6/10/13

Swim, Bike, Run, Inspire . . .

I had a truly amazing experience this weekend. I was a "Sherpa" for a friend who competed in her second Ironman (registered trademark and all property rights respected) - this one a triathlon in Lawrence, Kansas.

Here were my thoughts on triathletes: You are crazy. Truly. No "sane" person would put in the time and energy required to physically and mentally prepare for 70.3 miles (or more - this was a "half" event). More importantly no "sane" person would spend the MONEY required. Wet suits are approximately $175, average running shoes are $150 and true runners need to replace them about once every three months, tri-bikes can cost $1,000 - $4,000 and that doesn't even include things like, you know, the SEAT and TIRES and a little bell and a playing card to make the spokes "tick" and that is just to TRAIN. You want to "compete"? That will cost you $225 NOT including gas, hotel (or camping fees), or "nutrition" (real athletes don't call it food and beverage) for the race weekend. SO - you're looking at a few thousand bucks all so you can go out there and compete against, well, yourself. Triathlons are, at the end of the event, a solitary activity.

Exempting relays and corporate sponsored athletes and training clubs there are no "teams" in triathlons and, even then, no one officially finishes as a team. Nope. No matter what - on race morning - you put your bike and equipment in T1 and your shoes and crap in T2 before the sun comes up and you head down to enter the water in groups based on gender and age and professional status and they blow a horn/fire a canon and you are on your own. For the next three to nine hours.

Or so I thought before I sherpaed and observed an event for the first time. Here's the reality . . . these people are still CRAZY with their own "special" choices on how to burn disposable income (I spend mine on clothes, books, board games, and other random crap so I should not judge) but they are not alone. Rather all 1,600ish (including the relay teams) that competed in Sunday's event were never alone - for more than a few seconds.

The beach, bike course, and running course were littered with thousands of people. They clapped, shook bells, mumbled and screamed encouragement, and even helped apply sunscreen, steady a wobbly runner or two, and jogged along the course to keep those last-to-finish moving. Homemade signs were staked along the course saying things like "I love my dad, Michael Spellman" (with "Spell" crossed out and "IRON" written above it). The athletes all chatted among themselves about everything from equipment, other races and experiences, nutrition choices, etc.. An army of employees and volunteers helped the injured, the mentally defeated, the concerned, the lost, and the fast, strong, and proud equally. An announcer named every finisher BY NAME as they ran up the final chute and said things like "welcome home" or "it is great to see you again" or "we've been waiting for you." Some people, dressed like Wizard of Oz characters, greeted the first thousand or so over the line.

I saw people doing extreme things yesterday. First - there is NO SUCH THING as an "athlete's body" for a tri. I saw 6' 8" men that weighed 181 pounds and 5'2" women that weight 240 pounds cross the line at about the same time (yes, I know there start times were adjusted for flights but - still). I saw a Super Bowl winner struggle along side a teacher. I saw a cop who did the entire event (save the swim) in FULL UNIFORM. I saw every one of those bodies and costumes and types of people melt together in to a chorus of people who were out there putting themselves through the paces for seemingly one thing . . . a medal at the end.

Or so I thought. It turns out, as I stood for nearly two total hours near the finish line waiting for the athletes I was there to support to finish they were racing for something much, much less selfish. They were competing for friends, and family. High fives, hugs, and kisses. They were competing to further remind cancer that in that battle, it had truly lost. One woman did the event because her doctor "dared" her to apply herself enough to finish. A few folks even did it for Jesus . . . and I can't knock that.

To every one of the people that donned a wet suit in the 6 AM hour yesterday and the countless hours of time you spent in the months and years leading up to that moment preparing and then put your bodies through something truly horrifying to MOST of us - thank you. For the friends, family, volunteers, and employees that supported, cheered, and sacrificed along the way as well - thank you. You all inspired me. You all reminded me that there are few physical boundaries a sharp, prepared mind can not overcome. You made me realize there is nothing solitary or lonely about a triathlon. You made me laugh every. single. time you used the word "nutrition."