Ironman 70.3 Worlds

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Last Sunday, September 10th, 2017 I toed the start line for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga. It did not go well, but to properly tell that story I think I need to start from last year. After crashing last April and stopping the fall with my face, I missed out on training for 6 weeks. I missed it. Badly.

Prior to that I was training consistently, but without drive. I wanted to train and do well in my races (prior to the crash, IM 70.3 St. George, IM 70.3 Honu, and Challenge Roth), but I was missing the fire. I was missing the spark that lights up every morning when the alarm goes off at 5 (or prior to 5) and it’s still pitch black dark out. I was missing the determination to go just a little bit harder, or just a little bit further to achieve my potential.

However absence does make the heart grow fonder, and not training for six weeks (really not doing anything, since I was not allowed to read, watch TV, use my phone/laptop, or go out of the house) lit that fire in a large way. As soon as my neurologist cleared me to go back into training, I dove head first and with a focus I had not had since I was training for my first New York City Marathon back in 2011.

Since I had missed a significant amount of training time, and since I was not cleared to fly, I skipped St. George and Honu and targeted Eagleman as my return race. After Eagleman, I refocused and set my sights on Challenge Roth. Crossing that finish line in Germany made me even more motivated, and despite the fact that I wanted to run fast again, I decided in September to sign up for Ironman Arizona later in November. That went about as well as I could expect, and continued my motivation to get even faster, stronger, and smarter for 2017.

So, after the success of 2016 I hit training hard in 2017. My first race for the year was Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico on March 19th and I wanted to use it to see if my very ambitious goal for Ironman Copenhagen was approachable. More importantly, I wanted to use it to see if I had finally conquered my swim fear since I had successfully completed two full Iron-distance events in 2016 with less than my usual discomfort and anxiety in the water. Puerto Rico was a non-wetsuit, very early season (for us in the Western Hemisphere, above the equatorial line) race and it would be my first non-wetsuit swim.

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Pre-Race. We swam underneath this bridge.

I never actually ended up writing about that race, because it was hard to. I came in fitter than I’ve ever felt before, and with more confidence in my swim than I ever had after swimming about 10,000-12,000 yards per week. Unfortunately my brain had other ideas, and I had several panic attacks in the water, after making the second turn buoy. In fact, I was so freaked out at one point, that I swam backwards for about 30-40 meters, so I could go back to a kayaker I had passed earlier. I kept trying to restart swimming after that, but every time I tried to, my heart rate would continue to elevate and I would start to hyperventilate. At one point, one of my teammates who started at least 20 minutes after me, passed me and yelled at me to keep going. I ended up losing 11 minutes in the water since I kept having to hang on to kayakers throughout the last 1000 meters (approximately).

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Came out of the water. Never took off my swimskin.

Normally, this would have motivated me to make up time in the bike and run, but I was crushed. Mentally, I was drained. I thought that with all of the hard work I had put in prior, and with going into the race with the right mindset, I was finally over my open water swim fear and could actually properly race a triathlon. I climbed out of the water exhausted, and physically and mentally not wanting to do it anymore. I was so out of it, in fact, that when I finally got onto my bike, I still had my swim skin on.

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Abby took this picture while cheering for me. She was wondering why I was stopping, until I handed her my swim skin.

I’ll write about this specific race at some point later on, but suffice it to say the rest of my race did not go well. I had a sub-par bike and a terrible run where I walked most of it. If it wasn’t for my friend, Alex Wall, I don’t know if I could have been able to finish. Coming home from that race, I allowed myself a couple of days to be upset, but I made myself get back into training.

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Alex “ran” next to me the entire time. This is probably the best race picture I’ve ever had.

A few weeks later, I had a work trip to Lisbon, Portugal. Coincidentally, the trip happened around the time of my birthday which was on the same day as Challenge Lisbon. I had always wanted to do that race, so I decided to sign up and properly race it. When race day arrived, I was excited. It was a course that suited my strengths: a swim that was in an enclosed body of water, off of the Targus River, where I could see land all around me, and bike and run courses that were relatively flat. I went down to the practice swim, which took place about 20 or so minutes prior to my wave start (there were really only 4 waves: pros, all of the men, all of the women, relays).

