It was a hard day out there, this year. Harder than usual. Judging by the frequency of ambulance traffic, and the activity in the medical tent, many of the 3000 athletes faced disappointment with their days not going as they would have liked. A few were able to put together a good race despite the conditions, and a small number battled the conditions, and rose above expectations to have a great race. Its with a tremendous amount of pride that I report all of my athletes fell into the latter two categories. To their friends and families, and to me, each was the “Hero of the Day.”.
This past season, Patty Infusino, a seasoned Ironman athlete, trained the way an athlete who intends to have an excellent race should train. She was fully committed to having the race of her life, and on race day was well prepared to do so. Having achieved a PB at the Boston Marathon earlier in the year, having improved her biking, and working through some legitimate water-related anxiety, she was right where she needed to be when she arrived in Penticton for the race. Her fortune would change slightly days before the race when she happened upon a crowd surrounding an unconscious man next to the trail she was running on. Concerned for his well-being, Patty called out to see if he was ok. Not one to let anything interfere with a workout, Patty kept running as she spoke to the group, which unfortunately prevented her from being able to see the large bridge she eventually ran into, head first. The one time it might have benefitted her to be a slow runner….She escaped with a large gash on her head, and some neck and shoulder pain. There was not even really a discussion about how this would impact her race. It was as though she made up her mind immediately that it wouldn’t. And, it didn’t. Patty came out of the water right on track, and took off smiling on the bike. As big as her smile was as she started out on the ride, it was hard not to notice her questionable fashion choice for the day. Pink shorts with an orange shirt….it was hard to miss her! With all that racing experience, you would think she’d know better than to get dressed in the dark on race morning!! The next time I saw Patty she was coming in off the bike, a bit slower than we had hoped. Turns out she was one of the many victims of the tacks on the road, and wound up with 2 flat-tires. When you’ve trained as hard as Patty did this year, it would be really easy to get down about the lost time, and let it affect the rest of your race. Not Patty. She smiled and ran very strong. She successfully put the flats behind her, focused on the moment of the race she was in, and crossed the finish line just over 12 hours, with a big smile, and the satisfaction of knowing she gave her very best on that day. I’ve never seen Patty as happy as she was in the finisher’s area after the race, enjoying her routine post-race diet Coke. Congratulations, Patty!
Marija Susnjar. You probably saw her out there. She was hard to miss. Not because she had a fashion faux pas like her buddy, Patty. Instead because her enormous smile lit the race course from start to finish. Every time I saw this girl, she was beaming. I even had people come up to me after the race to ask me who the super happy athlete kicking ass was, and tell me how inspiring it was to see her having such a good time!! Like most athletes, her season had some high and lows, and her two biggest challenges were a) juggling a new, very time-consuming, teaching position with training for Ironman, and b) overcoming a fear of biking after being hit by a car a few years ago. It became clear at PHAT CAMP this year that Marija had stepped up her game and was ready for the challenge of Ironman. She credits a lot of it to one particularly inspirational chat she participated in at camp. “It all changed that night in the hotel…” she told me before the big race. She began to exude the confidence of someone that was about to become an Ironman. After a great race, on a hard day, Marija and her smile crossed the line just after 13 hours. Her first words were, “BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!”. Congratulations, Marija!!
Lorraine Churchill. What do you say about someone who qualifies for Ironman Hawaii in their first Ironman? If you have been following this blog at ALL, its been pretty hard to miss Lorraine’s successful season. A year ago, Lorraine set her sight on this goal, and spent the entire year making decisions that would make her a better and faster athlete. Not just in training….her entire life was committed to this goal; eating, sleeping, breathing….all of it revolved around trying to become the best athlete she could. And to say it paid off would be an understatement. Her season, and this race exemplify the pursuit of excellence. She crossed the line under 11 hours, and took 4th place in her age group, which ensured her a spot to the IM World Championship race. One of my favorite moments of her day was watching her extremely proud and slightly emotional husband Dave giving their young sons a science lesson….apparently high temperatures can cause Dad’s eyes to water…..right, Dave. Congratulations, Lorraine! We will all be cheering you on, in person (yay!) or in spirit!!
And while on the subject of making a husband proud….Leanne Sherman did just that on her first Ironman race. After a series of challenging races leading into the big day (flat-tires, hypothermia, and bike crashes, oh my!), it seemed as though Leanne had paid her dues to the triathlon gods. After a very solid year of training, she still had yet to exercise her fitness to its full potential, so there was a lot of pent-up energy to be released!!! While her day didn’t go as smoothly as she’d hoped, she managed to cross the line in a solid 13.5 hours, while battling cramps for the better part of the day. A great accomplishment, especially given the conditions of the day! She crossed the finish line knowing she’d done the best she could on that day, the most any athlete can ask of themselves. Upon crossing the finish line, she was greeted by her adoring daughters, “Mommy, I MISSED YOU!” and a very proud husband. Leanne Sherman, you are an Ironman! Congratulations!!!!
