#2 - Homestead-Miami Clash Triathlon - Honouring The Fallen After My Lungs Gave Out (March 12, 2022)
Updated: Apr 4
It was nice to be able to camp right at the race site for the triathlon in the morning after doing the 5km run in the evening. (Although I was pretty sticky from pouring sweat during the run and not being able to shower.) I only wished that I had read the night before that we were able to camp on site instead of in the morning. I would have been able to get more properly settled instead of constantly thinking I might get tossed out, or at least get a talkin' to from security. Oh well, such is the wingin' it way that I roll.
For a prelude to what I deal with in my body to race, click here.
Once again, I somehow was able to be the first one there, yet almost be late for the race itself, but I was there on time with about five minutes before the transition area was closed off ahead of the race. (I drop off my gear and then go back to stay with Fennario until the last possible moment.)
Set and ready to roll!!
I couldn't believe people were wearing wetsuits. That was crazy to me. The water temperature was 1 degree F below the cut-off for legal wetsuits, something like 76F. That's insane! I'm used to water that has glacier rivers feeding into it. Needless to say, no wetsuit and no goggles for me.
We did the national anthem and then a moment of silence for Ukraine, and then got on our way with the race. It wasn't a free-for-all start either, kinda just channeled in down chute in two side-buside lines into the water...the cattle herd. It was self seeding based on our swim times, so I stuck to the back, which is what I typically do anyway.
It was nice to be in fresh water. I have loved swimming in the crystal blue ocean but that is different than fresh water. You need look no further than the fact that there are showers at the beach to rinse off the salt from the ocean to understand at least some of the difference.
The best part of the swim was from about 30-45 seconds in. That was when I hit a nice stride and thought to myself how kind it was. The water was warm and refreshing.
And then around 60 seconds hit!!
That was when my lungs gave out and put a strangle hold on my existence. My heart rate shot through the roof, and I had to fight for air. I knew I wasn't in any danger, but I also knew it sucked, and was gonna take me for freakin' ever to get through this swim, and that was gonna have devastating consequences to my triathlon on this day.
Foreshadowing here, it was actually a blessing in disguise.
Re: The Hat on the run!
I had the same thing happen when I spontaneously knocked off three consecutive weekends of triathlons in 2018. During the first race, my lungs just shut right down, and I couldn't breathe. Immediately, the life guards started surrounding me, and I talked to them to assure them that I was OK, but that I just couldn't breathe. I heard them laugh and say that breathing was kind of important.
You see, I can swim for seemingly endless durations of time. Just keep going! I might have to tread water for a bit, which I can do forever, and then turn onto my back, swim on my side, then turn into my version of a front crawl when my lungs settle a bit, and then when they give out again, start the cycle again of figurin' it out.
The most important thing is reassuring the life guards that I'm OK, and that I don't need their help (take a break by holding onto the paddle board, etc.), only that it will just take awhile. I communicate well, but one damned thing is for sure, whether they throw me out of the rest of the race or not, I'm finishing the swim on my own...and then they can do whatever they want from there, but there's no way anyone is pulling me outta the water. That's only for me to decide.
The life guard guy who stuck with me for almost the entire race, I think his name is Brian. He was awesome. He reminded me of Bruce during the run at the 2007 Wasa Lake Olympic distance triathlon back home in British Columbia. Bruce just quietly held behind me on his bike while I hobbled my way through, and every-so-often, he would come up alongside me to see if I was OK, and then drop back. Brian was similar here at the Homestead-Miami Clash.
Those are the kinds of race attendants I love. They're not over the top with encouragement (I don't like that.), they don't show worry, they're calm, and talk casually when checking in, or if I instigate any kind of conversing.
Brian was perfect!
To do my part, I made sure to tell him of some of the things I have done, like the two 6-Mile overnight unassisted solo swims in our glacier fed lake last summer back home. (Where I made national news when I got attacked by a bald eagle during my training...and then ended up fighting four more just before dawn of the first swim.) Those swims were when my friend, Michelle, was in the hospital on life support, and not coming off. They almost killed me, and everyone who read the two pertinent things I wrote about her and the swims said that they were the most heartbreaking and inspiring things they had ever come across.
There were two things that I really didn't like in this swim, aside from the likely impending consequences of being so slow, were the swim cap and the dizziness...