Getting into the water, I felt fine. The water temperature was good, visibility was great, and all signs pointed to having a great race. Unfortunately after swimming just about 25 meters, I panicked. I started to freak out – my heart rate shot through the roof, I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t see clearly. My vision went blurry, and my brain stopped processing information (or at least it felt like it). I immediately stopped swimming, and tried to tread water. Hyperventilating, though, made it hard and even though I was literally feet from the boat ramp where I entered the water, I felt like I could not make it back. The kayakers were at each turn buoy, and not in between, so I had no one to hang on to. I kept trying to calm myself down and lower my heart rate, which I was eventually able to do. I started to swim back, but just a handful of strokes later, I panicked again. I touched another swimmer’s leg, and while this normally gives me reassurance, for some reason it scared the shit out of me. I had to stop swimming again to calm down. Eventually I made it out of the water, where I was shaking in fear. I kept looking back at the first turn buoy, which was maybe 200 meters away, where the first kayaker was. I remember thinking in my head: “there’s no way I can do this. I can’t swim that far. I’m not going to make it.”

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Swim course, T1/T2, and the Finish Line (not up yet) all in one photo, from my Lisbon apartment.

These types of thoughts kept running through my head, so I went to find Abby to see if she could help calm me down. She tried to, but nothing she could say was getting through my head, and all I could keep thinking about was that I couldn’t do the swim and that I would drown. Neither of which are true, since: a) I’m a goddamn Ironman, and 2) I was in a wetsuit.

We moved to swim start, since I thought seeing the pros go off would ease my anxiety. Unfortunately that didn’t help. I was minutes away from starting when I turned to Abby, with tears in my eyes, and said: “I don’t think I can start this race.” I’ve never said those words before, especially not when I was standing right at the start line. Abby tried to encourage me and to remind me that I have done the distance several times over, but I could not bring myself to line up. They called my wave to the start (which was about 10 feet from where I was standing), when I took off my swim cap and gave it to Abby. Walking away, I started to cry and really question about why I was doing triathlons. I watched the rest of the race, but I spent the next few days depressed and entirely down on myself.

I had no idea why I was having such difficulty with the swim, when I put in so much training time leading up to each of these races, AND because I am an experienced long-course triathlete. This was not my first race; not even close to it. I clearly have the physical ability to swim, and I had the fitness. So why was I freaking out so much? I had and have no idea.

A few weeks later, I lined up for Rev3 Quassy. Even though I had done very minimal training after Challenge Lisboa, I felt like I HAD to do this race. Quassy is a race I’ve done two times prior, and it was just an Olympic race. Still, I was not motivated to race, and I was experiencing some severe anxiety about that swim. In the days leading up to the race, I could think of nothing but the swim, and how afraid I was of that water. Coupled with the fact that I was severely demoralized from my previous two races, I was not in a great mental place.

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Abby and I pre-race in Quassy. I was doing the Olympic, she was doing both the Olympic and 70.3.

Lining up for my wave start, my heart rate was through the roof. The gun went off and I started to swim. Barely 50 meters into the swim, I had to stop and recalibrate myself because I started to freak out. I kept turning around thinking I should go back. For some reason, though, I kept trying to make forward progress. It was not too long until a kayaker came up to me and asked if I was OK. I said no, but indicated that I wanted to keep trying. That lasted until the first turn buoy. It took me something ridiculous – like 24 minutes to swim 400 meters, because every few strokes I’d have to stop and try to calm down and not freak out. By the time I got to the turn buoy, I was completely drained. I swam up to a kayaker and told him I was done. He asked if I was sure a couple of times, and I told him I was. He called a jet ski over, and that was it for the race. Reaching shore, I was devastated. I have never been pulled out of the water before, and coming on the heels of Challenge Lisbon, I was emotionally and mentally destroyed. Abby’s coaches saw me get off the jet ski, and when I saw them, I broke down. They encouraged me, as they always have, and told me to get onto the bike course regardless. They thought that it would help for me to work out my emotions physically, so I did. That was a disaster in and of itself, but that’s a story for another day.

