Life can take the girl out of triathlon, but it can’t take triathlon out of the girl!

Life can take the girl out of triathlon, but it can’t take triathlon out of the girl!

by Sarah F.

Pleasant Prairie, here I come!  I just realized this morning that it’s been over TWO years since I’ve gotten to race in a triathlon, and this weekend I finally get to do it again!  I cannot wait!!  And I will be one completely changed, different girl at this starting line than I was at my last triathlon starting line, no doubt about it.

Last time around, I believe my focus was mostly on what time I’d finish the race in (Memphis in May ’10).  I could check that with Coach Suzy, but I think she’d agree that my focus was definitely more results-oriented back then!   This time?    Well… that was a question I had to stop and think about.

Luckily I had a really really LONG bike ride to do on my trainer in my basement tonight, where I had nothing to do but listen to my music and stare at a concrete wall.  Oh, let the fun begin!  (This is when I really miss Computrainer!!!)  So I had more than 2 hours to pedal my bike and think about the answer to this question:

“Is it really important what my finish time is this weekend in PP?”

My journey the past 2+ years seems like it’s consisted of about a billion things.  I herniated my back and screwed up my hips leading into Memphis in 2010.  Memphis just proceeded to punctuate the problem with a big exclamation point!  So instead of spending the remainder of 2010’s racing season actually racing, I stood on the sidelines and cheered my Dad and my ET teammates on at Evergreen, and never even made it to Bangs Lake like I’d planned.  I went through hours and hours of PT to strengthen my back and hips and hopefully get to the root of the problem.  Suzy and I had to switch up my training plans more times then she probably cares to count, trying to keep my low back safe and injury free.  (Wow, was that hard!  Especially when I just wanted to try to run “fast” again!)

Then I switched up careers and went back to school to become a massage therapist in the summer of 2010.    On my first day of school, my Dad (who was doing triathlon too at the time) competed in a triathlon in West Virginia.   I remember having a weird, nagging sensation the whole day long… Towards the end of my first day of classes, I checked my phone and saw I had a message from my Mom.  My heart stopped before I even ducked out of class to check the message.  My Dad had been in a horrible, horrible bike accident during his triathlon, crashing on a sharp corner at the bottom of a steep hill, racing at a speed of almost 40 mph down the hill.   He was being transported to the nearest emergency room in critical condition.  Broken ribs, punctured lungs, torn shoulder, cuts all over.  Because he was in such amazing shape, and has a warrior spirit, he pulled through it all like a champ.  But just as my 2010 triathlon season was already over, now my Dad’s was too.

As I journeyed through school, I learned a million things that tied directly into managing my own back/hip injuries, which became really helpful.  During the midst of schooling I started training for the 2011 triathlon season, hoping to finally get through a season injury-free!

And right before the 2011 season started, I tore a rotator cuff muscle and had to stop swimming for 10 weeks.   So there went my triathlon season.  Again.  🙁  But my journey started shifting, and I decided to race in the Pleasant Prairie Duathlon instead.  I couldn’t swim at that point, but I could still run (sort of, anyhow!) and bike.  =)

And then the racing journey continued, and I started doing straight bike racing.  I tried out Criterium racing (kind of like the equivalent of Nascar racing, but on a bike!!!), and proceeded to get caught up in a crash my first time out.  My left knee swelled up and went numb, and there I was, on the sidelines again.   (By now I was just thinking I must be a klutz or something, ha!)  Luckily that one healed up quickly enough that I could still do some bike racing, and I started training to do the Tour of Elk Grove Criterium race in August 2011.  I also started focusing my efforts on Time Trial racing under Suzy’s guidance, and I started working towards the Double Bong Time Trial in Wisconsin in late August 2011.

Life had pulled the girl out of triathlon, but I still found other things to do!  =)

Then it all switched up again.  It was rainy the Saturday morning of the Tour of Elk Grove Criterium.  I thought they might cancel the criterium races due to slippery conditions, but nope!   I got into the start line of my Cat 3/4 race, 2 rows back in a pack of fierce looking badass female cyclists (I did NOT feel badass at all!!)  I had trouble clipping into my pedals, and lost my chance at sticking with the pack right off the bat.   My husband Phil and our 3 kids stood on the sidelines cheering loudly for me as I finally got myself off and cruising.  After several laps of riding by myself (the trick in criterium racing is to stay on someone’s wheel the whole time, drafting off of them so you save your own energies), I finally caught up to a small pack of 3 other stragglers.  We worked together, pushing ourselves to speeds close to 30 mph to catch the peloton.  Finally we caught them.  But the roads were slippery, and there were a LOT of technical turns on this course.  As the peloton rounded a corner near the end of the race, I came into it too quickly.  I had a split-second decision.  Do I slow up slightly and risk literally running into the pack and taking them all down, or do I slow up quickly – on slippery roads – and just let fate take its course?

