Good Sportsmanship Vs. The Gold Medal – a Race Story

29 Sep

By Rachel Blattner, YWCA Preventive Health Fitness Counselor 

Training was behind me and the day of the race quickly approached, as did the hurricane creeping up the coastline of the northeast. It was a beautiful cool day in the mountains of WNC. The lake was still, and the rolling terrain was filled with hundreds of racers. I felt the gentle mist of the morning dew, as I approached the sight where I would set out to achieve a goal I set for myself two years ago;  to compete in a lake triathlon. Hurriedly, I ran to the start of the race at the tip of the shore. Having never swam in a lake race before; I was expecting the worse. I waded in the water, to begin the swim with 50 or some odd other female swimmers. At the screech of the horn, I walked a few feet and began a slow, steady swim.  About 200 meters in, to my dismay, I was falling short of breath, and my strides were lessening in length. Putting my face in the water only made matters worse. So I opt for the breast stroke. Realizing, the swimmers around me were picking up their pace, so it seemed, but I had to make this work for me.

Immediately, I shifted my focus. There was a big yellow blob, known as the buoy in the middle of the open water. From that moment on, that became my point of reference. At the turn of the first buoy, I couldn’t help but fixate my mind on the road ride to come. I was anxious to get out of the water. I propelled into second gear. All the while, I was conscious of the swimmers around me, since they too were fighting just as hard to get ahead.

 Exiting the ramp, I yanked off my swim cap and goggles and sprinted for the transition to the bike. I had laid out my things in such a way; it would have been easy enough even a child could navigate. My shoes were already clipped in, and all I had to do was hop on and stick each of my feet in. Since I read in an article,  this was as an easy transition from swim to bike. But last minute, I panicked, could this be a penalty? So I unclipped and stuck my foot in as I normally would. Quickly, I ran to the mounting area and hopped on the bike.

I had left my shifters in a low gear, ready to climb the first hill. Remembering the words of a co-worker, “the bull at the top is your saving grace”.  So I climbed, huffing and puffing.  I passed a few riders, but one, an Athena. She kept a strong cadence the entire climb. For the remainder of the climb, that was my aim; to keep my pedal strokes fast and change gears when necessary.

It was smooth sailing for the first five miles, and I enjoyed every minute of it. As the dawn of the day disappeared, and the clouds moved in, sunlight came through. The riders in view had a few hundred feet up on me. I was inspired to keep pushing forward, knowing that my energy came in spurts and it was only a matter of time before I’d catch up with them.

Mile 7 was stagnant and momentum was fleeing from under me. My mind was wandering, and no longer on my ride.  I thought about the other competitors around me. Painting, sweat, and hard earned miles set us apart from the rest of humanity. It is why we receive the title; Triathlete. As an athlete in a race, you don’t face obstacles, you experience them. Your obstacles become the obstacles of the racers around you, and that’s what makes us more alike, than different.

I started to chuckle as the endorphins kicked in. I used this to my advantage, strutting ahead to mingle, just as I would if I were out on a casual ride with friends. I began conversing with a male rider, who seemed as fired up about the ride as I was. He remarked, “you again?”  

Two miles out, I swept across the distance as Aladdin on a magic carpet ride. Full speed ahead, I came to the transition area for the last time today. I dismounted my bike, and followed the cones to run out to the 5k course.

“Where did my legs go?!?” I blurted out as I raced past the first runner. He smiled and wished me good luck at finding them. I couldn’t help but joke the rest of the way to the end of the course. I was squirming to find the last bit of energy to go on, and it seemed to take the agony away, momentarily.

At 2 miles out, in the corner of my eye a petite women, similar to my height, was sprinting past me. She was in my age group. The competitor in me eagerly wanted to spring full force ahead, but I lost sight of her. I told myself, I was doing the best I could.

Normally, I’d never stop to walk,  yet circling the final water station, I did. I poured water on my sweaty self and continued to run again. It seemed to help. A few seconds later, anther woman caught up with me, as I could hear her stride. I looked at her and panting, told her that she was the inspiration I needed to finish. She said “I was hers”. We kept each other’s pace for the remainder of the run. At that moment, as fatigue as I was, I managed to recite a verse I adopted as my own; “they shall run and not grow weary”. Ish 40:31

Speedily, I spotted the finish line, giving whatever I had left. With the sand from the beach on the bottom of my sore feet, and salty sweat dripping from the pores of my face, I leaped for joy. A crowd of spectators cheered and congratulated each finisher. I was delighted to know that I achieved my goal time set for myself, overall finishing in 1:41:00, placing 2nd in my age group.
I came out to the race, hoping to finish. I took away a reward; a very valuable lesson. Personally, I would rather receive an award for good sportsmanship over the gold any day. It was a great accomplishment and I think I had the most fun out of everybody.

“A goal is created three times. First as a mental picture. Second, when written down to  add clarity and dimension. And third, when you take action towards its achievement.” – Gary Ryan Blair

A special thank you for making this race all the more worth while – My YWCA family, you are my biggest cheerleaders!

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