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This group of people helped me keep my head up on that day.

For now, it’s on to Ironman Copenhagen which was the next race on my calendar. For this race, I tried something different. Realizing after Quassy that I could no longer try to conquer this fear by myself, I looked for some professional help. A good friend of mine, Justin Mohatt, recommended Dr. Nate Thoma who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I won’t go through all of the work Nate I have done since June, but between the first time I saw him and August 20th (IM Copenhagen race day), he did provide me with enough tools to deal with any anxiety issues that may arise and also a level of confidence in my swim that I had been lacking. Though we had only started working together for a short time, he did say that he could at least get me back to where I was prior to this year – uncomfortable in the water, but able to get through it. I’ll post about Copenhagen separately, since it’s a long story, but Nate was successful in getting me through the swim. I viewed the swim as a breakthrough of sorts, since it gave me confidence that I could get through the swim of my next race: the Ironman 70.3 World Championships about three weeks later.

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Finally meeting Michelle in person. One of the many positives to come out of IM Copenhagen.

Unfortunately my confidence in my swim after Copenhagen did not last very long. When we came back home, I started to feel anxious about the swim. This was three weeks before race day, which is the earliest I’ve ever felt any anxiety about that swim. I felt a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach that never went away. At various parts of the day without any warning, I would suddenly feel afraid and anxious. This happened no matter what I was doing, or what I was thinking. I would wake up several times in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, unable to go back to sleep because I could not stop feeling anxious or afraid.  That swim became the one overriding thought it my head, and it ate me up.

I have never felt this level of anxiety prior, and I started to get an understanding of what someone with anxiety suffers through. It is neither fun or pretty. I am lucky, in a way, that my anxiety has to do with a specific trigger, but in the three week period between Copenhagen and Chattanooga, I became anxious all the time.

As a result, I did almost zero training between Copenhagen and Chattanooga. I simply was not motivated. I did go for some “fun” rides or runs, but it was all in an attempt to try to regain the joy I used to feel when I would train. I put no time or distance goals in any of those efforts, but rather focused on the fact that I did once enjoy running and riding. We went on some easy rides to Market and Gypsy Donuts. Abby and I would do a run after work with no pace goals and we would stop when we felt like it. I even tried to do a swim in my pool on my own, without a planned workout or intervals.

None of it worked. The anxiety I was feeling outweighed my desire to do the race. I spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not I actually should go and race it. I did not doubt I could finish the bike or the run, despite my lack of training and fitness, but I doubted whether or not I could finish the swim or, if I could, I doubted if I could make the cut off.

I have never not made a swim cut off before (though I came close in 70.3 Worlds in Zell Am See, Austria two years ago), but it was a legitimate concern for me for this race. In Copenhagen, while I was swimming slow with the simple goal of finishing the swim, I swam 1.2 miles in approximately 57 minutes (I do not actually know what time I swam that distance in, but I am extrapolating that time from the pace I averaged throughout the swim). This means that if I swam the same exact pace in Chattanooga, I would only have three minutes to spare in the event that something goes wrong (Worlds 70.3 swim cut off is 60 minutes, as opposed to 70 in a regular 70.3).

This, coupled with the fact that it’s mostly an upriver swim, frightened the shit out of me. Back in May when they held the 70.3, there was about a 300 meter upriver portion before turning down river for the rest of the swim. When the male pros went off, they were swimming 3:00/100 on the upriver, causing the race organizers to change the swim for the age groupers to a downriver swim only. At that pace, that meant that the pros were swimming 2.5 to 3 times slower than their normal paces. For an incredibly poor swimmer like me, I was more likely to be fished out of Georgia if I had to swim upriver.

