Nice day for an Ironman
This past weekend(September 11/12) I experienced something that left an entire room of people without a dry eye and served to inspire me in ways that I’m not quite certain yet. All I know is I keep thinking about this and it stirs me.
My sister Julie just competed in the 2010 Wisconsin Ironman and the night before the race one of her tri-club teammates (Beau, I think that was his name) related a story from his recent experience doing the Ironman in St. Louis.
Beau was halfway into the bike portion of the course when he had a mechanical failure of his bike while climbing a hill. He felt his foot come off the pedal, no worries,sometimes this happens when you’re riding hard. You just reclip into your pedals and continue on. He tried several times and after his foot wouldn’t clip in, he looked down and saw that he was still clipped in and that his pedal had come off the crank!
He quickly pulled over to the side of the road and popped his shoe off for a closer inspection. Turns out when he shipped his bike to this event he had to remove the pedals for shipping. He not realising it at the time, had inadvertently cross threaded that one pedal into the crank and during the ride it stripped the threads and eventually popped out.
He was upset, but prepared for something to go wrong, as a frequent Ironman competitor he knows that not everything goes to plan. He texted his buddies to get some beer ready for him as he was out and waited on the side of the road for a tech official to come by.
A woman cheering people on by the side of the walked over to see what was up and offered to help try and get the pedal back on. Turns out she’s an avid cyclist and repairs her own bikes, so she knew what she was doing. 20 minutes of trying later, tech came by and immediately said that you’re out, I’ve seen this before and it’s not repairable. They said they’d send a truck to pick him up and left.
The woman who was assisting him insisted on running to her house at the top of the hill to get some tools to try and fix this. Off she went and returned about 30 minutes later with tools and some thread repair tape. They were able to get the pedal attached and off he went. Less than a mile down the road it popped off again and he knew that this time he was done. He decided to walk his bike back to the original breakdown spot as that was where tech was sending a truck. The woman was still there and while they talked at the side of the road a guy rode up obviously in great pain, got off the bike and announced that’s it, he’s done.
Talking to him, they found out his knee had dislocated several times during the ride and each time he’d popped it back in. He was scheduled for surgery the following week to fix it, but he couldn’t miss the Ironman and attempted it anyhow.
The guy asked to borrow Beau’s phone to call his wife to let her know the news and that he was out. Beau and him chatted for the next 15 minutes until the truck showed up, by now Beau had been stuck for about 90 minutes.
As they were loading up the bikes Beau realized this guy had a really nice bike and suddenly had an epiphany, perhaps he can get back in the race using this guys bike! He asked and without a seconds hesitation the guy said of course. As Beau went to ride away he discovered his shoes clipons weren’t compatible with the ones installed on this guys bike and he couldn’t lock in.
He asked to use the guys shoes as well and the guy asked Beau “What size are you?” Beau has size 10.5 shoes, turns out the guy has size 15!! Beau said he’d do it anyhow and put the far too big shoes on and rode away. This made the ride less efficient due to the shoes slipping around on him but he was back in the race.
Beau finished the race, not his best time but he did it.
Next day he’s driving home to Atlanta and making a few calls. He saw a strange number in his call logs and was puzzled by it for a moment until he remembered that this was that guys wifes phone number. He hit dial as he wanted to thank him for the use of the bike and check in with him to see how he was feeling.
His wife was excited to hear from him and said they’d been following him the entire race and that they were extremely happy he completed it, and sounding wayyyy to happy to be telling him this. In all this Beau had never gotten the guys name and they finally made introductions. Matt(I think that was the name, for this narration it will have to do) was doing well and told Beau that he was happy Beau had finished the race
Beau started to tell Matt that what Matt had done was the most selfless thing he’d experienced in many many years and that karma will come back to look after him for this. If it wasn’t for Matt trusting Beau with his very expensive racing bike and his shoes, he would never have completed. Beau went on to tell us that this is one of the things about competing in these races, you’re all in it together and become an extended family by association.
At this point Matt interrupted and said: “Beau, I only wish I had thought of offering you my bike before you had asked. You need to know that I needed a part of me to finish the race. You see, for years I’ve volunteered at a camp for kids in wheelchairs who can never do something like this. I was competing for them. As part of this I had engaged in fund-raising and had even found sponsors. I raised $50,000 for the kids camp to complete this race. I was heartbroken that I wasn’t going to be able to finish the race and to face these kids and tell them that a minor knee problem took me out especially since they face such hardships to mobility. I also didn’t want to face my sponsors knowing that the race hadn’t been completed.”
At this point there wasn’t a dry eye in the banquet hall, even Beau was choking up relaying the story. Since this happened Beau and Matt have become good friends and Beau is planning to volunteer at the same camp next year with Matt.
His story touched everyone in the room. I’m sure I missed out a fair bit of the details, but you get the gist.
Everyone from the ATC Tri-Club participating in the Ironman
Excited and nervous
I woke up at 4am to get ready and be at Julie’s hotel by 5 am to pick her up and get her to the start of the race.
This girl was a bundle of nerves, she was stressed but I just tried to stay out of her way and help keep her calm. I knew her training for the past year had prepared her for this. She was ready, even after becoming quite sick three weeks previously and being ordered by her Dr. to stop training for two weeks, right when she was peaking in her distances and about to start tapering on the training. Not a good end to her training, but she had the base and that’s all that was necessary.
I accompanied her to prep her bike and drop off her transition gear bags. Then left to go pick up our mom and come back to see the swim and bike race kick off
2500+ people in the water for a mass start was a sight to see. Of course we had no idea where Julie was in that mess of people but wewatched things until it was close to her finishing and doing the transition. We didn’t make it to the water exit area as we didn’t know if we’d actually see her or not so we opted to head for the cycle area.
