in Canada along with the rest of the para-cycling team (and all our gear) for the final World Cup and World Championships of the 2013 road season. My most remarkable observation of the training and logistics leading to these events is that everything’s been unremarkable. By no means am I saying the past month wasn’t fun, refreshing, exciting or productive, rather, it’s more an observation that things have gone surprisingly well and seemed easy when there were plenty of opportunities for situations to turn pear-shaped.

During my time in Iowa and Colorado, I spent more time riding tandem with pilots not named Dave Swanson than at any other point in my cycling career. This included playing tandem pilot Russian roulette for the ride across Iowa and the World’s Team training camp in Colorado Springs. For the second time, I rode RAGBRAI with a volunteer pilot previously unknown to us. Joanna McIntosh refers to these pilots as axe murderers before we get to know them. Turns out, Jon wasn’t an axe murderer, but he was a competent bike handler. Thanks in no small part to Jon, RAGBRAI was just as much fun and great training as years past.

In Colorado Springs, despite numerous requests to road cyclists, the only cyclists adventurous enough to jump on board my tandem were mountain bikers – one should question their judgment and mine for riding with them. I spent the prep camp training with another stand-up individual, Ian Broughton. Ian was thrown into the deep end of tandem piloting. Our first ride was on dirt and gravel; we were riding out of the saddle on our second ride, and turning hot laps in the Garden of the Gods with traffic and downhill turns by day five. Ian’s comfort level and skill piloting the tandem noticeably progressed throughout the week. Not only did riding with Jon and Ian benefit my training in the short term, it also peaked my interest in rebuilding my Cannondale tandem for home use. I learned I can train on the road with anyone who can steer the bike, pedal circles and has the patience to adapt to the quirks of tandems.

Also, this year’s World’s camp was the first team training camp with our new team director and head coach. Fortunately, these changes energized the team and brought everyone together. The team has a new top-down positive attitude and athletes are returning to the collaborative cohesive unit we were in years past. At no time was this more evident than when we were performing indoor sprint testing on stationary bikes. The coaches were placing aspirational power values on the white board, and athletes stuck around once their testing was completed to cheer on their team mates despite being tired from the morning’s grueling workout.

Power testing at training camp

Power testing at training camp

A training camp coffee break

A training camp coffee break

Once in Tucson, Dave and I took a specific time trial focus to our training. We addressed our race preparations, bike positioning and pacing all in an effort to make race days as routine as possible. The perfect time trial is at best a moving target, and at worst an impossibility like catching a dragon or finding the beginning of a rainbow. BUT, thanks to a little bit of luck cultivated through years of training, specific time trial preparation and the watchful eye of my new coach, Gord Fraser, we are more comfortable and confident on the bike which have to be worth something.

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Training in Tucson

When reflecting upon the past month, I’ve pondered the old question, is it better to be lucky or good? Some say the good have more luck or that luck favors the prepared. I tend to agree with those statements. And although sometimes unexplained fortune smiles on us all, whether from a greater power or probability no different than a roll of the dice, I think most favorable outcomes are positively influenced by our interactions with the good-natured folks around us. This was certainly my experience riding across Iowa, training in Colorado and Arizona, and I expect will result in medals for Team USA in Canada.

Special shout out to Ian Broughton for introducing me to Strava. Strava allows athletes to turn every training ride into a pissing match by recording your time and speed over segments of roads or trails and is useful for nothing other than bragging rights. I’ve known of Strava’s existence for a while, however, riding with Ian got me to thinking how much fun it would be to blow up stretches of road with the tandem. For the past week, we rode with the Strava app on my Verizon Wireless iPhone. We placed highly on some stretches of road without even trying, and others gave me a valuable perspective on the legitimate strength and speed of those whom we train with in Tucson. We did well not let Strava dictate our training this go around, however, we may go segment hunting when training is less structured this winter.

