Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hearing Voices

Some of the best parts of an Ironman are the voices you hear on course – whether cheers from the spectators or simply within your own head.

My absolute favorite cheer of the day was a tribute to my gender in general. All throughout the race, the locals greeted me with enthusiastic rounds of, “Go the girls! Go the girls!” Even when I was the only girl in sight, it was always a plural “girls”, celebrating our society of female uber-athletes. Only once did I hear the men’s equivalent, “Go the boys!”

There were also numerous young girls and boys lining the course and staffing the aid stations – many more than what I’ve seen in U.S. races. One particularly focused girl looked me dead in the eyes as I ran-limped past, proclaiming, “YOU are my hero. YOU could be the next Ironman champion!” Another gal, running alongside me as I rode up a hill, peppered me with questions, “Is this your first Ironman? Do you like it here? Where are you from? Will you do it again?” I only had enough breath to answer her final question, and of course I said yes, although I sort of wanted to tell her that after the race might be a better time to ask.

I couldn’t help but think back to the question Maureen, MJ’s mom, had asked me repeatedly when I met her earlier in the week. “Sophie,” she would say (somehow convinced that was my name), “You’re doing the WHOLE race?” While struggling through the run, it struck me that perhaps she was right to question my fortitude.

It also crossed my mind several times, as I bordered on tears of frustration and disappointment, that I had no right to complain; I should be thankful for simply being able to race, in contrast to MJ, who had to withdraw from the much-anticipated competition due to illness. She provided stellar race-day support, along with the Yates and White families, cheering loudly, taking fun photos and chalking up the roads. But I know how hard it must have been for her not to pull on her race kit and wetsuit earlier in the morning. She’s a true champ not only for all that she’s accomplished outwardly in the sport, but for how she’s inwardly handled the inevitable setbacks of racing at a professional level.

I mentioned previously my obsession with kangaroos and koalas and watching, in particular, for the roos along the bike course. I also heard several kookaburras, their uncanny calls screaming out like the drunkest of Aussie spectators. I couldn’t help but think how crazy and cool it was to be racing in a place where kangaroos, koalas and kookaburras (whether hidden or seen) inhabited the brush around the race course, as opposed to the usual U.S. fare of squirrels and skunks.

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