We set up at the base of the parking garage entrance where they’d ride right by us. It was fantastic to see so many bikes going by and the speeds they were traveling at. We didn’t know where Julie was so we just had to watch for her in the 100′s of cyclists coming down the ramp.
She flew by us at high speed and was riding strong, so fast I unfortunately missed getting a picture of her heading out and even sadder that we didn’t get a chance to cheer and let her know we were there.
After she passed us we knew we had a few hours to kill so we, mom, her friend Lee and I grabbed some breakfast and wandered
Cheese, glorious cheese...
around downtown Madison sightseeing and me finding an artisanal cheese shop called Fromagination (and stocking up on some local Wisconsin cheese, the tasters blew me away, wow!) before taking the shuttle to the area where the bike course did two loops.
We had been following Julie’s progress via a GPS tracker she was wearing, what we didn’t realise at the time is that it wasn’t updating as frequently as it should have been. We arrived at the bike course viewing area in what should have been plenty of time to see her, only to find out we’d missed her by less than five minutes. Thankfully another member of her tri-club support crew was there and cheered her on as she went by.
Throughout the race I’d been updating her progress on her facebook page to keep her friends informed. They were just as excited to be reading about her progress as I was to be reporting how she was doing. I even had time at one point to upload a selection of photos to her Facebook page, this was all appreciated by her friends who couldn’t be there to share in the experience.
We knew we couldn’t miss her on the second loop and found a spot on the course settled in and cheered on the other contestants as they passed. You could see the joy in some of their faces from having people they didn’t know cheering them on and providing encouragement. You could also see the struggle some of them were going through, reaching deep into their reserves as they tackled the second half of the 112 mile ride not knowing if they’d be seeing the finish line that night.
As time went by the crowds thinned out and the race organizers started packing up, the music was shutdown(was a crappy selection anyhow), the vendors turned off their bbq’s and left just the supporters cheering the last of the cyclists on. It was then you could really see the difference in having your presence there made to the athletes, from some pumping their fists as they went by to outright yelling out their thanks for our support.
All of a sudden Julie appeared, she was so excited to see us she stopped and got off the bike to give us all a hug then hit the road again for the final 15 miles back to the transition point to begin the run portion of the race. Throughout the day I had been taking pictures and managed to get several pictures of her then.
We then hopped on the shuttle back to the transition point and hoped that we would get there before her. As luck would have it we made it and watched her come in and again cheered her on.
We moved over to the run start area to watch her get that portion of the race underway. She came out of the transistion area
Looking happy and running strong
looking strong and happy, again she stopped for a quick hug and was off for the marathon portion of the race, the final 26.2 miles. A course that was designed as a loop that had to be repeated twice with the first half turn around point having you tantalizingly close to the finish line. Again due to the GPS tracker feeding us bad info, we missed our first rendevous point by a couple minutes as the next update from the device put her well past our location. Thankfully she was going to loop past another street close by in about 30 minutes, so we went there to wait for her arrival. She was happy to see us again, but was clearly struggling, we had a quick talk and she was feeling sick. Lee had her coach on speed dial and immediately sent him a text and the coach called right away to discuss what was going on. He had some suggestions based on symptoms and we waited for her to come by again as the turn around loop about a mile away from us.
As she passed us next we talked with her and found that she was feeling bloated and was in some gastro-distress. Her coach recommended easing back on the water, increasing her salt intake slightly and to walk through the aid stations. She continued on and we kept track of her whereabouts with the gps tracker and our cell phones and a laptop.
We were concerned at this point as the tracker showed her minutes per mile time increasing significantly now, then decreasing, which told us she was in a run/walk mode. At the next meeting point, the final split measurement and turn around to the last part of the course, she was looking better. Apparently she obtained some immodium at the aid station(or had it with her, not sure) and was feeling much better. Another round of hugs, some more pictures and she was on her way once again.
We made our way to the finish line to await her arrival. I was getting a little worried as the mobile tracking site kept going down and the laptop was having issues connecting too so we were unaware of her exact location and what her speed was like. We managed to get a spot by the finish line and cheered on the other athletes as they came across.
Crossing the finish
Finally at 15 hours, 4 minutes Julie came into sight and crossed at 15:05. She finished strong and with power. I never felt more proud of her than I did at that moment. It was an amazing experience to be a part of and so inspiring. 15 hours of non-stop pushing her body to the limit and beyond.
The official live stream
I managed to get some pictures as she went through the gauntlet of ironman staff who cared for the incoming athletes, hooking them up with a blanket, getting them a finishers shirt and medal, plus checking to see if they needed medical assistance. I saw julie go from a huge smile to crying from the emotions of finishing to the joy of seeing some of her teammates come in shortly after her and having a reunion and posing for a group photo at the finish line.
I did a final update of her Facebook and uploaded the final pictures of her at the end of the race and crossing the finish line. Even changed her profile picture to one of her with her shiny finishers medal
After some socialising it was time to get her back to the hotel and call it a night. Up at 4am, to bed at 1am. A long, tiring and very exciting day. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything and I’m so glad I went.
Julie’s effort that day inspired me in many ways, first and foremost it’s convinced me to take my running more seriously. I’ve decided I’m going to start training for a marathon again and will be aiming to do the Vancouver one in spring of 2011. I was also inspired and in awe by the families and friends who came together to support these athletes in this endeavor, not just on race day, but throughout the training that lead up to this day.
My sister, the Ironman
All in all, it’s given me a new found appreciation of life and people.
So, what inspires you?
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