Chatt Swim Course

For Worlds, the upriver portion was 860 meters. At my current pace, it would have taken me roughly 25 minutes to swim the upriver portion without a current. Assuming I swam two times slower, it would have taken me 50 minutes to finish 860 meters, leaving me only with less than 10 minutes to finish the remaining 1040. I was facing an impossible task. Was I overthinking it? Absolutely. I never analyze a race going into this much. In fact, I don’t often look at weather or the course profile, since I normally do not care (after all, we all race at the same time, on the same course, right?). This time I did. This time, I was scared for my life.

I could not hold out hope for a minimized current either, because the Army Corp of Engineers controlled the flow of the Tennessee River. Since the dam is a hydroelectric dam, electricity demands of the surrounding area dictated the flow NOT frightened athletes. Later on I found out that Ironman had planned on slowing down the current at 3 AM on each of the race mornings, but I found this out only on Friday night after several drinks with some of the Ironman South Africa team. So, for the three weeks prior, I was scared.

A second factor that completely messed with my head was that I had reports that it would be an non-wetsuit swim. The week prior to the race, I found out that the water temperature was 84 degrees. For the race to be non-wetsuit, it had to be at 76.1 or below. Given that the weather was forecasted to be hot (in the 80s all week), I thought it would be a non-wetsuit, upriver swim.

Shit.

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I can relate, kitty. I can relate.

Lastly, the third item I thought about was the fact that it was a World Championship race. Normally, I do not let this get to me, but for some reason it did. Maybe because I was twenty five plus pounds overweight, and maybe because I was entirely unfit, but I kept thinking about that this was Worlds. Actually my thought was more accurately like: “Holy shit. Holy shit. This is Worlds.”

Normally I subscribe to the same philosophy that Sam Appleton and Matt Dixon told us about at breakfast on Friday morning, which was: “Ignore the fact that it has ‘World Championship’ as part of the name. At the end of the day, it’s still a 70.3 and you still swim, bike and run. Don’t change anything or do anything you wouldn’t do for any other race, just because it’s Worlds.”

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Super nice guy and incredible triathlete. And me.

I wholeheartedly agree with their reasoning and line of thinking normally, but for some reason I freaked out about it. Maybe it was because I knew who was racing, and knew how fit and strong they were. Maybe because I recognize how lucky I was to be able to toe the line for this race. Maybe because I was entirely inside my head for this race, and I couldn’t get myself out of it. I don’t really know why this bothered me so much.

Anyway, Naveen Wall (Rehman) had also qualified for Worlds, so I had planned on traveling with her, Alex, and a good friend of mine, Alysen, to the race the Thursday prior. Selfishly, I thought it would be good for me to travel with people, so I could not just not show up for my flight. Knowing that we were all going to the airport together, and knowing that we were all in the same hotel together helped make sure I would show up.

Abby could not make it, because we had both planned on racing Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid, along with half of New York City. We had discussed about whether or not I should go to Worlds as opposed to Placid, and she supported me going to Worlds. After all, she said, “there’s no guarantee you can qualify again. Take the opportunity when you can.”

So, the four of us went to Newark Airport for a direct United Airlines flight to Chattanooga on Thursday morning. I should have known this, but it turned out that we knew half of the flight including two of my Executive Challenge teammates. Our flight ended up getting delayed because one of the two engines were broken, so we ended up having some beers and fun chats with fellow triathletes and friends.

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They’re gonna kill me for this.

Eventually we made it to Chattanooga, where we had about 15 minutes for all of us to pick up our VIP accreditations and for Naveen and I to register for the race before registration closed. We made it just in time, in large part thanks to Tiffany of Ironman for ushering us through the process and allowing us to register privately. Thanks Tiffany!

After registration, we went to our hotel where we had about 45 minutes to get ready before the Welcome Banquet. All of this meant that I had zero time to myself to freak out, but as soon as we entered the Banquet, my nerves started firing. Walking into that room, particularly walking into our section where Dave Scott, Mark Allen, Greg Welch and a whole host of other incredible athletes were sitting, made me realize how lucky I really was. I started to feel incredibly nervous about the race, but since my friends were there, I had to act like everything was OK.