I chose to spare the pack (hey, no one wants to take anyone else down!!), and just brake as smoothly as I could. Unfortunately, I overshot my braking and managed to go from 26 mph to 0 mph in a half second.   And I broke the cardinal rule of using my front brake (hard!), which proceeded to make my whole bike flip up from behind and over the front wheel with me still attached.  At that point I just had to go into crash mode, and I curled up in a ball, trying to protect my head and roll onto the ground.

It’s funny how our adrenaline makes us think we’re not really hurt as badly as we are!  The paramedics who were stationed at that corner came rushing over to me to see if I was okay.  I think my first question was, “How’s my bike?  Is it okay?!?”  They looked at me like I was nuts.  “Don’t move!  Lie still!” they told me.  “I’m totally fine!  My shoulder just hurts a little, but really, no big deal.”    They didn’t seem so sure.  So I had to sit there on the corner, watching the pack of cyclists coming around again as they finished their last lap of the race, while the paramedics and I waited for the golf cart to come pick me up!

Phil told me later that the television cameras (this whole Tour of Elk Grove is televised so viewers can watch all the corners while the races are going on) panned to a girl sitting on a corner.  Phil saw it and told the kids, “Hey, that looks like Mommy!”  Little did they know at that point that it WAS!  So anyhow, I got to take a trip to the local ER in the back of an ambulance that morning, spending the next few hours propped on a bed with loads of ice on my shoulder.  I saw about 5 other cyclists being wheeled into the ER that morning – all Tour of Elk Grove cyclists!   It was actually kind of funny, because every nurse that came into my room said, “Ah.  Another Tour of Elk Grove victim.  We get a lot of you every year!”   Seriously, criterium racing is some pretty crazy stuff!

So upon the diagnosis of having a serious A/C ligament tear to my right shoulder, and a fractured left wrist, my 2011 racing season was REALLY finished, and my hopes for ever swimming again were completely squashed.   A/C ligament tears are pretty nasty things.  They don’t heal nicely like a broken bone, and the pain that lingers is pretty intense.   They heal slowly–at least at the degree of tear that I had.  And the shoulder joint is never quite as strong again.  It seemed like the girl had been completely pulled out of triathlon this time.

And then… months later, and hours and hours of physical therapy later, and a couple great massages to my arm later, I decided to try getting in the pool again.  And I did it.  I SWAM!   Slowly, but I swam!  (I wrote a blog about it, talking about crying while swimming, because I was so happy to find out I could do it again!)  🙂

And all the while – during ALL of these set-backs when life tried to pull the girl out of triathlon – triathlon had never been pulled out of the girl.  And the reason why is YOU guys!!

You guys – my ET teammates whom I absolutely adore – have shared your own stories and journeys along the way.  That long date with my bike trainer in my basement gave me the chance to ponder that question in my head:  “Is it really important what my finish time is this weekend in PP?”  Hmmmm… I had to think, because two years ago my answer would of been a “heck yeah!” kind of answer.  But I couldn’t answer myself right away now.

And during my long bike trainer ride, I started having all these memories of the different stories & teammate journeys I’ve read about on the ET blog, or memories I’ve experienced.  Amanda’s and Kelli’s recent postings about their ET Batavia races and the stories that led them there.  Jim R’s and Jeff P’s amazing USAT Nationals experience.  Coach Joe’s awesome Florida Ironman where everything went perfect.  Coach Suzy’s life journey that brought her to her inspiring Half-Ironman.  Marge’s 100-mile walk across some place in the Netherlands (sorry Marge, can’t remember the name!!).  Bob H’s exciting PR at the Grand Rapids Tri.  Laurie and Drew running (quietly!!) in Stockholm.  Tanya singing to Miley Cyrus about climbing mountains!  People hating seaweed, but overcoming it.  Chilly’s Half-Ironman pride.  Sue A. running a marathon she thought she’d never run.  Kristin B’s rockin’ 1st place finish at ET Batavia last weekend.  Tyler H taking a long, hard pull on the bike on our Yorkville ride after I was exhausted so Brian V and I could draft off him, then proceeding to sprint off like a rabbit into a brick right afterwards.  Riding into Podunk-town with Bob, Russ, Craig & Jim and taking our picture in front of a biker bar on our last Yorkville ride.  Sherri H. and Cheryl R. sherpa’ing at every race for us!  Larry H capturing memories for us on his camera at so many of our races.  Alyse and Susan G’s recent heart-warming postings about becoming triathletes.  A hill-climbing clinic with positive attitudes and laughter galore.  Bill J’s decision to start training under Coach Joe after riding some serious hills in California (yay!).  Memories of wine, mountains, cycling-in-heaven and flying down mountains with teammates in California.  Forming (and drawing pictures of) Team ViJ-J with Joni, Chilly and Steve in CA!!  Kevin M’s cool destination races in Hawaii and CA while we rooted him on from afar.  Watching Wendy fly up mountains in CA on her broomstick.  Watching Laura C. brave the choppy water at last summer’s Chicago Triathlon, cheering her & other ET’ers on with Coach Suzy and Coach Judie.  Seeing Mayor Emanuel run past us on the run course at the Chicago Tri while we were cheering ET’ers on!!!  Steph’s amazing transformation as an athlete this past year, getting ready to do her first Half-Ironman.  Riding next to Flecky at CompuTrainer, trying to get her pony to move faster on the screen for her….

