13 Jul Staying Vertical with Laurie Allen
On Tuesday, June 27th, Laurie Allen drove to High Five Events to chat with William Dyson. In February 2015, Allen had an accident that left her a quadriplegic. She’s been vigorously rehabbing to regain as much upper body control as possible. For the past few months, she’s incorporated training to return to the sport that gave her so much, triathlon. She will make her return on August 6 at Jack’s Generic Triathlon. Allen chats about everything from her and her husband’s dark sense of humor (see quad dictionary below), her race day plan for JGT, and how learning to drive again was scarier than when she learned as a teenager. View all her accomplishments and results here!
William Dyson – Let’s address the elephant in the room before we get started. You have your Bachelor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma. I promise to not hold that against you during the interview. What brought you to Austin and when did you arrive?
Laurie Allen – I’m originally from Amarillo. I was involved with ballet as a kid and thoroughly enjoyed it. While I was in high school, the University of Oklahoma has the #3 ballet program in the country. So I went there and earned my undergrad degree in ballet. After graduation, I ended up in Dallas doing consulting for Deloitte. It just so happened that all of my clients were in Austin. I moved to Austin NYE 2000 and have been here ever since.
LA – Matt’s originally from Pittsburgh. I was at Speakeasy on NYE 2003 with my friend and her husband. We were all on the dance floor when he approached me. I thought, “He’s cute, I’ll dance with him.” The ball dropped and we were dancing our way into 2004. That next year, 2005, we were married. We’ve been going strong ever since.
WD – You completed your first triathlon, 2001 Danskin Women’s Triathlon, in 1:28:02. You’re approaching the finish line. What’s going through your mind?
LA – “Holy crap, I’m going to finish this thing!” Quickly followed by “I’m really tired, I want to sit down.” I put the effort in during training, but I was winging it the entire time. I didn’t know anyone in the triathlon world, I didn’t have a bike, I couldn’t even run a mile. I ended up buying a Huffy mountain bike from my neighbor. I trained on Barton Creek Blvd. A while later, a coworker of mine loaned me his much larger bike. Roughly two weeks before the race I moved into a new house. My next door neighbor has a Trek 1200. He saw me unloading my crazy bike and ended up selling me his. Here’s how much I knew about triathlons: during training, I stopped at one point to wipe sweat off my head. I put my helmet back on. This guy rode by me, stopped, and laughed. I thought he was laughing at my huge purple bike. Then he told me my helmet was on backward.
WD – After your incident in February 2015, your injuries were described as complete, meaning you had no sensation or movement below the level of your injury, your C6 and C7 vertebrae. Your doctors said patients with your injury normally have a two-year window for regaining function. You’ve made tremendous strides in regaining certain functionality. Does that two-year window impact your daily life, rehab, and training? If so, how?
LA – There’s no doubt it impacts everything. I called folks with spinal cord injuries snowflakes because we’re all different. The injuries are different, the functionality is different, the recovery is different, what comes back is different, no two spinal cord injuries are the same. When you’re going through your first few months you have this hope that you’ll get everything back. However, you just don’t know what’ll happen. The big thing about the two-year mark is that it cements where you are. Basically, it boils down to here’s where I am. I have to learn how to live life like I am. I have to live with this and I’m going to make the best of it.
WD – What progress have you seen since February of this year (two-year mark)?
LA – Nothing tremendous. I notice a little more light touch sensation. There’s a little more light touch sensation in my trunk and legs. My left thumb moves a little, but there haven’t been any major developments.
WD – You’re beloved in the Austin triathlon community. After your incident, fundraisers took place, donations were made, well-wishes poured in. What did that support mean to you and Matt and how does it impact you today?