As the night wore on, I felt very much like a duck in water. Calm on the surface, but beneath, everything is frantically churning. I ended up drinking more wine than I had planned, and when we went back to the hotel, I managed to convince the rest of them to join me at the bar for more drinks.

The next day, we had a practice swim scheduled for 10:30. I was freaking out about this swim, while Alex and Naveen tried to reassure me. Alex told me he would happily jump in and rescue me if he needed to, and Naveen told me she would swim next to me the entire time. I very much appreciated their support and kindness, and I took Naveen up on her offer to swim with me.

We entered the water together, and we started swimming. Before we reached the first turn buoy, however, my heart rate skyrocketed.  I stopped to tread water, and Naveen, true to her word, stopped with me. She tried to talk me through it, and to tell I was ok and that she was right there. It worked to an extent, and I tried to start swimming again. Unfortunately after a few strokes, I had to stop because I started to feel panicky and anxious. I had to tread water for a while, and I kept thinking that even though we were less than 100 meters from where we entered, there was no way I could make it back there. A motor boat came over to us and checked to make sure if I was ok. I said no, but they advised us that we had to keep swimming because the current was taking us further and further south. I said I would try, and I did. I managed to almost make it to the turn buoy where I had to stop again because I could not control my breathing or heart rate. At this point, I told Naveen I was not OK and I needed to get out. She helped call the motor boat over, who called another person in a zodiac in. He pulled me out of the water, and brought me back to shore. Naveen continued on to swim, but throughout the entire time I was in the water, she stayed by my side the entire time. I cannot even begin to describe how much that kind of support and friendship means to me. I’ll write a bit more about it later on, but this type of friendship and support is one of the reasons why I truly love triathlon.

Anyway, after getting out of the water, I  was not in a good mental state at all. I was even more frightened, anxious, and scared than I ever was. I did not know what I was going to do, until Jimmy Seear called. Jimmy, a former Australian pro triathlete and co-owner of Ventum, has been an incredible friend and supporter as well. In the weekend before Copenhagen, Jimmy and Diaa (the other co-owner of Ventum), had reached out to me and offered to help me with my swim. They wanted me to come down to Miami so Jimmy and Leanda could swim with me and help me work through some of my swim issues. It was such an incredible offer and gesture, and it came without me asking or prompting. They had just seen through my Facebook and Instagram posts that I was really struggling and they wanted to help. That’s the type of community that triathlon has, and one that I truly cherish and love. (Side note: special thanks also to Kris Gemmell, for his help in the ocean and for the constant encouragement he’s provided for IM Copenhagen and IM 70.3 Worlds. Thanks Kris!!)

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I love being a part of the Ventum family! Rachel (l), me (c), Jimmy (r)

But I digress. Jimmy’s call was remarkable in a number of fashions. One: he called when Hurricane Irma was barreling down towards Miami and he was in the midst of prepping for her arrival. In fact, Jimmy and Diaa were both supposed to be in Chattanooga throughout the weekend, but both of them left early so they could protect their homes and belongings from the hurricane. Still, despite what was going on at home, Jimmy took the time to call me. Second, I was freaking out in a rather large way. His call reminded me of what we did with Miami, the techniques I learned, progress that I made, and all of the things we did in the ocean without a wetsuit. His call reassured me, and gave me a bit of a boost in confidence.

After Jimmy’s call, we had a number of tasks to get through, including driving the bike course, checking Naveen’s bike and gear in, getting my Ventum over to CeramicSpeed for Paul to look at and to get a new chain installed, and a welcome dinner at the home of one of my XC teammates, who lives in Chattanooga. (Side note: thank you very much to Paul Sollenberger for helping make sure my Ventum was completely dialed in for the race! For those who don’t know Paul, he’s one of the best mechanics in the world and is a really fantastic person to know. Thanks Paul!)

All of these meant I had to continue to pretend I was a duck. Quack. Quack.

