When Things Don’t Go as Planned

When Things Don’t Go as Planned

vicky at nationals with medalby Vicky T.

This was going to be “my” year. Having qualified for Nationals by winning my age category last September, I was exceedingly excited to be able to race the course in Milwaukee for the 2nd time. I had high aspirations to try and beat my Personal Best from 2007. If I could do that, based on the times from last year’s Nationals results, there was a slight possibility that I could qualify for the World Championship and represent Team USA. I set my sights on a red white and blue kit.

Pre-race, everything went as smooth as could be. My closest friends were there to cheer me on. My wonderful, supportive husband transported m and my equipment to the start. I had my beautiful Shiv waiting for me in transition and fully expected to have my best bike split ever. I was ready for this swim. More ready than I’ve ever been thanks to Coach Joe. I had a new wet suit that fit just right and I did plenty of open water swims. My run improvement may be just enough to have a PR this race. I probably wasn’t going to match my time I ran in 2007 but I was so much faster on the bike now that it would all even out. I was ready to rock!

On the ride up from Chicago, my husband put on a Grace Potter CD and said this was my race day song. He cranked up the volume to The Lion, the Beast, the Beat:

Steady now, steady now
Don’t fear what you can’t see
Ready now, ready now
I’ll hold on to you, you hold on to me

This became my mantra!

It was time to hop in the water for my warm up. I was feeling great. After a few laps back and forth, I swam over to the start line and positioned myself amongst all the incredible athletes I was competing with. This was not my first rodeo! I knew exactly what was ahead of me. I was prepared and my confidence couldn’t have been better.

The horn went off and the race was on. I was doing great and hanging on with the pack and enjoying a nice draft. I was almost to the bridge when a familiar situation reared its ugly head. I couldn’t breathe. So… I put my coaching skills to work and remained calm. This has happened to me on several occasions. All I have to do is get my bronchial tubes to relax and I will be alright. I slowed down. It didn’t help. I rolled over on my back and continued swimming with back stroke hoping to not lose too much time. I didn’t panic at all. I had enough experience with this to know that if I stayed calm, I would be able to continue racing.

I could hear myself wheezing even through my ear plugs. At this point I stopped backstroking with my arms and simply floated in effort to release the strangle hold that kept the oxygen from going into my lungs. I flipped over and watched the pack get further and further away and my hopes of a personal best came crashing down. There was nothing I could do. I waived down a boat and they threw me a float. I explained to them that I have asthma but I should be fine if I could just get my bronchial tubes to relax.

Once I began to feel okay, I swam again. More wheezing sent me hanging off the front of a kayak. Did I mention how awesome the volunteers were? I am so thankful for them! They are trained for this sort of thing and didn’t insist I get out. They stayed by me the whole rest of the way making sure I was safe.

I swam some more and had to hold onto the float again as I continued wheezing. At this point I had a war going on inside my head. The negative thoughts came flooding in. Those thoughts told me to give up, get out of the water and go have a Bloody Mary. I heard myself think, “Triathlon is just not my sport.” I should just race bikes. That’s what I’m really good at! I should just do criteriums and time trials.

Well, I nearly gave into those thoughts but then I started telling myself how lucky I am to be in this race at all. I had just gotten over a bout of bronchitis that took me out of the ITU Swim in Chicago back in June. I was up all night before the race coughing. Had my bike not been in transition, I wouldn’t have gone to the race at all. I swam 200 meters and got out of the water. I rode the bike split, ran a lap of the run course and went home sad.

I’m afraid that genetically, the chips are stacked against me. My mother died at 49 because of Early Onset Emphysema. Just one month ago I attended my brothers funeral after his battle with COPD ended. He would have turned 60 this month. The emotional trauma of my brother’s death took a real toll on me. I certainly understood how he lost his will to go on. There is nothing worse than not being able to simply breathe.

You can do a lot of talking to yourself when swimming backstroke for almost a mile. As I slowly continued, all my hopes of a PR were gone. After one last break holding onto a lifeguard float, I was finally able to swim. The men in the next wave swept me up and I caught a draft in their pack. I finished the course 7 minutes slower than last year and was the last 50-54 year old female out of the water.

