As the day closes on my first race of 2015, I am filled with gratitude for all that triathlon has to offer. Seeing athletes of all ages come together to conquer the combination of three disciplines over a variety of distances is endlessly inspiring. Looking back on my own experience through ten seasons of racing over the past thirteen years, I marvel at the variety in courses, climates and competitors. I have faced the personal challenge of racing solo, the camaraderie and pressure of contributing to a college team and the fellowship of toeing the line with friends and family. I have enjoyed the quaintness of a small community race and felt the austerity of national qualifiers. I have found my niche in the middle distance races, but remain intrigued by both the intensity of the sprint and the insanity of the Ironman. I have endured fog delays, adjusted to cancelled swims, battled the blazing sun and survived the cold and rain. Diverse as the conditions may be, the swim, bike, run triad consistently delivers inspiration because of the people involved.
On more than one occasion, I have been surprised to see a face familiar from realms distinct from racing standing next to me at the start line of a triathlon. It is fascinating to hear of how they came to the sport and it is inspiring to learn that many have made the pursuit an integral part of their lives.
From the single digit kiddos to the 70+ age groupers, there is nothing more encouraging than seeing early enthusiasm for and continued dedication to fitness. My proudest moments in triathlon have been on the sidelines cheering on biggest and middlest as they completed their own events. And I can only hope that in 30 years, I will still be chasing that finish line.
My Team Triumph may be one of the most impressive and important endeavors in multi-sport. For those who haven’t had the opportunity to witness, this is a ride-along option for participation extended to people of all ages with disabilities that would prevent them from participating independently in triathlon. Surrounded by a team of angels, the captain is able to complete the swim by boat, bike by trailer and run by stroller and experience the exhilaration of finish along with able-bodied colleagues. I am guaranteed tears of joy when crossing paths with these teams on the race course and they deservedly garner the loudest cheers.
The participation, and frequent podium presence, of physicians at local races is so important and I am happy to report is common here in Muskegon. Whether the purpose is to race for oneself, overcome personal challenge or seek individual excellence, the tangible demonstration of value in fitness for health offers powerful encouragement for patients and illustrates that work/life/family balance is possible with even the busiest of schedules.
The nervousness of the inaugural triathlon is an uncomfortable feeling not easily forgotten and I do my best to seek out the newbies at race start, to offer words of encouragement or answer questions about course direction, wetsuits, transitions, etc. This morning, I was blown away by the story of a woman who was taking on the challenge after multiple back surgeries, just hoping to finish and so excited in finding her afterward to learn that she had indeed finished, earned an age group medal and was planning on another race in July. Likewise, a group of high school students participating for their final exam elected to take on the Olympic distance after a few years of racing the Sprint simply to challenge themselves. They stuck together through the miles, even with the disadvantage of mountain bikes on the course, finishing the race smiling.
From these instances today and so many others since 2002, I have seen clearly the power of the human spirit and opportunity to write a new chapter with each swim, bike and run. If you have considered triathlon but hesitated, I would encourage you to explore the possibility – from indoor races to duathlon and aquabike, distances from super-sprint to Ironman and even relays – the options to participate are plentiful. Give it a thought, then give it a go!
Finally, a brief recap of my personal race experience today – I appreciated a calm and not-frigid swim, a smooth and no-flat bike, a cool and quick run and was carried along by thoughts of encouragement from all of you, motivated by Motala (5 weeks away!) and grateful that all came together on the day to defend my title at the Bear Lake Olympic Distance Triathlon.
With appreciation for all who tell their story through triathlon – swim smart, ride strong, run fast!