The next day was Naveen’s race. We went down to watch her, and it was amazing to see. It was my first time seeing the 70.3 World Championships in person, since it was the first time Ironman split the men and women across two separate days. It was an absolutely phenomenal experience to watch, particularly since Naveen had such an amazing day!  It was also very helpful to see just how many kayakers and safety personnel that were out on the course. That was incredibly reassuring.

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After the race, Naveen tried to further reassure me about the swim, saying it was not that bad. While there was a current, it was nowhere near as strong as it was the day prior. This helped me somewhat, but I continued to feel that feeling of dread at the pit of my stomach. I was still entirely within my head, and I still could not get myself out of it.

For the AG women, it turned out to be a wetsuit swim. Instead of reassuring me, however, it freaked me out even more. This meant that I would have absolutely no excuse to get into the water. I did not realize it until then, but a small part of me was hoping for a non-wetsuit swim, because it would at least get me an excuse to not get into the water. At least that’s how I rationalized it to myself.

Since Ironman was making separate determinations each day on wetsuit legality, I held out a bit of hope that it would be non-wetsuit for me. Alas, this was not the case, and so after waking up the next morning and texting Frankie to find out it was wetsuit legal, I suited up to race. Technically, however, I did not actually wake up since I never ended up falling asleep – I was so worried and scared of the swim that I could not sleep at all.

Alex, Naveen, Alysen and I all walked over to the river boat where the VIP area was together. Since, due to the way the waves were structured, I was one of the first waves to go, I did not have much time to stay with them. Throughout the entire time I was scared and anxious. It took everything I had to leave the three of them on the boat and to make my way to my corral, by myself. It took even more for me to pick up my swim cap from the distribution point (they gave out swim caps race morning) and to stand with other athletes in our holding pen. It took everything I had to not break down and cry as we lined up to go into the water 6 at a time.

But, in the water I went. I started to swim normally, however within the first few strokes, I went to take a breath on my right at the same time the athlete next to me either kicked or his hand entered the water, which caused a spray of river water to go directly into my mouth. Coughing, I had a very hard time breathing or controlling my heart rate in the first few dozen meters.

Then, right near the first sighting buoy, I was hit in the face. The blow dislodged my goggles, and river water removed the contact from my right eye. Luckily I could feel it on my face, so I managed to make it over to a kayaker. I hung on to him to try to put my contact back in, but it was too disfigured and I had an incredibly difficult time. Eventually we started to drift too far, and he told me I need to start swimming.

So, without much of a choice, I did. I managed to make it to the first turn buoy, but I was struggling hard. I kept trying to tamp down panic attacks, and I kept trying to use the tools my CBT provided me. I also tried to use the mantra Jimmy and I were using in the pool and in the Atlantic Ocean, which was “hips and kick.” None of it helped. I was panicking and I was having a lot of trouble sighting.

The sun was rising at that point, and I guess we were facing east when swimming upriver. Every time I tried to sight for the next turn buoy, I could only see a big glowing blur, which was the sun. I kept having to stop to both orient myself and to keep my heart rate and breathing under control. Eventually, a kayaker named Kendall spotted me, and saw that I was in real trouble.

She made her way over to me, and asked if I was OK. I said I wasn’t, and that I couldn’t see out of my right eye and I was scared shitless of the water. She offered to kayak next to me as I swam and I said, “YES, PLEASE.”

So, she did. She couldn’t be my pacer but she did kayak close to me and continually encouraged me. Every time I stopped, she said I was doing great and that I was OK. When I told her I didn’t think I could do it, she said told me that I could. She said she would be with me the entire time and all I had to do was to stay calm and swim. Whenever I really struggled, she told me to break it down into 20 strokes at a time. She said count to 20, and restart. At every buoy, she said take a minute or two to relax and realize I was OK.

Kendall was absolutely amazing. And though I still had the feelings of panic and fear, her support and efforts went an incredibly long way towards helping me continue. I really struggled during that swim, both in terms of my anxiety and because of how much I had to work to fight that current. At one point, I was swimming next to a paddle boarder who was floating next to me, and I realized that I was not moving away from her despite how hard I was swimming. She was not paddling at all, but rather was just riding the current. I kept trying to sight for the bridges we had to swim under, but neither of them were getting closer, despite me swimming harder than I ever have before.

