As one of the first to arrive at 5 a.m., I wondered if any of the others were sharing my concerns about the cold wind blowing off of the dark shoreline. They didn’t seem to be. They were, unlike me, probably counting on their wetsuits to keep them warm.I was one of the first five to pick up my packet so I could have plenty of time to get ready. When I told the girl behind the table my name, she smiled as she handed me my packet and excitedly said, “Oh, you’re number one.” As one whose life seems underpinned with irony at every turn, my race number would confirm that today, indeed, would turn out to be no different.The Transition area opened at 5:30. I had my race number on my bike, on my helmet, and safety-pinned to the shirt I would wear for the bike and run. I got my timing chip secured. I was one of the first to get body-marked. At 6 a.m., I was ready to swim. I had an hour to kill.The Swim (.25 mile) (27 minutes)As I stood on the shoreline in my one-piece swimsuit, the wind was still blowing quite a bit. I thought for sure the water would greet me with bone-chilling waves and icy, needle-like splashes. It actually was not bad at all. This would be the least of my worries.Numbers one through 30 were the first to go in, so that was me. I got about a minute into it and, despite bracing myself against it for months, I panicked. I could not get my breath. I said, "I can't do this, I can't do this."I could not believe those words came from my lips because, despite this public confession, there was no way I was going to quit. I’d been dreaming about my first tri for months and quitting was simply not an option. If I could just get through the swim, the rest would be easy.Like a guardian angel, a sweet and confident voice close by heard me and replied, "Sure you can, Honey. You can swim with me. I'm a slow swimmer. C'mon. You can do this." This somewhat older lady, #22, was a Godsend. She was with me and a few others the entire way, letting us know if we were going out too far or in too close to the shore.About halfway through, others were shouting, "We're almost done!" My heart sank because I was thinking, "Shouldn't we BE there NOW?" This was taking forever! I thanked the Lord again for #22 and prayed for Him to continue to get me through.As we got close to shore, about 25 minutes later, #22 grabbed my hand and we came out of the water together. Thank God for her! I don't know if I were in her position if I would have been willing to go so beyond a few words of encouragement and really look after and guide my competitors. I will never, ever, ever forget her kindness.My husband, Gary, was right there on the beach taking my picture as I finished. What a sight for sore eyes. He had been really worried about me because I didn’t come to shore with my wave of swimmers, or the wave after that, or the wave after that. He would tell me on the drive back that some people had to quit the swim early.The Bike (12 miles) (1 hour and 4 seconds)Coming from that swim, I had never been more relieved to get on a bike. Very soon into my ride, I started getting passed. I knew this would happen, especially given that I'm a beginner, but what surprised me the most was that there were still that many people behind me from the swim. I know some started in later waves, but I went really slowly on that swim!What's great about this sport is that there were women who were bigger than me, and there were women who were older than me passing me. Good for them.
Halfway through the bike ride, I was in a position to pass this one lady. I told her encouragingly, "Good job." She smiled and said she was slowing down to wait on a friend. I thought, "Well, of course she is. The one person I'll end up passing is someone who was intentionally going slow!"I finished this event up in almost exactly an hour. There was a pretty strong head wind the last few miles, but I did start to pass people who had passed me, which was kind of nice. Good for me.The Run (2 miles) (24 minutes and 56 seconds)My legs were so heavy the first half mile, having come off the bike, but they did start to feel lighter eventually. The first and last parts of the run were on a sidewalk. The middle section was through a trail in the woods. There were some seriously big mud puddles, and I had no choice but to stop running and walk to get around them.As I was coming around the last bend, the announcer said, "And here comes Lora Abernathy," and some other words I couldn't make out. I was too busy looking for Gary and I spotted him. He was standing a few feet before the finish line ready to take my picture.I crossed the finish line and a volunteer took off my timing chip and placed it in a box with the others. Hmm…That box sure had a lot of timing chips in it already.Post-EventGary and I met on the other side of the finish line and hugged. He said, "I have never been more proud of you." I'm really glad he said that and it showed in his beaming face. He said that the fact I had toughed out that swim when I could have given up made him even more proud.I came in 207 out of 217. There were 42 in my age group and I came in 40th. I did the entire event in one hour, 57 minutes and 15 seconds. I figured it would take me about two hours so I actually came in under my goal. Of course, having no background at all in any of these sports, my true goal was just to finish the thing.
AfterthoughtsThey had assigned numbers alphabetically, so that's how I got the number one. So when people spotted my number they would say, "Hey, number one," or "Hey, there's number one! Yea!" It was kind of like being an event celebrity. That was the only way that was going to happen unless, of course, I'd have been “that poor girl who drowned this morning.”
Though there were some tough moments during my swim, I don't think I've had a happier day since my wedding. I'm still walking around with a huge smile stuck on my face. I made a little "movie" with my pictures and some audio. I probably watch it too much and I get teary-eyed when I see me standing in a transition area, when I see me running with other triathletes into a lake, when I see me heading toward the finish line.I will always be grateful for the extreme kindness of #22. At my future triathlons (oh, yes, there will be more for this new triathlete), I hope to pay her kindness forward.It is ironic that number one ended up being number 207. It is, however, also a fact that while I was in the last group to finish the race, I was first among those who never started theirs.- Lora Abernathy
Absolutely loving every single day of my life...except the bad days!