Thursday, June 21st. Also known as Athlete Check-In Day!! First I head down to the lake where a large group has gathered for a mass start swim practice. I join in a little but really, I do my own swim for 45 minutes and then I ride out to Higgens Point and back. I get cleaned up, text my friends and head down to athlete check-in. My sister meets me down there as well. The excitement in the air is electrifying and contagious. I LOVE Ironman week! I make my way through athlete check-in, pick up my swag (which was fantastic this year!) and head for the merchandise tent where we snap a few photos. I feel so good about race day and I try to slow myself down to just take it all in, not wanting to miss a single moment of this.
Friday, June 22nd. I was invited to be on an interview panel of athletes who were raising money for a cause through the Ironman Foundation. My cause of course was the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (my donation page is here). Racing for a cause adds another dimension to my race; one that is entirely outside of myself but still connected to me. Among the panelists that day were Fireman Rob Verhelst racing for “Code 3 For a Cure”; local Pro Athlete Derek Garcia and his friend Scott Burkhardt who raced for Derek as he battles cancer; Todd Gilmore for “Heartbeat Vietnam”; and John Simmerman for the “Every Day Race Day Initiative”. It was an honor to spend time with these athletes and learn about their causes.
After the panel interview I head back to my host home to get off my feet for the rest of the day. My friends Paula and Greg have the most relaxing home environment. It was perfect. I’m still feeling extremely excited and surprisingly calm. I know the nerves are going to hit any moment and I’m okay with that. It was great to have some quiet time to myself to reflect and absorb. I attend the Iron Prayer meeting with FCA Endurance in the park. I go to mom’s and make spaghetti dinner and we hang for a couple of hours.
Saturday, June 23rd. Bike and Gear Bag Check-In Day!! As I head down to the beach for a 20 minute swim, I am aware that I simply cannot stop grinning. It is as if my entire being is physically and consciously aware of everything at once. My life’s adventures; the battle; the accepting of my disease for what it is and what it has taught me, while learning how to hold it at bay so that I can live; the growth of my physical and emotional strength; the love of those who join me; the enormity of this event, this culminating weekend of the biggest journey of my life. At the steps to the water, I stand there for a moment and look around at all of the athletes around me. Ironman athletes. I smile inside (and quite visibly outside) in recognition that I am one of them. I think about all of the amazing stories represented here, most of which I will never hear about but I hope to seek out a few while I can. I take it in for a moment and then move on to the business at hand. While putting on my wetsuit I meet a couple from Florida. They are not used to the cooler temperatures and are a little apprehensive about the water. I share some tricks about acclimating to the cold and we chat while we ready ourselves for the plunge. They have both completed several Ironman races, but this will be their first together, and their first time in Coeur d’Alene. It feels strange they say, that neither of them will be on the sidelines for the other, but they look forward to sharing the course as husband and wife. I think that’s fantastic. We take a moment to acclimate and then we go for it. It feels wonderful to me and I’m hoping that it will be just like this tomorrow. RACE DAY.
I put in a short 20 minute workout, bid my well wishes and good-bye to my new friends and make my way over to the car to change into my bike gear. I do a quick spin to make sure all my gears are working properly. I still can’t stop smiling. I chat with some volunteers who are setting up a supply tent. Several of my friends are working at bike check-in and I text to let them know I’m on my way. I’m on my way!! They are such a welcome sight. Alicia, Brenda, Paula, Greg. They take a photo of my bike and then Paula takes me to where my bike rack is. And there it is. Number 616. Isn’t it pretty?
I laugh as I remember some of the responses when I announced my race number. “And as your friends, if we see you as 919 out there, we promise to turn you right side up and send you on your way again!” Thank you, Tom! Paula takes a few photos while I rack my bike and cover the handle bars with a giant Ziploc bag. A great tip I learned from a friend. They come in a box of four at Walmart and I use them for my gear bags as well so that the inevitable overnight rain doesn’t soak my gear. Perhaps the fact that there are very few bikes racked at this point gives away my level of excitement? She snaps this photo of me giving my bike some love.
I drop off my gear bags and then I go sit on a bench in front of the water. I say a prayer and I still have this overwhelming sense of peace. I know that heaven is better than this but right now, I feel like I’m there.
I swing by Brian’s office so he can check my back and make sure I am in alignment. We affectionately call him “The King of Pain” around here. He is our miracle worker for all things biomechanics and injuries. I would not make it through this without his help. I stop at my friend Anna’s house. She braids my hair like she did last year. She also helps me with the traditional race day temporary tattoos. I couldn’t find any turtles but I’m pleased to find some sparkly butterflies and ladybugs.
One of my favorite supporters made this special card for me and HAD to have his mom drive it all the way out to me. Can there be any more love packed into this journey?
I do one final thing before going to bed. I invited people who donated to my cause to feel free to ask me to race in support of them or someone they know who suffers from asthma or anything that places limits on their life. Ali, Paula and Greg’s daughter, writes those names on my left arm. I know they will keep me motivated out there tomorrow. A little hard to see here (writing on the inside of an arm isn’t easy!) but they are there.
On my right arm, she writes the names of three angels. Three very special and influential people in my life, all who had gone Home to be with the Lord in recent weeks. I know they’ll be with me too.
I’m ready. I am so, so ready. I call my mom to tell her how much I love her and I thank her for the strength and fight she has given me to persevere. I hang out with Paula, Greg and Alicia before heading to bed.
RACE DAY IS TOMORROW!