And finally, to those whom didn’t believe that a chicken and egg were racing during RAGBRAI…please direct your attention to Exhibit A: this video by Team Bonjour Kitty from the San Francisco Triathlon Club

RAGBRAI 2013: July 21-27

August 1, 2013
For the fourth time (and first since 2009), I biked and camped my way across Iowa for the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, or RAGBRAI, along with Verizon co-workers, Joanna McIntosh and Ed Senn.

Please enjoy my daily recaps which were originally posted on my Facebook Fan Page, at: http://www.facebook.com/crachfal83.

A successful day to jump start RAGBRAI: rear tire dipped in the Missouri (check); pork rib eye on a stick! (check); a free hat for doing pull-ups with the Marines (check); and a Lance Armstrong sighting at the Mellow Johnny’s expo tent. My RAGBRAI bingo card is filling up in a hurry!

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RAGBRAI Day 1 – Council Bluffs to Harlan, 53 miles – COMPLETED
More squares filled on the RAGBRAI bingo card: rhubarb pie (only Lion’s, not Presbyterian); met NFL pro bowler Casey Weigman; and was recognized by tandem riders from four years ago. A good day but we left points on the board (no photos with a prom queen or Sasquatch). Six days ahead to get it right, including a century tomorrow.

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RAGBRAI Day 2 – Harlan to Perry, Century Day
Jon and I got a little late start due to his family obligations. Once on the road at 5 pm, in 90+F heat and riding into a block headwind, we decided discretion was the better part of valor and skipped the extra century loop.

The hard chargers in the photo with us (taken at the MO/MI River divide), Jessica and Jody, represent the other side of RAGBRAI – hard partiers who crash wherever they make it each day.

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The sky opened 3.5 hours in & with 20 miles to ride. We flipped a hard u-turn just passed Bagly, IA, & sought shelter from the driving sheet rain, hail and lightning way to close for comfort behind a house. The neighbors flagged us into their garage. The likelihood this turned into the Pulp Fiction scene in Zed’s shop seemed less threatening than the storm. We enjoyed Dan’s and Linda’s hospitality for 2.5 hours before getting a ride to camp. Big thanks to Joanna and Ed for storm prepping our tent and Bike World for helping us out all day.

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RAGBRAI Day 3: Perry to Des Moines, 60 miles-ish
Tuesday’s ride was not about the bike. We still rode hard, but my culinary stores were dangerously low. I remedied this with apple-pear Methodist pie and ham balls in Minburn, cherry Presbyterian pie in Dallas Center, fresh Amish peach ice cream, birthday cake for my volunteer pilot Jon, and pizza.

The day closed with a 90′s throwback concert on the bridges downtown Des Moines. Sponge, Filter & Live put on a great show followed by Everclear & fireworks.

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RAGBRAI Day 4 – Des Moines to Knoxville, 50-something miles
The day was over before we knew what happened (hence no photo). We rode 25 miles before breakfast and listening to the South Polk High marching band – I flashed back to ’09 and Carolyn Quarles Burdette singing Journey in Milo when the band played Don’t Stop Believing.

On and off the bike, the Tiemeyer received numerous compliments. It’s a shame Dave T. retired, otherwise he’d receive several tandem build inquiries following this week.

RAGBRAI Day 5 – Knoxville to Oskaloosa
Another short day on RAGBRAI. Instead of arriving in camp at 10 am, we took it easy and enjoyed ourselves in a small Dutch town, Pella (partial team photo over the canal at Central College).

ImageHighlights in Pella included: Methodist peach pie; almond bars; homemade bologna; touring a traditional Dutch windmill; dressing up like Dutch school girls with Ed Senn; and dominating the cheese-cart race with Joanna McIntosh.

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This was also the day a couple of other tandems believed they could challenge our supremacy as fastest bike on RAGBRAI. Needless to say, it did not end well…for them.

