Unedited long story I wrote about a race from 15 years ago that inspired a lot of people, and made them laugh. (I swam head first into a kayak...it was pretty good.)
During the winter and early spring I had a real tough time training for the upcoming race season. Since the end of last summer I had been planning on opening my season at Wasa Lake with an Olympic distance race. Apparently time really flew by because the race totally snuck up on me. When I looked at the timing of it all when I registered for the race I didn’t think I was ready for the long course, so I registered for the Sprint distance.
I was having a lot of issues in the pool, and the problems I was having surrounding everything to do with my bike were seemingly monumental. I didn’t even get a bike until the very end of April, but I had to return it and get a new one with a shorter top tube. Once I had my bike I was barely able to ride it for what seemed like forever. I had some bad issues in my whole rib-cage and back that put off training for about 10 days. I have also had some bad things going on in my waist and hips area. The worst of it being the sitting bones in my butt. They are still killing me now. It makes it very difficult to sit because it hurts so much. I had to put 2 gel-filled seat covers on my seat…and it still is a pain in the ass—very literally. (giggle, giggle)
Around 3 weeks before the race I got my swim up in the pool…Sweeeeeeeeet! All I have to really do is get through the swim and land will never stop me. Even with that thought in mind I still had a few reservations about the Olympic distance. Through the month of May I had only been able to get on my bike for 3 chinsy rides. I did two 4km rides and one 8km ride. That was it….Which was terrible…Gutting out a 40km ride with a 10km run to follow when I only had legs like that could be a bad call, and screw me up for a good portion of my season…I signed up for the Sprint.
Only 10 days before the race I went for somewhat of a real ride—I did the 22km loop that is used for the Nelson race. My legs didn’t feel too bad so I did about a 28km ride the next day. With only 7 days before the race I e-mailed the race director to see if it was OK for me to upgrade to the Olympic distance. I hoped I wasn’t too late for that. I phoned him the next day to follow up about it.
The race director (Charlie) was cool with it. While I was on the phone with him I told him about my situation. At first I heard his voice drop a bit on the phone…I gave him my take on my whole scene. He was OK by the end of the conversation. I told him I would e-mail him a newspaper article and parts of my training journal on Tuesday. When he got the stuff from me he e-mailed me back and said he was looking forward to meeting me (I did tell him on the phone that there was no way he would be able to miss me out on the course.).
So there it was…I committed myself to the Olympic race…the longest I have yet to do (sanctioned or not—even doing our long course last year it isn’t Olympic ‘cause the swim is about 600 metres too short, but the bike is 4km longer). I was psyched to be uppin’ the ante, but it still seemed distant and kinda surreal for the last 5 days leading up to the race.
I had to pick up my wet suit from Tracey on Tuesday. She wasn’t home ‘cause I was casual in getting there (that can just happen by accident quite often when it’s for a casual thing…I just have a super casual nature—sweeeeeeeet), but she left it out on her deck. I saw it there, and then rang the doorbell. Her daughter (Avery) came out and asked me if I was Steve, and was there for the wetsuit. I said “yeah.” She told me her mom told me just to take it. I asked her how much I owed, and her daughter said nothing. “What? Really?” Her daughter started laughing ‘cause she saw how psyched I was. She said “Yup.” “Yeaaaaaaaah…Niiiiiiice!” I kind of figured that Tracey kickin’ down like that was her way of sponsoring me. (She even tore out and stuck the article the Pennywise just ran about me looking for sponsorship. Tracey put it in a scrapbook. She told me she would have it to say she knows me when I get famous for doing what I do through all this stuff.)
During the final week leading up to the race I started making a list of all the stuff I needed to take with me for the race. It seemed a bit surreal getting my head all wrapped around what to pack, etc. I was psyched though. It felt good to be back at that again.
I read the e-mail of last details…”MOUNTAIN TIME” it said. When I first read that I thought Mountain Time meant everything was casual like “Kootenay Time” or “Island Time,” then, of course there’s me who puts Island Time and Kootenay time together then takes it two steps further (Niiiice). I only figured it out the day before I had to leave that Mountain Time meant Alberta Time—an hour ahead of me…Riiiiiiight…I laughed about that one.
I had my truck totally packed the night before so I could just get up and go. I do that with each race I do so I don’t have to think in the morning. It is also a great way for focus to flood inside of me.
I went to bed around 3:00am and woke up at 6:00am. I had to get an early start because I had some chores to do in town before I went up the lake to catch the 9:50 ferry—that lost hour made things a bit hectic when compared with the ferry schedule.
I stopped in Creston to see Chad. I hung out there for about 1½ hours. I was sooo tired that I almost passed out sitting up while I was talking with him. He said I could take a siesta, but I said I couldn’t because I had to get to Cranbrook at a certain time for the pre-race meeting and kit pick-up. Chad was a bit bummed in a way because he wanted to come see me race, but only 2 days earlier had just booked a flight to go back to Ontario to see his sister he hasn’t seen for over 15 years (crazy stuff)...I had to go, so said my good-bye and hit the road. I was so tired that about an hour before I got to Cranbrook I was starting to wonder if it was safe for me to still be driving…I had no choice though because I had to get there.
Like usual, the drive kicked the crap outta me…especially since sitting has been killing me lately. Sitting in a car always kills my ass. Using the gas and brake pedals whup the hell outta me. They really hurt my knee, and my Achilles tendon. (Shit man, do I ever need my own personal driver—giggle, giggle). When I got to the Prestige I had a terrible limp as I expected I would. I think that’s when it finally hit me that I was doin’ a triathlon again though. The end of last year’s season seemed like yesterday. I always get sad when race time is over because I have to wait so long to do it again…well, that was all washed away when I got out of my truck in the parking lot, and saw all the kind bikes on the racks on peoples cars and stuff.
I hobbled into the hotel signed in, and picked up my kit. I went back to my truck to drop it off so I wouldn’t have to carry it around. Then I went for a walk to literally “walk off” a lot of the pain I had from sitting. (The figurative sayings of ‘pain in the ass’ and ‘walk it off’ are very literal for me—giggle, giggle). When I came back from my walk I saw Tracey when I was goin’ into the hotel. She kicks ass. I immediately thanked her for kickin’ down the free wetsuit stitch job. Then she asked me if I saw anyone else from Nelson. I told her I saw one guy that I have seen at the pool for the past 8 years, but who I don’t know (just one of the Nelson pool faces). She asked me what his name was. I didn’t have a clue. Then she asked me if I saw anybody else. I said no ‘cause I don’t really know too many people who do triathlons. None of my friends do, and even though I am in the triathlon club, I still haven’t met anyone in it because I do all my training completely by myself. My body is way too messed up to fit a training session with anybody else, whether that means in actual training or with reliability of me committing to a planned training session. I don’t like committing to anybody else’ schedules for much of anything. That isn’t a personal thing, it’s just that what might sound good today, when the time comes my body might feel like a total bag of crap, and whatever the commitment is might be the last thing I want to do in that moment. There have been quite a few people who have asked me to train with them, but I usually decline for those purposes. Some of the reason why people want to train with other people is for the motivation for the times when they’re not completely up for it. That doesn’t happen for me. All the motivation I need is to look in my mind, or within my body, and think about all the pain I have been through, all the years I have spent bed-ridden, or on a cane, etc. That is all it takes for me to find the fire. Yeah, of course there are times that I cave in, but it is in extreme circumstances. For the most part, aside from being a total athletic junkie, my pain is what actually gives me the strength and inspires me to go hard. There is still a lot that it keeps me from doing, but I will charge what I can whenever it’s at all a remote possibility because I never know when I am gonna wake up unable to move. That can happen in the blink of an eye for any number of reasons—as simple as inhaling at the wrong time when I am in the wrong position….
Whoa—I went off there…
Anyway, Tracey still had to go get her kit so I said I would see her in the meeting. I stood out in the hall way for a bit reading the maps over and over and over. Each race I have done has always been clearly marked, and you don’t really need to read the maps too well, but I like to anyway. It makes for the possibility of fewer mistakes, and also turns up my mental preparation. I have developed a pattern where the pre-race meeting on the day before the race seems to turn on a focus button within me. From that moment on there is nothing else on my mind. When I leave the meeting I don’t want to see or speak with anyone else. I usually just want to be by myself until the race is done. It is all focus. I think triathlon, I breathe triathlon, I eat triathlon, I sleep triathlon, I BECOME 100% TRIATHLON! There is nothing else, only triathlon. Woven within it all, of course, is my journey of pain, and the fact that I am about to do a triathlon. I don’t want anything to take me out of that zone. The only place where I stray from that is another small ritual I have developed, which is to go see a movie (except for the Nelson race when I get to be at home). I only soak in maybe ½ of the movie anyway because I am too focused in my mind. The movie seems to just be a way to kill a bit of time before it is time to crash out for the night. When I walk out of the theatre it’s all business again.