Well, the list of memories and flashbacks goes on and on and on.

And I had my answer to my question.  “Is it really important what my finish time is this weekend in PP?”

No.

I already have my results.

My results are my journey.  Your journeys.  Our journeys as a team, and even as a family.

Does my finish time matter?  Sure, of course it does.  But is it the whole story?  No.  Not even close.

The story of how I got back to the starting line, which includes my teammates’ stories of getting to their own starting lines… Yeah.  That’s the part that’s really important.  It’s the part that has kept triathlon in the girl, even when life pulled the girl out of triathlon.

Pleasant Prairie.  Here I come.  I can’t wait for you to become part of my journey.

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  • Oh my, I’m speechless. Sarah, this story of your journey is our journey.  A story about the common path that binds us together and makes us family.  Its power is unmistakable and as you so well illustrated is highlighted in the athlete blog stories and the peep chatter around the coffee table after every workout together.  I’m truly humbled by it all and so proud to be a part of this great Team.  I have a funny feeling that this weekend in Pleasant Prairie will be another breakthrough day for you and the crew!

    • Sarah

      thanks for being at the helm of this great ET family, Joe — we are lucky to be journeying together under your direction and guidance!  

  • JimR

    With a tears in my eyes as I write this there’s no cute comment here, there’s no complicated remark either, there’s just a huge THANK YOU for reminding us what the journey is really all about. You are a true role model.

  • Jeff P.

    Great tale to tell, Sarah! It’s something we all need to be reminded of …often! Thanks for sharing and kick some butt in Pleasant Prairie!!!

    • She DID kick some SERIOUS booty in PP this morning, Jeff…1st place in her age group finish!!!!  Congrats, Sarah!!!!

  • Amy H

    Amazing Sarah, I will be cheering you on from afar this weekend.  (ps i too had tears in my eyes)

  • Drew Repoza

    You’re so right, Sarah.  Of course we all want to have good times, but these races we do are just stops along the way.  The overall journey is the important thing, and the fact that you are now able to do what you want to do is fantastic.  We’ll be pulling for you all the way, like always!

  • You continue to inspire me every day as my athlete, my friend, and as a coach and massage therapist.  I’m so honored to have shared your journey thus far, and I’m so excited to be tri sisters again this weekend…welcome BACK, Sarah!!

    • Sarah

      yay!  tri sisters again!  🙂  can’t wait!

  • Alyse

    Enjoy your day, Sarah!

  • Sarah

    thanks guys for all the kind words…and for keeping triathlon fun even when i couldn’t actually do it!  =)  you guys rock!!!

  • Cathy Obordo

    Sarah…I love you, girlfriend!  What a beautiful story!  You are one of the most amazing and talented people I know and I’m honored to race with you this weekend!  Let’s have some fun!!

  • TanyaL11

    Oh Sarah, Thank you. This made me cry and giggle.  I truly feel Blessed to have shared my journey with such a wonderful group of people who started as teammates and became friends.  I am looking forward to all of the stories yet to be written and shared. Thank you for not only reminding us what this journey is really about, but for sharing your knowledge.  I am sorry I will not be there to cheer the team in Pleasant Prairie this weekend. Just know that I will be cheering ET LOUD AND PROUD !!!

  • Marge

    Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never give up.”  During the past two years you could have quit…but you didn’t.  You are an inspiration.  Your ET family and friends will be cheering for you at PP…Whoo-ah, You’ve come a long way, baby!!!

  • Kelli Z

    Sarah, you are amazing! I am so impressed at your tenacity. Many people would have paled at the thought of making comeback after comeback- but not you! I hope Pleasant Prairie was a great experience for you. I so admire your courage and your always positive attitude.