I was sitting at a Royals game with my friend Jenny and chatting about her last road race. I was gabbing on about how I hated running, but I like biking and swimming as exercise. Jenny's eye sparkled and I could tell I possibly had just walked into a trap that was already strung around my neck. She smirked at me as she dipped another chip into nacho cheese, "So if the race was just swimming you'd do it."
I started to backpedal, "Well, it would depends on how long and if I had to do the front crawl, never."
Nodding Jenny crunched down on another chip, "500 meters and whatever stroke, it's open."
I narrowed my eyes in thought and quickly thought about the lengths of a pool that would notch up to be, and shrugged, 500m wasn't that long. I was a strong swimmer even without practice.
At that point I knew I was promising to something that was a whole year away. How lucky for me to have all that time to ignore the need for practice and training!
Jenny contacted me again for sign up and we had a team member for each portion of a triathlon, the WIN for KC. The idea behind it was interesting. 500m, 10 mile ride, and 5K run only for women. Built to support women to start viewing themselves as athletes never mind your age, your weight, your fitness level. WIN is for stating a goal, working towards it, and achieving it.
My training was lacking a serious level, but I built in cardio, weights, and some swimming. I did lack the open swim which would have helped the comfort level in the race and water, but what I lacked in experience I made up for in sheer blind faith that I would complete the swim.
Then I sprained both of my ankles (at different times) as I seem to lack the ability to walk down difficult things like stairs or sidewalks. The forward extension of the ankles felt tight and when I tried them out with the backstroke it hurt and I was thoroughly worried. I could swim the breast stroke, but it was more physically tiring, so I was sure my time would zoom down towards 20 minutes. I was sure that at 20 minutes Jenny would yell at me and my sad sack time.
After continued dreams of my ankles snapping in two when I engaged them in a flutter kick I realized that I was perhaps getting really nervous about the swim. I texted Jenny and she reassured me that time didn't matter, trying my best and finishing did though. We went to the sign-in for WIN for KC to pick up our packets and shuttled through getting bibs/swim caps and directions.
Our biker, Jan, was unable to bike so Jenny pinch-hit like a champ and learned how to road bike picking up the second and third legs of the journey. As we were asking if we could pick up the packet for Jan we started asking questions of Cathy, a delightful woman who was humoring our extensive questions on set-up, routes, nerves, and the like.
Cathy informed me that a large number of the tri athletes were frightened of the swimming portion, which to me seemed ridiculous. How could you not want to swim? It's so easy and natural, to me. Whereas I dread the option of running, which I still demand is only necessary if you are being chased by a panther, a knife-wielding maniac, or a zombie. Cathy said that some participants actually walk the 5K, which was interesting to hear. In addition her excitement about our team was palpable and edged on my adrenaline towards happy thoughts instead of ankle snapping thoughts.
Jenny and I had a lovely pasta filled dinner after checking out the bike course and timing the drive to Smithville. The pasta, which I now believe is pre-race only because it puts you to sleep at an earlier bedtime was a nice dinner although I crowed more about the salad and bread. We awoke around 4:00 in the morning and got our packs together. I had a fantastic nectarine courtesy of Larry's, Jenny's boyfriend, kind nature (or sleeping proxy). We arrived at the parking area around 5:45 and waited for sunlight to put together Jenny's rental bike.
Did you know you could do that? Rent road bikes at shops? I did not. Jenny found a great shop and deal and the bike was pretty sweet.
So we arrived around a bustle of bikes, volunteers, and athletes. We were marked with the number twelve on our biceps and hands binding us together as our team, "Higher Ed" and proceeded to get our timer which I wrapped around my ankle when Jenny racked our bike and giggled to myself. How athletic of me, which I hadn't been since little league softball.
Unless you count marching band. Which, you could if you really want to...
The area was swarming with women in various workout gear, with spandex, swimsuits, and dry-fit fabric making the rounds amongst the racks and checking the swim route. With huge orange triangle buoys in the water I nodded. I felt more sure that I could finish this in a respectable time as I had taken some ibprofen and could easily ignore my ankles until the next day when they scream angrily at me. The announcer asked for women to line up at the various swim times and I waved a goodbye at Jenny.