The race meeting seemed more organized than the other few ones I have been to in the past (I am starting to see how casual our Nelson race really is). One thing I thought right away while he was talking was that the race director (Charlie) seemed like a pretty good guy…I wanted the meeting to be over sooner than it was because I was getting real sore from sitting again. When the race meeting finished it was time for the dinner banquet. I met some real nice people there from Missoula Montana…They got married in Nelson last summer…
After I was done my dinner I was leaving for my truck. I walked back past the registration room. I saw Charlie, and the assistant race director in there (Kevin). I walked in and introduced myself. I told Charlie I was the guy he spoke on the phone with who would be trying not to collapse on the run and all that stuff. I wanted to put a face to that conversation for him so he would know who I was, and could inform medical staff, etc. about my situation, and that I was ok. He was glad to meet me. After I shook his hand, I looked at Kevin and he had a smile on his face and said he remembered me from Nelson as he was reaching his hand out to shake mine. I talked with him for a bit as well, and gave him one of my cards I just got made. They said there was a pre-race medical staff meeting in the morning, and they would tell everyone about me and regardless of what they see, I am really OK... Both of them seemed like the nicest guys ever. Sweet—nice people kick ass! With that I took off to go find a grocery store to get a bit of food for the morning. From there I sniffed out the movie theatre.
After the movie I had to go find the race site in Wasa Lake (wherever that was). There was still plenty of daylight though, so it was all good. I found my way up there easily. I drove up around the east side of the lake. I just wanted to get a tiny feel for some of the intricacies of it all. I wanted to find where the parking was, and then finally I wanted to go to the transition area to see it all first hand. When I got to the transition area it was just starting to get dark. It seemed a bit of a nasty night. It was very cloudy, cool, threatening of rain, and real freakin’ windy. If it was windy like that in the morning for the swim I was gonna be fuckin’ horrified. There were no doubts about that one.
There were two people still there doing some last minute set-up stuff. I spoke with them for a bit just before they were gonna crash out for the night. Both of them were the nicest people ever too. The guy had a big mustache and a really amazingly kind smile that seemed to make him totally glow whenever he had it on his face. Even when he wasn’t smiling, he still radiated a deeply kind demeanor. I couldn’t help but to notice it, he gave me no choice. (He sorta reminded me of the head villain guy Arnold Schwartzeneggar had to whup down in the movie Commando [why can I remember shit like that but not people’s names???], except with that deeply kind demeanor thing…I would get that guy to play him in the movie of my life…giggle, giggle) While I was talking with them I asked them if they were gonna be there for the race tomorrow. They said, “Of course.” So I told them about my scene as well—I want as many course volunteers to know as possible so I have fewer questions to answer when I am out on course so I can use that energy to stay upright.
The woman and I had a difference of opinion when it came to the run. When I told her how epic it was, and that I fight just not to collapse with every step she told me I should walk. I said there was no way I would do that. “I would go faster and it would hurt less if I walked, but walking is not trying, and that’s not good enough for me. I wouldn’t do the race if I wasn’t going to go as hard as I could…There is just no sense in that.” She totally disagreed. She told me she never could have finished an Ironman if she didn’t walk, and in walking she beat other people. I told her I couldn’t care less about beating other people, that wasn’t at all why I did it, I was there to give it my all or nothing, and in doing that I had already won no matter what the outcome of my result was…In 2005 during the Nelson sprint race I finished about 1 hour and 15 minutes slower than the second last place person, and about 2 hours and 40 minutes slower than the winner, yet I was the who received the thunderous standing ovation with people coming up to me in tears giving me hugs because they had never seen anything like it before…I lost the race, but I won the glory…That race became instant legend for all those who were a part of it (racers, volunteers, and spectators). I don’t care how long a race takes, or how much it hurts me, I only care about givin’ ‘er, and as I have consistently shown time and time and time again over the years, land will never stop me; so as far as triathlon is concerned, as long as I get through the swim, the rest is no problem in the sense of me getting through it. I don’t pay attention to how long it takes, or anybody else in the race, I just focus on doing it…Results are the furthest thing from my mind.
I talked with the volunteers for a bit more (I wished I remembered their names as well). It was closing in on 11:00, so they had to get to bed, and I guess I did as well. They were set up with a camper right in the transition area…sweet gig for them. I soaked up the energy of the empty transition area for a few more moments, and then hobbled back to my truck.
(An empty transition area feels the same to me as walking onto an empty football [soccer] pitch or empty tennis court in the early morning, and an empty basketball court or empty hockey rink with most of the lights turned off so you just see the main silhouette of either surface…That’s when a wave of energy washes over me and I feel the true essence of the sport in all its purity touch every fibre of my everything. It’s as if the spirit of the sport’s entire history in all its glory, hardships, and all the emotions in between become a part of me, and I then become a part of them. I can hear, and see the ghosts of its past, and imagine its future. It’s when I really get to touch the true spirit of the sport in all its beauty. It is a truly magikal time, and I could spend hours upon hours just walking around in circles, standing still, and sitting just soaking it all up…That is a lot of the reason why I am usually one of the first 2 people on site in the transition area before a race.)
When I got back to my truck I had to search out an isolated place to camp for the night. It wasn’t hard to do and didn’t take me long to do. I parked my truck, got organized then went to sleep. I planned on getting up just before 4:00am so I had enough time to get organized in the morning, then get to the transition area sometime between 5:00 and 5:30am. The one thing I was bummed about was that I didn’t bring my dijeridoo with me. I usually play it before I go to sleep the night before a race, and first thing in the morning before I leave for the race. I had it ready to pack to bring with me, but I held off this time just because of the threat of rain…Bad call…Bummer…Lesson learned!
Of course I barely slept that night. I had no problem falling asleep because of how thoroughly exhausted I was, but as usual I woke up several times over the next bunch of hours. I probably ended up with about 3 hours sleep. Like usual, my back was freakin’ killing me. It’s a good thing that I am a seasoned veteran at this pain-and-no-sleep-exhaustion thing, because that just turns what would be a freakin’ nightmare for most into nothing out of the ordinary for me...The sleepless pain was nothing to me. I knew it wouldn’t affect me at all until later in the day, probably on the drive home. Adrenaline is a heavy drug for me, and it is what gets me through a lot of crazy situations. Add momentum to that and I can seemingly pull off the impossible through other people’s eyes. “Take one for the team” might as well be one of my motto’s because I sure do it a lot, although my “team” is me!
I was in the parking lot at about 5:00am. I got a bit organized but I didn’t worry about that too much at that point. The only thing I really thought about was grabbing my bike, and my pouch with the two crystals and mixture of Okanagan sage and the Native tobacco I grew that I am going to bring to every race I do this year, then give to Lilli for her birthday next year. When I got that stuff I closed up my truck and walked down to the transition area. It was about 5:20am.
On my walk there I was chanting, “Ali Buma Ye!” again which always gets me psyched right up. “Ali Buma Ye” has become sort of a psych-up tradition I started before the 2005 epic Nelson race (The chant of the people from Zaire for Muhammad Ali’s “Rumble in the Jungle” fight with George Foreman—“Ali kill him!”). That chant has become woven in with the races I do…That, and Lance’s, “No Chain!”
Anyway, there was only one other guy in the parking lot, who also went down at the same time as me. I racked my bike in my usual spot for first come first serve races—closest to the bike exit, and on the end beside the fence so I would have more room for me and my stuff when in transition.
After I racked my bike I casually walked down to the swim area, while soaking up the atmosphere like I just talked about. Before I got to the beach I straightened out the carpets that got blown around a bit from the wind the night before. I was glad it was a calm morning. Standing at the water’s edge by myself was a very special time. I grabbed the two crystals and held them in my hands together as I started to give thanks for being there in that moment. I was thankful for everyone involved in the race. I gave thanks to the sport of triathlon as well. If it wasn’t for either I wouldn’t be able to live my dream in that way. I thought about everything I have been through—all the severe pain in my entire body for almost 14 years, all the years I had spent bed-ridden, on a cane, having to crawl because I couldn’t walk, collapsing from simply inhaling, coughing, or sneezing. Although this isn’t why I do it, I also felt a sense of this being another chance for me to get back at it all and even though the pain during the race was gonna kick my ass, I was definitely gonna kick its ass harder. I also got filled with a sense of thanks for all the pain I have been through, and was gonna go through during the race because I knew it was giving me an opportunity to affect change in hundreds of lives once again. It is in that way that I really feel blessed for my pain, and feel like I am walking my true path with each race I do because it seems to be my way of making the world a better place for many more than just myself. That’s why have started to feel like it’s my responsibility to do as many races as I can do because crazy things happen for others whenever I do. There’s no ego in that statement, it’s just a reoccurring pattern that can’t be missed. It feels good inside. At the same time though, I am doing the races for myself, or at least that’s why I got into them. I just love it. Many who refuse to understand always fight me on the subject of why I do it. I just tell them to come down and see why I do it, and to see what happens all around me when I do—bigger things are happening than just me.
Anyway, when I was done with my time of silence, reflection and thanks, I took out the little pouch of the sage and tobacco mixture, grabbed a pinch of it then gave an offering of thanks and gratitude to the earth, the lake, and everyone involved in the race. After I did that I knelt down and wrote Lilli’s name in the wet sand with the longer of the two crystals, then held both of them in the water as I felt the essence of the water’s energy, and gave a little more thanks….If anyone reads this, they might see that triathlon is much more than just a race, or fun or anything like that to me. Although they are all those things, they are a very spiritual and healing thing for me as well. That’s why they set me free from my pain even though they make my pain worse and are literally taking time off my life, and sending me into an earlier grave.