LA – It was unbelievable and borderline indescribable. I knew I was in a great community, but the responses blew me away. On any given day, there’d be 10-12 people in my rehab room. The fourth-floor staff joked that they needed to add a wing for me. Folks came to relieve Matt and money was raised through a GoFundMe page.The support was more than we ever expected. I wanted to try stem-cell treatment in Cyprus, but doctors advised against the procedure and the flight. During the first few months, we didn’t fully understand the financial impact. I still think about this every day. Most of what’s needed isn’t covered under insurance. Things like nurses and my van all have to be paid out-of-pocket. The money raised through GoFundMe proved to be a lifesaver. The separately Stacy, Jack, Dan, and the crew at High Five Events put together a fundraiser to purchase a handcycle. They raised enough money for a handcycle and a racing chair!
LA – I’m on the executive team fo a small software company in Round Rock and have been there for four years. So before and after the accident. I enjoy working here and feel like I have so much more to do with this company. I do see myself getting involved with the disability community more. I want to make changes. I want to make life better for those with spinal cord injuries, Multiple Sclerosis, or Cerebral Palsy. As you can image, voice dictation software is huge for me. All the tech I have is super helpful. The spinal cord injury community is tiny. It takes awhile for the technology and the hardware to advance. I want to help speed up that process.
WD – How do you balance work and life?
LA – Some would say not very well. I’m a workaholic and love what I do. But I’ve never viewed it as a problem. I’ve actually been forced to balance work and life more due to my injury. Before, I trained and worked. Now I can’t train like I did. Now I have more time for Matt and my friends. I’m doing a much better job of balancing work and life after the accident than before.
WD – You completed your first race (Run with the Heroes 5K) less than two years after your incident. Your motto – Relentless forward progress – had to have played a major role. How vital has your motto been in not only training, but in life?
LA – With this level of injury every day can be a struggle. People either give up and settle for what life is at that moment or they continue to fight for independence. People say I have a triple Type-A personality, that’s what keeps me going. So many people have invested their time and energy into me and I owe it to them and myself to keep moving forward.
WD – In the February 2017 issue of Austin Woman Magazine there’s an article, On The Road Again, where you said, “I don’t know yet if I can reach the goal, and I like that,” when referring to training for races because you need the challenge of working towards a goal. You seem comfortable with the uncomfortable. Have you always had this mindset?
LA – Yeah, I’ve always been that way. Failing is alright, you just get up and do it again. Not trying is not an option. I went from sprint triathlons and graduated to IRONMAN and ultra distance running. I never would’ve achieved those challenging goals had I never made the attempt.
WD – In Pam LeBlanc’s Austin American-Statesman special A New Normal (2/19/16) she writes, “For Austin triathlete Laurie Allen, the sounds of triathlon have ended, for now.” Those sounds will return at Jack’s Generic Tri on August 6. What will that mean for Laurie Allen the competitor?
LA – It’s going to be amazing. Coming back will be the thing that makes all of this heartache worth it. I was thinking early on (after the accident) when reality hit how much I loved triathlons, they’re a big of a part in my life, these are my people. I told Pam I’m coming back, I’m going to toe the start line and cross the finish line again. And you better believe Logan will be screaming God knows what. It’ll be like crossing the IRONMAN finish line for the first time.
WD – You were at last year’s JGT. Did you think you’d compete one year later?
LA – I did know that. It has been my goal for some time.
WD – After JGT, is there another race on your calendar?
LA – I’d like to do more triathlons. Eventually, I’d like to build up enough upper body strength to train for a half marathon and eventually a marathon. Time to get back to being comfortable with the uncomfortable.
WD – You’ve completed nine IRONMANs, nine IRONMAN 70.3s, numerous shorter triathlons, ultras, cyclocross bike races, and road races. What do you take from those experiences that’s applicable today in preparing for JGT?
LA – I know what I need to do to train. I’m prepared for the race and the distance. All of those races have taught me how to be fully prepared. Now I have a different perspective. Normally I was nervous. Now I’m more relaxed. I’m coming at this as a veteran, not a new athlete.
WD – What are your race-day goals for August 6, 2017?
LA – To finish and have fun! I want to stick to my pre-race plan. I don’t want to go out too far on the swim and don’t want to blow my arms up on the handcycle before the run.
