Finding Balance and Flow within the Journey
by Christa K.
It’s been over 48 hours, and I am still trying to process all the emotions and put those into words here after completing my first Ironman 70.3 race. Not sure I’ll be able to adequately express my feelings of complete thankfulness and gratitude, but here it goes…(warning: dissertation-length post ahead ; )
First of all I need to say THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart!!! There are SO many people I have to thank for even getting me to this starting line of this race. My husband, my children, my family, my coach, my teammates, my friends, my students, everyone that has been watching and supporting from afar – none of this was possible without their love and support and I hope they know how much it meant to me to be able to have a chance to race this race at all. Most of all, I have to give thanks to God for putting so many amazing and loving people in my life. God has placed an army of people who I call “my angels here on earth” (these are people I know my moms were up there nudging Him about – I can see them saying “We want to hand-pick only the best people of heart, character, and integrity to guide my daughter since we can no longer be there with her to do this on earth.”) My angels here on earth are all those things and more, and I feel both of my moms’ presence when I am around them.
A HUGE thank you to my husband Kent for all the time and sacrifice to allow me to train and race and for his never-ending support and love. This would not be possible without him at all. He is always there to cheer me on at races, but more importantly in life. He gave up his Father’s Day to chase me around and cheer for me in the rain and the heat. He is the love of my life and my best friend and an absolute gift from God! Many thanks to my boys for being patient with all the time I have been away training and a “sometimes” absolutely exhausted mom! For my family members who helped watch the boys so that I could train and go to what seemed like a hundred doctor and rehab appointments this past year and listened to me talk so excitedly and passionately about this journey so many times. Also for my friends who had to listen to me talk excitedly and nervously about entering the sport of triathlon, and then continued to listen about every. single. step. along the way and supported me endlessly.
I entered the sport of triathlon two years ago as a way to cope after we lost both of our now angel babies. Those losses shook me to the core and took away my light that usually shines very brightly. I needed something else to focus on, something that would challenge me, that scared me, that would hopefully help me find my light and my way again, so I decided I would finally take on a dream of mine to become a triathlete (I had no prior swim experience and didn’t own a bike).
God’s work was at hand when I chose my first two triathlons as Experience Triathlon sponsored events. I knew NOTHING about Team ET and still very little about the sport, but it was no coincidence that my first impressions of Coach Joe LoPresto and the Experience Triathlon team were only the best impressions and ones that left a lasting impression on me. Coach Joe and I were brought together by a flat tire – again, not a coincidence, this was all in God’s plan. I showed up to the ET Pleasant Prairie race with a flat tire and no spare equipment and went up to Joe and said “I have a flat, is there anything I can do to still be able to race?” If you know Joe, you know he worked tirelessly to find a way to help me and he didn’t even know me; that is just in his character. Since that flat, he has continued to work tirelessly to help me as my now coach, mentor, and one of my best buddies of all time : ) His belief in me, support of me, his kindness and graciousness have made ALL the difference, and he continues to be a true blessing to me as he continues to guide me not just in triathlon, but more importantly in life.
Endless thanks to my ET teammates and the coaches, who are some of the absolute BEST people I know! I feel so blessed to be part of such a positive, supportive, and encouraging crew and I feel that my light is able to shine brighter than ever within this team : ) After the last year of trials and setbacks with illness, injuries, and surgery I can say that I wouldn’t have gotten to the start line of this race without the coaches and my ET friends and teammates. Their constant support got me through the good and bad days, and I’m just SO thankful they have come into my life!
For me, the race was a test of mental strength more than physical – but thanks to Coach Joe’s mentorship and coaching I felt more than ready to meet whatever was thrown ahead of me head-on with calmness and flow. (Those of you that know me well know this can be a challenge since I am a “full throttle” type of gal! ; ) but it is something we have really been working on this past year (and something I got a lot of practice with this past year with the bumps along the way). Storms in the morning caused the race to be pushed back 3 hours – in those hours we had no idea what the race would end up looking like or if it would for sure continue. I flowed, I stayed in the zone, I did not freak out; I was ready for whatever it was that the race was going to be. I got extra time to talk and hang with Coach and the ET crew, and the vets shared similar race “war stories” to help calm our nerves. (If every race could start with a few-hour “hang” with the team, I would be a fan! : )
As the race continued to get pushed back we received word that we would start the swim at 9:50 a.m. We loaded up our stuff and all drove over to the transition area in the rain, still not knowing exactly what the race was going to look like. En route to transition we received notification that the bike would be cut short in order for all of us to still be able to do all 3 events in the allotted time.
