New projects, new inspirations

This is a bit of a long post as I am sharing a story I just posted with
FootStomp is a great Social Network for Military Adaptive Sports. The world of adaptive sports if full of inspiring stories such as this and I will be sharing many of my projects here. After reading my story check out the website and consider becoming involved! If you do you can find this story here: As always, feel free to share! Enjoy...
“2014 MCM: Just another Stroll in the Park for PVA’s Racing Team”
By Heather Hopkins, Team FootStomp
(Original post November 3, 2014,

I was honored to spend time with some of Paralyzed Veterans of America's Racing Team ( the night before the 39th Marine Corps Marathon, and a little at the starting line the next morning. The night was a pleasant gathering of some of PVR’s team at a relaxing dinner provided by the generous and supportive hosts, Fairfax Firehouse # 440*. Along with the friendly company of many of the Firefighters, the evening was topped off with warm good luck wishes from Search and Rescue dog, Ivan, and Service Dog, Glory. 

 Holly Koester with her Service Dog, Glory, and a few of the friendly Firefighters at Station #440.

Glory and Search and Rescue dog, Ivan, meet for the first time.

Geoff Hopkins and son, Ethan, share a laugh after
Firefighters declared him Jr. Firefighter.


 PVA Racing team along with their pre-MCM hosts, Fairfax Fire and Rescue Station #440.

Early in the evening, as I was just beginning to enjoy the first bite of my scrumptious desert cookie (OK, my second…hey, I wasn’t racing, why not?!), I felt a tug, tug, tug on my shirt. I knew that was my cue, my wrap-it-up signal that it’s time to go. ‘Why so early’, I thought, ‘my cookie has barely reached my taste buds and Ivan is stretched out on the floor begging for my tummy scratches’. But as I looked around at the faces of the soon-to-be MCM finishers, I saw it…the determination, the drive, the “I have a mission” look. Reaching the start of their mission meant a bright and early, 4:00 a.m. departure from the hotel so, yes, it was time to go…go get some sleep!

As the team dispersed the Firehouse to their separate dream lands, I realized they are in need of some shut-eye not only to fill up their energy tanks necessary for a strong marathon finish, they are recovering from that day’s race as well. Yes, you read that right…a race the day before a marathon. You see, while many other MCM participants were spending the day before the marathon resting their muscles, relaxing, and conserving their energy, PVR was blasting through yet another competition from their 2014 race schedule, the Blue-Grey Criterium in Gettysburg, PA. In all the advice out there on how to prep for a marathon, I cannot find one – not one – that suggests one should pursue any kind of race or take part in any physical competition - no matter how big or small - as part of the activities the day before a marathon.  In fact, advice from Runner’s World, “26 Tips for Running Your Best 26.2” ( Douglas, S., Dec. 30, 2013, Runner’s World,, suggests the day before should be spent in “Chill out” mode and “Most of all, stay off your feet”. In PVR’s case, stay off your bike, is not in their training protocol. PVR’s yearly race schedule is packed with back to back competitions, sometimes four or five races in one extended weekend, like the Clocktower Class in Rome, GA (

While many people might feel it seems pretty crazy to even think of attempting a race just before a marathon…I think it’s pretty amazing. It seems to be just another stroll in the park for them, but I know it takes a strong will and a certain motivation deep within, reserved for focusing on such a feat. So I set out to find out what drives some of the Handcycling team members to push through the grueling parts of their schedule, with a short Q & A session post MCM.

Q. Many MCM participants are first-timers or once-a-year marathoners.  I imagine many of them might think someone would be crazy to do any kind of a race the day before a marathon.  Where does your motivation come from?

David Neumer: Yes, participating in a race with less than 24 hours before the start of a marathon is illogical. My main motivation was to support the event. I wanted to show my appreciation to those who support us.

David Swaim: Pride in myself and the satisfaction of motivating others.

Geoff Hopkins: It motivates me to accomplish things so I can show others it can be done…despite their disability. My drive comes from my passion for the sport and competition. Some of the races we compete in are 4-5 races within 3 days, including a 36 mile road race. It’s grueling, but the sense of achievement overrides the pain. And nothing compares to the freedom I feel while on the bike.   

Q. What has been the most grueling back to back schedule for you this year?  What pushed you through?

Holly Koester: I raced in the New England Challenge - 5 marathons, in 5 states in 5 days. Lots of support from my family and friends. I just kept thinking pain is only temporary, a record of my accomplishment lasts forever.

David Neumer: My most grueling back to back schedule has just completed. I handcycled the Warrior Games 10k on September 29th, competed in the Warrior Games air-pistol match on October 3rd, handcycled the Chicago Marathon on October 12th, handcycled the Detroit Marathon on October 19th, handcycled the Blue-Gray Criterium on October 25th , and finished the season with the MCM on the 26th. To push myself through this, it not only took physical strength but also a mental determination to keep going. The last six weeks was definitely an endurance event.

Q. Do you have any performance enhancing training or nutritional additions/changes you take on before, during, or after a multi-booked schedule?

Geoff Hopkins: Use “gels” during the race and drink lots of water or energy drink. When I know I have a competition coming up, I workout harder so I can ride hard and do better than I did last time. I’m always looking to beat my own time and not worry about who crosses the finish line when. Eating healthy is always important. My wife and I eat salads and smoothies at least 4-5 meals each a week. I know that helps with my energy level.

