Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Gearing Up for a World-Class Celebration

I love the sport of triathlon. I get excited just typing the words as I think about its many gifts – community, challenge, confidence, and adventure! When I swam my first breathless laps and rode my first shaky miles on a used bike in 2009, I had no idea of the adventure that awaited me, the journey that has led me here to my third ITU Grand Final in Chicago.

Think of the word “athlete” and I’m pretty sure you are not envisioning a 48 year-old married working mom of two teenage boys who dreaded running the mile in high school and barely made the four laps around the track. But here I am, in final preparations to race the Sprint and Olympic distance races in the Female 45-49 age group.

I consider the ITU Grand Final to be the Olympics for short course age groupers. After experiencing my first World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand in 2012, my primary goal each year has been to earn a Team USA spot by racing to a top-18 age group placing at USAT Age Group Nationals.

This year is extra special to me for several reasons. The ITU Grand Final is in the US for the first time since 1996 and that means we get to race for a hometown crowd and logistics are far simpler! The other reason this race is special is that I had just 12 weeks to train for the Nationals qualifier (in 2014) following surgery on my external iliac artery to restore blood flow to my left leg. I was not sure if or how I’d come back from that or if I’d run healthy again.

To be running healthy and to be in the final countdown to Chicago fills me with nothing but happy anticipation. What’s so great about it, you might ask?

The host city takes on the feel of a United Nations – albeit one in spandex and compression and with shiny fast bikes! There’s something so beautiful about seeing a whole group of triathletes out together clad in matching team gear in the colors of their country. Come race time, the course becomes a symphony of uniforms, and we hear shouts and encouragement in many languages. While we may not know the exact translation, the intention is well understood!

The ITU Grand Final is four days of world championship racing that includes the sprint and Olympic Age Group races, paratriathlon, juniors, under-23’s, aquathalon, relays, open races, and of course the men’s and women’s elite events that will decide the series champions. We get to be spectators as well as competitors and we race on the same course as the likes of Javier Gomez, Jonathan Brownlee, Hunter Kemper, Gwen Jorgensen, and Sarah True.

After a full season of racing as an individual it’s refreshing be a part of Team USA and enjoy all the support from the staff and fellow teammates that goes along with that. Sitting down in the pre-race team meeting with Tim Yount addressing the room it all becomes real, even more so through the Opening Ceremony, Parade of Nations, and team photo.

Some of my greatest racing challenges and experiences have been at the Grant Final. In 2012 we faced the toughest swim I’ve ever done in the choppy 55 degree waters of the industrial Auckland Harbor, complete with freighters. In London in 2013 I had the privilege of serving as an assistant to paratriathlete Sarah Reinertsen, where I learned I got far more nervous when I was a part of someone else’s race than I ever got for my own!

The ITU Grand Final is a showcase and celebration of the best of triathlon. I can’t think of another sport that includes its juniors, para-athletes, amateur age groupers up through their 70’s (or possibly 80’s), and professional elites all in one event on a common course. Every athlete there has a story of challenges met and overcome and has earned their spot to be there.

Chicago will be the backdrop for new stories, and as my own unfolds, I look forward to sharing the experience!