If this were to take place a year and a half ago before I was a coached athlete, I would have been beside myself that the race wasn’t happening as planned. That I wasn’t going to be able to achieve my “big goal” once again. Let’s be honest, I would have been a HOT MESS! But not this day!!! This day was going to continue to be a CELEBRATION of gratitude to everyone that got me to the starting line no matter what it ended up looking like! I was still getting the opportunity to race, now it was just time to say to myself, “Ok, you are starting 3 hours later in the day and the bike portion is altered…what do I need to do to adjust to those circumstances?” I knew exactly what I would do because I could hear in my head what Coach Joe advised me to do so many times in the past year…”Breathe…flow…execute.” He gave me all the tools time and time again – good thing I was listening and trying to learn and soak up as much as I could from him in those moments! I met with Coach right before I left transition…he didn’t give me a “pep talk,” it wasn’t necessary at that point – all his words since he started coaching me were already with me in my mind and heart. He always has a way of knowing what I do need, so I very much appreciated the sweet hug and the selfie situation! : ) As I walked down to the water, I just thought to myself, “breathe…flow…execute…and get out there and enjoy the heck out of that CELEBRATION of GRATITUDE!”
Before the beep went off to enter the water I fist-bumped my teammates. The beep went off and I entered the water calmly. I didn’t go out too fast in the swim, and I just settled in. Before I knew it I was seeing the orange buoys, which meant that we were on the second half of the swim! I just continued to swim my pace and not let anyone get away with roughing me up in the water (they should learn not to mess with the Champ! ; ) Before I knew it I was out of the water! I stood up, looked at the time on my watch in utter disbelief, turned the corner to head to transition, and got my first experience with the “World Famous ET Cheer Crew” cheering me on – which was absolutely AMAZING!!! To be able to high-five my husband and teammates all together absolutely made my day!
The sun came out during the latter part of the swim. It was hot! But, in my head I turned that into a positive for the bike because that meant it dried the roads so that I could take my new-to-me tri bike “Comin’ in Hot Wheels” out for a “little spin!” : ) I had a blast on the bike and before I knew it I was back in transition getting my running gear on (and subsequently forgetting to take my bike shorts off, LOL). As I ran out of transition I looked for the ET flag, but first I heard the crew yelling for me before I could even see them! I was about to embark on the last leg of the race and I wanted to soak up all the cheers and high-fives that I could, so I took some extra time to get some extra love from the cheer crew, hugged Coach Joe and Suzy, and was on my way!
Although I have ran many half marathon and marathon races in the past, this 13.1 run to end the half Ironman was probably the toughest race-run I’ve ever had to do. It was so hot, the run course offered very little shade, it was a double-loop sitch, and the second half of the run my lower legs really began “talking to me.” I breathed, I flowed, I re-assessed my pace, my run/walk strategy, my nutrition/hydration and I adapted. It was tough, but there was not a doubt in my mind that I wasn’t going to do it. Coach Joe gave me all the tools to prepare mentally and physically for tough conditions…I just had to keep moving forward however I could and execute! Before I knew it, I had a half mile left and knew that I would get to see the ET crew near the finish – which magically made my legs work again – and BOOM…I took off to the finish in a sprint for the last half mile of the race! Before I knew it I was flying down the Ironman finish chute and there was my crew to cheer me on to the very end! I will never forget that exhilarating feeling of the adrenaline surging through my veins and the support and cheers surging through my heart!
I couldn’t believe that after working towards this goal for a year and a half I finally got a chance to cross that finish line! My husband was there to hug me right away and I just hugged him tight and SOBBED. All my loved ones were with me in that moment – whether they were cheering from afar, at the race, or the ones up above, they ALL carried me to that start and finish line. I was, and still am, just completely overwhelmed with gratitude, appreciation, and emotion. I will never forget this day and the journey that brought me to this day. But more importantly, I look forward to the journey that I am blessed to get to continue with love and gratitude RADIATING from my heart!