And, at least on RAGBRAI, the chicken comes before the egg as proven by the two guys racing their bikes to Oskaloosa in full body costumes. For dinner, we joined the 30 athletes and volunteers of Adaptive Sports Iowa – a fun loving group of people excited to conquer new challenges and give RAGBRAI a go. Check them out at:

http://www.adaptivesportsiowa.org/

RAGBRAI Day 6 – Oskaloosa to Fairfield, 50-some miles
Great riding made up for disappointing Amish cinnamon rolls, and worse still, horrible Methodist pie! Not only was the pie filling store bought but they made me wait for bad pie. This shook my RAGBRAI belief structure (which is fairly shallow to begin with) to the core. We must remain ever vigilant and on guard against substandard pie. After all, life’s to short for cheap beer and bad pie.

Highlights for Day 6, included: tandem motor pacing the other half of Team America, Joanna McIntosh, at over 24 mph before she pulled off and shouted: “Put my bags in the tent if it starts raining!;” and witnessing Fairfield break the world record for people wearing fake mustaches - Ed Senn and Sheryl Walter participated but Jon and I arrived minutes too late.

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RAGBRAI Day 7 – Fairfield to Fort Madison, the race to the river
Jon and I closed out RAGBRAI with a real-world experiment to determine how far one can ride on a cinnamon roll, fresh homemade peach pie and ice cream. Answer? 50 miles. Shame the today’s route was 60+.

With our front tire dipped in the Mississippi, my fourth RAGBRAI is in the books.

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Thank you:

Iowa for your hospitality, esp. Eric Mistry and the Flannerys; Jon Thompson for being crazy enough to pilot a tandem; and, Joanna McIntosh for making my RAGBRAI participation possible. And what better way to leave Iowa in style than by having the best baker in the state, Colleen Flannery Adams, send us out with a pie smorgasbord!

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Road Nationals 2013

July 22, 2013

Dave and I went two-for-two, defending our titles and dispatching with ease all would-be challengers, at the 2013 U.S. Para-Cycling Road National Championships 4th of July weekend in Wisconsin. Truth be told, this was our hardest fought national championships to date, and the victories this past weekend were forged on the trainer and roads of Tucson after getting our teeth kicked in at the Tandem Tour of Belgium.

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Tandem Tour of Belgium

In early May, Dave and I returned to Belgium to compete in a tandem stage race for the second consecutive year. Last year, the Ronde van Belgie was a highly motivating race which ended in tragedy – we went from second on the general classification and first in points to hours back after hitting the pavement twice on the penultimate stage. This year, I relearned several lessons since forgotten over the course of my glorious off season:

1. Tandem races are really, really fast…really;
2. Recovery is key, especially when revising race objectives down from winning to surviving; and
3. When one cannot train on the road, intervals on the stationary trainer are a necessary evil.

Since the goal is always to be faster, I needed to refocus on recovery and interval training. Recovery was the easy part. I simply needed to sleep more, eat better and blah blah blah. On the other hand, interval training, I had yet to wrap my head around that concept for the 2013 season. Worse than that, I didn’t even understand how I had managed interval workouts at night after work in previous years. once I had sufficiently over thought this dilemma, I determined the only course of action was to simply start doing intervals…short painful intervals. Mind you, they certainly weren’t pretty, and they were probably more endurance than sprint paced, but the fact was I was doing intervals…and they felt horrible!

With a couple weeks of interval training in the legs, I headed to Tucson for road training. Joining Dave and me for our Tucson mini camp was paracycling team mate and all around stud, Jonathan Francis Copsey. For ten days, Dave, Jonathan Francis Copsey and I thrashed each other and ripped the legs off the Tucson group rides. By the end of the camp, the bike and training began making sense again. We were faster at the end of camp than we were at the beginning, and it was mentally easier to hurt myself more for longer periods of time.

I returned home after Tucson with a few weeks remaining until road nationals. Some where along the way the switch was flipped. It took several months, but now, I could come home after a full day of work and get on the bike and train properly without a second thought. However, after two weeks of work and hard training recovery, described as “blah blah blah” above, became ever more important.

