10 yo R completed the Zoot Westchester Kids Triathlon 2016 in Rye, NY this fall – I took some time to write the race report because, well, you’ll see. There was much to report! Enjoy.
For as long as I can remember, R has been running away from me. Slap slap slap, the sound of her sneakers and laughter floating on the breeze. The imprint on my body from the most recent vigorous hug a reminder that as much as R was here a minute ago, now she’s off. Seeing what’s around the bend.
R sometimes gets held up at the start of new things. She was afraid to go into the swimming pool at first. She took several early spills off her bike followed by swearing she was quitting forever. But once she gets going, she keeps going. Never mind that she’s five years younger than her big sister G; R would set her sights on catching up to her at full speed.
“I want to do a kids’ triathlon!” she declared after watching me finish the Westchester Olympic Distance Triathlon last year. It would mean a lot of swim and bike practice, but she was up for it. I was thrilled to share my love of the sport with her.
By race day, she had practiced the distance of each leg (75 yard swim, 2 mile bike, 1 mile run) plus some separately, but we’d never put all the sports back-to-back. Nevertheless we were confident she could do it.
I’ve packed my own bag for races many times before. I have a routine of previewing in my head what I’ll need at every step. Helping her visualize and pack for 3 sports gave me palpitations though – how was she going to keep it all straight? And then watching her push her bike and carry all her gear into Transition (the prep area where, sensibly, no parents are allowed) she looked so small I wanted to snatch her back. Whose idea was this? She’s just a baby!
Of course, there were volunteers inside Transition to help the kids but how could R possibly manage this WITHOUT HER MOTHER?
It was cold and grey. We spectators huddled on the boardwalk, fully dressed and holding hot coffee, not daring to complain about being cold while watching the kids in swimsuits lined up on the beach hop like jumping beans waiting for the swim start. “I can’t imagine running into that cold water,” one parent murmured. I’m sure more than one was envisioning their kid refusing to go in. “You can do it R!” G and I shouted into the wind. They were too far to hear us. Their little bare feet danced on the chilly sand, their bright swim caps bobbing, until the horn went off, and…in the kids ran. Every one of them.
“Hooray!” we all shouted, watching the swim caps float improbably through the waves. One by one, the kids emerged soaking wet and then ran past us as they transitioned onto the bike course. This was the part I worried about the most. Hundreds of kids on bikes – what if she crashed? We waited and waited for her to return. Being a spectator at a triathlon is nerve-wracking. Since you can’t see the entire course your imagination is all you have. She’s hurt. Her tires blew. She’s given up. I thought. This is my fault. We didn’t practice enough. And then, when it seemed like no one else was coming, she rode in, breathless.
She would tell us later that she had fallen off her bike. “Did anyone help you?” I asked. “Everyone said ‘Get back on! get back on!'” she recalled. “One of the volunteers asked me ‘Well what are you gonna do?’ and I said ‘I guess I’m going to get back on!’ and that’s what I did.”
She was wiped out, starting on the run. “My legs are so heavy!” she panted as she came by us, first at a jog, and then slowing to a walk. “I can’t go any more,” she said. I was about to go into Coach Mom mode when G stepped in. “Yes you can,” G said, walking alongside her. “Look, the finish line is not that far. You’re a great runner. You can do it!” I don’t know if I was prouder of R picking up her pace then, or G for cheerleading, but I could barely see this picture as I took it through tears.
My kids are used to difficulty. They’ve each had more than their share of medical issues and they know how to gut it out in any given situation. But I think the particular challenge of triathlon isn’t swimming in choppy water, biking in a crowd, or running while tired, but rather the transition from one to the other. Just when you think you’ve conquered something super hard, you have to start something completely different. The need to believe in oneself doing this, and this, AND THEN THIS, demands flexibility and faith. My kids used to have a hard time with transitions of all sorts in their daily lives. Going to and from school, or playdates, or new places, I felt like I was their transitional object, the one who made things okay. I would wonder what they would do without me.
R running to the finish, like G finishing her first 5K earlier this year, made me so happy.
To know that they can overcome self doubt and hardship and go the distance on their own is the best preparation for life I can give them. “You did it!” I exulted to R. “Your first triathlon and you’re only 10!”
“Yeah, I beat you by 35 years,” she said, grinning. This kid is going to be all right.