It’s cold out. It’s always cold out. It’s around 4 o’clock in the morning, the freaking morning. I didn’t get as much sleep as I had hoped. My fifteen year old body feels like lead as I get my gear in the car: my helmet, my bike, bike shoes, goggles, running shoes, uniform, and of course my traditional racing food, a blueberry Belvita. My dad starts to pull out of the parking lot as we begin the long awaited drive to the park. I stare outside and watch as we come up on the peaceful countryside of Ohio. Just looking at the corn fields calms me down a little, but my anticipation grows as I start to recognize the road we are on, and as I spot the tall water towers signifying that we have almost arrived at our destination. I think back to what the famous runner, Louis Zamperini, brother said to him in the movie Unbroken, just before he boarded the train heading to the Olympics. He said, “A brief moment of pain equals a lifetime of glory.”
After my dad parks the car we walk over to the team’s tent and wait and listen until our race is called. Once it is called I walk over with my brother to transition, where we wait patiently on the long line of athletes eager to race. As soon as I enter I head straight for my rack and start the familiar setting up of my gear: baby powder in my running shoes and bike shoes, attach bike shoes to bike, place my towel down with running shoes, and finally helmet on my bike. I check my set up over dozens of times, run scenarios of how my race is going to go, and what I am about to do. And when I am satisfied with that I am ready to race.
Next we all walk down to the pontoons and search for our wave. When I find my group I talk to a couple of them and find my race number and get in line. As I am standing there I start to feel cold wet drops hit me, I look up to see moving lines of water coming down to the ground that makes me feel on edge, I feel like I am in a movie, and something serious is about to go down…well something serious was about to go down. I take a glance around to see who my competitors are, they all look anxious and ready to go. My heart is trying to break free from my chest, I can feel the butterflies moving in my stomach, my breathing intensifies, and my eyes widen, I have never been with kids like this, kids that all look like they can win this. Then the race officials call my group to the pontoon, this is it and I think I might have drunk too much water before this, and I am glad to get in the water. The water is cold as ice and we are all waiting for the horn. This part is always the worst, the start, the waiting in silence. Then I hear the words of a man, “On your marks, get set,” HOOONNNK!!!! And we are off!!! I start to swing my arms and swim as fast as I can, trying not to get hit and make it to the first buoy. I make it to the first buoy just fine when all of a sudden I hit someone in front of me, but this was different, he wasn’t moving forward, so I did what any other racer would have done, I tried to swim over him, and that’s when I saw it, everyone, and I mean everyone was piled into one group, nobody was moving because people were trying to swim over each other and not getting anywhere. As I noticed this in one glance a hand landed on my shoulder and pulled me down, I panicked and quickly came back up and joined everyone in the struggle. Seconds, maybe minutes later the cycle was broken and I was behind so I put every ounce of arm strength I could muster and sprinted to the end of the swim course. I climb out of the water and sprint to my rack, where I would transition into yet another challenge. The bike.
I was still thinking about the swim, that was not at all what I anticipated. Now I need to work harder to catch up to the front pack on the bike, and I was pissed and out for blood. Since this bike course is shorter than my usual races I have to go all out on this course, and the adrenaline boost from my anger was helping. I was passing kids left and right, just focusing on what I need to get done. As I look at the ground it is very wet, and as I come up on the first turn I know it is a sharp one, so I slow down and go wide, the kid next to me however turns too sharp, falls and slips past the cones, people help him up, but just watching that made me realize how careful I really need to be on the turns. I do a few more turns and I am back to transition, I do a dismount and as soon as my legs touch the ground my thighs feel weak and flimsy, but I push through the exhaustion and quickly run back into transition to start the final challenge of my race, the run.
I know I am definitely an above average runner, so I thought I would pass a lot of kids on the run. As I start to run out of transition a race official stops me and tells me to take my helmet off, I forgot to take my helmet off, it was so light I forgot to take it off!! Then I remember my training and make a quick decision with running with my helmet so I wouldn’t lose time, so I just go and start the painful run. Soon after my arm gets tired from carrying the helmet, and I get a really bad cramp in my rib cage. I catch up to a kid and pass him gradually and reach the turnaround. I don’t remember how many kids I have passed, all I know is it wasn’t a lot. I also don’t remember how many kids I have seen going back before the turnaround, and it starts to scare me. I start to run back and see all the kids heading in the same direction I was going moments ago. As I start to get near the crowds I can feel everyone’s eyes on me, watching me and giving me weird looks and I know it’s because I have my helmet with me. I can see the finish line and I run through it strongly, I get a medal, a water bottle and a towel. I walk a couple feet away from the finish line and collapsed on the ground breathing heavy. “I’m done” I think, and take a breath of relief, well a few breaths actually. I sit there for at least a minute before someone told me I am too close to the finish line and must move out of the way. By this time my heartbeat has calmed down and I walk over to the racing times and results tent. There is no line surprisingly, so I walk up and tell them my number. They give me a piece of paper with my results on it. I look at it curiously to see that I have placed 3rd overall for my group!!! First nationals competitive race and I got on the podium!! A tidal wave of relief passes over me. I show my dad and he smiles and after that I start to realize that life can be more than just running and that triathlon can actually be a lifestyle.
The lesson to be learned here is you have to put in the work, yes I know that sounds cliche but it’s true. You can’t expect others to do the work for you or do something half way and not complete it. This event has affected me today because it has opened up the sport of triathlon to me and has shown me what it means to race competitively and nationally. It has shown me that there is plenty of competition and opportunities out there.