With a few half Ironmans under her belt, Kari Strutt decided 9 months ago that doing Ironman would be a great way to commemorate turning 50. While she set her sights on “crossing the finish line before midnight”, there was never a doubt in my mind that she would do much more than that. Her year of hard-work and dedication paid off tremendously. Knowing she had overcome some significant water-related anxiety, it was, well, a shock to be honest, to see her hit T1 in 1:15. Imagine my surprise to find out later that she was in fact THE last swimmer to enter the lake…well, except for that one guy who showed up really late. “I (bleeping) ROCKED that swim!!” she shouted as she cruised out of transition. Rock that swim, indeed. After a great bike, she was off on the run. True to form, at one of the first things out of her mouth as she started the run, “How is everyone else doing? Leanne? Lorraine? Marija??”. Hearing of the success of her team-mates, her smile widened, and when I saw her again 40km later, she was still smiling. After just under 14 hours of hard labour, Kari Strutt became an Ironman. Here’s the day in her words:
“If there weren't photo evidence, I would not believe it.
Even now, I remember moments and cannot comprehend the whole.
I recall the swim start...watching all those people swim away. I started calmly, entirely alone. I was grateful for the kayak people. I stayed close to them and was blessed by their company. I sang nursery songs as I swam. I hope they didn't hear me...that would be embarrassing.
I remember the beginning of the bike, watching all those who had picked up the tacks thrown onto the road by someone who obviously doesn't understand how horribly that might have ended. I saw the folks with flats on the roadside, struggling to remove tires from rims. I was grateful that nobody was horribly hurt. I remember the fallen...one on a downhill, one on an uphill...that latter looking much worse. Grateful that both survived their falls. Grateful that all the tacks were absorbed or deflected by the time I arrived. Being slow sometimes offers advantages.
I remember the transitions and those glorious women who helped me strip off a stinky pair of shorts so I could put on a clean pair. I was grateful for their discretion, and their reminder to apply body glide. I wish they'd applied a dab of sunscreen to my lower back before the bike. I did wonder if they changed those rubber gloves between racers.
I remember running, counting steps, kids with hoses and high-fives...ice in the cap that you told me to get (because then I could put ice in a cap). I needed that ice. I needed that advice. More high-fives, in the dusk. I needed the high-fives. I welcomed the cool of dusk.
Then, in the dark...still counting steps, the echo from the finish line, a ruse...so loud, but still so far away.
But by then, I knew.
In fact, I'd known for several hours, that it was possible...that I could finish.
I began to believe I could finish while still in the water, swimming without panic. I believed more on the bike when the rollers were at my back. Then I faltered at Yellow Lake, the sleek young man, blue in the face, fallen on his side, eyes rolled deep into his skull. I rode past him. It was my lowest moment. He had help already. There was nothing I could add...but it's hard to simply move on. The ambulance that collected him rocketed by 1/2 hour later.
I faltered again at the start of the run...decided I would try to run just a little more than I walked. I counted. 60 paces running. 40 paces walking. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat ad nausium. I remembered that I am good at repeating. I smiled... again.
On the way back to town a woman announced that she planned to run with me. She was loud and talked, without rest, about things that were of no interest to me.
I remember hiding in the porta-pottie at the next aid station.
I passed her later. She was talking to someone else who did not seem to mind, or was too tired to care.
I was grateful that she'd found a more suitable companion...grateful that I was not her only option.
I was grateful for the lights of Penticton, and for your face, and the faces of my husband and my little girl.
I was grateful for the finish line, for coming in close to an hour mark, and the enthusiasm of the announcer who howled me in.
Life offers us moments of grace, but they are rare. Grace was given the day I married Ken, the day that science offered us the potential for a child, and the day Veronika was delivered safely into the world. I don't know that Ironman compares to these, but it is certainly a close second.
Still, unless I am looking at the photos, it's hard to believe it is true.
Thanks to you and to Mercury Rising for one of the best years of my life.” – Kari Strutt
There really aren’t words to describe the pride and awe I felt watching each of the MRT athletes cheer each-other on, cross the finish line, and celebrate with their families. You were all heroes, and I feel very fortunate to be part of such an amazing group of athletes and people. Thank you for all you taught me this year and for letting me be a part of your journeys!!