The improvements Dave and I made over the past months were on display at nationals in Madison, WI. We won our time trial, rode faster than the national team time standard for the men’s tandem category, and were named to the U.S. Para-Cycling team for the 2013 Road World Championships in Baie-Comeau, Quebec, Canada – http://www.teamusa.org/US-Paralympics/Features/2013/July/05/US-Paralympics-names-team-for-UCI-Paracycling-World-Championships.

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During the national anthem.

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Getting ready for a winning time trial.

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USA Cycling National Road Championships: racing on day 4.

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Racing to win in Madison, Wisconsin.

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Time Trial winners!

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Team USA!

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Victory celebrating with Greta Neimanas!

With more medals for the box and jerseys for the drawer, I was humbly reminded on this trip why I go play bikes in the first place. Of course a large part is to challenge myself and travel the world, but all the challenges and adventures would be worthless if not for the relationships fostered along the way. I was reminded of this lesson several times over the course of the weekend, the most prescient reminder being the life and spirit of Doug Schneebeck.

We met Doug, his wife Jean and members of their entourage for the first time last year. Doug was new to the Paralympic racing scene thanks to ALS. For most, two years is the life expectancy following an ALS diagnosis. For Doug, that’s when he began racing and winning Paralympic National Championships. A year later and Doug decided to retire, but he did so on his terms with the love and support of his family and friends as well as the respect and admiration of those with whom he raced and met along the way. Despite Doug’s deteriorating physical condition, his sense of humor and mental faculties are in tact. Nowhere is that more evident than in the blog in which he’s chronicled his life and misadventures with ALS - http://www.osohigh.com/.

Dear John Letter

May 13, 2013

Dear John:

By the time you read this, I’ll be in Belgium for a tandem stage race. There are so many things I want to say, but I’m uncertain of where to begin.

We’ve had a lot of great times since London. I’ll always cherish our walks around Annapolis, lunches breaking up the work day, and; nights that became mornings. Those were great times, right? But who are we kidding. We both knew they wouldn’t last forever…

That being said, racing in Greenville last month made me feel alive again. I haven’t felt this motivated and driven since 2011. Now, I want to race; I need that old familiar feeling of lactic acid pulsing through my body, and; I’m more willing to suffer alone on the trainer in the basement than ever to reach my goal. What’s the goal you ask? What could be so important? It’s simple: winning the 2014 UCI Para-Cycling Time Trial World Championship in Greenville, SC, next Summer.

To this end, I spent a last few days in Tucson and am now racing in Belgium. In Tucson, Dave and I…you remember Dave, right? Well anyhow, Dave and I rode a couple hard laps of Saguaro Park to open the legs; rocked the Saturday morning group ride to shock the system, and; flogged ourselves ten miles uphill for the Mt. Lemmon time trial, as pictured below. All this was meant to prepare us for six races over four days this coming weekend in Belgium. Last year, Belgium was great training. We were doing pretty well on the overall standing too actually, until a couple crashes and a broken wheel slowed us down a bit. This year, our form probably isn’t as good heading into Belgium, but our mental state and drive to improve couldn’t be more spot on.

Mt Lennon TT

Mt Lemmon TT

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, it’s not you, it’s me. I need more.  It’s a big world out there and I’m not done exploring it and pushing myself beyond the limits of what I think are possible. Don’t worry, we’ll still see each other around…from time to time.

Fondly Yours,

Clark

Seven and a Half Months

May 11, 2013
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Worth their medal. All 17 members of the U.S. Paralympic Cycling Team for the London 2012 Paralympic Games, including six gold medalists, are back on the road and track for 2013.

Seven and a half months. That’s how long I went without racing after our Paralympic road race in London on September 8, 2012. In some ways, the break was too long, And still in others, it wasn’t long enough.

The first couple months home from London, I didn’t think about, look at or touch a bike. At all. Not once. There were more important things that needed my immediate attention, such as anything else which also included:

A festive wedding season highlighted by my sister’s wedding on the Outer Banks of North Carolina where we jammed partying into every waking hour and only saw the sunrise if we hadn’t gone to bed the previous night;

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New and improved family photo!

