Lately I’ve been thinking how inspiration runs in all directions, rather than simply trickling down from the elite athletes of the world.
Just this week I got motivated to tackle intervals by emulating a friend who’s a complete beginner. I figure if he can work bursts of jogging into his walks, surely I can fit a little speed work into my jogging.
On Saturday I accompanied Colleen to the Iron Kid Triathlon in Bluffton without any expectations whatsoever. At 9, she struggles with a pretty serious weight problem, so it was kind of amazing she wanted to try it at all.
She completed her 50-yard swim, got out of the transition area without a glitch and peddled off onto the bike course, a 1.17 mile route through nearby blocked-off streets. We walked over to the 4-H Park to wait until she returned for the .65 mile run.
We waited. And waited. And waited.
Finally we spotted Colleen approaching the park — but she wasn’t riding her bike. She was pushing it as she jogged slowly along beside.
Tears were streaming down her face. Her chain had come off shortly after she made the turn onto the road course, and though a volunteer tried to help her, it obviously wasn’t going to be a simple fix. Determined to finish, she’d just started running with the bike in tow.
“Honey, let’s just forget the run,” I said, incredulous that she’d made it as far as she had. “C’mon, let me help you with that.”
Colleen shook her head.
“No,” she gasped. “You took off work to come here. I‘m going to finish!”
I winced. Yes, I’d played that card a time or two, reminding her that if a kid triathlon was worth skipping work for, it was worth training for. She’d been busy with baseball and swim team, and had only recently been getting in much jogging or cycling. She knew she could make the distance, but just barely.
“Colleen, you’ve already run over a mile,” I said. “You don’t have to prove anything here. You’ve got an equipment malfunction. It’s OK.”
She didn’t say anything as she entered the transition area. Just parked her bike, unbuckled her helmet — our helmet, the one I bought before my own triathlon earlier in the summer and that we now shared — and trudged off toward the running course.
I ran off to grab some water and caught up shortly afterward. Her age group wasn’t supposed to have parents running alongside, but the bike cop escorting her — she was the only kid left on the course — told me to come along.
“Colleen, you don’t have to do this,” I said over and over, as the cop filled me in on her ordeal.
She just kept plodding along, huffing and puffing and reaching for the water bottle every so often.
“You don’t have far to go now,” the cop said as we rounded the last bend and saw volunteers and pylons up ahead. “You can do this!”
I pulled off to the side as Colleen hit the homestretch. Remarkably, she managed to speed up as she approached the finish line — where, just as remarkably, several people had stuck around to cheer her on.
“Right after I crossed the finish line, it felt like I couldn’t breathe,” she said later. “It was like my lungs were stuck.”
She still hadn’t fully recovered when she went up on stage to get her finisher’s medal. She was both embarrassed and proud when the race director told the crowd how she’d persevered.
It was a gutsy performance by an Iron Kid who proved she belonged after all.