Then the rain started. The lightening flashed and we all groaned. A delay of ten minutes on the start that kept having additions followed by pulling all the lifeguards out of the lake, on the plus side I did run into someone from my high school and had a great time catching up and talking to each other about our reasons for being in the race. It honestly was a pleasure to chat with Sara and after an hour and a half delay we entered the water.
I should say that two things happened on the parade up to the chute towards the lake. My goggles broke and I fixed my goggles right before the final turn of the line. As I lined up Sara went before me and I waited the three seconds after her and felt the soft touch on my shoulder that it was my turn to go, a surge of energy pushed out and I jogged across the sand and felt the cool lick of the water on my feet.
It was a great feeling from the chilly rain that had poured onto us for over an hour. I ran out until I felt that it was time to swim and plunged down into the water hearing the calming sound of the water overtaking my sense of hearing, the murky noise that we only remember through movies and television unless you cup your ears with your hands and listen for a moment. I had decided to start out with the breast stroke, one of my two strongest strokes and pushed past four people ahead of me. Pacing. I wasn't sure how to do it. So I decided to concentrate on the nearest buoy.
That's when I noticed the lifeguards cheering us all on. Small notes of encouragement to all swimmers as we emerged from the water for seconds before plunging back into the slight waves of the lake. I kept gaining on people and wasn't sure how best to pass them and found myself switching into the sidestroke to slip in-between athletes. I had one goal after chatting with other swimmers. I didn't want to ever stop swimming. I was going to be Dory and when I felt like stopping I would prey on my own fear and hum the Jaws theme.
Thankfully that didn't occur until the last 100 meters, but boy oh boy did the fear fuel work in that last push. I did have in that last 150m the frustration of trying to pass a swimmer who was varying strokes and it was taking more energy to try to get around her. But that's when I could hear the cheering from the volunteers near the edge of the water, they were varying between, "You're almost there." to talking us through the breathing change needed for the transition.
Jenny said that when I got out of the water I was smiling. I don't remember that, but I bet that was pretty fun to see on her end. I looked over my shoulder and saw Sara hopping out of the water too and started the short run up the hill. I felt my legs wiggle a bit and shortened my stride for the hand-off.
Jenny killed it on the bike and came back for the transition into the run so I then headed off to the finish line and that's when the really awesome part of the race and the support of all the women and spectators came to a head. The finishers were coming up and the crowd was cheering them all, but the cool part was when children would finish with their mothers, grandmothers, or other relations. I like kids. I know, shocking, right? I like them. I love some even, but I don't want my own, but in that instant that euphoria that washed over the athletes faces when the kids ran up the grassy hill to finish with them. I went, oh there's a reason for kids against my million reasons against them.
It was brief and then I went, nah. Pepper could do this with me. Or Jack. Or maybe even Seth.
Then I saw my team mate jog out of the tree covered path and smiled, or I could just run with my friend up the hill, in bare feet , aviator sunglasses and Superman pants. I ran up the hill and finished with my friend.
Volunteers placed a medal around my neck and then Cathy recognized us and told us she'd been thinking about us and wanted to know how the race when for us.
Because WIN for KC is about supporting every athlete with cheering volunteers, cheering spectators, and cheering participants. For some it is about the time, for some the medal, and for some it's just crossing that finish line and hitting a goal.
My goal was to finish the swim in 20:00 or less. My time was 16:31.
I shared an experience with a friend. I shared nerves and excitement with an old high school classmate. I was rained on. I had mud caked onto my feet. I cheered. I clapped. I finished.
And then I called my parents before taking a nap that afternoon and joked with my father that I didn't drown like he had snarked about that being the reason a swim cap was provided with that same sparkle in his eye that was in Jenny's last summer. My dad's birthday was in my finishing time. I spoke with my mother who said she was proud of my swim. In that moment I felt the pride swell in myself.
Because WIN for KC is about finding that moment in yourself when you see that you can be an athlete. Even for a moment. You can achieve goals. In that one short goal, perhaps you find a new one be it athletic or something else, because you did something that you weren't sure you could do when eating a hot dog in a sweltering summer. Proving yourself wrong with the support of friends and family makes it feel that much better.