I’ve competed in over 50 triathlons, but I still get a little bit of nerves the morning of a race. The 2015 Landsharks Triathlon was no exception…only this time, the nerves were magnified by the fact that I was also responsible for getting a raft, bike trailer and a jogging stroller to the race…AND making sure that the kids I was racing with were going to have a good time and be safe.
I arrived at the race site and saw the all-too familiar sights. The crew from Headfirst Performance setting up the transition area and finish line, race packets being handed out under the tent, bodies being written on with permanent marker and as with any race at Taylorsville Lake – lots of boats going in the water!
As I was unloading the gear from the back of my truck, several people came by to give me words of encouragement and tell me what a great thing I was doing. While it’s awesome to get some added motivation before a race, I really wanted people to know more about WHY I was doing this race and send their encouragement to the kids and their families. Doing a triathlon in tandem was not “easy”, but it was over in a few hours. These kids and their families battle every single day with challenges that most of us do without a second thought. Simply communicating is a chore for some of the kids that the Kids Center helps. My goal in doing this race was to raise awareness of the amazing triumphs that happen every day behind the doors of that building on Eastern Parkway. Me pulling and pushing a special needs athlete around the course was nothing compared to the obstacles these kids face every day!
Now back to the race report. I feel the need to mention the help I received from Reggie Garcia. Reggie was there to volunteer and be kayak support during the swim. As I was unloading all of the gear, Reggie came right over and started asking what he could do to help. He not only helped me move the gear over to the transition area, he assisted in getting it all set up. I would need his help again, but more on that later!
As the kids and their families started to arrive, I could feel the excitement! Derek had prepared a message for me on his communication device telling me thank you for helping him become a triathlete and I could tell that he remembered me from our practice swim earlier in the week. Levi was ready to ride and didn’t want to get out of the bike trailer after we sat him in it to adjust the harness straps. Zander was all smiles (which I hear is typical) and was clearly happy to see that one of his favorite therapists from the Kids Center had made it out to watch him race. I felt bad that Levi and Zander would have to wait before their portion of the race. I can’t imagine being ready to do something this new and exciting and then being told to sit around and wait! If you want to learn more about these three kids, check out my post here.
In the days leading up to the race, I was most nervous about the swim portion with Derek. He did good in our practice swim at Lakeside earlier in the week, but that was only for a few minutes and I knew that it would take me over 30 minutes to complete the 1500 meters of swimming in the race. As we got started, Derek was doing good. I would steal a glance back at him as I took a breath every third stroke. He was looking around and sitting still. However, as any kid would do, he got a little bored with sitting still and wanted to check out what else was going on around him. I had to stop a few times and remind him to sit down and not lean out of the raft. To his credit, he sat down every time I asked. We only had one swimmer get tangled up in the line between me and the raft. I was nervous throughout the entire swim that Derek was going to lean over too far and fall out of the raft. As we passed the final buoy and headed toward the boat ramp and the end of the swim, I felt a sense of relief that we had made it! Turns out, I had this thought about 30 seconds too soon! I looked back and the raft was on it’s side and Derek was in the water! He had on his lifejacket, so he was floating on top of the water, but as I got back to him, I could tell he was scared. I pulled him up out of the water and kept repeating “you’re ok, I got you”. He calmed down pretty quick and then I had to decide what to do. I knew that putting him back in the raft was going to be next to impossible. If you’ve ever tried to get back into a raft or canoe in deep water, then you know how hard it is. My next thought was to just hold him with one arm and try to swim the rest of the way in with the other arm. Neither were good options. That’s when I saw Reggie! He was in his kayak about 100 feet away from us out near the last buoy. He saw us and I motioned for him to come help me. He quickly paddled over to us. He asked what I needed him to do and after holding on to his kayak and resting for a minute, I asked him to tow us in. So with Derek in my left arm, I grabbed the back of Reggie’s kayak with my right arm and he paddled us to shore. This was an unexpected ending to the swim, but Derek was enjoying the ride, so I couldn’t help but smile. Derek’s dad came out in to the water to help me as I walked up the boat ramp with Derek in my arms. I was a little worried that his family would be upset about him falling out, but they were all smiling and cheering for us as we got to dry land.
I ran up the ramp to the transition area and Levi’s family already had him buckled in the bike trailer ready to roll! We climbed up the hill leading out of transition and got started on our 24.8 mile bike journey. The course is full of hills with little to no chance to find a steady rhythm on a flat stretch. Climbing these hills is tough when riding solo, but pulling a trailer makes it even more challenging! Fortunately, Levi doesn’t weigh much at all, but I could definitely feel the extra weight…not to mention the fact that all aerodynamics go out the window when you are basically pulling a giant parachute behind you! The ride was tough, but it made it all worth it to hear little giggles coming from Levi whenever we hit bumps in the road! I would look back and he would be smiling ear to ear. Just before the turn-around point, I looked back and I saw a look in Levi’s eyes that I’ve seen a hundred times before from my own kids. The eye lids were getting heavy and he had this distant stare in this eyes. Sure enough, a few minutes later, he was asleep! I guess it was a pretty smooth ride. He had slumped down in the seat a little bit, so at the turnaround, I got off the bike and sat him back up. I hated to wake him, but I didn’t want him to be uncomfortable for the 12.4 miles back. Once we were both situated and he had his sippy cup in hand, we headed back. The ride took a while to complete, but Levi was a trooper and hung in there, never complaining once. We made it back to transition and found Zander sitting there in the jogging stroller ready to go!
Zander had quite the cheering crew with him. They sent us off from transition and then drove up the road to wait for us to pass them. I saw them up ahead and immediately found a little extra energy in my tired legs. As we passed them, they all yelled for Zander and I could see him clapping through the window in the top of the stroller. The funniest part of the run was stopping at the aid stations. Zander had his own cup of apple juice, but once he saw me drinking water from a cup at the first aid station, he stared to ask for water of his own. At the second aid station, I helped him drink from the cup, but after that, he wanted to do it on his own. Knowing that he was 2-1/2 years old, this need for independence didn’t surprise me. He would start yelling “Water!” as we approached the aid stations and we ended up stopping for several minutes at each one. This actually probably helped me recover a little bit along the 6.2 mile course. We had a great time talking as we ran and every time I stopped to check on him, I was greeted by a big smile as I peeked around the front of the stroller. We crossed the finish line to huge cheers from everyone and I know that this made it extra special for Zander.
All of these kids are amazing and will always hold a special place in my heart. I’m very thankful to their parents for trusting me with their kids. It would be hard for me to let my kids head off into a lake or out on the open road with a stranger, but these parents did and I’m forever grateful!
One of my original goals when I first started to plan this race was to not only do many more of these races myself, but to help facilitate other athlete’s that wanted to race in tandem with special needs kids. I’m happy to say that after that race and the next day through text and social media, I’ve had several people inquire about doing one in the future. I hope this turns into a regular occurrence so that we can give more kids the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be super-star triathlete for a day!
A special thank you to everyone that donated to the Kids Center prior to the race. As promised, I’m going to give away a package of supplements from Garden of Life to one of the people that generously made a donation. Although several people donated anonymously, I did have a few that used their name or an alias that I recognized. The winner of the supplement package is Steve Unger! Congrats Steve, I’ll be in touch about getting you your prize.
You can still donate to the Kids Center (local, non-profit). If interested, please click on the link below:
Here’s a video that Headfirst Performance put together from the race. Lots of great footage of the kids and I!
Be sure and visit all of my sponsor’s websites. I sought out these companies because they provide great products and services.