The Swim Cap...
The water was so warm, that the swim cap kept all the heat in, and my brain started feeling like a boiling stew. I hated it. I really hated it...and it was problematic to me. I asked Brian (If that's his name.) if I could take it off because it was causing me to overheat, he said I couldn't because they would DQ me. I told him I didn't care about that, but I had to keep it on, so I had to suck it up and stop bein' a little whiner. It would have really helped me, and in essence, been much safer for me if I was able to take it off. Sometimes it's odd the way they have rules in place to supposedly protect you, when they can actually do the contrary. (Having to wear a helmet when I ride my bike during a race falls in line with that...it's the only time I will put a helmet on.)
About three or four times, I got hit with dizziness in the water. That wasn't good. Luckily, I am so well versed at being so crippled that I know how to navigate my way through almost any pain, and in this case, dizziness. That's not to say I enjoyed it though, 'cause I sure as hell didn't...even when you take into context to consider how much I enjoy transcending my pain to bust it in the mouth and rise above it. The dizziness sucked!!
But...I slayed that dizziness' ass!
(**The one thing that is good for me is that I have 19 years of hindsight of doing triathlons through horrific conditions within my body, and the elements outside that I have charged through. I have dragged myself through absolutely atrocious circumstances, and I'll never stop. If I step up to the start line, I will finish despite whatever may get thrown at me.)
Nearing the back end of the swim, before the final turn, I could hear the, I'm assuming, Swim Director, yelling across to Brian about how much time there was left before the cut-off.
Brian was awesome about communicating. He was literally awesome about everything. I wish he was at every race that I compete at.
All hail, Brian! (Giggle.)
When I made the final turn, there was a woman on a paddle board off to the side a bit, and she was doing that far, far, way over the top enthusiastic, "You got this," yelling and screaming at me thing, and then telling me to dig in, and all that stuff. I understand the intention, but I am the wrong guy for that. It actually drives me nuts. I've never been one to need encouragement. My fire within myself is more than enough!
She was so distracting that I finally had to stop what I was doing, and then tell her...
"It's not that simple!"
That's when Brian looked at me and said...
"Save your lungs, I'll deal with it."
I heard him explaining all the things I had told him about my body, freezing cold lakes, long swims, and she just went silent. I then heard him say...
"He hasn't grabbed the board or anything. He's killing it!"
Like I said...
All hail, Brian!
For the last hundred yards or so, all the other lifeguards on paddle boards kinda closed in around me, and people were screaming on the banks of the inlet pond. You'd think after 19 years of doing these, and having this reaction for the entirety of that time, regardless of where I race, that I would be used to that attention, but I never have been, and I doubt I ever will be. It's very overwhelming to me.
It's such a weird thing of how amazingly psyched people are, and showing that with very genuine enthusiasm, yet all I wanna do is crawl into an invisible cloak and hide within it. I've just never felt that I am that guy to inspire so many people, but it never stops happening, so I just kinda awkwardly accept it, smile, say thank you...
Brian was giving me the countdown to cut-off. I tried to dig in harder, I really did, but my lungs put the trump card down with vengeance, and there was nothing I could do. Getting through the swim safely was never an issue, but the timing was the issue on this occasion. I can bust through excruciatingly devastating pain, but there are times when my body just says, "No dice!" It doesn't stop me, it never does, but only slows me down, and in this regard, puts me into a DQ for a triathlon.
I think I missed the cut off by literally one or two minutes.
This could have been where self-seeding comes into play, because perhaps if I put myself more at the front at the beginning of the swim, then the back end time wouldn't have cut me off. Oh well. Not the end of the world.
I always get really wobbly legged when I step out of the water after a swim, and this was no exception. I almost fell backwards into the pond when I stepped out of it. I wobbled my way out of the swim finish chute, and when I kinda got to the top of the little hill of the bank, the swim director (I'm assuming that's who that was.) came right up to me. He was all psyched. He shook my hand, congratulated me, and then told me I was DQ'd (Giggle.), but that they were gonna let me do the run...that I just couldn't go out on my bike.
"That's awesome! Thanks so much!"
I was genuinely psyched about that, and I really appreciated it.
Little video journal of the 5km run the night before...
