With a husband whose job is to put on and time racing events (think running, swimming, triathlons) my summer invariably gets a bit taken over by races. The season always starts with the Freihofer’s Run for Women where I helped with the elite athlete tent and announced the kids races. This race is the largest in the Capital Region and the only one that hosts elite runners. It is my favorite event of the year and I love getting to see the out of town athlete coordinators and returning elites who have become friends. There is something so exciting about watching the race too. It is all women and the event is special to competitors for so many reasons. There are women who have raced since its inception in 1979, generations of grandmothers, mothers, daughters, sisters who run, and ladies who choose to run it as their first ever 5K- just to describe a few. Over the years my role at the event has changed and I love the way I contribute now.
When Patrick and I first started dating he assumed I would naturally want to attend and help at all the events they managed, or timed. Each. And. Every. Weekend. Nope. Nope. No thank you. I have both a life and a 9-5 (in name only) office job that affords me a generous 3 weeks of vacation any other free time I get to enjoy is on my weekends. It took a while to strike a balance with what races I was willing to work at and what I wanted to do. I have narrowed things down to packet/t-shirt pickup, Q&A, and announcing the event and only for about 5 of their major events either 3,000+ people, many working parts (like a triathlon), or a new venture.
Our first summer together I got sucked into helping with way more events. Patrick sold it to me as: this is my job. I work on the weekends. If we want to spend time together on the weekends, then you should come to races. It will be fun. The Hudson Crossings Triathlon was the next event on the schedule after Freihofer’s. It was busy and the event was spread out across the Hudson Crossing Park with separate areas for check-in, the swim start, transition, and the finish. I was bumbling around across all the different stations and watching people of all athletic abilities swim, bike, and run (or the closest thing to running that they could manage). I had not accepted my disability yet. At this point, I still did not have a name for it. I was a clustery combination of frustrated, mad, sad, and jealous thinking that I looked like some loser who can “barely walk” and getting in people’s way, knowing that if my stupid legs were normal that I could whip a lot of these people’s butts.
As soon as pizza arrived for us and the athletes, I grabbed some slices for my sweetie and did my best not to eat it or drop the food on my amble to the finish line where he was timing the race. I was looking forward to seeing him thinking he would be happy to see me and some lunch and getting a chance to chat with him for a bit would help me eat my annoying feelings. When he didn’t even look up from his laptop, and gave me a monotone “yeah thanks” I hit my breaking point. I wanted to leave. Unfortunately, I was stuck there because the road was closed until the end of the race. So I did the next closest thing. I went to my car to hide. And then I cried. Patrick got a free minute and when he noticed I was nowhere to be found, called me. I told him where I was and he came over. I shared with him that I was very mad at him for ignoring me (how dare he focus on work over me!) and that seeing so many slow-pokes on the course had me feeling sorry for myself. How can THEY be out here? I am so much more fit than they are, but I can’t even F*&?!NG WALK!!! (Read that ALL CAPS part with a high-pitched yet muffled, angry yell, because that is how it came out). Patrick hugged me, apologized for ignoring me (was not even aware of how he came off), and reminded me of how great he thinks I am. He held on to me for as long as I needed him to. And I got tears and snot all over his shirt.
Eventually, I let him get back to work. I know I sat in my car for a bit longer, but I don’t remember the rest of the day. Maybe I called my mom to share with her too. If I did her response would have started with an “oh, honey” that lets me know whatever pain I felt she now felt for me, and ended with “I love you.” Maybe I went back out and helped until the day was done and wished athletes well and congratulated them on a job well done. Either way the day went on, and so did my life. I got a name for my disability (Hereditary Spastic Paraparesis), my spasticity grew worse, I accepted it, I got married the guy who held me as long as I needed, and I kept going back to the Hudson Crossings Triathlon each year.
But this year was different.
This year I competed.
This year I was the swimmer on a three person team.
This year I whipped a lot of people’s butts.
A few years ago I got into swimming. I joined the Master’s Swim Team at my gym and eventually joined a triathlon club so I could swim with them in one of our local lakes. I never did a triathlon, but for the past 2 years I have competed in Patrick’s open water swim events: The Betsy Owens Swim and the Lake George Open Water Swim. In my boxing class this year I was chatting with two of my classmates about what Patrick does and one mentioned she has always wanted to do a triathlon, but can’t swim. I mentioned the team option and the three of us decided to enter the Hudson Crossings Triathlon as a team with me as the swimmer.
There was one training day with my tri club before the race and I had to skip because of a work obligation- so disappointing! So day of the race I only had pool practice under my belt. It took me my usual 15-20 to put on my wetsuit- something I only use when training if the water is really cold (my idea of cold water is 65F or below), but all the other competitors were in a wetsuit so I was going to wear one too- the buoyancy makes a HUGE difference in your swim times.
The drop in point had a dock, but we had to enter to the side of it with hand-made rock steps, ugh! Luckily I spotted someone I know who was able to help me in the water with her. We had some time to wait in the water before our start and we had the normal chitter and laughter until the 10 second mark when everyone tightens up for race mode. The blast of an airhorn we were off. One massive cluster of limbs and splashing water. My goggles, which were tinted and smeared in mascara (darn for not prepping the night before the race!), immediately fogged up. The only way I could tell where to go was by following the person in front of me. My breathing was labored by the cold water, and my wetsuit felt like it was strangling me, but in a 500 meter swim trying to adjust something that trivial is a waste of time. Once we hit the turn-around it seemed like all those limbs and splashes I was following before had disappeared. Then I spotted the swim cap of someone in the heat before me so I knew either I was doing well or he was doing bad. Then I noticed he was doing a side stroke. Dang it. Have I been dropped? I was getting tired, which seemed ridiculous -this distance is a warm up! Frustrated with the way my body was reacting, I forced myself to crank it up. I had a time I wanted to meet and I also wanted to do well for my teammates. Finally the end was in sight. I crawled up to land to meet my bike teammate who took our timing gear and set off. Then Patrick and my runner teammate told me the good news- I was third out of the water in my heat! I unzipped my wetsuit so I could breathe again and cheered in all the people I had left in my wake.
Once the last person was out of the water, I headed over to man my announcement station at the finish. I had a job to do. Cheer on all the people who came through the finish chute- the ones who do this stuff every weekend, the ones who were doing it for the first time in their life, and especially the ones considered slow-pokes.