When I finally emerged back from the beach start area the transition area was more lively. If it wasn’t already, it was definitely game time now. I went to where my bike was, and as always, I was now racked with all the zillion dollar super-star bikes. I guess there was a guy in the race who took 3rd place in last year’s Ironman Canada (I think that’s what Charlie said at the race meeting), and was trying to see if his bike would fit in the last spot beside mine. He was debating it with one of his bros. I looked at them both and started laughin’, then I said, “You guys aren’t gonna have to worry ‘bout me man.” I told them they would be long gone out on the bike by the time I got out of the swim, and that the chances were that they would be done the race by the time I got back from the bike. They were smilin’ and laughin’ at me. “This race is gonna kick the shit outta me boys!” They laughed more. I told them I was whupped down, and they would see what I meant when the race was on, especially during the stagger (Oops…I mean, the run.). They were both psyched that I actually take the race on regardless. I said, “Have fun” as I took off to go back to my truck to get the rest of my gear.
On my walk back to my truck I saw a guy in a wheelchair rollin’ down towards the transition area. I looked at his legs and saw that they were markered up with his race numbers. I was gonna go find him before the race started ‘cause I wanted to talk with him. He was the first wheelchair guy I have actually seen at a race instead of just in magazines and stuff. I was psyched…I thought about that in my mind, and thought about myself as well, and what I’m starting to lean towards in regards with what I wanna start doing with all this triathlon stuff (Really diving in and creating things aimed towards adversity transcending triathletes—whatever that meant…I’m still figuring that out, but because of all the reactions I keep getting within the racing I do I want to try to bottle that up and bring to the world somehow.).
So I got to my truck and got all my stuff organized. I grabbed it and headed back to my bike. I was still limping as I walked. I came to the reality that that wasn’t going to clear up before the race; and once the race was on, it was only gonna get worse. When I got to my bike I saw Tracey rollin’ in with her bike. She said hello, then asked me where my bike was. I told her, “right here.” “Whoa…that’s a sweet spot. How did you get that?” “I was here just after 5:00am.” Well, that blew her mind. Then she kept rollin’ along to get herself set up…I dumped off my two bags then went to go get my body markings. When I was done with that I went to go to the bathroom for one last time. Before I got out of the transition area I saw Kevin again. He had a big smile on his face, and stuck his hand out again to shake mine while saying hello.
(With his smile aside, kind of like the volunteer guy from the night before, he just seemed to radiate a super kind energy reiterating to me that he is the nicest guy ever…In my mind I kept telling myself how much it kicked ass that this race was being run by such kind people…My journey in life seems to keep bringing me to such people, and with each one that comes into my life I feel more and more blessed…How lucky am I?)
He told me that there was a medic volunteer meeting over in the tents at 8:00. He said he was going to inform them of my scene and all that stuff, and that it might be a good idea for me to go over there to introduce myself, say hello, and put a face to the person he was talking about. That was at about 7:15. I said, “Sweet. Thanks.” Then I shook his hand and took off to go to the bathroom. There was a huge line-up for the port-a-shitter’s just outside the transition area and I didn’t feel like standing in them. I decided to go for a walk to the day park area and just use the bathroom in the building there. First I stopped off at my truck to get rid of some of the layers of clothes I had on that I no longer needed.
When I got back to my bike and gear it was about 7:40. That put my mind in a bit of a crunch to get all suited up. I saw Tracey again and asked her if she could do me a favour. She cut me off and said, “Do your wetsuit up for you?” When she said that, a light bulb flashed in my head, and I said, “Sure, but that wasn’t what I was gonna ask you.” She started to laugh. I asked her if she could take a photo of me with my wetsuit and all my tensors and braces on for my records. She said, “Of course.”
Like when I am at the pool, wrapping myself up with all my braces, tape and stuff drew me deeper into a heavy focus. I LOVE THAT! I was kinda psyched that Tracey was there while I put on my wetsuit for the first time since she fixed it again (I cut the legs off to just above my knees because I struggled too much taking it off which always ended up in me ripping out the crotch over and over…I also didn’t think I needed my shins and calves covered. My main concern is my trunk. Just like in the cold of late-fall through early-spring it is my trunk I focus on keeping warm, not my arms and legs—they can take a lot bigger temperature swings…When I got my suit on I had forgotten how much it closed off my breathing because of the tightness of it on my chest…”Oh well, I’ve gotten ‘er done so far, no reason why I can’t do it again.” (It does make me want to drop a bit more weight though…But I don’t have much more to drop, especially since I have gained more muscle mass up top in my body this year—chest, arms, back)
Tracey was with another girl from Nelson. I don’t have a clue what her name is. Of course she told me, and so did Tracey, but I might’ve remembered that for maybe 2 or 3 seconds—I really wish I wasn’t so terrible at remembering people’s names. If I had to guess, her name is Leslie, but I highly doubt it, and if it is…I should probably get a prize (Giggle, giggle). Anyway, I asked her if she would take a photo of Tracey and I together. I told Tracey I would post her on my myspace page as one of my sponsors—“My wetsuit doctor.” Once the two photos were taken we went our separate ways.
I went to search out the medic tent. When I got there it looked like the medic meeting was over as I didn’t see a group of anyone together, so I walked over to the tent with the Red Cross on it. I saw a man standing there with a Red Cross vest on who I thought looked like he might be the main guy in charge. He reminded me of Papa Fresch (Jami’s dad). He had the same sort of frame, hair, and a fatty black mustache. His name was Bruce. He also was a super kind person with a kick-ass smile, and warm demeanor. I thought to myself, “This place fuckin’ kick’s ultimate ass! ULTIMATE ASS” (Giggle, giggle)
Charlie was giving the pre-race last minute instructions, etc., while I was talking with Bruce. I thought about stopping to listen to Charlie, but I studied the maps quite thoroughly and listened intently during the meeting yesterday, and also figured it would be easy enough to get through (clearly marked, and volunteers in the necessary places), so I just talked with Mr. Medic Guy instead (giggle, giggle). I introduced myself to him, and handed him one of my cards. Then I started to tell him a bit about me, and what was gonna unfold during the race. Like always, he had small glimpse of concern when I first started talking with him; but by the end I had it all smoothed out. Other than reassuring him that everything would be OK and if it wasn’t I would be the first one to pull me off the course, the main thing I wanted to get across was that I was OK, but when the race is on I don’t have the energy to always be answering questions from doctors, volunteers, etc., about how I am because I need that energy just to stand up. Bruce was totally cool with it all, and thanked me for coming to talk with him then he shook my hand.
After I spoke with the medical people, my only other focus before the race was to find the wheelchair guy. It wasn’t hard to do. He was in the corner nearest to the beach on the same side of the transition area as I was. As soon as I locked onto where he was I B-lined it straight for him. He had a small crew of friends with him. I just looked at him and waited for a hole in the conversation so I could jump in for a second before I went to the beach.
I introduced myself and stuck out my hand to shake his. The first thing I said to him was, “I’m not like you, but I’m totally like you.” I told him a bit about myself, and said I was trying to get something together for adversity transcending athletes. I asked him if he was gonna be around after the race. He said he wouldn’t be hard to find because he would be laid out on the pavement somewhere. I said, “Sweet.” I told him I would probably be last in the race, but there was no way he would be able to miss me. I told him I was gonna come look for him after the race. We shook hands and I took off for the beach….He seemed like the nicest person ever too (This race seemed to be packed with them…Sweeeeeeeeeeet!).
I was standing off to the side of the entrance/exit bottleneck while everybody walked through the gate, over the timing mats, and down to the sand. I stood there for a bit stuffing my ear plugs in my head. One guy said with a smile, “Houston…Come in…” I merged into the crowd and made my way to the beach. Most everybody was going in the water for a warm-up swim. I thought about that for a few seconds. I wanted to do it in my mind, but the water and air combination was waaay too fuckin’ cold for that. I just couldn’t get in the water, then come out and wait through the final instructions, the national anthem, and then the start. That would have tensed my body up too much and caused a possible chain-reaction of devastatingly painful consequences. That could have made me collapse right there on the beach, and there was no way I was gonna let that happen if I didn’t have to. So I skipped a warm up as some preventative maintenance medicine for myself. I would just let my body warm up naturally during the first stages of the swim. So I just stood there on the sand watching everybody swim, and come out of the water shaking like crazy because they were all freezing. For not going into the water I thought to myself, “Good call!” While I was standing there one woman said to me, “Whoa…That’s a thin wetsuit.” I said, “Really? It’s worked so far.” She just smiled. I never really thought it was thin though after seeing other people’s suits over the years…
So after we all sang and applauded the national anthem, it was time. Everybody charged in. Me…I just walked. Although I do feel it is a big part of the fairy-tale romance of the swim leg of a triathlon, I didn’t feel like getting kicked and punched today. I was instantly freezing in the water. I LOVE to swim but I HATE being cold. I freakin’ hate it. Aside from my personality of being a hot things kind of person, the cold wreaks havoc on my body. I would waaaaay rather be so stinking overwhelmingly hot than 1 degree too cold. My body isn’t built for cold. Oh well, too bad…I live in Canada, I love it, and it’s the place I wanna be; and that means I’m gonna have cold permeate my life a lot…especially when I am swimming in lakes in the mountains—wetsuit or not!
