YWCA of Minneapolis Women’s Triathlon Challenges, Rewards Mother and Daughter
At 5:15 am on August 17, my 17-year-old daughter came down from her room with a look that said she would much rather just go back to bed.
We were set to run in the YWCA Women’s Triathlon at Lake Nokomis. In the beginning of the summer, Anna had asked me to help her to learn to run, and my response had been to sign us up for a triathlon. Neither of us are hardcore athletes, but in previous years, a friend of mine talked me into trying a triathlon and I got hooked. When I accomplish an event like that, I feel like I can conquer the world, and I wanted my daughter to have that experience.
When I signed us up, I pictured a very different training schedule: I imagined Anna and I spending mornings encouraging each other, laughing and bonding as we did amazing brick (bike then run) after amazing brick — our spirits high, our bodies growing strong.
The weeks of summer passed and we rarely had a morning off together. We got a couple of training rides and a few jogs in, but they were few and far between. Anna works at the local pool so she swam often, but I hadn’t been in the water since the Tri-Nona event in June. I kept up my usual jogging schedule of two-to-three times a week, but no extra biking.
All of a sudden, it was the weekend of the race. I thought it was important to still do it. My goal was to cover the distance, no matter how slow. We picked up race packets with our race numbers and bright orange swim caps. We also picked up the matching zip-up sweatshirts I had ordered as an extra treat, thinking Anna may like to wear hers to school next year and say things like, “Yeah, I did the triathlon — it was no big deal.”
Anna and I walked our bikes into the transition area and set up. We were in a buddy wave and had our numbers and spaces right next to each other. I also realized we were in one of the very last waves to start.
In preparation, we had gotten Anna a pair of tri shorts that she had been self-conscious about while in them at home. But a funny thing happens at these events: everyone is wearing padded lycra, and proud of it — big, little, old, young. It’s tremendously freeing, that we are here celebrating life and health. Everyone was smiling and chatting as we picked up our timing chips and got race numbers marked on ourselves.
For my last triathlon, I had ordered a cheap tri suit that had been discounted online. I must admit that, not only was it revealing, but ugly and uncomfortable too. I’m all for showing my 17-year-old daughter about being proud and comfortable in my body, but I opted for a pair of bike shorts with a skirt attached and a sports top. I’ll have to invest in a normal tri suit.
John, Anna and I waited for our wave of the swim. It never stormed, but it was overcast and chilly. Finally, in the second-to-last wave, we filed into our group of other orange-capped women, like a school of guppies gathered on the beach.
While waiting for the go ahead, I grabbed Anna and kissed her cheek. I am so proud of her. Then we were off, running into the water. Our eyes met one last time and we exchanged big smiles before diving in.
Immediately, I could feel my skirt ballooning out around me. I realized it may have been a mistake to voluntarily attach an anchor around my waist. The swim never scares me, as I know I can make the distance, but each time, I am amazed at how slow I am. I soon could see every orange cap well ahead of me. Then about halfway around, I was surrounded by green caps of the women who started three minutes later.
Anna is a strong swimmer, but I knew she was not used to swimming in a pack or in a lake. I only hoped that wouldn’t throw her off. But once in the water, she’s on her own.
Dragging myself up onto the beach, skirt clinging and dripping and amid all the green-capped women, I was relieved to see Anna waiting by our bikes. She had her socks and shoes on and was buckling her robin’s-egg helmet on her head.
John cheered us on and took our pictures as we started the second leg, the 15-mile bike. We rounded the lake, reviewing the swim, then hit the first hill, a short-but-steep climb. At the top, Anna asked if that was the only hill, making some of the bystanders laugh. I answered that it was probably the steepest one.
We both knew the bike was going to be the hardest part. In our training, we had only ever gone 10 miles, and it had been on the flat Sakata trial. We were fueled with bottles of Gatorade and pockets of Lifesavers. I thought, slow and steady. Cover the distance.
The route is gorgeous along the river. Many bikers passed us, but we were still feeling okay. Then two race officials came by on a motorcycle and copied down our race numbers. I thought, “Great. Really?”
Anna said, “I think we’re last.”
I said, “It’s okay if we’re last. We just need to cover the distance. This is a big deal. I know it’s not easy.” Then we came to a turnaround point and passed a few bikes that were still behind us. I must admit, in my heart of hearts, I took cheer with every person we passed.
The last five miles were tough. Anna had gone pretty quiet. I could tell she was working. I rode beside her, not sure of the best way to help. I tried to give her Lifesavers, tease her a little to make her laugh, encourage her to take a drink of Gatorade. But this was something I could not do for her, only talk about how we were doing something really good for ourselves on this day.
When I pulled back and gave her space, she took her own drink. We were circling the lake on the home stretch, with about a mile and a half to go. Groups of runners were calling encouragement as they passed, going the opposite way.
I told Anna, “Just one more mile. We’re almost there.”
She said, “A whole mile. . .I don’t know if I. . ,” and faded into silence.
There was nothing to do but keep pedaling. When we had gone about a mile and still had half to go, she said, “I thought you said just one more mile. You lied, and I wish those people running would stop cheering for me. Do I look that pathetic?”
I laughed, relieved to hear some spunk in her voice. “Okay, okay, see look, we’re almost back now. I guess it may have been a mile and a half when I told you that.”
We both dismounted more smoothly than I had anticipated. I’ve had trouble with coordination at that point in the past. John found us again as we started the 5K portion. I knew we would walk it, but once again said, “Just cover the distance. You can do it.”
Anna’s small voice said, “I don’t feel good.”
I looked over — her face looked miserable and beet red. “Are you seeing black dots?” I asked.
“Are you going to throw up?” I asked.
“I don’t know yet,” she said. But she kept putting one foot in front of the other.
I said, “You know, honey, you’ve done a great job. We don’t have to. . .”
Her spine stiffened and she pulled her shoulders back, “No, I’m not stopping.”
My eyes blurred with tears. To see her core of steel pull itself up and out was an awesome sight. This is my daughter: this strong, beautiful woman.
Anna and I laughed, knowing that we would not have had to slow much from our walk to let them pass.
We jogged the last 400 yards, crossing the finish line together. The announcer called our names over the PA system, the volunteers took our timing chips and gave us our medals. We covered the distance.
That evening, Anna had a work meeting. She left race t-shirt and race numbers on to show her friends. She has also asked me if I want to do a 5K with her at the end of September. That’s my baby.