The electricity of having more than 7,000 athletes from every nation watching you and the tens of thousands of spectators roaring as our starting gun went off was like nothing I’ve ever felt. I started breathing to my right and getting face-fuls of water tossed at me with force, causing me to choke. As I gasped for air and coughed underwater with each Ragged breathe, I tried to calm myself. I searched through the water for Lindsey’s shiny reflective mirrored goggles and began to relax as each rotation of my arm matched hers, stroke for stroke. If I could just stay swimming, I knew Lindsey would keep me safe.
I so badly wanted to quit before the first buoy at the 200 m mark, but something in me snapped back to reality. I was at the world fucking championships and there is no way I was going to quit. I kept telling myself, “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast”. I kept thinking “power, power, power” with each rotation of my shoulders. My other mantra made me laugh into the green lake. “Beauty on the top and business on the bottom”, meaning I had to lift my elbows high out of the water with ease and smoothness, and be powerful and raw under the water. It worked and my speed quickly came back.
As I came up out of the water at the finish I tried to stand up. I was unsuccessful. I tried again, and discovered that I needed Lindsey for help standing. Running seemed out of the question. The bright blue carpet that stretched out before me suddenly started to wiggle and jiggle before my eyes. Vertigo. Crap. I stumbled/ran into transition managing somehow to stay upright. I kept telling myself, “I can do this, I can do this, I just need to get to the bike to hold onto something. Get to the bike Amy!” While I didn’t set the world on fire with blistering run speed to get to my bike we did have a smooth transition and headed off onto the hilly bike course.
The bike flew by in 39 minutes. It was our slowest time of the season for that length of course, but the hill at the beginning really humbled us, along with some very technical left-hand turns at the top of the course. Lindsay did an amazing job shifting and handling the bike. She terrified me with our tremendous speed heading down the giant hill but I was so proud of how we finished.
The transition was a bit of a disaster for me. Where we dismounted the bike beautifully, when I got to my running shoes I discovered that my feet were cold and wet and numb. The international triathlon union rules state that we are not allowed to have a towel in the transition area. I desperately trying to wipe my feet off on the carpet with no success. I tried putting on my shoes but the insoles kept bunching up. “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” I said aloud to myself yet again. Lindsay waited patiently holding my run tether and off we went.
Within the first 600 m of the run the Canadian team and the team from the Netherlands passed us. I had no idea that they were behind us. Christine robins from Canada was an incredibly fast runner so I knew there would be no hope of running her down. I knew that the other teams would be manageable to beat. Lindsay was encouraging me and telling me that my pace was eight minutes and 40 seconds per mile. I felt surprisingly good despite the fact that I was going out at a faster pace than I had intended but I was determined to stick with the ladies in front of me for as long as my asthma would allow.
We passed by the grandstands to complete our first of two laps, packed with adoring fans from every country, and I spotted my mom. I tried hard not to get choked up. I focused on dropping my shoulders, lifting my chin, and stepping faster and higher. I hung with the Hungarian women until the final mile of the run, where she pulled out of sight. I began to think about slowing my painful pace and changed my mind very quickly. The race was not over yet and there was still another team to beat.
Within minutes the blue carpet stretched out before me. The blue carpet for the most elite para Triathletes in the entire world. We were each the best in our nation and about to show the world what we could do on an extremely challenging course. I said to Lindsey, “this is a celebration. This is OUR celebration.” I lifted my head with pride and did everything I could to not cry for the final 100 m of the run. Every lonely treadmill and bike trainer workout, every early-morning guided run, bike or swim, every bottle of Advil, every surgery, every penny, every carefully thought out meal plan, and every race had all added up to this moment.
Lindsey said, “I’m so damn proud of you,” as we hugged tightly across the finish archway. I don’t think I could love a person more than I do miss Lindsey Cook. While we only met 3 1/2 short months ago in Colorado for para cycling camp, she is more of a true friend to me than I could ever possibly ask for. Her spirit and generosity for several blind athletes knows no bounds. I can’t imagine anyone else that could’ve gotten that same result out of me this weekend. Her raw power on the bike, her giggling bubbly energy leading right up to the moment we started, and her true belief and encouragement in my athletic ability never wavered for even a millisecond.
I staggered to the medical tent and sat down. I’m not sure if it was my nutrition, the physical effort I just put out, or the emotion of the moment, but I began to get extremely nauseous. I just sat there shaking my head back-and-forth as I sipped on Gatorade. 18 months ago I was fat, depressed and losing my sight. Now I am an elite triathlete who is ranked #8 in the entire world, with the 2016 Paralympics in Rio as a realistic goal.
I have three weeks to take everything I learned this past weekend and use it to my advantage at national championships in Tempe Arizona. I will be smarter, faster, more confident and healthier going into this next race. Everything that went well at this race happened because I have an incredible team of supporters; my family, my friends, my guides, and my amazingly generous coach and sponsors make all of this possible. Thank you and god bless.
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