Maybe 100 metres into the swim my body was doing some crazy things within my rib-cage. They weren’t good things by any stretch of the thought. The cold was fuckin’ me up! There’s no other way to put it. I mean, Kootenay Lake is freakin’ freezing too, but by the time our race rolls around I’ve bin hardened off by it somewhat. This wasn’t the case here…I have only been used to our pool at the Aquatic Centre, and the 96-98 degree pool at my spa. Let me tell you about A BIG FUCKIN’ SWING IN TEMPERATURE! H-O-L-Y SHIIIIIT!!! (giggle, giggle)
When I felt all the chaos starting to swirl in my body it triggered an uneasy response in me. I thought to myself, “Uh-oh, what did I get myself into committing to this Olympic Distance race? Was I heading for trouble and be unable to finish it?” I looked out of the water at how far I had to go just to finish the first of 2 laps. Daaaamn… Then I wiped all that away by going into the mind of my past. The slate washed clear…”FUCK THAT! I’VE KICKED-ASS THROUGH WAAAY WORSE SO STOP BEING A BABY AND SUCK IT UP!” (I can get real hard on myself like that…maybe too hard a lot of the time, but it helps me to charge through what I shouldn’t be able to otherwise. I curse myself out a lot when I feel like I am chinsin’ out even just slightly.)
I couldn’t let myself focus on anything but whuppin’ ass, ‘cause if I did, that’s when the possibility of trouble would get an opportunity to sneak in. That was unacceptable and I was having none of it! So, even though I was freezing in a lake…with a wetsuit squashing my lungs…while I was doing a race, I just brought myself back to swimming in the pool in Nelson. I forgot about everything else. All I did was focus about 85% of my energy on getting air into my lungs, and the other 15% on my stroke. Those were the only two things that were of any concern—not the cold, not the race, not anything! It didn’t take me long to start flowing after that. Like I just said, what I had to do was entirely forget about the race, and just bring myself back to doing laps in the pool by myself, for myself. That was the only way I was gonna survive; so that is what I did. It was nice to get into a groove after I got all that stuff sorted out in my mind. It all enabled me to become one with the water.
I was digging in and goin’ smoothly. I was psyched. After a bit I realized I couldn’t see kicking feet and bubbles in front of me anywhere, and I thought, “Where in the hell did everybody go?” I got the feeling that I should take a look, so I stopped swimming to get upright so I could get my head above water and see (I can’t lift my head when in motion, so I have to come to a stop and put my body in a vertical/upright position to get my head out of the water). When I had my head up out of the water my question got answered quite quickly…”Oh…there they are!” Everybody was far to my right. I was waaaaaay off course to the left. I just laughed and got back at it. I was a bit surprised though that the course people in the boats (canoes and kayaks) would let me get that far out and off course without telling me. There are way more people in boats, and even surfboards in Nelson, and they are all over it when you stray from course. That was a big difference I noticed. Then again, what do I know, I couldn’t really lift my head up to see, and when I did there was a good chance I would get a bit of foggy vision, or minor hallucinations. There could have been a zillion boats and I just couldn’t see them. What I mostly see is just what is inside my mind. I don’t really like when I have to take a look at where I’m going because that ruins my flow, and jolts some of the focus in my mind. I feel like I scramble to get back to swimming after I look because I feel more cocoon-like when I have my head in the water. I also feel more calm and at peace that way. Then I get to see what’s in my mind, which is what fuel’s my fire…
The swim course was 2 laps that went clockwise. That completely worked against me. I can’t turn my head to the right, so that meant I was blind in the water. I didn’t have a clue where I was. I was all over the freakin’ place, just ziggin’ and zaggin’ like a Mo-Fo (Giggle, giggle). I felt like I was a sail boat tacking back-and-forth to go in a straight line. It was a good thing I didn’t really care or else I guess I would have been horrified. The only thing it really meant was that I had a lot more swimming ahead of me than just the 1500 metres. The distance was no problem for me ‘cause I knew I could consistently whup down 2.5km in the pool without any real problems I couldn’t handle. The only question mark was whether or not the cold was going to catch up with me (Which it was doing already). “Oh well, nothing I can do about it now but dig in and give ‘er.”
I didn’t really think about all that. I moved on from it quite quickly. I was all over the plus side of things, which was this…I was in open water! No getting kicked or punched. I was in my own lake goin’ for a nice long swim…Niiiiice…I love swimming! I was happy to have my own lake.
I finally zig-zagged my way to the 2nd buoy-marker which was the first turn. When I rounded that corner I tried to be more conscious of where I was and lined myself up to go in a straight line to the next buoy. Well, I guess I failed at that because a green canoe appeared this time with two girls in it. They told me I was going the wrong way. “Oh, thanks.” I giggled, and kept going. I heard them laugh too.
I was a bit better with my aim going to the next one but I still kept straying to the left again. It was a bit frustrating, but there wasn’t much I could do about it, or else I would have. It felt good to get around the next marker. It made me feel sorta like I was on the home-stretch of the first lap—even though I had quite a bit of distance to cover. When I did make that corner I saw that I actually caught up to someone. It didn’t take me long to start swimming the wrong way again, and I was back off by myself in the abyss.
Towards the end of the first lap I felt my right tricep pull. “Bummer!” I kept going. It was gonna take A LOT more than just a muscle pull to stop me—my muscles are pulled all the time and I have muscle spasms all over my body every day…All that stuff is normal to me—no big deal at all.
Just as I was approaching the end of the first lap I noticed that the front runners were startin’ to whip past me, as in…I was getting lapped by the ass-kicking swimmers. When I got to my feet in the water I didn’t even consider trying to run the beach part for even a second. I ALWAYS come outta the water limping whether during a race or just in the pool, and it doesn’t matter if it’s from a short swim or a long one. On top of limping I am also a bit light-headed, and somewhat unstable. Running is the last thing on my mind. Despite it all, I had a fat smile on my face like usual ‘cause I was havin’ fun. When I was on the beach I heard someone say, “Great first lap Steve.” Because of all the chaos of all the swimmers from the first leg comin’ outta the water I couldn’t tell who it was, but there were only a few people who it could have been. In hindsight I’m gonna assume it was the kindest-ever volunteer guy from the night before…Sweet…He kicks ass!
I had to pull my goggles up when I was up on the beach because I couldn’t see. I put ‘em back on when I was back in the water. I started swimming the second lap. I told myself to try to be more conscious of where I was for the second lap. The first time I looked up to see where I was I couldn’t see a thing, I mean not a thing. I had to pull my goggles up to take a look while I was swimming. I put them on and they filled up about ¼ full with water, and I instantly went blind in the water. I could hardly see a thing when I tried to look where I was going from that point on. It was also right around then that I was starting to get hallucinations and some foggy vision from the pain in my neck. When that starts happening my minor blackouts usually aren’t far behind…The sun also started coming out as well. When the sun hit my goggles with every breath I took I saw a big orange dot in my left eye, and that was on top of the hallucinations I was already having. Add into the mix that I was already blind on the course because I can’t turn my head to the right while swimming a clockwise course and you might figure out how fucked I really was (Giggle, giggle). As is my nature I of course took it all in stride though—it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t.
Just after I adjusted my goggles in the water at the start of the second lap my pulled right tricep went totally berserk! Every stroke with my right arm caused an electric surge of painful energy from my tricep down through my elbow, and up into my shoulder. It fuckin’ killed! If that wasn’t enough, my left tricep started going too. Daaaaaaaamn…
So…There I was, my ribs felt like they caved in from the pain caused from the cold, I was having hallucinations and foggy vision from the pain in my neck and skull, I was blind on course from not being able to turn my head to the right, I was also blind from water in my goggles, I was having extra hallucinations from the sun hitting the water in my goggles, and my arms were gone from my blown-out triceps; and I still had almost the whole second lap to go; plus, because of my ziggin’ and zaggin’ I was swimming waaay further than I needed to…MUTHA—FUKA!!! (Giggle, giggle) That would force pretty-much everyone out of the water. It was lucky for me though that I am not everyone…I am me. It’s times like that that actually inspire me to charge even harder. Sometimes the worse I hurt, and more beat up I am, the stronger I become in a much more powerful way…The kind of way that moves mountains and turns them into rubble when they stand in your way of what you really want! BRING THAT SHIT ON!!!
I used every piece of pain as an asset tool to help me whup the shit outta this swim in my own way. Fuck the clock! Fuck the water! Fuck the cold! Fuck my pain! Fuck the race! Fuck it all! It was time to transcend beyond this realm. It was time to dissolve myself into everything and just become one with everything. Nothing could stop me because I became every obstacle that was in my way. When water was in my way I just became the water. The pain couldn’t hurt me because I became the pain. The cold couldn’t touch me because I became the cold. Every obstacle in my way didn’t stand a freakin’ chance!
Once in that state of transcendence it all became effortless. And, for me, an effortless state of transcendence is always the path to bliss in its ultimate purity. It’s what life’s all about. This is the place where I am comin’ from when I say that even though it kills me, triathlon frees me from my pain in a much higher, more relevant and deeper way! Mixed together, my pain and triathlon become the vehicle that lets me touch the true beauty of life that so many strive for yet never find. This is why I love the world of triathlon (All the racers, organizers, volunteers, host towns/cities, magazines, books, and every aspect of every piece of equipment for the sport—bikes, shoes, goggles, sport drinks, wetsuits, timing chips, etc., etc., etc.). In a world of excruciating pain during every second of every day it has set me free. I owe it so much!