David Neumer: When you have a multi-booked schedule you have to rely on all the training that you have done to that point. This is especially true when having to do a lot of traveling. When traveling it seems the first things to suffer are nutrition and training.

Q. What advice do you have for an athlete thinking of joining a team and/or increasing their competition schedule?

David Swaim: One must put in the time training regularly and realize that anything of value takes time.

Holly Koester: I know there are [a] lot of people that say they want to do something next year, when their leg or arm stops hurting…when they have more time. There is never going to be the right time, so there is no time like the present.  If I would have waited for the right time I'd still be waiting.

David Neumer: My advice to those who would like to be actively on a team and compete more is to first set obtainable goals. Do a self-assessment and create a logical plan that you can stay with to improve your skills and start building. There is no magic pill, it takes a lot of dedication and discipline.  

Geoff Hopkins: If you’re a Veteran join the Paralyzed Veterans Racing Team. We have members of all racing abilities and you are sure to find someone who can help you with your racing/riding goals.

Jody Shiflett, PVR Team Manager: They need to ask, "What is your training focus for the season?" Is it a specific event, personal fitness, or style of racing?  Set yourself realistic goals that will best prepare you for that competition.  This is not a vacation.  It's a mission. .. You don't want to put yourself in a compromising position with regard to attending just any weekend.  Do your research on the event and be truthful with yourself about how well you are prepared.  When in doubt, ask your peers or myself One can't simply decide on an event, since it's close to home or a bucket list accomplishment.

Q. Any other thoughts or stories you would like to share about this year's MCM weekend?

Geoff Hopkins: It was a great weekend having the Blue-Gray Criterium in Gettysburg on Saturday and then competing in the MCM the next day.  They were two completely different races….if anything the Criterium opened up the muscles for the marathon the next day.

Holly Koester: I really enjoy being on the Paralyzed Veterans Racing team and knowing I'm representing something other than myself. I started racing in the MCM when there were maybe only 6 wheelers, and I was there on my own. There's nothing like a high you get than being with all those wheelers (125) at the start of the race. The excitement and team camaraderie is the best feeling.  I'm so grateful to be part of the team.  The guys look out for me and I would do anything I could to help and support them.

After reviewing my Q&A notes following the MCM, I soon realized that I had already begun to understand what sparks the team’s drive throughout the race year, because I had felt it the morning of the MCM…..

The 4:00 a.m. roll call came much too soon – for me – and as I rubbed my sleepy eyes on the drive to the marathon parking, I worried about MY energy level.  Was I going to be able to walk the long distance from the car to the start and then to the finish? As I stumbled clumsily from the car into the morning darkness, the chill of the 50 degree temp felt brisk against my cozy-bed desiring body. It gave me a tad boost of energy but at the same time stiffened my tired muscles, making the walk to the start line more of a challenge. On my journey I began to wonder if perhaps I should have done some physical training myself just to prepare my body to get me there!

As I made my way towards the slowly brightening eastern sky at the start line, I could barely make out the glowing double arches of the infamous MCM participant line up point. Whew, I had finally made it. I was relieved that my mission was almost half way complete. Then, from behind, I heard a swoosh creeping up on me...And then past me a whiz. All I could see in the dim sunrise were speeding spokes whirling by as one of the Handcycle participants made his way back to the start after having completed his warm up. As I approached the start I was a bit humbled greeting the team and other handcycle/wheelchair division participants, realizing they had made it to their launching site at least one hour before me, but were still full of cheery hellos. I felt a bit guilty that, here I was worried about making it to the finish line early enough so I might have 1-2 hours to relax while I wait, while the athletes were just beginning their long mental journey of tapping into that extra tank of determination and energy they’ve saved up for moments like this.

As I hung out among the smiles and laughter of the more than 100 wheelchair/handcycle division athletes, a buzz hovered over the crowd and I now know I was experiencing firsthand the buzz that motivates them from within. The buzz was inspiring and so powerful it made me feel like I too can accomplish anything and everything I set my mind to, no matter what obstacles lie in my path. The excitement and anticipation for the grueling task ahead was contagious and I suddenly felt the urge to hop on a handcycle and join in the race myself because I can do ANYTHING! “Wait…What? There’s free hot chocolate at the finish line…right now? OK, slow down there Wonder Woman…maybe I should plan a race for another day.” Exhilarated to say the least, I now had the full tank of energy I needed to make MY trek to the finish line. I thanked many for their service, wished them all good luck, and as the start line slowly shrank in the distance on my journey to the finish, I felt lucky. Lucky that I had a glimpse into what drives many of PVR’s athletes the most…the buzz. I had felt the buzz, if only for a moment. I think David Swaim described the buzz best in his final thoughts he shared with me in summarizing the MCM weekend, “The camaraderie and the challenge make any race worthwhile”.


Below are a few photos from the start line but to view an online slideshow portraying my journey, click here:

*A special shout out to the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Station, #440 - Thanks for the food, the fun, the tour, and the support. Thank you all for all you do for your community and your dedication to protecting the public. And to Ivan, thank you for your loyalty and good luck on your training!

Jody Shiflett, PVR Team Manager would like to share a special note: This past weekend, Ken Bestine [PVR team member] suffered a traumatic wreck on the fourth turn of [the] Blue and Grey Criterium in Gettysburg, PA. I would like to send out our team's wishes for him [for] a speedy recovery from the required surgery and associated rehab on his right arm.

All photos and content, ©Heather Hopkins.

39th Marine Corp Marathon Start Line


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