This Ironman is different. Of course, they’re all different, but for this one, I AM different. In three days, I’ll be among a couple of thousand athletes launching on a 140 mile day for all kinds of reasons. I’ve been at the starting line 5 other times… to see if I could do the distance; to conquer one of the tougher courses; to try to qualify for Kona; and to do Kona. This time, I won’t be at the start just for myself. Because if that were the only reason I was going to race on Sunday, I probably wouldn’t be racing, $700 entry fee or not. I have nothing to prove for myself, and I’m not in great Ironman shape, which doesn’t bode well for anything after mile 2 of the run.
But I’m not racing for myself on Sunday.
When we were climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, there were many, many occasions where one of us got into a bit of a tough spot and one (or usually, more) of the rest of us would step up and help. Even if the “help” made the road tougher for the helper. You may remember, Matt gave me his only warm coat after I dropped mine over the side of the mountain on summit day. That increased the chances the whole Survivor Summit team would make the top. The 16 of us were much stronger than each individual team member.
Now I’m taking the strength of that team to push forward and do this thing. Sunday, I’ll be racing for two teams. First, the one I always race for: Cancer survivors and those in the midst of the fight right now. I can tell you first-hand that the thought of doing any portion of this Ironman race felt like a remote possibility six months ago. I couldn’t even choke down 1,000 calories a day with the help of pain killers or Lidocaine. The radiation through my esophagus was more extreme, and probably more effective than stomach stapling to lose weight. (I don’t recommend it.) I was exhausted and weak (I hate saying that!). But over the last few months, I’ve slowly (very slowly) been gaining strength and endurance and, finally, the desire to run, bike, and swim for more than 12 hours. Race Day will be almost 7 months to the day after radiation ended for Thymic Carcinoma. I’ll be racing to show that I, and by association every cancer survivor, can still conquer what seems impossible after the battle. You just have to try.
The other team I’m racing for is my new team, Team Chocolate Milk. Before you roll your eyes thinking that this is just a tip of the hat to a sponsor, let me explain. A big reason that I finished St George 70.3 in May (besides that I am unbelievably stubborn and can suffer at a low to medium level for a very long time) is that it was my first race for the team. Being part of something bigger than you are is very motivating. The first time I felt this was in 2000, when I ran the Disney Marathon for my tv station. I was feeling terrible. TERRIBLE. I had excruciating ITB pain and I was limping from mile one. But there was no way I was going to let down my WESH team, and I finished the race. Teams are as strong as their weakest link and that will NEVER be me, if I can help it. So I limped through Disney, and walked often through Saint George. Motivation to soldier on comes from all kinds of places. The Chocolate Milk folks believed in me enough to pick me to represent their team, and that kept me going. It’ll keep me going on Sunday, too. Plus, the orange and black race kit makes it easy for my friends to find me on the course. 🙂
I did a newspaper interview for Team Chocolate Milk today, and the reporter asked me how I think I’ll do. I said my number one goal, as always, is to finish. After that, I don’t really know. I’m not racing against anyone this time; the pressure of trying to qualify for Kona is off (and I doubt I will even come close to getting a slot). With a nod to my Survivor Summit teammate, Jeremy, I’ll make relentless forward progress and do it as rapidly as I can. As much as triathlon is an individual sport, this time, I am swimming 2.4, riding 112, and running 26.2 for the teams: My new Team Chocolate Milk and my old team, the 32 million people touched by cancer. I AM. Livestrong. And Moo.