So we did it. In grand style no less. 8 months of hard work, setbacks, dog attacks, Glaucoma attacks, and laughter all added up to one epic NYC Triathlon weekend. I can’t believe I’m even able to sit here at the computer and type at this point. I actually feel surprisingly GOOD considering that 48 hours ago I swam a Mile in the Hudson River, Biked 25 Miles up the West Side Highway, and Ran 6.2 Miles through the hilliest sections of Central Park.
I had been training with Team RWB, a group of veterans and civilians who train together around the country, helping vets reintegrate into civilian life through social and physical activity. I decided I wanted to sign up for the NYC triathlon, but my usual guide, Caroline Gaynor, Team RWB’s Triathlon Director, was already booked with another athlete. Caroline put out a post on Facebook looking for a guide for me, and a kind stranger, Heather Purvis from Austin Texas, a Naval Academy Graduate and Ironman Triathlete, immediately volunteered for the job. For my local training, I was introduced to Achilles International, a NYC based organization for athletes with physical challenges. I began weekly workouts with them and joined the team. Kathleen, their director, offered to sponsor my entry as part of Team Achilles. Once we were registered, we were ready.
A hiccup happened several weeks back when Heather discovered that the pain in her hip was something much more serious. A stress fracture. She tried to convince her doctor that she could train through it, and discovered quickly that it simply wouldn’t be possible. After a few days scramble, I got a call from Heather saying that her girlfriend Deedee, a pro Mountain Biker from Colorado, wanted to fill her shoes and would happily take her place. The tickets were purchased and they were ready to come and be the support team.
Deedee trained hard with Heather for the month leading up to the race. A fantastic cyclist, and fast runner, she bravely hopped into the local lake and got to swimming. With Heather’s skilled coaching, she was ready to rock the triathlon. I was incredibly nervous going into the weekend, as our Achilles Team had a many activities planned for Saturday, but I was coming from Connecticut and transporting a tandem into Manhattan was proving to be a logistical nightmare. Coordinating the bike transit was the bain of my existence, and honestly more nerve wracking than the triathlon itself. My dear friend and tandem pilot Scott, generously loaned me his custom, $10,000 tandem bicycle to race on at the triathlon. The pressure was on to ensure its safe arrival.
My awesome stepfather stepped in to transport the bike in mom’s pickup truck- no easy feat, as loading the bike was a two man job to avoid damaging it’s precious components. Mom was on nurse duty as my aunt had major surgery the day prior, so she was a wild card. I packed my bags, checked the list a thousand times, and took the train into the city. The coolest part of the weekend was that Heather’s former Naval Academy friend Ellen had a beautiful apartment in midtown that would be empty for the weekend, and kindly offered us a place to stay that would make getting to the race that morning incredibly easy. Phew! I breathed a sigh of relief.
I dropped my things off at the apartment, unpacked and staged the equipment needed throughout the weekend’s festivities. Firstly, I was headed to the NYC Underwear Run. That part was easy- a bra and underwear was all that was required! The next day would prove to be MUCH more challenging. I put on my leopard Print bra and underwear, grabbed a shirt and shorts, and headed down to meet Caroline and my Achilles Guide, Melissa at the start of the Run.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I arrived at the 72nd street entrance to Central Park. People were dancing about in every imaginable type of undies. Pink, Leopard, polka dots, strips, cammo, Superman, Wonderwoman, EVERYTHING! John Korff, the race director for the entire triathlon, came up to me with a microphone and asked me to speak- AFTER he told me I was over-dressed and to LOSE the shorts asap! I was mortified as I dropped my shorts to the cheers of dozens of onlookers. I was really doing this! Thank GOD there were 600 other folks just as crazy as we were! Cathleen from RWB and her son ran alongside us, and we giggled and pointed at folks for a fun filled 1.7 miles.
The sky opened up and we ran for cover after the finish, much to my dismay. I was hoping for a fun social evening with the other triathletes, but the rain literally dampened the evening, so I returned to the apartment soaked and a little chilly. I decided to shower and wait for Deedee and Heather to arrive, just before midnight. Meeting Deedee was incredible, with her infectious smile, and warm, quiet way, I knew that the race was going to go perfectly. Heather was right, I was in excellent hands.
The following day we took a taxi up to the Achilles Swim Practice at the Upper West Side Jewish Community Center. The other triathletes were having their final practices with their guides, and we were about to have our first. Tiffany from Achilles did a great deal to calm our nerves about the Hudson River, and gave us great race strategies to optimize our speed using the current towards the outer edge of the barge. After several, calm, coordinated laps, we agreed that we were ready to finish and conserve our energy for the race. Off to the bike!
Our next stop was to grab the bike from the apartment, and have Deedee navigate the streets of Manhattan to the mandatory Para Athlete briefing and packet pickup at the Hilton. They had a HUGE bike Valet area, sponsored by Clif Bar, and we dropped the bike off and sat through 45 minutes of important race rules and information. I had a million questions, and they patiently answered each and every one. I felt great knowing that Achilles, the Challenged Athletes Foundation, other racers, and volunteers from the triathlon had our backs.
We checked out the expo, where I was careful to buy NOTHING as I was on a major budget. The only thing I had money for was a few taxi rides, and I was careful to bring all my food with me for the weekend from home, to avoid budget and intestinal disruptions. Deedee and I suited up for our first Tandem ride together, heading towards the West Side then up along the West Side Highway. This was scary and exciting at the same time! We giggled and squealed like teenagers for about 4 miles to our transition area, bobbing and weaving along the windy path following the Hudson River. It was SO fun!
Transition was like nothing I had ever experienced. There were 3,400 competitors racing that weekend, broken up into two separate transition areas. I had never seen so many fancy bikes in one place. It extended as far as I could see, and included several adaptive cycles for those of us with disabilities. I was getting excited. We discovered that we had left Deedee’s bag at the hotel and rushed back to retrieve it before heading back uptown to an Achilles Sponsored dinner with the Challenge Athletes Foundation, where Heather and my Guide Dog Elvis patiently awaited us.
Achilles threw one heck of a delicious and fun dinner, and it was incredible to finally meet so many para triathletes that I had been following on Facebook for the past six months. The conversation was fascinating, and we swapped stories of how we had arrived at this race. With bellies full, we took a taxi back to the apartment to finalize our race preparations. It was so helpful to have Heather there as the experienced triathlete to remind us how to pack our equipment, nutrition and hydration, and get our heads prepared for the big morning. My stomach did somersaults as I drifted off to sleep. Wake up time? 4am