Winning is shaping up as routine for Blauwet
Cheri Blauwet has a lot of things going for her.
She just finished medical school at Stanford University and has taken a yearlong leave of absence before beginning her residency so she can focus on training for Beijing. The 27-year-old Blauwet has traveled the world to compete, collecting a vault's worth of precious medals from national and international competitions and a world view that can't be expressed by any trophy or prize.
Blauwet became a paraplegic in a tractor accident on her family's farm in Iowa when she was 1, and it was her family who first pushed her onto the track. She has been competing since eighth grade, while piling up the academic records that sent her first to the University of Arizona, and then to Stanford. Blauwet never felt limited in what she could do, only in when she could find time to do it.
Just a month ago, Blauwet, a two-time winner of the Boston Marathon wheelchair division, qualified for the Paralympic Games in Beijing in August with a victory in the Los Angeles Marathon in 1 hour 53 minutes 35 seconds. It was her fourth victory in L.A. Now she's competing in Boston for the first time since 2005.
The competition is what she craves.
"It's really amazing," Blauwet said as she settled into her hotel room in Boston Wednesday night. "I had been a high-level athlete. I had felt fit since high school. I always took that for granted. I didn't know what it was like not to be in shape.
"I mean, I tried my best to stay in shape during clinical rotations but I was amazed how different it felt when I got back into the racing chair. To stay in shape at the level of elite athletes, I realized how amazing what we do is, pushing your body to its threshold, those type of workouts."
Blauwet returned to full-time training in December, and has enjoyed getting back her competitive edge, as well as her identity as an athlete. She has dropped from 105 to 97 pounds while her muscles have become more defined.
"It's neat to see your body go from rounded edges to the more muscular edge of an athlete," she said.
"I think you can see it in your face and eyes, too."
In the Los Angeles Marathon March 8, Blauwet said the first half of the race was very competitive. "I was really feeling it," she said. At about the midpoint, Blauwet pulled ahead for good.
"When you're the front-runner, it's different than if you're staring at your opponents all the time," she said. "When you're alone, the challenge is to maintain your focus.
"When I'm racing, I'm really thinking only about how the race is going and how I can maximize my skills. I'm intensely competitive. I'm constantly assessing what the other people in the race are doing."
Blauwet said she is ready physically for Monday's race and excited to get on the course.
"I'm going to race my strength," said Blauwet, who is powerful on the hills. She had her personal best of 1:39:53 in the 2004 Boston Marathon.
"And my experience on this course will help."
In the two years Blauwet concentrated on her medical studies, the field for women's wheelchair racers has gotten more competitive. Among the favorites in Boston are Wakako Tsuchida of Japan, who won last year's race in 1:53:30, and Diane Roy of Canada, who finished fourth in 2:04:13.
"I want to win - that's pretty much it. Basically, whatever it takes to win," she said. "Wakako is a good coaster, Diane is good all-around and strong. They will be very formidable competition. I have my plan and I'll go out to execute it. It's a very special race to be back."
Indeed, Blauwet wrote in her blog (cheriblauwet.com) that she expects to visit the winner's circle in Copley Square during her prerace preparations. There, she can see her name carved in stone as the 2004 and 2005 winner.
"We carry our successes with us," she wrote. "Those memories will be readily available to draw upon when things need to get a little bit gutsy on Monday."
When Blauwet resumes her medical career, she expects to start a residency in physical rehabilitation. Though she resisted the field at first, not wanting to be pigeonholed because of her disability, she is drawn to the positive aspects of the speciality.
"Your goal as a physician is to maximize someone's functionality," she said. "The focus is on getting people back on their feet. It's one of the major specialties that sees young veterans injured in Iraq or Afghanistan, who need an intense period of functional rehabilitation."
Blauwet anticipates helping others experience what she has, helping them make their life what they want it to be.
"Your identity as an athlete, you appreciate when you haven't had it for a while, and what it does for you both physically and mentally," she said. "You get into this piece of equipment that lets you go fast and in a society where your role is to be disabled, sports turns disability on its head.
"There's nothing like racing down a hill at 35 miles per hour. It's terrifying and amazing."