First and most importantly, the Challenge Athlete Foundation (CAF) is a God-sent to many disabled people, and throughout my life I’ll do my best to support them.
During Sunday’s event I was struck by the courage of so many people:
There was Cameron, a 24 year old who lost both legs and his right arm in an accident when he was 15. Still he swam the 1-mile open water course. With him, someone swam the course pulling a young child, on a raft who couldn’t swim. Yet they did this so the child could experience the feeling of being in the water.
There were runners and cyclist with one leg or no legs, and the blind girl who rode the back of a tandem bike (she and her partner flew through the hills).
Throughout the day I was constantly reminded that a disabled body (with the help of people and/or prosthetics) can overcome many physical challenges.
Also, I was struck with the juxtaposition of societal impressions. Let’s get real, how many times do we pass a disabled person and look the other way? Sad to say last week a paralyzed man was in a convenient store, and as I walked around him to pay for gas he said “it’s okay to pass. He wouldn’t bite”. His comment left me with the impression that he believes people don’t want to connect with him for they might get hurt. Maybe I’m making that up, but after speaking with a few of the CAF athletes, I’d say my impression is not far from the truth.
Yet on Sunday I’d venture to say that everyone who witnessed the courage of these athletes could not take their eyes of them and wanted to embrace them and to be part of their lives. Why? Because these athletes/people are fearless. After all, they’ve experienced such horrific moments, what’s not to love about embracing the day.
With that said … my mind met its match with the open water swim. High tide, choppy water, swells and seaweed challenged my mind. I felt like an immovable heavy weight with a butterfly stomach waiting to hurl anything within. Moving one foot closer to the finish line involved being pushed 3 feet away from it. For some reason, I was not fluid.
Within five minutes of jumping in the ocean I was met the seaweed. It was so thick that the only way around it was to crawl over it. Get past the weed and was met by 1-2 foot swells that tossed my body like a rag doll. I lost control and my nerve, making it near impossible for me to do the freestyle stroke … I just didn’t want to put my face in the water. After trying to swim breast stoke or like water polo player (face above water) and not moving beyond a few feet, I flipped over and swam backstroke.
Backstroke brought a few challenges too. At one time I literally swam in a circle (thanks for the support staff who stopped me during my second round (LOL). Then the swells kept pushing water down my wide open mouth. One funny moment happened around the halfway mark. I decided to stop, try to relax, and to find joy in the moment. Just so happens at that spot three guys were taking notice of the beauty of La Jolla. They talked about the cliffs, and the buildings, and Black’s Beach (the nudist beach). I kept thinking “here we are, a 1/2 mile out into the ocean with choppy, cold water and these guys are kicking back and taking in the view.” Crazy. Just at the moment the child on the raft passed me. Alright, life isn’t so bad … but I got to get out of here. So I swam to a support staff, held on to their kayak for a few minutes, caught my breath, then took off.
so, sO, SO happy to get out of the water. It drained me; mentally, physically, emotionally. I took in so much salt water that my tongue was numb, my belly was full, and my head was confused. Should I continue? Do I have what it takes to complete the Ironman?
I did get on my bike, and I rode, and I finished the 1/2 Ironman distance course in 8h/45m. At this point I only have one conclusion — I love the water. I love to swim. But I don’t like swimming in the ocean. Nope, not for me.