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In the bridal party for Rachel and Derik’s October Outer Banks beach wedding.

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With sister, Rachel, on her big day!

Weekly…daily excursions to happy hour, festivals, and more generally, just out and about enjoying the company of family and friends which was all to infrequent for the past two plus years;

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Melissa Sampson, Katie Cashwell, and Sean Eggleston join in on the festivities at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. Huzzah!

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Made the Old Man’s Christmas complete by scoring a Paralympic cardigan in just the right size!

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Partying on St. Patrick’s Day with Bentley Rachfal.

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Kari Miller, April Ross, myself and Jennifer Kessy at the White House Easter Egg Roll. April and Jennifer are beach volleyball players who won the silver medal in London.

Non-bike related travel to San Diego, Chicago, Asheville and Breckenridge, and finally;

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Ringing in the New Year with Greta Neimanas in Asheville, NC.

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Nordic skiing at the 2013 USABA Winter Sports Clinic in Breckenridge.

Even to the office for work where Verizon was as good as their word – my key still worked and my desk was vacant.

My separation from the bike lasted two months, however, I started getting twitchy and needed to be physically active after only two weeks. I found pleasure in the gym, running stairs of our building at work, rowing, stand up paddling, Nordic skiing and even running. When I crawled back onto the bike in early November, out of self-inflicted guilt more than a desire to ride, it was unpleasant to say the least. Physically, I was good to go, but mentally, I wasn’t ready.

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Athletic Goals for 2013: Make the podium at the 2013 Para-cycling Road World Championships. And, run a marathon. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in Washington, DC, with Verizon colleagues on behalf of Got Chocolate Milk and Team Refuel through the Challenged Athletes Foundation, that is!

Since the new year, trainer workouts remain the bane of my existence. I’d much rather be outside doing something, anything, rather than listening to my task master of a timer counting away the minutes and hours. Alternatively, riding outside is still liberating and enjoyable. I was reminded of this at our first tandem race of the year in Greenville, SC, April 20-21.

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Getting after it for the first time this year at the Greenville 2014 Para-cycling Open!

Although it was seven and half  months between races (and eight months between blog posts), many things felt familiar instantly. Dave and I didn’t lose any of our mojo over the off-season; our technique was solid. This was a major factor in our decisive time trial win. That being said, one of our other strengths, the ability to repeat hard efforts, was lacking. This was unfortunate but easy to understand. In short, it was the result of all those intervals I didn’t have the mental capacity to complete. Dave’s form was spot on due to his racing in Tucson. Meanwhile, I wasn’t ready for prime time. As a result, we placed second in the road race.

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On the men’s podium in 2nd place.

Results aside, the most important thing to come out of racing at the Greenville Para-Cycling Open was motivation. I still have the desire to travel, race and win. I knew that desire was lurking deep down somewhere within, it just took a swift kick in the butt for it to erupt and reclaim the mantel as a top priority in my life.

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What a great way to start the season!

Annapolis paralympian ready for races in London

September 10, 2012

http://www.capitalgazette.com/news/annapolis/annapolis-paralympian-ready-for-races-in-london/article_01b86cb5-266a-584c-814a-03e4a925fbd9.html#user-comment-area

Posted: Saturday, September 1, 2012 5:00 am | Updated: 11:04 pm, Sat Sep 1, 2012.

By DIANE M. REY For Capital Gazette

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Clark Rachfal, left, of Annapolis was nominated to for the U.S. Para-cycling team to compete at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Rachfal began competing as a blind tandem cyclist with his sighted pilot, Dave Swanson, of Tucson, Ariz., after being introduced at a developmental cycling camp hosted by the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center in 2006. The following year the duo would compete for the U.S. Para-cycling National Team.

John Coggin and Clark Rachfal found fun in different places at Annapolis Elementary School on Green Street, where the two met in kindergarten.

