On race morning I know you get up as early as I do, if not even earlier, and I know that this is after days of working to make sure our banquet is just right, our transition area is set up for us to drop off our kit, and our race packages are in order. I realize that stuffing race packages is probably the most thankless job of all since you may never even see the athlete who carelessly dumps the contents onto the bed at the hotel as soon as they get back. So I really appreciate that.
But back to race morning. In the early dawn hours I showed up for body marking and Special Needs drop off and you were there by the hundreds with visible excitement for me and my fellow athletes, and you wished me luck probably a thousand times over. As the clock would tick down closer and closer to the start you made sure I was on my way to where I needed to be, you made sure that my wetsuit was on right, and you marshalled lines at the porta-potties a hundred people deep. You did everything you could to make sure all I needed to do was think about my race.
When the gun goes and thousands of us filled Lake Okanagan I noticed you below the surface of the water in full dive gear, I also noticed you keeping a watchful eye in the canoes and kayaks, and I was glad you were around to lead us back to shore. For many, the most dangerous part of a triathlon is the swim so its good to know you’ve got our backs.
Hauling ass into transition you stripped off my wetsuit in just a few brief seconds, you grabbed my transition bag faster than I could have possibly found it, and then you lead me from point A to point B (which was a life saver in the rush I was in). Most noticeably, when I ditched all my stuff in a pile on top of the transition bag in the tent, magically at the end of the day I found it all in there with not a thing missing. Your attentiveness did not go unnoticed.
At each aid station on the bike you made my life as easy as possible. I’d toss my empty bottle, which you ended up picking up (I usually did aim for the garbage, really), and then I’d point at you holding my drink and you’d break into a near sprint to make sure that it ended up in my hand. You have no idea how much not having to slow to a stop helps us, I always said thanks but we’re always in such a hurry I’m not sure if you ever hear me.
When I got back to transition to start my run, man was I ever glad to see you. This is where you stood out most in my mind. I got into the T2 change tent, and you told me, “whatever you don’t need, throw it on the ground and I’ll pack it for you. You focus on changing your shoes and I’ll take care of everything else”. You shared my sense of urgency, but conveyed a zen-like sense of calm that got me remembering, slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. I was in and out of there in about 3 minutes including the time it took to get sunscreen onto my burnt shoulders. Nicely done.
On the run you cheered me on, handed me sponges, gave me water, asked if I wanted grapes, bananas, pretzels, anything. You asked a couple times if I was feeling okay and I know on the outside it didn’t look that way, but I was, and if you weren’t there waiting for me every mile, it would have been a different story. You stood there for hours as me and 2800 other athletes shuffled by. You were practically a saint to me at that point.
When I crossed the line, I was overcome with emotion. I was exhausted, dehydrated, and dizzy, and I’ve probably never felt better. You can’t totally mute the pain with the joy though, so when you literally caught me, that did it for me, you rocked me world. I started my day eleven and a half hours earlier and I was never more than half an hour away from your aid and then when it was all done. At the end of it all, there you were at the finish line with no other responsibility that to say congratulations, put that medal around my neck, and take me to get food, or to see my family, or in the case of some, to the medical tent.
My favourite part of the day though, was at that finish line when you said, “Raf, you did it, you’re an Ironman now”.
I appreciate what every volunteer at every triathlon does. Without volunteers I would not be able to race in the sport that I love, and they truly are what makes this sport possible. I won’t be racing in IMC next year as I’ve got my sights set on other races, so I’ll be joining the ranks of the thousands supporting the race and I really am looking forward to it.
I just wanted to write this blog post to say thanks to the town of Penticton for hosting the gem of North American triathlons once again, and thanks to all the volunteers that made that day possible.