Even though I hit the state where I didn’t even have to do anymore swimming because it was taking care of itself for me, there were some moments of comedy thrown in for sure. I was hallucinating the orange dots before I even hit the first orange buoy. I kept thinking I was swimming on the inside of them because I kept seeing them to my left. It was making me laugh. I swear the sun was just fuckin’ with me maaan…”You bastard!” (Giggle, giggle). I finally got myself to the second marker and went a bit past it to go around it. Once I thought I was around it I changed my direction somewhat and started givin’ ‘er. Almost instantly I cracked my head on something. Before I got my head out of the water to look up I thought to myself, “What the fuck do they tie these fuckin’ buoys up with?” Then I lifted my head and saw a freakin’ kayak! I slammed square into that thing head first. It was perfect timing in my stroke that neither of my arms hit it. I just rammed the damn thing with my coconut. (Giggle, giggle) When I looked up I just saw the blue boat with a guy kinda laughing as he said, “You’re goin’ the wrong way buddy.” It turned out I wasn’t at the second marker at all, I was only at the first one. I totally started laughing right then and there with my head out of the water, and I simply said, “Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!” Me and him were both fuckin’ roaring with laughter. I didn’t give a shit at all. It was too funny to get bummed at. It did make the swim to the next buoy real difficult though. I was too busy laughing the whole way while I swam. I couldn’t help it man, ‘cause that was some funny shit…There was no way around it. I was laughing so much that I started swallowing a lotta water while swimming and laughing and breathing all at the same time. Apparently that’s a skill I have not mastered, ‘cause I probably came close to drowning a few times. What’s a guy gonna do though? It didn’t matter that I was in the middle of a cold lake in the midst of a triathlon in a broken body, funny shit is funny shit and that’s all there is to it. (Giggle, giggle) If you haven’t guessed already, this is one of those examples of me taking time to smell the roses of life in even the craziest of conditions. My journeys through pain have taught me to not let those pass by. Why do you think I have been able to be genuinely happy through the craziest of shit life can throw at me. Like I’ve said many times, even the craziest moments in life can be quite magikal if you let them!
So, I finally got my shit together and stopped laughing just as I was at the REAL second buoy. I made the turn and started back into my transcendence state of flow again. And then I was quickly snapped outta that one too, as I almost rammed head first into the green canoe again. This time I saw it ‘cause it was big, and right on my left. I popped my head out of the water, and the girls said, “You’re goin’ the wrong way again.” This time I simply said, “Fuuuuuuuck!” And just like the kayak, with my head popped out of the water I started roaring with laughter again, and the girls joined right in with me. So, there I was back to choking on water again, except this time it was compounded because I had the canoe and the kayak mixed together in my mind. It was so kind. How could it not be? I didn’t have to think about a thing with my swim after that. It was all just comedy or transcendence from then on.
When I rounded the last corner and was on the home stretch I of course kept swimming way wide to the left. That was even comedic to me at that point. It wasn’t until I was nearing the beach that true toll the swim took on my body really hit me. When it did it hit my like a sack of bricks to the head. I WAS TOTALLY FUCKED! I could barely move my arms, I was a freakin’ iceberg, I could barely see from my hallucinations and foggy vision, and I could barely breathe because my entire rib-cage hurt so bad. “Oh well…Almost there!” By the time I got to my feet pretty much all the short course people had passed me as well. I didn’t care one bit. I bet their swim wasn’t filled with as much comedy as mine—suckers!
I had my typical deep limp and woozy head when I got out of the water. (I’ve always wondered why I come out of the water limping—regardless of the state of my body…A puzzling thing for me.) When it was all said and done, because of all my zig-zaggin’, I probably swam 1.9 to 2km instead of 1.5km. Oh well, what’s a guy gonna do?
I couldn’t believe how freaking cold I was though. I felt like I was gonna barely be able to walk through the transition area to get to my bike at the far end of it. I knew I would get there though of course. When I was stumbling along up off the beach the nicest-ever volunteer guy had a huuuuge smile on his face and was yelling and screaming for me. As usual there were a few looks of surprise on people’s faces when they saw the state I was in. I am used to that.
The deepness of the cold in my body, and the extra pain it was causing within me really sunk in about half way through the transition area. That’s when two rays of light came down on me though—Kevin, and Bruce who were both cheering me on….If I haven’t said it already, Charlie, Kevin, Bruce and the nicest-ever volunteer guy totally made that whole race for me. Even though I have already been planning on making that my season start race every year, I would go just because of them if I wasn’t. Those guys rule! Everything about them was super kind, and you could tell it was all very genuine…The kind of people any person would want to be around to enrich their life!
As soon as I got to my bike I looked at the time clock above the finish line…I was at about 56 minutes…I was psyched about that because that meant I was under the swim cut-off time for the Provincials in Penticton. I was so fuckin’ cold and sore though when I was at my bike that I kept almost falling over. It was taking a real effort just to stand up. I had a hard time taking off all my tensors and braces because of my triceps (mostly my right one), how sore I was, and because I could barely use my hands because of the pain and numbness in them. That made it all real difficult to take my wetsuit off. Because of my shoulder, and especially because of my tricep, it took me a few tries just to be able to lift my right arm up to undo the Velcro neck strap of my wetsuit. It was much easier to take off though with the legs cut off below the knees. Sweeeeeeeeet! As usual I had a hard time putting on my socks and shoes. I can barely reach my feet as it is, but in the state I was in it seemed that much more difficult. I almost bailed a few times doing that as well…While watching me struggle a volunteer asked me if I needed medical attention. I said, “Absolutely not, but thanks though.” With that I put on my helmet, grabbed my bike, and headed out on course.
The last thing I did before I mounted up was look at the clock. I was at something like an hour and 3 minutes. That sucked! If I was at the provincials it might mean I would have gotten yanked from the course before I even got to do the bike. I started wondering if the 1 hour cut-off applied to the actual swim portion, or the total time that I got out onto the bike. I felt ok though because I knew the water would be way warmer in the Okanagan in the middle of July and if I swam only 1500 metres instead of 1900-2000 (giggle, giggle) I should be able to get it done in time. Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet!
My legs didn’t feel too great right from the start of the ride. “Bummer…They felt much better than this only a few days ago.” The pavement was a bit rough and it was somewhat windy as well. I went as hard as I could though. My triceps issues were front and center on my mind. I felt like I could hardly hold myself up on my bike. All I could do was hope and pray that my arms, shoulders, and back didn’t give out while I rode, which would make me come crashing to the ground. I didn’t really worry about it too much though because I have had similar issues in the past on my bike and like before, even if I fell, all I would do is get up, brush myself off, then get back on and keep charging. That was all I could do (unless something was broken I guess—but that might depend on what was broken). Anyway, I moved on from all those thoughts and did what I could to dig in.
When I got out onto the highway that’s when I realized just how windy it really was. They were right, the course was super flat and had a very wide shoulder, but the pavement on the shoulder was quite rough, so I tried to ride right on the painted white line where it was the smoothest.
The first bit of the ride went south east of the lake and park then we hit the highway and headed north. The Sprint Course ride was something like 2 or 3 laps of the loop around the lake and park. When I was still a bit south of the turn-off road into the park at the top end of the loop I got passed from some of the ass-whuppin’ short course riders. One guy in particular frickin’ flew right past me. When he sailed by I had a thought flash through my mind…”It would be real cool to be out on a perfectly flat road (a neutral surface) and after I was maybe 10km in to a ride, set Lance Armstrong free on the same course so I could see how fast he would fly past me.” I nourished that little thought for a bit and it made me laugh. “He probably would have made me look like I was standing still…Cooooool! Lance rules!” (Giggle, giggle)
When I came outta that thought I was past the turn-off loop for the Sprint Course. That put me all alone on the ride for a bit. Soon the race leaders came into view on the other side of the road ahead of me in the distance though. When they got close enough to me my mind instinctively set off to its usual “cycle portion of a triathlon” mode…I got back to being a total fan of the sport again. I was still focused on digging into my bike as hard as I could, but I can’t help but to check out all the kick-ass bikes, and the people charging on them. It always paints a huge smile on my face as I watch them whip by. Some look over and smile back some don’t look up at all and just keep their iron focus while they keep charging full-steam-ahead. I love every second of it.
