Sunday, May 13, 2012
Strengths Beyond Measure: IRONMAN 2012 St. George, Utah (My mother and St. George Volunteer)
Within each of us is a predisposition to find our inner strength and happiness. It is a choice we make every day whether to acknowledge this ability or ignore it. This choice can ultimately bring us the greatest peace and self discovery. Having said this, I would like to pay tribute to the Athletes, Crew, Volunteers and Spectators of Ironman 2012, held this past May 5th, in St. George, Utah. For me it was the elite show of sportsmanship, comradery and abundance of positive promoting energy.
The day started out with beautiful skies and overflowing race day optimism. It soon became a day of ugly challenges. As my youngest son, a 2011 and 2012 participant commented after miraculously surviving the swim, “I just swam with the Devil and I can’t believe that I’ve lived to tell the tale”. Over 1800 entered the race, 1500+ started the swim, but only 1029 actually finished the entire course. As the sun came up, moments after the starting shot was fired, the wind entered the race and positioned itself with fast and furious competitiveness. Whipping the water, creating four foot swells and turbulent whitecaps, it became the competitor to beat for the unaware swimmers. Over 300 of those swimmers became rescue victims. Most of those who started out in the usual swarm of anxious competitors, kicking and stroking in a mad frenzy, soon found themselves isolated with one or two swimmers or alone altogether. Many swimmers were heard to comment that the waves made it impossible to get into a rhythm and with each breath they took on water like an old sea vessel that needed to retire. Lost and alone in angry waters, the saying “sink or swim” took on applicable meaning. While many took refuge in the rescue boats, those who remained simply beckoned their inner strength and determination. With perseverance those individuals said to themselves, I am committed to being an Ironman.
Those of us on the shore, whether Volunteer, Spectator or Crew, had our own challenges. Plagued by the emotions of worry for those in the lake and challenged by Mother Nature’s tantrum. She was making a mess of the tents and signage, whipping everything in her path. We soon realized that this would be an Ironman that would certainly go down in history as one of the most difficult. Volunteers kicked it in to gear as the swimmers started to emerge. One of my most rewarding memories will certainly be helping many of those who were up against the clock to get out on the bike course. With a cut off time of 2 ½ hours to complete the 2.4 mile swim, one woman, shaking so badly from the frigid cold of the water, had only moments to get across the line to continue in the race. Four volunteers, myself included, each took a limb, dried , applied sunscreen, dressed her in socks and shoes, donned her helmet and escorted her with bike in hand to her next nemesis, the 112 mile bike ride. We watched helplessly as she set off into the curtain of dusty red sand to face an uphill battle against 20 mile an hour winds. One biker commented, “At times I felt like I was peddling as fast as I could, never moving an inch, as though on a stationary bike”. Once again, those that were destined to finish this part of the course did so by drawing on their will to survive against the odds.
Our oldest son, a St. George Ironman 2009, has for the past two years been a captain for one of the many aid stations. The responsibility for Captains is to recruit a sufficient number of volunteers to man the station, accommodate the athlete’s needs and make it a great experience. This is a huge challenge, recruiting volunteers often times encompasses the whole state, not just the community itself. This year he took on the bike dismount area of the bike to run transition. I liked to refer to it as the grab and rack marathon, an event within the event. The grabber must safely take the bike from the rider without
dropping it. Many of these bikes are worth thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. Once the grabber secures the bike he races it to the racker who then runs it to the specific numbered spot on the rack. This has to be done accurately to ensure that after the race the athletes can find their bikes. In the beginning of the transition, when Pro’s and the most elite amateurs are coming in, it’s an easy task as they slowly trickle in. As the majority of the bikers race to the transition it becomes a crazy affair, with grabbers and rackers running madly to accomplish the task at hand. Skill, precision and physical endurance is now not only the goal of the athlete but the necessity of the volunteer who takes on this challenge. I am so proud of my son, his young family and all the volunteers who manned his station who embraced the volunteering spirit with enthusiasm. Please keep in mind that most bikers are reluctant to stop once they are out on the course. Riding between 3-5 hours on a bike with no pit stops for 112 miles poses interesting situations. You can imagine the surprise of the grabbers and rackers at the conditions that some bikes were in. Thank you Ironman Crew for providing the gloves! I was also impressed with the sensitivity that those volunteers showed, not only with handling the bikes, but with support to the athletes and some special needs that arose. One biker ran back to get his Garmen, a special watch that monitors everything from miles to heart rate. Recognizing panic, several volunteers raced to the bike to retrieve the piece of equipment that gave this competitor his personal edge of comfort and confidence to tackle the final grueling event, the 26.2 mile run.
Of course the run doesn’t need to be hard. If you have already survived a hurricane like water swim of 2.6 miles and endured biking in a wind tunnel with gritty visual impairment for 112 miles, then you have experienced hard. Let’s go for the ultimate mind and body hallucination, asking yourself is this real or my worst nightmare. You can reason with yourself that you only have 1/3rd of the race left, but with your body screaming enough already, it truly becomes a mind over matter experience. How do I a volunteer, a spectator know this you asked? Simple, you see it in their faces, in their body language, in their grimaces. Sweating profusely, some injured, it’s unspoken the physical and mental torture that many are experiencing at this point, but not unseen. This is where the word courage surfaces. Courage to stay the course, courage to overcome and complete, courage for ultimate closure for their greatest undertaking. So they continue for 26.2 more miles. There are 3 loops of the run, the course forms an M throughout the city of St. George. Changed from the past two years because the course had gained the reputation that it exceeded human limits, it still haled this year as the ultimate Marathon challenge. I witnessed my own son, on the second loop, hit some kind of a wall. He appeared dazed, glassy eyed, the usual two thumbs up not expressed as he passed us. His pain became my pain, please let him finish was the prayer inside my heart and head. This is where the Spectators show what they are made of. It’s harder to support the swim and bike course. The running route lends itself well to the crowds of supporters or for those who want to be a part of a truly amazing event. While training the night before at the bike transition, couples and individuals from as far away as British Columbia, Canada and California had stopped by to ask where the best observation spots would be. Whether St. George residents, out of state or out of the country visitors, the run allows for shouting, cheering and lots of heartfelt support for the athletes. St. George residents who live along the run venue most often set up chairs, barbeque, it becomes a real family event. Life for the St. George city dweller is disrupted as they give up their streets and their community to support an event that not only gives recognition to a handful of their athletes, many Utah Athletes, but also to scores of the world’s elite athletes that embrace this small Southern Utah town for one weekend in May. These Spectators are the best!! They cheer and cheer and then they cheer some more. It is easy to come and find a spot to watch the first 100, 200….600 finishers. There is nothing like it for a Spectator, a wife, a husband, a Mom, a Dad, or any family member or friend who watches as someone they love finishes an Ironman. The truly religious
Spectators are those that are in attendance for the last 100 finishers. Many of these finishers stagger across the finish line, all energy gone, within moments or even seconds of the 17 hour time limit. The crowds of onlookers are most exhilarated when that final athlete crosses the finish and for the 1029th time of the day the crowd hears, one lone finisher hears, “You are an Ironman”.
Once again, thanks to all the Athletes for an amazing show of fortitude and athleticism, you are my heroes. Thank you Crew of Ironman, Officials, Volunteers, Spectators and Residents of St. George and surrounding communities for holding once again the most wonderful day. I am truly grateful for the memories.