This was not any ordinary triathlon for me, I was in it in order to be tied to Patricia Walsh while she raced. I had never really even heard of the division of elite athletes that were all physically impaired. They are the best of the best-overcoming their disabilities to become the fastest in the world of their kind.
Patricia had contacted me while I was on vacation in Guam. She asked if I could come to NYC to guide her because she was in a jam since her normal guide could not make it. I was definitely caught off-guard. I honestly had no excuse NOT to go besides the fact that I was terrified. Every reason I could think of to tell her why I could not make it really would have upset me if I said them out loud. There really was no excuse!
So, I told her yes, and the itinerary started rolling out. I was to drive up to NYC that Friday (5 hour-drive from my family’s house in VA) and compete with her on Sunday. This was all being planned while I was still in Guam struggling to make it onto a military flight back to the states! We honestly didn’t even know if I was going to make it back in time.
Long story short- I made it back home from Guam after 8 days of consistently not getting onto flights (if you have had any experience with Space-A travel you know how frustrating this is) and over 20 hours of airtime. However, the flight I managed to get on had a weight limit of a backpack per person! So, I had to leave all of my gear (triathlon stuff included) in Guam with my friends.
After a long 10 hour drive to NYC barely managing not to kill each other (traffic was AWFUL), my friend Kristen and I made it. We found Patricia standing out in the pouring rain for us to guide us into the hotel. In my head I was thinking, “Wow I am an awful guide; she is already way ahead of me on knowing where everything is on this trip.”
Honestly, the whole weekend was a blur because of the tightly packed schedule, the stress, and the overwhelming nerves that I have never experienced so strongly in my entire life. In short, we spent all of Saturday putting the tandem bike together, figuring out how to borrow shoes/clips/gear for the race since I had NONE!, and somehow teaching clumsy me how to pilot the bike with Patricia on the back. In the middle of the insane New York City.
I should include a little shout out to Kristen for dealing with myself and my nerves the entire weekend as the best spectator that I have ever dragged to a race. I am not the nicest person the couple of days leading up to a race to the closest people around me, and she handled me like a champ. She helped Patricia and I carry tandem bikes down 7 flights of stairs, followed us around on race day, and I never heard one complaint.
By the time Saturday night rolled around, we were all exhausted. Not to mention I thought I was going to get sick from the nerves that I had with the thought of having to ride that tandem bike in the race the next day. I did not feel comfortable at all after the 400m practice loop that we did on the roads of NYC. It was mostly spent with me learning how the borrowed-pair of bike shoes clipped in as well as avoiding hitting dogs and children and cars. I think that the nerves also came from the fact that I was not racing for myself for the first time in my life; I was racing for Patricia, and her success depended on me not screwing everything up. It also seemed as if everything was going wrong for her compared to when she had other people guide her. (I had no shoes and clips/ I have no sense of direction so it was a mess trying to navigate NYC/ the bike shops were all packed and I had no clue how to put together a tandem bike/ I kept tripping over everything, including Patricia, while I tried to adjust to having a blind person with me at all times …much more was running through my head that I imagined I was messing up as well.)
We pressed on. Got our stuff set up in the hotel room for the 4am wake-up and passed out in the big beds.
The morning came too quickly. I have said over and over again how nervous I was, but I still have not said it enough. I was regretting being there ( I thought it was inevitable that I was going to ruin her race), I was terrified/angry/worried/blah blah blah. I couldn’t even manage to find a hair-tie for 20 minutes the morning of the race because my brain wasn’t working right!
We headed down to transition to set up our gear. I said a quick prayer that nothing would go wrong, and I prepared myself mentally to just do the damn thing. We had about an hour to wait until the Paratriathletes got to enter the water, so I just went through my normal pre-race routine in my head. Patricia also taught me how to take the rope that would be attached to the both of us on and off. This was about to be interesting…..
After all the crazy nerves, once the race started they were all gone. I was back in my favorite place to be–a crowd of triathletes pushing themselves to the limit. No matter that I had someone literally tied to me, it was still a triathlon.
The mile swim down the Hudson went smoothly. Luckily, I grew up a swimmer so my body in the water is second-nature. This was a huge advantage because I could essentially watch every move that Patricia made and I could match it. This way, she could do her thing and I could push her back into a straight line if needed.
We made it to the end-dock flawlessly. We got out, together, and took our wetsuits off. I got to reflect a little bit and realize how much I loved doing this with someone versus alone. I have always wanted to play a team sport my whole life, and this was doing it for me. It was the coolest feeling ever. Anyways, we sprinted towards bike transition and hopped on.
Moment of truth: “3,2,1..go!” That was ME saying that! I think my alter-ego comes out during races, because I am never very bossy and confident in real life. I just took control on the tandem and we were off. The bike course was a little difficult because of the number of racers on the course, and the speed that this tandem-thing was getting up to! After the race, I actually had multiple people come up to me to compliment my handling of the “sailboat” as they called the tandem-bike. This definitely was surprising but I will brag about that the rest of my life, as the bike has never been my strength.
Once the bike was over, I was smiling and having fun. I love the part of triathlons when you get to throw your bike away, put on your running shoes, and go kill it. And this time I got to do it right alongside my new friend, who just so happens to be one of the fastest para-triathletes in the entire world.
We ran together for 6.2 miles, talking, laughing, having fun. Okay, that is a lie, we sprinted through it and worked our butts off. Patricia was working really hard, so I entertained her by just rambling on and on about random things. I like to talk while I run, and she doesn’t, so she told me she would love if I just told her stories. This made the time pass by quicker. The whole run there were people just gawking in awe of Patricia. She moved so gracefully right beside me considering she has zero vision. She is so brave to trust ME of all people to guide her through busy Central Park. It definitely was a cool feeling to know that she trusted my every move and command. I did have to yank her out of the way of a few potholes and old men, but otherwise she was so great just being tied loosely to my side.
As we sprinted toward the finish, we got to run through the “tape” that the winners get to run through. I have never gotten to do this in my life! Granted, it was because Patricia was the overall Para-triathlete winner, not me, but it was still cool.
Patricia ended up winning part of the prize purse, because she got 1st place as well as breaking the course record for her division. I was so happy that I got to be a part of that success for her. Racing with Patricia was a life-changing experience. I notice that I work harder each and every workout, I have been trying to be less selfish in my training (i.e. taking my sister along so she can get a good workout as well), and I have already been figuring out how I can accompany Patricia to her next race in Chicago. Whenever an excuse runs through my head as to why I cannot wake up early or why I do not want to go on my bike, I think of Patricia and realize how lucky I am to have the life that I do.
I cannot wait to guide her again. I would do it every single weekend if I could. Racing tied to someone is so much more fun than alone. I still don’t know how I feel about this whole tandem-bike thing…but I guess I will deal with it 🙂