Once out of the water, my lungs were hurting but I persisted. I babied my right foot as there was an injury working its way into it that I’d been ignoring all week. I knew that was minor and I would be able to get through the run. I had a reasonable transition and I was off on the bike. I felt my lungs and my foot the whole ride. I had a little celebration inside my head each time I passed women who were in my age category. However, I knew full well that most of them would pass me on the run just by looking at them. My goodness, I don’t remember it being that competitive last year!

In a normal race, I usually only get passed a few times and never by any females. (Did I mention the bike is my strength?) I was being passed quite a bit this time by 45-49 year old women. These are women who started two waves behind me! It was terribly discouraging. There was nothing I could do about it though. My bike split ended up being 1:10:53. Last year’s time was 1:08:40. If I run what my training enabled me to do, I could almost make up that 7 minutes I lost on my swim.

I got out on the run and my first mile wasn’t bad. I told myself that everything should loosen up and I should be able to settle in at a good pace. Well, that probably would have been possible if it weren’t for my labored breathing and the fact that each time my foot hit the ground I felt pain. My second mile was a terrible disappointment and there was nothing I could do about it. So, my run didn’t see the improvements my training showed possible… I still didn’t quit!

By now, all the pressure of performing well was lifted from my shoulders and I began to look around. The scenery was spectacular! I began to tell myself how absolutely blessed I am to have a healthy body. I thought about my mother and my brother who didn’t quit smoking as young as I did. How it not only killed them, but ruined the quality of their lives. I thought about how lucky I was to have a husband who insisted I quit smoking when I was 21 and how happy I am that I did. I looked at the beauty of the lake and all the spectators and marveled at the phenomenal athletes that passed me by. I saw Coach Sarah and Coach Cathy (Chilly Pepper) on the run and they looked fantastic! They also gave me the inspiration to keep on keeping on.

Then I began noticing the other people that were struggling. I made it my mission to encourage them. I passed a woman who had 63 written on her calf. She started almost 40 minutes before me and I was just now passing her. I gave her a high 5 and told her what an awesome job she was doing. Then there was a gentleman, I don’t know his age but I’m guessing it was more than 70. He was wearing a Team USA kit. He was walking. I stopped and walked along side him for a while. He told me that he has asthma and that the algae in the water got to him and ruined his race. I exclaimed, “Me, too!” I told him what an inspiration he was to me. Then I began to run again.

You see, I have a dream of qualifying for Team USA. What an honor it would be to represent my country in a World Championship! I knew it was a pipedream for me this year, probably for next year too even though I am “aging up.” I intend to keep my health so that one year I will be there on the podium wearing a red, white and blue kit with “Tate” written on the hind side. I may be 80 when I finally see my dream come true, but in the mean time I will persist!

I love this sport. I love how accepting and supportive we are of each other. I loved how the crowd cheered for those in the upper age categories. Seriously! The crowd went wild as they crossed the finish line. What other sport out there honors the elderly in this way? It is an amazing thing to be a triathlete. I am in it for the long haul! As Thomas Edison once said, “The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.” I’m in it for the health of it!

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  • Oh my. I’m so proud of you for not quitting. That would have been so easy to do. But, you pushed through to the other side and found the silver lining. That is the true mark of a champion!! 🙂

  • Susan Hayse

    What an inspiring story, Vicky! You WILL get there!

  • Congratulations, Vicky, on your perseverance to finish the race. I think the gentleman that you walked with was your guardian angel sent to encourage you to keep your dream alive. Something tells me that you WILL be sporting that red, white & blue kit soon. I love your comment about this sport honoring the elderly. I hadn’t thought about it, but it really is true.

  • Sharon Kirkland

    Vicky, what an amazing story. I love that you continued even though you were struggling with the swim. You persevered, gave it everything you had, and finished the race. Congratulations!

  • Jim Riga

    Congrats on finishing the race and showing your overall toughness. Continue to dream Vicky, it keeps us motivated and moving forward until one day you will succeed.

  • Renee Pollack

    Congrats on the finish! I know how hard you trained and how you were looking forward to this race! I am really proud of you for hanging tough and inspiring others along the way! Vicki you are first class in my book!