On August 21, 2011, I competed in the IronGirl Columbia triathlon. I had two goals. My first goal was to swim faster than I did last year. My second goal was to win my age group, something I had never done. Every section of the race – to include the swim – had to be strong. There was no room for weakness. I was terrified.

Iron Girl Columbia 2011 Race Report

The night before: I arrive at Amity’s house where she greets me with a warm hug. Her son Lincoln, face pressed against her thigh, stares at me. I say hello. He blinks. I say hello more persistently and he buckles. He can’t resist this smile.  Soon, he is rushing me with high fives. The more we high five, the more he collapses under the weight of his laughter. It’s hilarious. He is punch drunk sleepy. We high five again. And again. I don’t want to stop. He’s so cute and I’m so desperate. Desperate to avoid thinking about tomorrow. We press our hands together and laugh. His parents give me the “it’s time for him to go to bed” look. They are right but I don’t want this moment to end. I don’t want to lose this sunny energy. I want to take it with me, put in my pocket and pull it out when I’m scared. Like right now. Like I will be tomorrow. Like I always am before I swim. I don’t want Lincoln to go to bed! I want to keep high fiving!!! Reluctantly, I say goodnight to the family and head to the room prepared for me. I crawl into bed and read the texts from my friends: “Swim, bike, run like you stole something”, “Don’t be nervous, you’re going to do great”, “You are a swimmer!” They know I am worried. I know they aren’t. They believe in me so much.

The morning of: I get to the transition area to complete my set up. My tires are inflated. My energy gels are in place. I have the perfect end-of-the rack bike position. Everything looks good. Then it happens. Lightning. No, it’s thunder. No, it’s both. I run to a tree and press my body against it desperate to stay dry. Leaning my head back against the trunk, I shake my fist at fate.

The swim: The race starts late to allow the storm to pass. I feel sick. I try to snap out of it. I start clapping my hands like basketball players do right before they rip off their warm-up pants. It’s cool when they do it. It looks really weird when girl in a unitard does it. But I don’t care. I need to feel better. I need a lifeline. I need Lincoln! I walk into the water. My friends scream my name. I throw them the number 1 sign, faking ’til I make it. The gun goes off. Elbows are flying. I keep my head down and swim hard to the place where the crowd eventually thins out. Alas, the water is calm. Then it happens, out of nowhere. I am swimming. I am swimming like a swimmer. I feel good. I am relaxed. I see the last buoy. I pick up the pace. Underwater, I am smiling. This is the best swim of my life.

Transition 1: I rip off my swim cap and start sprinting to my bike. I am amped, running like a maniac. Then it happens, out of nowhere. It’s throw up. I am about to throw up. Immediately, I stop running and walk to my bike. I don’t throw up. I do keep it together.

The bike: My legs are tired but my energy is high. This is a wonderful feeling.

Transition 2: It’s deja vu. I am running so fast it looks like everyone else is standing still. If you don’t believe me, watch the video.

The run: I am beat. This is bad. The run is my strength. Not today. The hills are harder than I remember. I switch to auto-pilot. I cross the finish line with nothing left in the tank.

The finish line: It’s over but I have no idea if I accomplished my goals. That’s what sucks about triathlons. Each age group starts at a different time. Not only that, but you start in the water where there is no visibility. It’s not like you can turn around and see how many people you passed. You exit the swim not knowing if you are first or last. Then you have to bike and run with this same uncertainty. I grab my water and head to the massage table. I don’t know whether to celebrate or cry. So I wait.

An hour later….

The Results: In my age group, I was the 1st to cross the finish line. Yes, you read it right. For the first time in my career, I was the Age Group Champion. It was surreal. More impressive than that was my overall placing. Out of 2,300 female competitors, I was 11th. (Six of the women who beat me were professional triathletes.) It was unbelievable. Then came more good news. I dropped a staggering 3 minutes off of my swim time. 3 minutes! Granted, I’m still not a great swimmer but I’m improving every race.

Going for your dreams is risky. You could fail. On the other hand, if you don’t go for your dreams, you will fail. I took the risk. I had many ups and downs but I kept going, even when it wasn’t fun. I kept going because of the possibility. If I can overcome physical weakness and mental anxiety, so can you. You can do whatever you want to do. You can be whatever you want to be. Let nothing, let no one, stop you from achieving your dreams.

Thank you for your undying support. Because of you, I have a 1st place glass trophy sitting on the back of my toilet. I think of you every time I pee.