Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Word of Thanks

A week ago today, I participated at the Danskin Triathlon in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin.  I woke up at 4:20am and drove from Chicago to just north of the Illinois border to "help out" by being a swim "angel" and a bike "sweep", helping my friends Maggie Sullivan (race director) and Sally Edwards (race spokesperson and motivator of all women triathletes).  Not long after arriving in Pleasant Prairie, parking my car, and biking to the transition area, I was greeted by Maggie who was accompanied by a woman, who was in obvious need of some help.  I saw pure terror and fear in this woman's face and it was my job to help her in any way that I could.  She absolutely couldn't see herself getting in the lake and swimming the 1/4 mile (super sprint).  You see, being terrified of the swim is a pretty common feeling for first timers, even seasoned triathletes.  Sally Edwards calls it the "monkey on your back" - negative self talk that questions your reasons for being there and the "monkey on your chest" - a sudden rush of adrenalin that takes your breath away.  For others, it's just the fact that the open water doesn't have lane lines and black lines painted on the bottom, unlike a pool.  Toss in a couple hundred women swimming alongside you and the swim can be a little intimidating.

That morning I swam with this woman, side by side, with the help of a couple of noodles.  We talked about everything from our kids to what we loved to do.  As we neared the finish of the swim, I urged her to swim her way in...and she did!  She actually had a beautiful swim stroke that, in the grip of fear, had totally escaped her that morning, until she saw the last 50 yards.  What an amazing feeling!  With my help, this woman completed her swim. I continued to swim with several other women that morning.  Each of them affecting me in a unique way.  As I was swimming the last woman towards the swim finish, that first woman appeared with her finisher's medal and caught my attention with raised arms and triumphant smile. She yelled, "Thank you!  I couldn't have done it without you!  You are my angel!"  A week later, I received the following email from Maggie, who had corresponded with that woman:

Ladies, I have to tell you and I can only do this now, my first Danskin triathlon was probably the most daunting and humbling challenge I have had in my life, certainly as an adult.  Childbirth was an entirely different experience - while I anticipated the pain I knew it would not last and the end result (4 times over!) would be worth every minute of agony.  This triathlon? Not sure I was going to make it.  As you all witnessed, embarrassingly so for me, when I looked out into the lake that morning, which I could not bring myself to do before that day, I was overcome and paralyzed with fear.  I truly was seconds away from bagging the swim portion, but then where would that leave me?  Only to have the matter continue to rest heavy on my mind for yet one more year!  
But alas, my angels appeared!  First in you Sally and then with you Kathy, thanks to Sally.  You two are the reason I was able to go ahead with the swim.  While I did not do the swim as I had intended, I would not have been able to do it at all without Kathy's constant presence and most calm, reassuring manner.  NEVER have I been in deep water chatting and conversing (or trying to!  I actually can be quite chatty when I am on solid ground!!!) Kathy, I continue to smile each and every time I recall these 20 + minutes with you in the water.  Your approach with me - from the breathing coaching to the chatting time was the ticket to my successful exit from the water!!  And when I did hit solid ground I actually did pretty well for myself!

No more rambling.  Needless to say, it is a day I will never forget  - for a number or reasons.  The most significant being the the three of you encouraging, cheering and truly "swimming"  me through the most troublesome part of this event.  Kathy, I am especially grateful to you for helping me realize this years' long goal of mine.  

Now if we could only do the swim in the pool ?!?!?!  Just kidding - sort of!  Though it is my intention to explore this fear further in some manner.

I offer each of you my heartfelt thanks for being with me.

I'd like to say this:  hats off to Maggie Sullivan, race director, who brought me this lady initially, and who followed up with her after the race.  What other race director of a triathlon would take the time to do that?  And, hats off to that woman, who I promptly thanked in return.  Because the reason that I am a swim angel and a bike sweep, is not just to fulfill a function, but to fulfill my heart.  As I told this woman in my email response to's a two way street.  I helped her, but she also helped me.

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