My asthma episode was at a point where I knew that outside of a miracle, I wouldn’t be completing the entire event. I had trained for a year. I made so many gains. I was doing something that was far beyond my consciousness of anything I thought I could do with this body. I wanted to at least experience part of it. A small part of me was still hoping for that miracle. I decided to at least finish one loop of the swim and then call it a day.
I went through the necessary motions. I checked my bike and gear. I got body marked. My friend Anna braided my hair the day before; it makes it so much easier to race when you have long hair. I think I look like Laura Ingalls Wilder and I have an urge to ask Ma and Pa for some advice.
I put on my wetsuit. My friend Connie finds me and we make our way among the herd to the beach. The water was very cold that day. My medications cause my body temperature to rise so it felt okay to me. Besides, I was only shooting for one loop. On any day, I start my swim at the back of the pack. On this day it didn’t matter how long it took me to get in.
It took forever to reach the first turn buoy. The “bottleneck” affect didn’t apply to me; there weren’t many people behind me. I made my way towards the second turn and spotted a kayak. I held on for a moment to rest. I looked at the beach and wanted so badly to just finish that loop. There were people waiting for me and in a little while, they would be worried. I headed out again, took about 10 strokes, and I couldn’t exhale in the water anymore.
It was time to surrender.
I cannot say enough about the volunteers on the lake. I raised my hand and in seconds there was a woman on a stand-up paddle board in front of me. I pulled myself up and onto the end and rested for a moment, listening to the swishing of 2600+ athletes in the water. It was beautiful. I looked at the beach and took it all in. There are moments, even seconds in time that you simply must take, or you will miss something extraordinary. This moment would prove to be one of my best and worst at the same time. I internalized it as much as I could. “Cathy, you made it. It’s not going to happen today but you made it. You’re in the middle of an IRONMAN swim!” Unfortunately, asthma at this level robs you of the luxury of emotion of any kind as they exacerbate the symptoms. Grieving would have to come later.
I looked at the volunteer and muttered, “I’m done.” In seconds, a jet-ski was at my side and the guy literally plucked me out of the water with one arm and took me to the rescue boat. They put a blanket around me. I had no color in my face so they were worried but I told them I would be fine, I just needed to get to a breathing treatment. We picked up two more swimmers on our way in who had given up because it was too cold. We sat in silence, avoiding eye contact, not wanting to share the look of defeat in our eyes. It was painful enough to bear on our own.
I was the first one in the medical tent.
They proceeded to give me breathing treatments. Once I got a hold of my phone I started texting people to let them know that I was okay, but done for the day. An hour later I walked out very slowly. I turned the corner and saw several friends and family members waiting for me. I went for the first hug and the tears began to break free. I tried to be brave, but it was hard. I had to regain control quickly; no emotion. After several hugs I made my way towards the transition area to collect my gear bags and my bike, my friends with me to help. As I approached, the final swimmers were coming out of the lake; they had missed the cutoff. I knew exactly how they felt.
My life-long friend Kim got me back to her house and they helped pack up my gear. A couple of hours later, I posted the following message on my Facebook page so that I could get the message out to everyone that I was okay. I couldn’t keep up with everyone via texting and phone calls, so I decided on this route.
Words cannot describe how grateful I am today. by Cathy Stephens on Sunday, June 26, 2011 at 11:35am
I wanted to take a moment and try to put my gratitude into words. Obviously, since I am typing this message, today was not my day to complete the Ironman triathlon. But I don’t want anyone to be sad for me because here’s the deal: While today was not my day, EVERY SINGLE day that I am able to get out there and do this without using an inhaler IS my day and I have and will have many more of those days than this one. My heart will heal and I will move through this challenge as I do any other. I will see it through, move on, know that God has a plan and a purpose for everything, and I’ll be okay. I have been experiencing a serious asthma episode since Tuesday and there is only so much one can do for that. But I know that I gave it my all this past year and this morning, and will continue to do so and rejoice in the health that I have. Setbacks like this are just a simple reminder of all that I have to be thankful for, and just how much of a miracle it is when I CAN do this and breathe freely. I want to thank ALL of my supporters. You mean so much to me and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate all of you. It has taken me a few hours to get back to everyone who has sent loving messages. Feeling the love and I send it all right back out to you. Get out there and cheer on those who are able today. And for those who will be inspired to reach for their own dreams. I have said all along….this is about the JOURNEY. The final prize would have been great….don’t get me wrong. I’d have framed that baby before going to sleep! But this past year has been an amazing journey and I’m so glad I’ve taken this path. I have achieved my dreams beyond anything I thought possible, and that is in great part, because of the support I have from you. While I cannot personally name everyone, for fear of leaving anyone out, I do want to say thank you to my coach, Keats, for helping me to achieve more than I thought I had in me, and to Derek for additional swim coaching. The rest of you know exactly who you are and I don’t take a single one of you for granted. So thank you. Much love to you all. I am resting, getting some more treatments, and I hope to get out there to cheer on my next door neighbor as she crosses the finish line. If my lungs will allow me, I’ll be there……Go Jenna!!
June 26th, 2011 was not my day.
But June 24th (and 23 seconds plus a few more minutes of June 25th) 2012, WAS my day.