WD – Take me through a day that includes training for JGT.
LA – During the week I have a nurse who helps me get up and get my day started. I then drive myself to work, work all day, and drive home. My friends show up after work and we head to Anderson Track for a track workout. I get into my track chair. My goals for the workout are to become accustomed to the chair, the distances, turning. Since the accident, I’m unable to sweat so I have to be cautious about my body overheating. I have a spray bottle that sprays me down. I also lift weights with my trainer. I usually bike and swim with whoever is available to take me.
WD – You say humor helps. Give me a recent example of humor getting you and/or Matt through a tough spot.
LA – We have fewer tough spots now than before. We have a dark, sarcastic sense of humor. We make terrible jokes like “Where do you find your quad? Wherever you left her.” If Matt gets mad he threatens to go upstairs. I have an entire quad dictionary. If I’m going down the hill and I get away: runaway quad. If I pee my pants: quadtastrophy. I even bought the domain quadlandia.com. Eventually, I’ll start blogging again and will use that domain. Now that I’m 2+ years into being a quad I consider myself a teenage quad. I’m not a baby quad anymore.
WD – You can give one piece of advice to someone who’s beginning to go through a situation similar to yours. What is it?
LA – Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People in my situation need a ton of help. It can be difficult for independent people, like myself, but asking for help is something you need to do because it’ll make everything that much easier in the long run.
LA – Swim – TownLake Y; handcycle – Northwest Hills; in my chair – Town Lake.
WD – Favorite non-training activity?
LA – Cooking vicariously through my friends. I pick out the recipe and talk them through the preparation, you know, make sure they do everything right… or at least that’s what they let me think!
WD – Did you have flashbacks to when you were a teenager when you were learning to drive again?
LA – Driving as a teenager was far less scary than learning to drive as a quad. I’m a pro now, but at first, it was terrifying.
WD – How do you relax and unwind?
LA – Hang out with my friends, get our toes done, drink some wine.
WD – Favorite Austin restaurant?
LA – Barley Swine.
WD – Describe the perfect post-race meal (in Austin).
WD – Morning or evening workouts?
LA – Evening.
WD – Friends or family come to visit. What’s the first Austin thing y’all do?
LA – We take everyone to Town Lake.
WD – What’s your favorite holiday?
LA – Christmas.
WD – You can choose one – dogs or cats?
LA – Dogs.
WD – What’s your favorite color?
LA – Green.
WD – How do you want to be remembered?
LA – As someone who made a difference. If I’m going to live this life then I want to make it better for others in my situation. People in chairs can participate and compete in sports. Since my accident, I’ve played tennis and I’ve gone rowing. Even if you’ve never been an athlete you can still get involved with sports. There’s no better time to learn than now!
WD – Thank you for driving to our office! I enjoyed getting to hear about your day-to-day life and how your training is coming along. Your positive outlook is something everyone should take a piece of and incorporate into their life. I can’t wait for you to toe the line on 8/6! It’s been a long journey full of trials and tribulations, but when you cross that finish line it’ll all be worth it. You’ll have to add a new word to your quad dictionary for the feeling you get when you cross the finish line. Keep kicking ass and we’ll see you soon!
LA – Thanks for having me over and giving me the tour of the new-to-me office. It was great seeing everyone again! It has been a long road, one that I could not have traveled alone. I have so many people to thank, including Matt and my amazing friends. When I’m at Lake Pflugerville on 8/6 everything I do will be for them. Thanks to High Five Events and everything they’ve done. I’m not sure I’ll have the new word at the moment I cross the finish line, but if I do have it I’ll let you know. See y’all soon!
Staying Vertical is an interview session with various individuals within the endurance community hosted by William Dyson, High Five Events Communications Manager. Staying Vertical will showcase the perspective of runners, triathletes, sponsors, partners, event producers, and volunteers to understand what makes them tick. We will highlight their involvement and give the endurance community an inside look at the individuals that are just like you and me.