“Clark was into athletics and sports. He was outdoors all the time. I always wanted to have my face in a book, reading,” said Coggin.

Despite their differences, the two forged a friendship that has lasted 25 years. Recently Coggin called Rachfal to wish him luck before he headed to London to compete in the Paralympic Games. He’s keeping up with him through Facebook and emails.

“I practically grew up at his home in Annapolis, I spent so much time there,” said Coggin, who lives in Bay Ridge. “I knew his parents well. They’re like a second family.”

Rachfal’s father Kenneth, mother Tanya and sister Rachel were in the stands cheering when he marched into the Olympic stadium with Team USA for the opening ceremonies on Wednesday.

Rachfal, a blind 28-year-old cyclist, is competing with his sighted partner, Dave Swanson, of Tucson, Ariz., as the only tandem team among the 17 cyclists representing the USA.

Rachfal gradually lost most of his sight to a rare genetic disease.

Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the games. The ceremony included a flyover by a disabled pilot and an elaborate show titled “Enlightenment” that included professional performers with disabilities.

Although Rachfal couldn’t really see the crowd during the Parade of Athletes, he’ll never forget the roar they made.

“That alone, was the experience of a lifetime, to come through the tunnel with 80,000 people cheering for you,” said Rachfal in a telephone interview. “It was very emotional.”

He’s tried to be low-key, at least when he’s off the bike.

“I’m really relaxed. I’m feeling well. We raced yesterday and today is a recovery day,” he said.

Their first race, with Swanson in the front or pilot position, and Rachfal in the back as stoker, didn’t turn out like they’d hoped. They came in sixth among eight bikes in the 4-kilometer qualifying race. Only the top four made it to the medal round, led by teams from Australia in the first and second spots.

Nevertheless, Rachfal said they were pleased with some aspects of their performance. He said they started strong and hit their splits in the 16 laps of the 250-meter velodrome. Ultimately, though, it wasn’t enough.

“Speed and time bled away from us a little at the end,” he said.

They’re hoping for better results to come. On Sunday, they’ll be back in the velodrome for the 1-kilometer time trial. Then it’s outdoors for the 24-kilometer tandem trial road race on Wednesday. Their longest race of 100 kilometers, or about 60 miles, is scheduled for Sept. 8, the day before the closing ceremony.

Rachfal said the pair is pinning its hopes on the longer races.

“There are sprinters the size of linebackers who specialize in the explosive sprint events,” he said. “We’re more endurance riders.”

Between races, Rachfal has been relaxing in his townhouse in the Olympic Village and talking with other athletes. The Paralympics were first held in 1960 in Rome. This year’s are the biggest ever, with 4,200 participants representing 165 countries.

The athletes have a variety of cuisines to choose from to make them feel at home, Rachfal said. He’s been keeping up his calorie count at the Asian and Indian area and the Caribbean and African station.

“They’ve got good fruit and fresh veggies and a lot of flavor,” he said.

But there’s one specialty dish that he hasn’t seen on the menu: Maryland blue crabs.

“I plan on getting a bushel of crabs and steaming them up in the backyard when I get home,” he said.

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Clark Rachfal, right, cheers to his parents while marching during the opening ceremony for the Paralympic Games.

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Clark Rachfal (Annapolis), was nominated to for the U.S. Para-cycling team to compete at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Clark Rachfal began competing as a blind tandem cyclist with his sighted pilot, Dave Swanson (Tucson, AZ) after being introduced at a developmental cycling camp hosted by the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center in 2006. The following year the duo would compete for the U.S. Para-cycling National Team.

Cycling pair riding toward gold

September 10, 2012

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/olympics/articles/20120824cycling-pair-riding-toward-gold.html

Swanson, Rachfal chase Paralympic hardware in London

by Sarah Eberspacher - Aug. 28, 2012 06:27 PM
azcentral sports

They train together. They travel together. They compete together.

“And we haven’t killed each other yet!” said Dave Swanson, one half of the U.S. Paralympics tandem cycling team.