The typical mode of my mind can be broken down a bit further into 3 parts. One part is the whole fan of the sport thing. Another part is the technical side of what I’m doing with my ride—charging, gearing, and pushing my body. The third part is the major factor of everything, that permeates the whole triathlon experience—the fact that I am doing a triathlon. Even though it has been hurting me real, real bad to do so, I LOVE RIDING MY BIKE! As one might imagine from what I wrote at the start about me being too sore to sit, and the longer I sit the worse things get, it makes for a lotta trouble on the bike. Oh well…Sometimes you gotta pay the price to do the things you love. I love it so much that I still go all crazy whenever I see someone on a road bike when I’m driving in my truck. I grab my kick-ass Lance Armstrong cow bell that I keep in the glove box between the two front seats (It’s pretty sweet—giggle, giggle), and then lean out my window yelling and screaming while wailing on my Lance bell. “Charge it folks…Charrrrrrrrrge it! Wuuuuuu—Haaaaaaa!” Some of the reactions I get when I do that are hilarious. Some people smile and wave just lovin’ the freak in the truck, and some look at me like, “What the fuck?” Whatever man, if you’re on a road bike…I love you! (Giggle, giggle)
So, as one can see, riding my bike is waaaay too much fun. Who cares if it kicks the shit outta me. I sure don’t. This all translates and gets compounded when I incorporate all those feelings into a triathlon that I am doing. Then, when I am thinking about how it all incorporates into doing a triathlon, I start drifting to another thought…”Check this shit out, I’m doin’ a triathlon! That’s so kick-ass!” I get all giddy when that thought rolls through my head. My mind travels over all the roads my path has taken me on. I think about all the years I have spent bed-ridden. I think about the time I was on a cane. I think about the times when I have had to crawl because I couldn’t do anything else. I think about the times I have gotten stuck on the floor in too much pain to move after I have collapsed from inhaling, sneezing or coughing. I think of the times when I couldn’t lift my arms to touch my head, or when I couldn’t move my head to even see my feet. I think about when I had to pet my dog and cat with my foot because I couldn’t bend down to do it with my hands. I think about the times when I haven’t been able to open my mouth all the way and kept choking on my food because I was too sore to swallow it. It just goes on and on and on and on. I won’t ever forget it. I love my pain for teaching me about what really counts in life. When I drift away in these thoughts during the race I will start opening and closing my mouth wide. I get lost in that trip and start smiling even more. I love to just simply open and close my mouth all the way because of the times when I couldn’t. I will never take that for granted again…..Next thing I know my mind rolls back and I say, “Check this shit out…I’m doin’ a triathlon! How good is that?” Then I start smiling and laughing even more. “Who the hell cares that it’s kickin’ the shit outta me? I’m a doin’ a triathlon maaan! Wuuuuuuuu—Haaaaaaaaaa!” It’s like the best thing ever. I hit the point where my face gets so sore just from smilin’ and laughing because of it all. Once again…Triathlon frees me from my pain even though I’m dying on my bike. All the realities of the pain in my body were there, I can’t escape them in a very real way, but then again I can in another way.
I was sooo blissed-out from it all. You know, just checkin’ out everybody’s kind bikes while they flew by, and getting’ lost in the whole triathlon thing. It didn’t matter that I almost fell off my bike a couple times. When I went to get my water bottle out of its holder my arm on the handle bars would start to shake and get real weak. Then there was the fact that I could barely lift my water bottle to my mouth with my right hand because my tricep was so sore. It was a sketchy scene to try to hydrate myself, so I did it as little as possible, but it didn’t matter ‘cause I was doin’ a triathlon! Sweeeeeeeeeeet!
I also had another thing washing the pain away, or at least putting a nice cover on it…My thoughts about crackin’ my head on the kayak…Daaaamn that was some funny shit! It’s like 4 days later right now and I’m still laughing at that. It might end up getting chalked up as one of my all time favorite triathlon moments of past, present, and future. How could it not? That was some funny shit. So I already had a sore face from laughing and gigglin’ so much from having so much fun and also from the fact that I was in the middle of doing a triathlon, but then I couldn’t help but to reflect on the kayak head smash over and over like a broken record…That made my face ache real bad, which is totally awesome, as IT IS NEVER A BAD THING TO GET A REAL SORE FACE FROM SMILING SOOOO MUCH! Things like that make even the worst pain I go through not matter (even though I have hurt so bad that it hurts excruciatingly terrible to laugh).
Anyway, for most of the way out on the bike I just enjoyed the thoughts in my mind, watching everyone on the other side of the road, and just the whole triathlon trip in general. I didn’t like the wind, but I didn’t really care. Why would I care about something as trivial as that? All the wind means is that you have to work harder. I love exercise. I love when my heart and lungs feel like they are gonna pop outta my chest from going too hard, which I don’t get to experience nearly enough because my messed up body won’t allow me to go hard enough to get serious cardio up. I try, and try, and try, and try, and try to keep finding new ways to be able to charge hard enough to pop my heart outta my chest, but my body always ends up not allowing it—daaamn body! It is a constant frustration I struggle with. The best thing for it is when I GET to walk up my driveway pulling a toboggan full of stuff behind me through snow when it is over knee deep.
(For those who read this, my driveway is over 1200 metres long up 7 switch-backs that rises over 500 vertical feet. It’s like going around an Olympic track and field track just over 3 times starting at ground level and ending on top of a 50 story building. I have to do that for 5+ months a year. I have done it in as much as belly-button high deep snow. I have dragged cabinets in and out. One year I got snowed-in 5½ weeks early, so I had to do my firewood by toboggan—3-6 foot logs on the toboggan and over my shoulder through knee deep snow. I live by myself and have to rely on myself isolated in the bush in the heart of winter. There have been many, many days that I haven’t been able to stand, yet have to go to town anyway. I look out my window and say to myself, “How am I gonna do it this time?” While pondering the question, I face the reality that my truck or town aren’t comin’ to me, so it’s time to dig deep, suck it up, and figure it out. All it takes is one step at a time. Eventually I’ll get there. I’m lucky that I am a casual person and am never in a hurry, so I get there when I get there. Usually when I get to my truck I also have to dig it out. Then, and only then do I get to finally go to town…I still have to battle town, then come home and do it all over again. Usually when I keep collapsing with every step I take I think about Terry Fox—one day at a time, one mile at a time, one step at a time. So that’s all I focus on—the next step in front of me…Eventually my truck or house will appear…Maybe you can see why a triathlon is nothing to me, even though your eyes may tell you a much different story. It’s also why I say I just have to get through the swim because land will never stop me! It might take me awhile, but other than the Provincials in Penticton that have cut off times, times mean nothing to me…That puts me in an advantage over most who do races…I couldn’t care less what my time is, or what place I get. The only thing I care about is going as hard as I can. That’s it. Nothing else matters. That’s why even though it hurts less and I go faster when I walk I can’t let myself do that because it isn’t trying hard enough. I can’t live with that. I would waaaay rather go slower with much more pain as long as I am trying my hardest…)
So...back to the race…
When I turned off the highway to go down the last side road on the out portion of the race everyone else had passed me (except for two women who were in front of me but way out of sight.). That put me alone on my own road. I was bummed that there were no more kind bikes to look at. It all turned a different reality on in my mind. I was still laughing and giggling, but I just looked at it as me being out on my bike by myself during one of my training rides, but only in a strange place. It was just me and the wind….It didn’t seem to matter what direction I was going on the road, there always seemed to be a headwind. It actually felt like the wind was blowing at me from all four directions at the same time…”If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will…” (giggle, giggle) I didn’t mind it though. It just made me think of what they say about Kona—devastating headwinds. If I ever wanna dream about doing that one, then I couldn’t let something like this be an issue. It wasn’t. As I said, I like to work harder when it comes to exercise.
My knees finally got all chewed up at around the 25th km. That made the rest of the ride real difficult, but I was totally into it. “Shit man, I’m finally whuppin’ down my first sanctioned Olympic Distance triathlon and I’m totally crippled, what the hell did I expect was gonna happen?” That thought rolled through my head along with the kayak head-smash. That led to my face getting even sorer from laughing so much….
If my messed up arms, shoulders, chewed up knees, and pulled hamstring weren’t enough (yes, those damn hamstrings of mine never seem to be not pulled—kinda like all the muscles spasms I get all over my body every day), my neck said, “Fuck it!” at about km 30. So, as you can imagine, I was a total freakin’ mess, and I still had to finish the last 10km on the bike, then face 10km of the worst part for my body—the stagger (oops, I mean, the run…giggle, giggle).
I was psyched for a moment when I made the turn from the one highway, back onto the main one, which was the home-stretch. I was only psyched for a moment at first though because as soon as I crossed over the bridge it seemed to turn into rush hour with big-ass diesel trucks. There was one big transport, and 4 or 5 pick-ups right in a row. The fumes from all of them almost made me sick. I was horrified. Those lung-killin’-bastartds! (giggle, giggle)
Once they passed by me, one of the race marshals on a motor bike came beside me from behind, and said he was gonna stick right behind me to follow me in. I said, “Thanks.” Then he dropped back just behind me and acted like a road blocker for me…I thought that was some cool shit…I felt like a supa-star pro rider with my own crew team (minus the part about me suckin’ though…giggle, giggle). It was kick-ass…I grudged it out the rest of the way back to the transition area.
When I got there all the volunteers and spectators were yelling and screaming. I got off my bike and felt like I was gonna fall over. Once again I could barely stand or walk. I blew a few minds when people saw the state I was in. Just like when my body was quickly falling apart in the water I got inspired and psyched from my beat up body. It just made me want to go even harder.
The transition area was nuts…totally chaos. There were people everywhere. I had to weave and bob through them while I staggered to my spot to rack my bike. About halfway along Kevin appeared again. He had the biggest smile ever on his face, and said, “Way to go Steve…Right on.” He said it in his real kind natured embracing way (Once again…That guy kicks ass!). Without breaking my hobbling stride, I said, “Thanks,” and kept on goin’.