It was the hardest swim I was ever in.

But, Kendall stayed with me the entire time. At one point, I think she knew I was not making the cutoff, because she started to encourage me to be a little faster. She also started to help give me cues on where to go, because she was watching me swim in every direction but the correct one.

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I swam all over the place. Also, according to my moving time, I would have made the cutoff if I swam straight through.

She really was remarkable. I realized as I made the turn back down river, I was not going to make the cutoff. So, after I got out of the water, I turned around and gave her a thumbs up and a wave as she raised her paddle excitedly from her kayak.

At that point, I vowed to myself that no matter what would happen I would finish the race.

Until I went to get my transition bag and the Race Director was there. He held my bag for me and pulled me aside. At this point, I knew he was pulling me from the race. I understood his reasons why, so I accepted my bag and walked away. As I walked away, I did not know what to think. On the one hand, I was relieved to be out of the water. On the other, I was deeply disappointed and hurt I could not continue on.

I ended up walking the half mile back to our hotel, where the XC families were. As soon as I saw Troy, Frankie, and the families, I just broke down and cried. It hurt so much to be standing there with them, instead of being out on that bike course with my other XC teammates. It hurt so much to have all of their support, yet for me to let them down by not making the swim cutoff. It hurt so much for me to fail.

They all tried to encourage me, and they all gave me wonderful words of support and great hugs, but it still hurt and it still currently hurts tremendously. I am deeply, deeply disappointed in myself and it will take me a while to get over this. (Side note: Really, a truly special thank you to Denise, Katie, Gabie, Dina, Troy and Frankie. All of them were there when I walked over, and all of them gave me a hug and allowed me to cry on their shoulders. Although I did not show it, it did lift my spirits and the memory today is helping me recover from this race. So, if you guys are reading this, thank you.)

We ended up watching the rest of the race, and I watched all of my XC teammates cross the Finish Line. I was so happy for them, and to see how much their hard work and determination paid off, but I was also saddened to not have crossed the line with them.

What was remarkable about seeing them finish was that despite the fact that they all raced incredibly hard and well, as soon as they crossed the finish line and saw me, they all came over and gave me a hug and words of encouragement. I couldn’t help myself at this point, but I cried again. I did not mean to but them coming over and giving me a hug and encouragement and telling me it was all OK and that I was going to be OK, while in their race kit, and while still feeling the euphoria of crossing their finish line touched me deeply. So, to Trevor, Joe, John, Stephen, and Jerome, thank you. You all are a very large part of the reason why I love triathlon.

I mentioned before that the triathlon community is something I deeply love and cherish, and it’s because of people like these. People who don’t care who you are, how fast you are, or what your background is. All they care about is doing the best they can, and supporting everyone else who are doing the same thing. So many people have reached out to me and offered their encouragement and support, including pros, age groupers, and non-triathletes alike.

This experience, as difficult as it has been, has really taught me several lessons, including the value of my friends and those who support me and continue to support me. Triathlon is identified as an individual sport, but it really isn’t. It takes so many people to get a single athlete to the starting line, and even more to get them to the finish.

So, while I’m still healing and recovering from this experience, the entire community is helping. I will be back. I don’t exactly know when yet, since I have to fix myself first, but I will be back to race again and I will continue to be a part of this community.

This is just the beginning.

3 comments

  1. Thank you for sharing John. You are more brave than most and I am not sure if I could have done all what you did in similar circumstances. Keep trying, all athletes I know who had water fears found their way eventually. You have plenty of time young man. It is very big challenge and yet so simple once you will have found the keys to it. You have done harder things already. There will be great rewarding moments and I hope to be with you sharing some of them, in Kona or Port Elisabeth or other great venues.

    1. Thank you, Jerome. I really do appreciate your support and continued encouragement. It really does mean a great deal to me, and it does help me strive to get better. I’m looking forward to racing with you again, especially in Kona!

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