I felt so at peace standing there on the dock, waiting for the race to begin. I lined up with the 30-33 minute group, the music was loud and the sun had just risen. The swim course was laid out in front of us and we would jump off a dock, four at a time, five seconds apart when it was go time.
A woman next to me explained to several of us how the airline had broken her brand new bike, and a Facebook post later, someone had brought her theirs from Houston. Another woman shared that this was her first 70.3 and that her family had come to watch. When I was asked what brought me there, I unexpectedly choked up.
I explained that I had a minor injury and that I would be swimming, biking and stopping at mile 1 of the run. I told these strangers that my Dad had just died and I was using training and racing to try to work through my grief. Several people in front of me, a woman turned and came to the crowd towards me. “I have to give you a hug” she said as she squeezed me tight. The women around me did the same thing.
“We are so glad you are here” one said. “This is the best place to work through” said another. I was reminded why I love this sport so much. The people.
At the end of my road I won’t remember the wins, the records broken, the losses. I will remember the people that I have met all over the world, who have become family to me.
My tears were those of grief and of happiness. Dad steered me into multisport when I finished my college swimming career, he knew how this would serve as an outlet for me through my life. We would have discussed this injury and he would have agreed with the plan to stop at mile 1 and salvage the rest of the season.
It is just a calf strain, one I have had before and one I know the trajectory for. I am back home and running pain free and so happy that I followed the plan.
A planned DNF did not sting, not one bit. You know what stung? My son needing surgery, my husband being diagnosed with cancer (he’s ok), and two weeks later my Dad being diagnosed with cancer, then dying from a major medical error. THAT freaking STINGS. Swimming in the ocean, biking in the sun, and cheering my friends? That’s a privilege.
My heart began to pound as we started moving towards our own starting lines. When I was a young swimmer Dad taught me to put those butterflies I felt before races, into formation and let them fly. I squeezed the pendant I now wear with his signature engraved and I smiled at the sky.
“Let’s fly Dad”.
I jumped into the water and started swimming. I love the taste of salt water. It’s been two years since I have tasted it. I love everything about the ocean.
I felt amazing right off the bat as I eased into the swim. I don’t wear a watch when I am in the swim these days. Watches are not allowed in swim meets and we didn’t have or need Garmins to track our yards. We knew them.
I felt amazing the whole swim. As I made pass after pass I tried to telepath my fellow athletes, jump on my hip, jump on my feet I will pull you!!!! I love helping other athletes swim stronger. I get to train my swim with my husband and he’s been my absolute rock through these past few months. When Dad died he asked what he could do. I asked him to not let me skip any swims. He didn’t and we have been putting in some sets that just make all the difference.
The ocean felt amazing. I felt nothing but pure freaking bliss.
Out of the water and onto the bike I felt more of the same. The Galveston bike course is deceiving. On paper it’s 28 miles out, nice and straight, then you turn around and come back 28 miles. The wind here is the hard part. I have ridden this course so many times I knew what to expect. Today it was a tailwind out and a headwind back. That headwind would not ebb and flow, it’s full send the whole way. You have to know how to handle it.
I felt awesome on the bike. I have put in the preparation this season, but make no mistake. There is no grand plan. No spreadsheet. No organization, no coaching. My training this season is 100% fueled my my grief. I wake up each morning and go with how I feel (I am on Strava if you care about specifics, my account is private). I have no secret sessions. I just have consistency. I am using all of this to help me work through all that’s happened this past year.
When I hit that turnaround I was smiling like crazy. The headwind was as I expected. Full on, no let up. I decided that the wind was my grief. I could let it blow me around, I could let it emotionally break me, or I could spread my wings and use it to help me fly. So I spread my wings and used it. I loved it.
There was a certain point in that ride back that I will treasure forever. The wind was strong. The sun was on my back. And the ocean was literally 20 yards to my right. THIS is why I came here. THIS is what I was looking for. This moment here. I can still feel it.
No pace goals. No power meter. Just the feel of finding that red line and riding just below it. It doesn’t have a heart rate or a specific speed, it just has a feel. I was in the sweet spot all day long.
I traveled to Galveston with Kim and Robin, and Robin’s boyfriend Chad. These ladies have quite literally walked beside me the past three months, and held me up and held me together (along with my family). They were out there having strong days and it was beyond amazing to share this with them.
As I was riding a few people shouted to me as I passed or got passed. They shouted “I am sorry for your loss”, and “Your Dad is with you”. It’s hard to tell who is who out there, but that anyone would take the time to share such hope mid race, was so so appreciated. One of my former athletes Samantha rode by me like a freight train and man did that make me proud (she’s also a fabulous coach, check her out).
My favorite part of this sport, is the people. Hands down. Sportsman ship is what I value most, and I was surrounded by it on Sunday.
Off the bike I felt like a million bucks as I donned my running shoes. The plan is that I would run until I found Chad, who would be somewhere before the first mile. I knew the run would be pain free at that time, and I was committed to the plan. I ran for most of the first mile, and there he was. I stepped off the course, knowing I was in a podium spot, and happily drank an Athletic Brew (N/A beer).
Was it hard to step off course? No. You know what was hard? Learning that my Dad bled to death because someone forgot to connect two pieces of IV tubing together. THAT was hard. This? Not a big deal.
Did it feel bad not to get a medal? No. You know what felt bad? Losing my Dad.
Every single second of this day felt like a gift. Because it is.
On the other side of this race, I can’t be happier. After the difficult year my family and I have endured it was wonderful to have something positive. I got to be in the ocean. I got to feel the sun. I got to race my heart out. I got to go with my friends. I got to share this race course with amazing people. I got to hug strangers.
I still can’t find one ounce of disappointment.
I am on a bit of a bender this season. It’s my grief tour of sorts. We have some traveling and some big adventures. If my injury persists we will have more swim, bike, N/A beer and guess what? The sun will still come up, the sun will still set and the earth will still turn.
Thank you for helping me through the most difficult time of my life so far. Through sharing my story I have been so fortunate to find connection, love and understanding. I am not the only one who has gone through this. I am part of a club that is horrific to belong to, however the people here, they are magic. I appreciate all of you more than you know.
The next adventure is not far away, and it involves the ocean again.