David did his first ultra triathlon at Buffelspoort in March this year. A few weeks later he was itching for more and took a leap of faith by signing up for the half Ironman in St Croix in the US Virgin Islands. British Airways lost his bike (fortunately it arrived the night before the race) but he had the most incredible experience and loved the race. The bug had bitten and in early May we tucked the kids in and scoured the Ironman website in search of potential races. I was definitely going to New York at some point for sister bonding time and he was going wherever he could swim, bike, run. It meant we’d be apart alot so when he saw that there was a full Ironman in New York State, instead of being terrified, he was bursting with excitement. (Yes, people regularly tell him he’s mad and I totally concur).
When we told my parents-in-law of David’s plan to sign up for a full Ironman so that we could combine our travel objectives as a couple, his Dad stated the obvious: why didn’t David just come to New York with me for a holiday? David’s response: “How long have you known me, Dad?”
Understandably, excitement did give way to outright panic within 24 hours but by then David had purchased his charity ticket with the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation to enter the race (the only remaining option, ten weeks before the race) and there was no going back. We were going to New York, baby! There was just this small matter of a 3.8km swim, 180km cycle, followed by a marathon (42.2km).
Rather him, than me, was all I kept thinking…
Fast forward to race day in Lake Placid on Sunday 27 July. We were up at 4:15am and walking to Mirror Lake in the heart of the town by 5am. When I asked David how he was feeling he responded that he’d “gone non-verbal”. I, on the other hand, seemed to have gone “emotional”. A supporter rode past the other competitors and supporters walking to the start and wished everyone good luck with such exuberance, my eyes started to well up. I saw a man in a wheelchair with the tell-tale blue armband signifying that he was a competitor and I started to drizz. I kissed David goodbye as he made his way amongst the 2,700 competitors to his spot on the lake and I had a lump in my throat. They played the Star Spangled Banner before the gun went off and I found that emotional. And all I could think of was something that has been cropping up in my head alot lately: hashtag firstworldproblems.
A few months ago I saw a Twitter post with a picture of someone, somewhere, in a third world country, standing in front of a grass hut with the hashtag “first world problems”. It read something like this: “My house is so big, I need two modems to access wi-fi all over #firstworldproblems”. I think this hit home because most days I am seriously annoyed that the wi-fi coverage is not expansive enough for my needs. And here I was, on a luxury vacation in America, crying my eyes out because people with $15,000 tri bikes may or may not finish a crazy race called the Ironman? #firstworldproblems, I kept telling myself.
I pulled myself together, found my sister and her boyfriend who’d driven up from New York City for the weekend, and we watched the swimmers head off on their first lap. We managed to spot David amongst the crowd coming out of the water to start his second lap. By this time, the weather predictions had come true and it had started to rain fairly heavily. I saw a supporter with a badge which read “F*ck Cancer!”. That set me off. A little later I was standing in the rain watching competitors coming out of the water, having finished their swim. From Mirror Lake, they had to run about 400m to get to the transition area to climb onto their bikes. That was when I saw a man carrying the paraplegic competitor in his arms and sprinting, in the pouring rain, to the transition area. He was running like his life depended on it.
By now I was bawling my eyes out.
When I was standing at the finish line, expecting David any minute, the MC introduced a finisher and told the crowds she’d had a double mastectomy in 2011. Now she was – as the MC was calling the finishers – “an Ironman”. (Needless to say, that had me blubbing again).
Of the 2,700 competitors (a handful of whom were professionals) I saw many people with incredible, athletic physiques. I tend to categorize those people as different to me – naturally very talented at sport – and then it makes sense to me why they can compete in a full Ironman. But it seemed that for every super athletic looking person, there was a very “normal”, non-athletic looking competitor getting out of their wetsuit, grinding uphill on their bikes, jogging past me in their running shoes. Sure, they had strong, muscular quads, but many were overweight. Not obese, but honestly, quite chubby. I don’t say this as a criticism at all. To me, this proved that I was ultimately witnessing a testament to the power of the mind. For some, finishing the race was the equivalent of screaming “F*ck cancer!”. For some, it was a tribute to someone they had lost to cancer (or perhaps in other ways). Some may have been competing to overcome a “firstworldproblem”. And some may have simply competed for the personal challenge.
Regardless, it was inspiring – and very, very emotional – to watch.
Here is the story of David’s amazing achievement in pictures. He came 405th out of 2,772 athletes who started the race. Hashtag determination (and talent), my love. Well done!