When I got near my rack I had to fire out a few, “Excuse me’s,” so I could get through the people to my rack. A few of them were pretty surprised when they turned to look in the direction of the voice they heard and saw me all mangled pushing my bike…It seemed like a two faceted expression of surprise. The first one was because they saw a guy with a bike first and were surprised someone was still coming in off the bike when most of the others around had already finished the whole race. Then they saw me hobbling like I was and their surprise switched a gear to something different…Kinda like, “Holy Shiiiit…and he’s still goin’!” Just before I racked my bike I saw those top end guys who I said would probably be done the whole race when I am still just getting off the bike. I called that one right…(giggle, giggle).
I racked up my bike, took off my helmet, took a drink from my water/Gatorade bottle mix and took off for the stagger. When I was leaving the transition area I had to weave and bob out of more people who had just finished, and people who were just coming across the line, and the volunteers and officials, etc. It was all too crazy, but I loved it. I was limping like a Mo-Fo. Once again, I was completely blowing people’s minds when they realized I was going out onto the run looking like that. That will never ‘not’ make me smile inside. Just as I was leaving the transition area I heard someone say, “good going Steve I’ll be waiting here for you when you get back.” I looked over and it was Charlie with a big ol’ fatty smile on his face. He looked pretty psyched….Like I said…the nicest-guy-ever….With that, I was off on the run…My time to shine. (It is the run where I absolutely blow people’s minds because it’s then that they actually see what I go through to get that shit done—and still smile while I do it.)
The first few strides of my stagger usually determine how the whole thing is gonna be for me. My stride pattern and pace don’t change too much throughout, unless something falls apart. So, for those first few strides I find myself deep with curiosity. I am also very focused inwardly just registering what is going on with my body. I make the proper adjustments within my body and mind as far as how to deal with the punishment I am putting myself through. After I get about 50 metres behind me it is all worked out in my mind, and I’m good to go.
When I start the run, like I said, it’s my time to shine. From the moment I get out on the run course pretty much until I am in my truck driving back home I blow people’s minds. They just can’t believe it. Lots think I am nuts. Lots get totally inspired. Then there are the many who think I am nuts, but still get totally inspired. The same thing happens every time I do one of these races.
My hands were killing me right away. Both of them ached and throbbed all over in many ways from holding my handle bars. Every-so-often I would try to just shake them out, but it didn’t do anything though. I kept doing it though in hopes to try to loosen them up or something. My hands always hurt a lot when I hold anything for awhile—a rake, a shovel, or whatever. After a long ride though they get particularly bad, and it kinda sucks…Oh well, just a part of the whole experience…
I seem to really like the run. It hurts the most to do by a long shot, and totally punishes my body, but I still like it the most. I think the pain and punishment is what I like about it. It’s like the ultimate test for my spirit. I love finding what isn’t there within me physically to rise to the challenge anyway. I also get quite a kick out of everyone else’s reactions. It used to overwhelm me quite a bit, but after the passing years of the handful of races I have done I have started getting pretty used to how people react towards me—what their facial expressions are, and also what they have to say as they pass me (racers) or I pass them (volunteers and spectators). Although I am getting used to it now I don’t let it get to my head, but I do have a bit of fun with it for myself. During this race everyone kept telling me how I was so inspiring, amazing, and tough. I just smiled, and said thanks; but as terrible as it might seem, internally I would joke to myself, “Yup, I know…So they keep tellin’ me…” I always appreciate everyone though, and would never even think of saying that to them…It’s just me having fun in my own little way. I just keep hearing that over and over and over, and by now it has just become the norm.
Like I said I take a serious beating on the run, and that’s what people see. For me, I don’t really care about the pain it doesn’t really phase me at all. I am more tuned into the thought of me fixing the heavy athletic jonz I have. I just have fun with it all. The harder it seems, and the more it seems to hurt the more I love it. I mean, I love to swim, I love to bike, and I love to run, so it only makes sense that I would fall in love with triathlon.
Running is the elusive part for me though. I can’t do that anymore. Out of everything I have been through, and all the things that have been taken away from me I miss running the most—I mean really running, not the stagger-limp I trudge through during a race. It breaks my heart that I can’t. When I play with my friends kids they say they will race me, and bet that they can beat me. As they take off and leave me in their dust I tell them I know they can beat me because I can’t run…It’s kind of a crazy thing trying to explain to a 6 year old girl why I can’t run when she asks me about it…For a different reason of course, I kind of feel like a wild mustang who has been taken from the range and thrown in a fenced-in pen. No more endless running freely through the fields….
They had the run course marked off very clearly. The first km had each 250 metres marked then they had every km marked after that. I was charging as fast as I could, but I still knew I was just poking along. Even with that in mind the distance seemed to pass very, very slowly. I kept saying to myself, “I’m only here? Shiiiiiiiiiit man!” Then I would start laughing.
Right from the start people were totally amazed. They saw the pain I was in, but yet I was still laughing and giggling. I got a lot of comments about that. I always do. It seems most only see the pain and don’t see the fun, or can’t register it in their minds that I can be having fun when so much pain is obviously flowing through me.
Everyone was saying, “You can do it. Hang in there,” and the further along the run I got they would say, “You’re almost there, you can do it.” I mostly would just say thanks, but sometimes I would tell them, “As far as I’m concerned the race is already done, the rest is just paperwork.” The way I see it, if my feet hit the water the race is already over. I may go through absolute hell to get it done, but get it done I will…That is for sure.
When I was about ¼ into the park loop I was hurtin’ so bad that I had to fight off tears for the first time. I still had a smile on my face though. (It felt cozy in the trees) From that point on though, I had to fight off tears many times. I didn’t mind. It just makes me want to go harder.
Towards the end of the park loop Bruce came and found me. He stayed with me for the rest of the race. Knowing how I feel about talking with people while I’m racing he asked me if it was ok if he stuck close to me. I appreciated that he asked, and said, “Yeah, no problem.”
He was so respectful in the way that he stayed with me. Sometimes he would drop behind me several yards and ride for awhile. Then he would ride up beside me and say something encouraging, then fade behind again, or ride ahead. He told me he was fully loaded with water and other medical supplies, and if I wanted anything at anytime to just ask. He would ride ahead whenever I approached an aid station. Whenever he did that, next thing I knew they were all screaming my name.
With every aid station, or road flagger I passed (on the run, or the bike) I did my best to say thanks for volunteering. Even when I was crumbling to the ground deep into the run I still said thanks (If not for them I couldn’t live my dream). They all said you’re welcome, and many thanked me instead, telling me how much I inspired them.
Around half way into the run my feet started to really sink into the deep pounding they take. The way I limp and stagger puts tremendous force onto my feet. I am a light-footed walker, but when I try to run I pound it out because I have to pick up the slack for my collapsing body. I could see myself wearing my shoes right out easily this year…To state the obvious, my ankles took a shit-kicking too.
There were a lot of people who seemed to know my name. I just figured all the aid station people knew it from Bruce riding ahead. I was stumped by how the other racers knew my name though. Oh well…It was cool anyway.
As time passed on and I got deeper into the run I would see other racers leaving. As they drove by me they all honked their horns and some were yelling out their windows at/for me. Sweeeeet...Also with the deeper into the run I got, my pain kept climbing and climbing. Tears kept having to fought off. My smile only got stronger. My face already hurt from laughing, giggling, and smiling on the bike, and that only got worse when I was on the stagger. I still couldn’t get the kayak head-smash outta my mind, because, after all, “That was some funny shit!” (giggle, giggle)
Another thing that kept making me smile on top of everything else was one kid at the aid station that you pass going into and out of the park, as well as on the return from the out-and-back part. He was wearing a Fantastic 4 costume…Shit man…I almost fell over all three times I passed him. It made me laugh so much. He was the cutest ever. He made me think of Solomon (my good friend’s 5 year old boy). He would always charge ahead and meet me with a cup of water and a cup of Gatorade. There was one of the times I passed through that I didn’t really feel like anything, but how could you not take something being offered from a pint-sized superhero? That just wouldn’t make sense. (Giggle, giggle)
Somewhere around the 5km mark, Bruce said that I was doing better than he had expected I would from what I told him. I said that everything depends on the day. I also told him not to believe his eyes because there were some changes going on in my body that were not good—as in, things were falling apart quickly.
After I had just passed the turn-around I saw some people in their driveway. The man said he remembered seeing me get off the bike, and almost fall over. He was totally psyched that I was still givin’ ‘er. One of the women asked me if I wanted a Tylenol. I said, “Thanks, but I don’t take that stuff.”
When I was making the left turn to go along the main park/lake road not too far after the turn-around I saw a woman in her van at the intersection. She asked me if I wanted to get in her van so she could drive me back. I said, “Goodness no, but thanks.” If I pulled myself off at that point there was no way I could live with myself. I would never live that one down.
Just after I passed her, and was back on a trail (or sidewalk) there was a nice breeze. There were a bunch of reeds dancing in the wind. Instinctively, I stuck my right hand out to graze along the tops of them. I didn’t care that I was so hurtin’, and I didn’t care that I was doing a race. I didn’t break my stride at all, or my concentration to do it…A lotta people talk about stopping to smell the roses in life, yet never do it, well, I do, and this was one of those times—Like I said, it was instinctive to do it. It also filled me with a deep sense of calm as well. It was like touching another sense of magik deep within that world of transcendence.