Then I just hobbled my way back into transition to get my flip flops and put my shirt on so I could roll on out to the NASCAR track. It felt like a really long walk. I had my customary very deep limp, which made more and more people cheer louder and louder for me. Now there were all the spectators and athletes around transition, and I also had to watch out for all the people coming in off their bikes.
(**Before I go on, I just wanna say one last time how much I appreciated Brian in the water, and the perfect way he went about everything. Also, I hope his name was Brian, as that is what I thought I heard the timing swim director yell across the water, but I was busy trying to focus on what I was doing. Regardless, if Brian was his name, or not, I just really appreciated how awesome he was. That is the proper way to go about lifeguarding in a triathlon swim. Perfect score for him!)
I threw out my swim cap in a garbage can along the way, put on my flip flops, and got on my way out the back end of transition to begin the run. I was psyched to run this race track again like the night before. There was something about it that I found quite exhilarating...similar to when I did a half marathon in Vegas in December 2011, where they closed off the entire strip for us. Triathlons, and the like, have brought me to places, people and experiences that have at times been quite unique, and I always take conscious time to appreciate that in the moment.
Anyway, immediately when I got out of the chute and onto the actual NASCAR track (It's still surreal saying that.), I saw a hat on the ground just ahead of me. As I was passing it, I looked down to see what it said because it looked similar to the old US Postal Team gear from when Lance was chargin' for them back in the day before the fall. (Crazy how that's still imprinted on my mind. I can't be the only one, can I??) When I was hobbling past the hat, I saw what it actually said...
"US Military Endurance Sports"
Sometimes I'm glad my running-hobble forces me to be so slow, because, in this instance, it gave me time to process some quick thoughts on the matter. It just didn't sit right that the hat was left there and all these people were running past it. I know we were all in a race, but I felt like it deserved more respect than that. However it ended up there on the ground was irrelevant to me, and so was me being DQ'd because of my swim, I wasn't gonna make the same mistake I did the previous weekend by not stopping to see what was up with that lady who was sitting on the ground with her bike during the ride portion of the race.
I seemed to have processed a lot of information quite quickly, but I had to turn around to go pick it up. My initial thought was to just place the hat on top of one of the cones on the edge of the track. As soon as that was in my head, I squashed that thought because that didn't seem good enough. It didn't matter that I am a Canadian, and the hat was the USA Military, to me, I grew up when Canada and the USA were super tight...proper allies - friends...and a two faceted notion slammed into mind...
-Honour the fallen!
-Never leave a soldier behind on the field of battle!
With that in mind, everything sorted itself out...
I wasn't about to abandon it on any cone, I was carrying that hat with me for the duration of the run until I crossed the finish line.
To me, that was the right thing to do, and the only thing of importance. I even saw the pertinence of my disastrous swim collapse through my lungs and strained breathing therin, because the chain of events that kicked off, with me not doing the bike, but being allowed to complete the run, made it so that hat was there when I rolled by. It all came together for me to pick it up and carry it the near 5km run out on the track.
Obviously I can be putting too much into this, but it is undeniable that all the events played out to make it so that this USA Military hat was in front of me when I stepped out onto the track, and in so doing, so did the urge to honour the fallen...my nation or not!
It painted a whole new dimension to what this race became about. The whole journey, in fact, in regards to honouring Michelle,
it all feels more about just doing the right thing, and therefore transcending the actual meaning of the racing itself. Triathlon is different now...
Doing right by her means everything to me, and this felt like the kind of thing that she would have done.
So, I had the crystal in my left hand that I had with me during those overnight swims when Michelle was in the hospital in August, and I held the hat in my other hand. The combination of the two did stir up more emotion. I couldn't help but to think of the fallen soldiers, the ones who never got to come home...and then Michelle...the pinnacle light of my life that is now shimmering in the stars.
I was overwhelmed. I ran on...OK...I hobbled and limped, but that's just my pretend version of running.
The pain in my stride was irrelevant. I didn't care about any of that. I just wanted to get this hat home. I was aware that it seemed like I was making a big deal out of just a hat, but it felt like something more, and I rolled with it. I needed to look no further than the previous weekend racing in Ft. Lauderdale when I hobbled my way past a military platoon in full fatigues walking in formation, and their reaction to me all beat to hell running down the road. Just like then, they were USA Military, and I had a Canadian flag on my shirt, yet they were all-in on cheering me on...so how could I not honour them in return?!
