I stood on the steps leading to the beach and the Gulf of Mexico scanning the horizon. The water was a glistening emerald and alabaster waves lapped the shore. My bare feet were cool on the white sands of Panama City Beach. Finally, I stood where only my mind had been before today. Eerily it looked just as I had imagined and it felt nothing like I hoped. It hurt to breathe. It hurt more to cough. The respiratory infection that gripped me in Texas was squeezing harder in Florida. Cough or no cough, chills or no chills, I was going to do this race. That’s what I kept telling myself. My lungs weren’t the only thing burning, so was my desire, even as my body wilted.
Until I met them…
The first I met were Trimama, Iron Jenny, and the Soapinator. It didn’t take long for me to know I was in rare company. After months of reading Trimama's blog and a couple of short phone calls we finally met in person. I felt calmer when we walked along the beach. Soapinator and I tossed a beach ball to each other and it began to feel like a holiday.
Not long after that I met Kona Shelly and for a moment the world stopped. What a special lady and exceptional athlete she is.
After a restless night I headed to the beach for a practice swim. The first buoy was set 200 yards off of the beach. The water was cool but not cold and the winds steady. By the time I made it to the buoy my lugs were burning. The heart rate monitor read over 160 beats per minutes and I had hardly put out any effort. Not a good sign so I turned back to shore.
(Swim practice two days prior to Ironman Florida 2006. Don't let the smile deceive you. I felt like crud. But Kona Shelly snapped the pic and there's no way I couldn't smile when she was around.)
A little later in the day I set out for a run. Expecting a run to feel better than the swim was merely wishful thinking. After ten minutes at an easy pace my chest ached and I knew it was time to turn back and call it a day.
A short bike the next morning felt no different and for the first time I could see Ironman Florida slipping away.
I walked along the beach to the race start and thought about all of the people that supported me over the last 15 months. How could I let these people down? How could I not at least try? Cancer patients submit themselves to chemo, radiation, medications, experimental treatments, and physical therapy after surgery and here I am concerned about a common cold. How is it that I would ever call myself an ambassador for their cause? If I didn’t at least start I would be no more than a fraud. A new mantra repeated in my head: “Not to finish is more noble than not to start.”
Upon returning to my room I called the physician father of another competitor from Dallas there to watch his daughter race. Graciously he agreed to examine me. He determined that I was actually at the end point of an acute bronchitis but not in the best shape for the race. He recommended a race-morning decision and advised to drop out if I started to wheeze or feel lightheaded. Maybe it was a placebo effect but I began to feel a little better after the examination.
That evening I had a quiet dinner and a glass of wine. Sleep came easily.
The alarm buzzed at 4:00 AM and the wind howled as it blew between the condos. Soon I would live Ironman vicariously no more…
… or so I hoped.