There is a moment when you walk down the pier to the swim start. The sun hasn’t quite risen but it’s daylight. The West Bay is calm, it’s salt water feeding from the Gulf, just resting. The light can give it this glow, and every time I see that glow, I feel like I am home.
I have been coming down to this race on and off since 2009, I don’t know what it is about Galveston, but I can’t get enough of it. The ocean swim in the bay, the wind and the heat on the bike and the run, the people I come here with, the people I have met here through the years. The chance to shake off the frigid winter and come come home sun kissed and sore. Regardless of podiums or finish times, almost every April this is where you will find me.
The National Anthem brought me to tears once again, and then I heard a loud “FUCK” come from behind me. I turned to see a man standing with broken goggles, looking panicked. I smiled, and walked to him, handing him the extra set I bring every time I am here. “Roka F1’s” I told him. “Have a safe day.”
Someone did that for me once, and now at the start of every big race like this I carry a spare to the start, giving them away each time. It’s good luck for me. And good karma.
I love the jump off the pier, this year felt higher. The water felt amazing. Everything just felt good. Out on the bike was much of the same. It felt easy and turned into one of the fastest splits I have ridden down here. Every year the wind is the factor, and while we had a headwind coming home, it was nothing compared to years’ past.
I competed with four words in mind: optimism, curiosity, willingness and trust.
Optimism that things would go well, and they did. Curiosity because I tried some different things in training, and I wanted to see if they would work. They did. Willingness to let the race unfold as it needed to. It did. Trust because I needed to trust myself again, after all I have been through during the past 3 years. It worked.
When I got to that finish line I was so elated. It’s the furthest I have ran since my injury. I actually executed a really good run walk plan, because quite frankly I was nervous about re-injuring myself. Since last May I have taken the most meticulous and methodical approach to rebuilding this run. In a year I built consistency and to 25 miles a week with a long run of 9. THAT is how methodically I took it. Because my injury was so ambiguous and the etiology was deduced to be grief, it really stayed with me. Anxiety can manifest in many different ways and I am not ashamed to be open about the anxiety I have been experiencing through this injury. When your diagnosis is inflammation secondary to grief, it’s a tough one to work through. Last year I had a planned DNF here, and it was a big target to come back and finish, and be very careful on that run, and get to that finish line.
I leaned into trusting myself, my fitness and my plan. I am confident I can bring that time down, now that I know I am through this.
While I have raced a lot through the past year, it was my first 70.3 finish without Dad. As I was racing I smiled because my sister was running the Paris Marathon on the same day, and had Dad been alive he would have been in his glory. He would have sat in his chair in the family room, with soccer on his Tivo. He would have tracked my sister online in Paris, and then switched over to track me. He loved doing that. I loved that we were racing on the same day, thousands of miles apart, continuing on the path he encouraged for us. In this situation, we kind of got to still be his kids.
My first 70.3 finish line in 5 years, the first thing I wanted to do was call him. My elation turned to absolute sadness and then that quickly turned to pride. “We did it Dad” I said to myself. “We got back here”.
In terms of racing, everything went smoothly. Everything felt easy to be honest. I had some cramping and took a quick trip to the med tent, only because I was traveling alone. I was greeted by an old friend, who had been an ED resident when I was an ED nurse, and all these years later he is an attending in Texas. Talk about luck. Dad made sure that I got good care (and I was fine, I just wanted to be sure).
I am grateful that I was raised to have perspective. Sure I have been a hell of a lot faster at this distance, but I have also been slower. I have accomplished everything I could ever dream of through this 26 year career of mine. I don’t chase the past, I create the future. I don’t judge myself for how I do or don’t perform, trust me there are enough people who judge me. I don’t need to.
As I sat on my balcony Sunday night, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, I held that medal in my hand. So much has changed since Dad died. I won’t apologize for being so open about my grief. I won’t apologize for being open that I see a grief therapist and that my mental health is my priority. I won’t even jokingly self deprecate, because what does that ever accomplish? I happened to be incredibly close with my Dad. You might be close with your brother, I don’t have a relationship with mine. We all have those people in our lives, that when they die, it shatters us into a billion pieces and completely rearranges our world.
To be very honest losing Dad was always my worst fear. I knew that the greatest risk to my eating disorder recovery would someday be his death.
And here I am, a year later. I have dug in and done the very deep, difficult work of grief. For losing Dad and the three years before. My husband’s Cancer, our son’s surgery, and being a nurse in Covid. And right at the very beginning of all of that, losing my lifelong best friend.
When I am swimming, biking and running, I feel 100% present. 100% in that moment. I love the feeling of riding the edge. I love that movement has always helped me heal. I am not alone in that.
Galveston is the perfect kick off to my 2023 season. In 6 weeks I will take to this distance again and I will aim to not employ the run walk, and see what happens. Right now I am leaning into trust, optimism, curiosity and willingness. It’s through those words and what they mean to me, that I find these new seasons unfolding with such promise.
Right before I stepped to the edge of that pier, I looked around at the glow that covered the West Bay. I took a deep breath, feeling that salt water air fill my lungs. I smiled, knowing Dad has always been, and will always be, the wind beneath my wings.
I took a giant leap into that water. Like I was a kid again. And then I did what I do best, I moved forward.