Saturday, June 25, 2011
We Came Here to Finish the Race
My daughter finished an Olympic triathlon today – a feat that is accomplished by thousands every weekend across the country. There are probably many who might not think she ran an exceptional race because she finished last - she actually didn't come across the finish line until nearly two hours after the race ended. But I have never been more proud to be her mom.
Em lettered in track all four years of high school and was on her college track team her freshman year of college. She was running errands for me a few days before her brother’s wedding when the van she was driving was rear-ended by a large truck. She sustained severe neck and back injuries. Her injuries required surgery, which crushed her dreams of excelling in track events in college. Eventually, she healed to a point that allowed her to slowly start exercising again, but she was often plagued with violent headaches following running.
She married, and she and her husband now have three beautiful childre; the busyness of young motherhood put running on the back burner most of the time.
Several of her older brothers love running and biking. Whenever possible, Em would be at their races, standing on the side of the road, cheering them on as they participated in triathlon’s, bike races, LOTOJA, and Ironman events. She would often comment to me as they ran or rode by that someday she would run such a race.
She decided this spring that the time had come. She began training, and entered the Rockcliff Triathlon, held at the Jordanelle Reservoir today. She wanted to use the race as a fundraiser for her 9 year-old nephew who has been battling cancer. The event was an Olympic Triathlon – swim 1500 meters, bike 24 miles, run 6.2 miles.
She was plagued with problems from the beginning. The water was flowing swiftly and the buoys, which were not anchored, began to drift. One man who came in before her was wearing a GPS watch that indicated his swim was over 2300 meters. By the time Em reached the buoys they had drifted even further out. When she finally got out of the 60-degree mountain run-off water she was exhausted, and had to begin the 24-mile bike ride.
Already behind the other racers, and without a race-buddy, she fell further and further behind. We caught up with her at about mile 21 of the bike race. She burst into tears as we talked and told us she was exhausted and discouraged. She knew she was the last one on the course, and was far behind the others. We encouraged her on and then drove ahead to wait for her at the bike-run transition point. There, we met up with her older brother and were all waiting for her to come in when she called. She was crying and was very upset because they had stopped her about 300 yards from the transition area and told her she couldn’t finish the race - she was just too far behind. She was absolutely devastated.
When I told her older brother they weren't going to let her finish the race he got in the back seat of our car and asked us to take him to where she was. When we got to her he jumped out and hugged her while she told him what had happened. He said, “Em, you came here to finish this race.” “But they won’t let me!” she sobbed. Her brother replied, “You didn’t go through all this to not finish this race, and you’re not going to quit. They can’t stop you from going for a run along these roads with your brother. I’ll run with you or walk with you – I don’t care if we walk the whole six miles. You came here to finish and you’re not going to quit because of this.”
By the time she began the 6.2-mile run, all the other participants had finished the race, and the organizers were starting to take the equipment down. As I watched Em and her brother slowly jog up the hill, some of the staff began deflating the big red blow-up finish line arch.
They would jog a short distance, then walk for a while, then jog again. Her brother later told us that she kept overheating, so they would run by the river where he would take off his shirt, soak it in the cold water and squeeze it out over her head in an icy shower. Other times he took her to the fish-cleaning station and sprayed her with the hose. The run course looped around the finish line three times, and we all clapped and cheered each time they passed us.
When we finally saw them running towards us on their last loop, tears filled my eyes. She ran down the hill, over the bridge and across the field to the exact spot where the finish line had been. She hugged her brother, her husband, her children, her dad and me, and her sister and then laid down on the pile of ice that was still left from when the event organizers had emptied all the water coolers on the grass - it was all that was left of the finish line. Not the finish line she had dreamed of and trained for, but in my mind and heart it was even better, because against all odds, she had finished her race.
Why do people enter such events that seem to tax them physically and emotionally? I’m not a runner, so I’m not really sure. But it seems to me that life has to be more than working, even when you really love what you do. There need to be some moments now and then of absolute measurable accomplishment that come from striving for things just beyond our grasp and reaching them.
Some seasons of our lives seem filled with disappointment, exhaustion, and pain. And during those seasons it often feels like the buoys keep drifting further and further away from us and we don't think we have the strength to go on. How wonderful when there is someone who will walk beside us, and encourage us to keep going until we finish the race; someone who won’t give up on us, and won’t let us give up on ourselves.
As one of the event organizers was leaving - about an hour before our daughter finished her race - he walked over to my husband and me and said, “Tell your daughter for me that I think she is a champion and I applaud her human spirit!”
I couldn’t have said it better.