I was nervous for this one. It was nationals. You don’t come to Nationals with a laissez faire attitude. Those butterflies? They mean you care. And what do we do with them? By now, you know. We put them in formation and we let them fly.
When it was my turn to go… I simply said “F*ck it. FULL SEND”.
USAT Long Course Nationals was held at Harriman State Park, down near West Point. 4,000 feet of elevation is what drew me there. I love to climb. I mean I LOVE to climb. I was interested in what this season of grief training would allow me to do here, and since I started the season with an Aquabike focus, I wanted to finish it with one.
Through the past 3 months I have been slowly and methodically building my run. I am not one of these athletes who can just launch their run from zero to sixty. I am set to return to the 3 discipline sport I love so much but trust me, there will be some aquabike. It’s just so damn fun.
The Aquabike race at Nationals was the largest field (there was also duathlon and a triathlon), however the swim was cancelled due to algae in the lake. So technically it was a bike race for us and a duathlon for the rest!
This was by far the deepest Aquabike field I have raced in ever and I loved the level of competition here. Aquabike is growing!
We started 2 at a time about 5 seconds apart. I hopped on my bike and began to ride. Hard from the gate, this was Nationals and if I was going to get on a podium I had to go for it. At Barrelman I got a pretty bike split (it was flat), today, we were going to earn every second.
Hilly courses are honest work. And if I haven’t mentioned it, I LOVE TO CLIMB.
The road conditions were terrible in several sections. The road that led us out to the main drag was a washboard. But as long as you can handle it, and your bike can handle it, you are golden. Aquabike got out on that course first so the road was open for us the whole time.
Except for the Porshes that were drag racing. More on that shortly.
Once to the main road we hung a right and that’s where the real fun began. The hills were sloping, the scenery breathtaking. The males and females riding around me were incredibly respectful. A lot of us played leapfrog and everyone called out passing.
Towards the first turnaround was when I encountered the Porshes. They were drag racing through the park, which made for some scary moments. When they passed me the leaders were not on their way back on the opposite side of the road yet, so we had enough room. Once there was two way traffic though, it got tight and scary. For me this didn’t last long. I hit the turnaround and was on my way back as they were finally exiting the park.
I don’t know why this wasn’t a closed course. It was Nationals.
I felt great the whole ride. The descents felt awesome, even on the tattered pavement, the climbs felt good, I just felt good.
At one point I asked myself the same question I ask myself each and every race… does this hurt worse than grief? No? Okay then, push more.
It’s as if this whole dance with grief has given me a new level to push. It’s not that I “love the pain” … it’s that… I love to see where my line is. How far is too far? How much is too much? What can I sustain?
Last year I was registered for this race, but a few weeks before Dad was diagnosed, hospitalized and the whole circus began. There was no question that I would not race. I didn’t even think about it. I instead drove back and forth to Buffalo daily to help.
Who would choose a race over that?
When Dad found out, he was really upset. His … thing… was that he couldn’t be a burden to anyone. Taking care of your Dad when he is sick, isn’t a burden. He has dropped everything and come to my rescue a million times. Of course we would do it for him. A race over that? No.
He lectured me about skipping this race. He thought the bike course suited me. He thought I would have a good shot at a podium. He made me promise I would come race this in 2022.
So here I was.
I had the good fortune to land a silver medal in my age group, and I think 6th overall female. I cried. I haven’t podiumed at a National Championship since 2006, Nationals is never my focus. At first I thought… this medal is for you Dad… to which I heard him reply….. no, it’s for you.
I feel like it represented everything I have been through not just since he died, but the preceding year. Luc’s injury and surgery. Curt’s cancer diagnosis and recovery that led right into Dad’s. I held that medal in my hand and I thought “We made it dad. We have made it through so far.”
I listened to an incredible podcast last week, where the guest said this, about gratitude and grief:
“I was struck with this realization that I had a gratitude for the pain of that grief. It doesn’t take the pain away. It doesn’t make the grief less profound in some ways. It makes it more profound because it allows you to look at it. It allows you to examine your grief in a way that it is not, like holding up red hot amber in your hands, but rather seeing that pain as something that can warm you and light your knowledge of what other people might be going through. Which is really just another way of saying there is a value to having experienced it. “
Talk about resonating. I had never heard grief discussed this way, and for the first time since Dad died I felt like someone was speaking a language I could understand.
For me this past 9 months have been such an incredible journey. I am better for having experienced this. I dove deep into the experience of grief because I didn’t know what else to do. I knew if I avoided it, I knew if I didn’t deal with it, I have an eating disorder that I have been recovered from for over 25 years, that is lurking in the corner ready for a relapse. If I didn’t dive in right then and there I was only going to delay the tidal wave crashing over me.
The ability to also dive into this 6 month tour of racing has been another way for me to come face to face with grief. For some people this exact method helps them avoid (that’s normal), for me it always puts me toe to toe with myself. I can’t hide from it out here on a bike course.
Grief is something we experience, we don’t endure. We can’t win at it. It’s the thing that ultimately binds us together as we will all face it. I appreciate the people in my life who have gone down the tunnel of it with me. Whether you have boarded the airplane with me, held the beer as I exited the run course, waved Flat Dad around, asked me how I was doing (and listened to the answer), walked next to me up a mountain, shared on social media with me, or just sat with me, thank you.
When you have a loss people will either stay away from you, watch you from afar, or take your hand. Thank you for taking my hand. It has taught me to do the same.
Nationals was a fitting end to the Tour De Grief as we have called it. I have been all over the country in the past 6 months, seeing things, experiencing life, racing my brains out. Learning what is really important to me, and what isn’t.
Sharing grief is important to me. I am here to talk about it. I am here for your when it’s your time to experience it. I am here with those of you who have shared your journey with me. It’s this secret club that doesn’t need to be a secret anymore.
If we are truly to appreciate life, if we truly are grateful for life, we have to understand that with love comes loss.
“It is a need everyone has eventually to deal with in their lives, if they’re lucky, in a strange way, and means they’ve lived long enough to experience the loss of someone else and some they have loved or been loved by enough that it deeply affects them. And yet it’s a subject that just doesn’t get addressed, partly because of the lack of common public ceremony associated with anymore and I mean, the fact that people used to be in mourning for a year. So you would know that they were mourning and you could address their grief. And it was an invitation to have knowledge of their loss. That doesn’t exist so much as a tradition anymore. And yet it’s this thirst that everyone has and no one’s pouring any water for anybody.“
Thank you for pouring water for me. I would have never made it this far without so much love.
That silver medal … Dad…. it was for us.