Well, another triathlon is in the books. Last month, The Challenged Athletes Foundation contacted me and told me that they had a comped spot for the Life Time Fitness Minneapolis Triathlon. They asked me to come and represent CAF and their partnership with ZICO Coconut Water. The race happened to be on the one weekend of my summer that I had nothing scheduled, so I graciously accepted. This was the first race I’ve ever done without any of my teammates, and until now, I didn’t really realize just how dependent I’ve become on them. I require some help in getting all my equipment to the race site as well as exiting the water after the swim, so I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go to the race alone. I decided to enlist my dad to join me on the 5-hour car ride to Minneapolis, and help me out at the race itself. My dad came to my very first triathlon last July, but hasn’t been able to watch me since, so I was excited for him to be able to share the race experience with me.
My dad and I have always been bonded through sports. I grew up the second of four girls, and was also the most athletically inclined daughter. I was always the one who would volunteer to join my dad in shooting hoops in the driveway, playing catch in the backyard, or running plays with the football. My dad was an athlete throughout high school and college, going on to play in basketball and softball leagues as an adult. But for as long as I’ve known him, his main sport was always running. A simple guy who has never been into gym memberships or fancy bikes, my dad would throw on his running shoes and log 5 miles a day 5 days a week. Two years ago, my dad learned that he had qualified to run the 5000m at his company’s Olympics in Budapest. In the months leading up to the race, he started to have a lot of pain in his right knee, but insisted on training through it. In the summer of 2010, my dad went to Budapest to run what would be his last race ever. When he returned home, he went to his doctor and found that he had no cartilage left in his knee. With no treatments available other than a knee replacement, he was told that his running days were over. My dad was absolutely devastated. At the time, I didn’t understand why not being able to run crushed him in the way that it did. But running had become a part of him, in the same way that is has become a part of me. In a life where he constantly had five women bossing him around, running was my dad’s escape.
After my amputation, my dad said that his dream was for the two of us to do a 5K together. I desperately wanted to make this a reality, but the cards never really played out. I didn’t start running until April 2011, eight months after my dad stopped. Talk about bad timing. Now there aren’t many things in my life that I wish I could have done differently; but I do wish that I would have gotten into running just a little bit earlier. I wish I could have fulfilled that dream of his, even for just one race. So while the two of us may never run in a race together, having him there to watch me is the next best thing. More so than anyone else in my family, my dad gets how much racing means to me. He understands my competitive nature, probably because I get it from him. And because he’s my dad, I can yell at him as I’m tearing off my goggles and trying to locate my bike in the transition area and know that he will still love me.
The race itself was not my best ever. The two weeks preceding it were less than stellar training weeks. Between my time at camp and the 100+ temps that followed, it was hard to stick to a real training regime. I went into the day with low expectations, looking at it more as a training race than an “A-Race.” Like most events, it also ended up being a good learning experience. At all of the other races I’ve done, there have been so many PC (physically challenged) athletes that we get our own wave that goes off before everyone else. But this time, I started with the rest of my age group, which meant I had a full two hours between the time transition closed and the time I got in the water. I grew accustomed to being spoiled with this luxury, and was humbled to experience a race in which I was treated like everyone else. I didn’t mind waiting around for my wave to start; in fact, it was kind of nice to leisurely watch the pros go off, and to avoid the lines to the porta potties. But the late start time did affect my actual race, making for one of my slowest run times to date. By the time I got off the bike, it was already 10am and approaching 100 degrees. I had to stop at all three aid stations to pour water over my head, a major rarity for me in a race. Then with about a mile left to go, I thought about my dad standing there at the finish line anticipating my arrival, which led me to thinking about the race that he ran in Budapest in the summer of 2010. He had a feeling that his knee was beyond fixing, and knew before the race had even started that this was going to be the last race he ever ran. But because it was his last, he made a promise to himself that he was going to give every last ounce of energy that he had. The race conditions were terrible: running 12 laps around an asphalt track, in 115 degree heat, in mid-afternoon, in the middle of July, in the midst of a bunch of ridiculously fit Europeans. But my dad rose above the conditions, and left everything he had out on the track. I thought about that race and what he must have been feeling, and decided that what I was doing now wasn’t all that bad. I started to imagine that this was the the last race of my life, the same way that he had done two years ago. I suddenly started to feel my legs move faster and my arms pump harder. There was an extra kick in my step as I cranked out the last mile and ran hard though the finish chute. As I navigated my way through the crowd that had gathered past the finish line, the only thing more inviting than the ice cold bottle of water was my dad’s open arms.
While it may not have been my strongest performance ever, any day that I get to race is a good day as far as I’m concerned. Having my dad there reminded me that I am grateful to be able to do what I do, and to have a body that keeps up with me. So for all you runners who are reading this: I challenge you to go extra hard today, so as not to take your ability to do so for granted. And for all of you who say you hate running: I encourage you to go outside today and run anyway, simply because you can.