Swanson, 35, and his teammate Clark Rachfal practice the athletic equivalent of a long-distance relationship. Swanson works and rides in Tucson. Rachfal, 27, trains at his home in Annapolis, Md., and commutes to his job with Verizon Communications in Washington, D.C. The pair get by through most of the year on individual workouts administered by their coach, and Rachfal hops on a plane every few weeks to Arizona so he and Swanson can get in training time together.

It might not be ideal, but considering that since 2009 they haven’t missed qualifying for the track and road World Championships, it hasn’t impeded their performance too much. And after narrowly missing out on a trip to Beijing, Rachfal and Swanson head to the London Paralympics with one goal in mind:

“Medals,” Swanson said. “We’re looking forward to soaking up the experience, but we’re there to do a job. We’re there to do what we prepared to do.”

Those preparations started not so long ago. Swanson is a sighted pilot for vision-impaired or blind cyclists. He first piloted for a Tucson-based blind cyclist in 2006, and after some initial success, the pair headed for Colorado Springs to participate in a development camp hosted by the United States Association of Blind Athletes.

The partnership between Swanson and his first cycling partner did not work out. However, soon after he began trading e-mails with Rachfal, who he had met at the camp. Swanson invited Rachfal out for a preliminary ride.

“Not only is it a working relationship, it’s a personal relationship,” Rachfal said. “If you don’t get along on the bike, or you don’t get along off the bike, if your riding styles aren’t similar or your personalities aren’t similar, it’s going to make it very difficult to be in that close proximity for extended periods of time.”

The initial training went well enough that the pair agreed to compete in the U.S. Paralympics National Track Championships in 2007. After only about 10 days of actually riding together, Swanson and Rachfal were riding at the national level. They won silver and have been picking up hardware together ever since.

Rachfal joked that his relatively recent introduction to the sport before teaming up with Swanson – he first rode in 2004 and started getting serious about cycling in 2006 – means he’s mimicked his training partner, for better or worse.

“I was so new that I picked up all of Dave’s good and bad habits,” Rachfal said. “In a lot of respects, though, it made it a lot easier for our performances to evolve as a team because we’re pretty much lockstep.”

Not that it’s easy. When he isn’t riding with Swanson, Rachfal uses a stationary bike in Maryland, and although he says it’s great for endurance training, it can’t truly simulate a real race experience.

“When you’re riding in a group, not only do you have variations from wind and change in the roads, you have other people you have to account for,” Rachfal said. “You don’t get that on the trainer.”

Enter Rachfal’s monthly trips to Tucson, when he and Swanson push through track workout after track workout, then hop on the tandem bike a few mornings a week for group rides with other area cyclists. In addition to being great training, Swanson said the morning group rides are an ego boost, as local riders often anticipate a tough time keeping up when Rachfal and his pilot arrive to train.

“When we show up, everyone knows what’s going to happen,” Swanson said. “It’s flattering for us, but then the other part is the fact that we’re representing our sport and changing the notion that the Paralympics is this B-level participation sport.”

The pair hopes their performance in London will further stifle that stereotype, though Swanson said the last five to 10 years have seen an increasingly deep field of competitors, anyways.

“A couple seconds over the course of a half-hour race moves you from third to eighth now,” he said. “Before, maybe it was just third to fifth. There’s just that many more tacking up at the front.”

Maddening? Perhaps, especially if those competitors snatch the hardware in London that Swanson and Rachfal have trained so hard to earn. But it also means Paralympics cycling is becoming increasingly elite, and that can only be a positive for the sport, Swanson said.

“On the one hand, it’s frustrating because now if you don’t do everything perfect, you could tumble through the top 10,” he said. “On the other side, competition is moving to where it ought to be. It should be really hard to do this.

“It’s the best in the world.”

Dave Swanson is a sighted pilot for vision impaired and blind cyclists. His current cycling partner is Clark Rachfal, who splits his time between his home in Annapolis, Maryland and Tucson to train with Swanson.


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