Every Athlete. Every Race. Every Time.
By the time I hit the two-block long finishers’ chute, the Ironman crew had already broken down most of transition. I wasn’t the last to finish, but I was close. I limp/shuffled my way toward what would be a touchstone moment in my life. The crowds I knew had cheered others in, had long since dissipated. I knew I would finish with or without the cheering. I was exhausted, limping, dehydrated and beaten down by 70 point (almost three) brutally hilly Canadian miles. But I was still standing and moving forward, with tunnel vision focused on the banner marking the finish line.
To my left, cutting through the fog that had enveloped my conscious, were 20 people lining one side of the chute. Cheering loudly for me hands out I looked at them confused, then smiling. Who were these people? Why were they still here? Some of them still had their numbers marked on their arms. They continued to scream for me even as I crossed the finish line, collapsing, weeping into a volunteer’s arms.
We had spent all-day tracking her, moving from point to point all over the course cheering her into the water, out of the water. Onto the bike, off the bike, at five different locations throughout the run, we’d made ourselves heard. She knew we were there and that we would cheer her home. While we waited for our quick moments to connect with her to let her know we were with her even when she could not see us, we cheered for others. People we did not know, people we knew were pushing their limit, and the longer they endured, the looser their grasp became on their sanity. Until they heard our cheering, they were shaken from that fog. Their minds lost in the quiet place minds go in order to get through rough times during races. They heard us. Yes, even the strangers knew, they were not alone.
After she crossed the finish line, slaying her beast in high east Georgia fashion. We sat with her, waiting for her legs to stop shaking. Two athletes slowly walked over to us and thanked us for cheering for them. They told us we’d never understand how much that meant to them to have people cheering for them even though we didn’t know them. We knew, for we’d hoed the same row, just in a different place and a different time.
That four and a half mile continuous climb in the middle of the race was legendary. I’d been told about it, but I couldn’t comprehend it until I was right in the middle of it. Climbing with a few thousand other people. My legs screamed, my mind screamed back louder. I knew I could hold pace, I knew I could hold pace, I knew I could hold pace…we turned a corner, the huge crowds that had lined the streets since we’d crossed from Kentucky back into Ohio continued to line the street on the climb. There was a woman standing with a sign that said “free hugs.” On any other day, I would’ve just smirked said “whatever” and run on. But on that day, I stopped and hugged the lady. HARD. And fought back tears as I continued on. Half a block away at the end of the group of supporters was a woman with a sign that simply said: “It’s going to be okay.” The tears flowed freely as I continued the climb and settled into the pain, knowing it WOULD be okay.
I could go on for hours sharing stories of how random people spurred me on in races. Stories of renewed hope, found strength, rescued smiles, confidence reborn by a cup of electrolytes from an 8-year old girl that told me I had cute running shoes. But I won’t. The tears have flown freely as I sat typing this, remembering each of those moments.
As an athlete who has been on both sides of competition (as participant and spectator), I understand intimately the power of encouragement. Especially when the person doesn’t know you. To hear reassurance that you’re not alone, someone sees you. Sees your struggle and even though they cannot aide you physically, they choose to aide you in spirit and in voice. That intangible advocacy is indescribably precious to an endurance athlete.
Because I so deeply believe in encouraging every athlete, every race, every time, I’ve partnered with a fellow triathlete, Allison Collister, to start a business that will provide resources for those who support endurance athletes. We will be the go-to for information, resources, gear and even some awesome swag for those wonderful souls who set up their chair on a Saturday/Sunday morning and exuberantly support those who choose to tarry for a bit over a measured amount of miles.
Our business is Rally Wagon Global and during the month of February we will begin the first phase of our rollout. Watch our twitter feed (@RallyWagnGlobal) for our announcements of each initiative we rollout and for where we’ll be throughout the 2016 season. Additionally when we enter triathlon season in April, we will tweet out ways to grab Rally Wagon gear and where to find information for your support crew to use to fill their time between seeing you for the few seconds you see them during the race, and to better help you as an athlete before, during and after the race. There’s a lot happening in the upcoming months, hop in the Rally Wagon, it really is more fun with us.
Every Athlete, Every Race, Every Time. We Are Rally Wagon.