With those dancing reeds fresh in my mind, and dancing in my soul, I saw a little squirrel cross the path just in front of me only a few steps later. It didn’t sink into the tall grass, or charge up the tree it was beside. It just sat and watched me as I passed by. I was staring in its eyes as I got closer, and said hello when I was beside it. (That whole ‘smelling the roses’ thing again…Sweeeeet!)
It was shortly after then that I started thinking how each step I took seemed like it took another minute off of my life. I didn’t care. They were pretty sweet steps, and I made a point to savor them even more than I was already. Then, only moments later, something bad happened around my right kidney area. It almost stopped me in my tracks as I almost fell over. My stride pattern got much shorter, and way more painful. My major limp shifted sides from my left to my right. I was hunched over forward and also leaning towards my right. Every step I took felt like there was a real possibility that everything was just gonna give out and I was gonna go over into a hard face-plant. It made me dig in harder and I held on. It kept digging into me for about 2km before it started to ease up a bit. It was a nice relief when it mellowed out a bit, and I could get back to just being totally messed up again like before, rather that super-totally-messed-up. It seemed as though whatever it was that was trying to whup me down around my right kidney and hip finally realized that it wasn’t gonna get the best of me, so it finally started to give up.
A funny thing was how many times people told me I was on the home-stretch. It all started at around 5km of the stagger, and then happened several times from there (I lost count after 8…giggle, giggle). “Man, that’s a lotta home-stretch’s” I thought to myself.
Bruce was psyched when I hit the 8km mark (He also radioed ahead to tell Charlie where I was—I’m guessing that’s who he was talking to.). I think that was the point where you start to approach the park trail, and get off the road for good. As I said earlier, I thoroughly enjoyed his presence. He stayed with me, but did it in the absolute perfect way. He became very much a part of my race. I was happy he was there. When I hit the final km marker Bruce said I was on the home stretch, and radioed ahead again.
When I was going through the day-park trail, going down the super tiny minute little hills kicked the livin’ crap outta me. It hurts me so bad to go downhill normally, and even though these could barely even be considered hills, they did their best to eat me up. Of course I wouldn’t let them though.
With 250 metres left Bruce radioed ahead that we could see the tents. With just over 100 metres left I heard him radio ahead that I was on the home-stretch, and to gather people around and tell them my deal (that I’m whupped!). The closer I got the more people there were. The applause started where I was and snowballed quickly to the finish area. I heard the announcer guy on the loud speaker say my name, where I was from, and that I have some arthritis issues. Then, when I came into everyone’s view, they all erupted quite loudly.
I was staggering and limping badly. I was still fighting off tears. I still had a smile on my face. It was quite a trip coming down that finishing stretch. There were fenced barriers on both sides with carpet down the middle. The carpet was lined with flower pots and flags on both sides. It all seemed to tunnel like a vortex that just sucks you to the big archway finish line. As usual I didn’t really see anybody in the crowd. I had to finish the race first, which meant I had to keep looking at the ground 6 or 7 feet in front of me. It’s the only way I can get through it. I could see everybody with my ears and my heart just fine though. The response from everybody was quite overwhelming once again…These triathlon people really do kick ass!
I finally took my eyes off the ground in front of me to look up at the time clock on the bottom side of the archway. My time was something like 4 hours 15 minutes. “FUCKIN’ SWEEEEEEET!” That was the only thing that went through my mind when I saw that. It meant I was under the cut-off time for the provincials in Penticton, and that is all that mattered to me.
After I looked at the clock I looked straight ahead as I crossed the line. It was loud and crazy. I was still seeing the crowd with my ears and heart, but my eyes saw three people waiting there for me…Charlie and Kevin were both standing there with the biggest smiles ever, and with their hands out-stretched to shake mine. The third person was a woman with the biggest-ever camera snapping shots of me (I would love to track one of those photos down somehow sometime).
Everything was kind of blurry. I remembered Charlie telling me that I was just in time for the awards ceremony, and Kevin asked me if I needed anything from the medical area (hot or cold compresses, ice, whatever). I told Charlie, “Sweet.” I told Kevin, “No thanks, I’m good.” They both said, “Good for you.” Then I staggered over to my bike so I could get my shoes and shirt off.
When I was dealing with my mess at my bike I was a total beat up puddle of whuppedness. I could barely stand up. That made me happy. Many things went through my mind when I was at my bike. Like I said though, it was all blurry. All I know is that mashed throughout my mind was the fun I had; beating the cut-off time for the Provincials; the pain I was in; how kick-ass Charlie, Kevin, Bruce, and the nicest-ever camper volunteer guy all were; the thought of just finishing an Olympic distance race; everyone’s reactions and support; the kayak-head-smash; and whatever else. It was all flowing in my mind at high-speed at the same time.
While I was at my bike the woman volunteer who also slept in the camper in the transition area came over and said some kick-ass things as well. I couldn’t get it out of my head how much those 5 people heightened every aspect of my enjoyment, fun, and love within that race. All of them are the nicest people ever. I wish they put together every race I do. There’s no way I will ever forget them!
After I sorted myself out at my bike, I staggered over for the awards. The first thing I did was go up to the wheelchair guy—David. I shook his hand and gave him a little shoddy bio-booklet I had and one of my cards. He gave me one of his cards. I told him I was going to try to get something going that is aimed towards physically challenged athletes in over the next year and that I would stay in touch with him. We shook hands again and I stumbled off into the crowd.
My stagger through the crowd was the same as most of my post-race crowd staggers…Many people kept telling me how much I inspired them, and how glad they were that they got to see me race. I gave them all thanks with a fatty smile…
When the awards were on I started thinking that I wanted to do for this race what I want to do for the Nelson race this year. Next year I want to create an annual award for the athlete who transcends adversity, and forever withdraw my name from the running for the award. Nelson’s race had it the first three years I did the race, but not last year. I feel it is an important award, so I am taking it on myself to make sure that doesn’t happen again. I thought it would be kick-ass for this Wasa Lake race as well…especially after how well I was treated by everyone. It seems like the least I could do…
After the awards were over, and everybody had started clearing out I walked straight over to Kevin and Charlie to thank them for a kick-ass event. It seemed they were just as psyched to have me there as I was to be there…Sweeeet. I shook their hands then went to go get my bike, and all my stuff. While I was getting it together I thanked the guys who were taking the fence down that surrounded the transition area. When I started stumbling off back to my truck I kept thanking each volunteer person I came across. That’s something I really like doing at each race they do. I am genuinely thankful for them doing it, I really appreciate it, and I think they really deserve it.
After I was clear of the transition area and on the side of the road going back to my truck the last remaining people who were leaving kept stopping when they were beside me so they could thank me for doing the race and tell me how much I inspired so many…That is why I have to race is much as I can, because not only do I love it, but zillions of people keep getting deeply affected from me charging triathlons through intense pain. It makes me feel fortunate that I do have the pain I do, and the athletic personality within me that I’m too stubborn to let go of. It seems to be the perfect recipe for inspiring a positive change in this world. It lets me walk in balance on a good path…Triathlon is my avenue for that. I feel indebted to triathlon, and deeply grateful for all the race organizers, volunteers, and racers…
When I got home after the race I could barely stand or walk. I went to pick up my doggie. She was super psyched to see me. She kept jumping up on me (she’s a big wolf dog). Then she kept lying on the ground belly up so I could pet her. I looked at her and told her I would love to pet her, but I couldn’t bend my knees; so I just got her to jump up on me again…Two days later I was back to normal. Sure I was in pain, but I’m always in pain, so it’s no big deal.
4 days after the race I was looking at my race number. It was only then that I remembered that my name was on my number. “Riiiiiiiiiiight…So that’s how they all knew my name—giggle, giggle.”
As far as the event and course were concerned…The race was pretty-much perfect. If I was to have any complaint it wouldn’t be a complaint at all…just pure selfishness…I wish the swim course was counter-clockwise so I could see where I was going. I mean, maaaan…Track & Field, NASCAR, Horse Racing, Speedskating, Track Cycling all go counter-clockwise…Why don’t these frickin’ triathlon swims go that way—giggle, giggle? Of course I’m only kidding. I like it when things are more challenging for me, and anyway, I had too much fun to care. Being blind in the water let me swim in open water, and gave way to some good comedy moments—the gifts that just keep on giving. So how could someone complain about that? (Giggle, giggle)
I have noticed a pattern with my races…In the swim I typically forget all about the fact that I’m doing a race and just swim in my own trip—like I am in the pool swimming for myself….On the bike I get be a fan of triathlon—“Check this shit out, I’m doin’ a triathlon,” and I am also checkin’ out everyone’s kind bikes (I always get a sore face from smiling and giggling so much)…On the run I just look down about 6 or 7 feet in front of me the whole time and focus hard on staying upright and registering all the pain that’s going through me. The run is the hardest on me, but the part I seem to love the most regardless of the pain. Well…I guess that’s not entirely true because I love swimming sooooo much…I love my bike too…I guess I just love it all. I think the thing I love about the run is the pain it generates, and the way I get to say to my pain, “In your face!”