When I wrote last week’s blog post, Nothing Stays the Same, I paused and considered rewriting the sentence in the fifth paragraph that ended with “and I am completing the triathlon on my own.” I had not registered with a team of triathletes like last year. In fact, I did not know anyone else who had registered or planned to attend the event. I had signed up on my own. However, signing up on one’s own and completing a triathlon on one’s own are two very different things. While I did sign up as an individual, it was a tremendous team that enabled me to reach the finish line.
First, I am filled with profound gratitude for the extraordinary volunteers in the water. These women and men, known as ‘swim buddies,’ have flotation devices available and keep a careful eye on each and every participant. Despite the fact that this was my fourth (fourth!) triathlon, I experienced a perfect storm of rookie issues and began hyperventilating within the first two minutes of being in the water. As my brain registered my body’s very real distress, one unexpected thought took control. If they have to rescue me and I get pulled out of the water, I won’t get to do the bike ride or the run I was looking forward to this morning. As I worked to get my breathing under control, the first volunteer spotted me and kept calling to me until I answered. She asked if I was okay and, hearing my answer, decided to swim parallel to me for a while. I continued to side-stroke and breathe as I inched forward. The volunteers handed me off this way for the entire 1/4 mile swim. Someone was always watching, checking in verbally, and within reach if I needed to be rescued. Knowing I was safe helped me calm down and focus on what I needed to do–keep breathing and moving ever forward to finish what felt like the longest swim of my life.
As I began the ten-mile bike ride, I thanked God and my body for giving me the strength to get out of the water and onto my two wheels. I thought of my friend who had swum ahead of me in practice swim in a lake a few years ago when I was a wary new swimmer. Seeing her swim off into the distance had triggered the same panic response my body had during this triathlon start. One of the main reasons I was able to manage my body’s physiological response during this triathlon was because I recognized what was happening and remembered the previous experience.
That same friend was the one who introduced me to triathlons. I thought of the surgeries she has had during the past couple of years and how long it has been since she has been able to train or participate in a triathlon. I biked and ran harder on her behalf, grateful again for strength and wellness. I thought of other friends who have been navigating their own ‘triathlons’ in life. Several are grieving the loss of loved ones. Two dear friends in different states are studying night and day to shift careers while also parenting young children. One friend is investing enormous energy in eating mindfully. Another has started a new job with a significant commute. While none of these people was with me physically this year at the triathlon, I could feel their presence in my heart and spirit, and was buoyed by thoughts of their acts of daily courage and tenacity.
Throughout the entire race, there were a few special people who were physically present to cheer me on. My mom made the three-hour trip from New York State the night before just so she could be there. My co-parent piled our kids and my mom into the car shortly after sunrise to ensure our kids and my mom were there, on time, to give me hugs before the triathlon began. When I exited the lake, they were on the shore waving. They were there, holding up signs and shouting, “Go, Mama!” when I dismounted my bike in the transition area. They were on the sidelines, cheering and yelling my name, as I sprinted toward the finish line.
I sat, stretching in the grass after the race, and thanked each member of my family for being there. I shared with them what their presence meant. I told them that each time I had entered the transition area between events, I felt profound fatigue hit and wondered how I was going to find the energy to do the next part. Each time, just at that moment, I looked up and saw them there, smiling and cheering, and yelling, “Go, Mama!” Each time I saw their faces and heard their voices, joy rushed back into my heart and my smile returned. In an instant, I felt excited again and found I had everything I needed to continue.
In the professional workshops and trainings I give, I often say, “Anything worth doing requires a team.” Triathlons are a great example. They are definitely worth doing, and I am reminded every time I participate that triathlons are definitely a team sport.