Thinking kinda dissipated as I only did what I felt was right, and that was guided by an image of Michelle in my mind.
Even in her passing, it's crazy how she keeps making me a better person, or at least, try to be. How many times could I ever say this??
Michelle Ana Fabian was the greatest person I ever knew!
I will do anything I can to honour her the way she deserves.
The run became blurry, or even as if I transcended it, because right from the beginning, with the US Military hat in hand, my part in the run didn't matter, nor did what it meant to the pain in my body.
I couldn't possibly care less about the DQ, and I was aware of that. When I thought about that, I more so thought about how maybe one day long ago I would be upset about it, but my triathlon racing has evolved beyond that state of mind.
The only real decision I had to make, that I did toil with a bit, was whether I was gonna do a third lap of the NASCAR track instead of just the two. I didn't get to do the bike portion, so I wanted to get the most out of it and stick an extra lap on the run...plus I enjoyed being on the closed race car track. Parts of me felt like I wanted to honour this military hat in the name of the fallen, but my deciding factor was that even though they DQ'd me because I missed the swim cut by one or two minutes, the race directors were still nice enough to let me go out and complete the run, so I didn't want to disrespect them, and in so doing, disrespect the whole notion the hat took on in whatever symbolism it did for me. As I have eluded to, all of this has become about doing the right thing, which is more important than the racing itself, so instead of staying out on course, I cut in towards the finish.
It was a weird thing coming down the finishing chute. The depth of my hobble-ness gained me a huge ovation again as they were calling me in the same realm as everyone who finished the race properly. This was an ovation I most certainly did not deserve. When I dragged my gibbled-ass across the finish line, on my left there was a person in a wheelchair who crushed down the race, and then on my right, who immediately came up to me with big congratulations and a fist bump, was a guy who was missing his left leg from above his knee.
I didn't deserve any of this, and felt like a total fraud. Then, to make things worse for me, they hung a finisher's medallion around my neck. That kinda capped off the awkwardness in feeling for me, so I took it off right away. It didn't belong around my neck! I was just going to give it back, and say that I didn't deserve it, but the guy with the medallions was talking to someone, and as I was waiting, I decided to keep it for one reason...
You see, I already had it in my head that I was going to properly return the hat back to the military somehow, and now, however I was gonna do that, I was gonna include the medallion with it. If I were in Canada, I would be driving it across country to lay the two on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but this is all about the USA Military in the USA, so I just had to figure out a similar kind of path for returning this hat to the proper place for the respect I feel it deserves, and then include this medallion with it.
(**Post edit - April 4th... I just learned last night that the USA also has a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier up in Arlington. As soon as I saw that, it just seemed obvious. They're pretty serious too...don't mess with those guards, or disrespect the tomb or its rules. Never ceases to amaze me some of the ignorant people out there who think they can do whatever they want. Now that I am aware of the Tomb, I'd like to roll by there someday when we are going up or down the coast.)
Even though I felt like a total fraud for the applause and the medallion, returning it properly, and respectfully felt like the right way to go, so I kept the medallion instead of turning it in...and then I went and got an official photo with the two because I wanted to stick that in there too.
I had Michelle in my head nodding in approval of the right way to proceed.
It's several days later, and I still haven't figured out how I am gonna do this, but I'll get it sorted. I still have to buy the photos and get one printed anyway, but I've been on the road grinding 'er out and cleaning up beaches and roadways (and a Ranger Station in the Everglades) since the race on the weekend, so I haven't had the time. I'll figure it out though.
Picking up garbage near St. Petersburg, FL | Music: "Waiting for Spring" by Fat Cats
Picked up some more garbage on the side of the roadway...
Shot some ball and picked up some garbage in Avon Park, FL...
I didn't care about the DQ. I enjoyed my Friday/Saturday of racing at the Homestead-Miami Clash 5km Run & Triathlon. Hopefully I will be back.
**This post would have been much better if they had let me use the photos I bought from them of me carrying the hat around the track, and through the finishing chute.
**As a post-edit. I did find the perfect way to return the hat respectfully to the military through the Race Director, Chris, at The Kings Triathlon in Kingsland, Georgia two weeks later.