Before the Ironman was even a thought in my head, I ended up in Kona. It was purely by accident or coincidence or some other force of nature, but that’s where a new chapter in my racing life began.
As I lay in my bed at Craig Rehabilitation Hospital telling a friend that I was going to learn to use a racing chair, she told me about a fundraising program called Team Diabetes (“Team D”). It was a fundraiser for the American Diabetes Foundation and they had an upcoming race in Hawaii. She suggested it might be a fun goal to shoot for. No matter that I had yet to even squeeze my butt into a racing chair or push a single mile, I figured, “why not.” I had to raise $4,500 to participate and immediately started recruiting my friends to go with me and asking anyone who walked into my room for money.
My therapists thought I was crazy. Here I was at least a month out from being released from the hospital and only six months to train for the race. I guess it goes to show you that I’m either very bold or very stupid. Which I guess goes for doing Ironman races too.
I was discharged from the hospital at the end of January 2001 and the marathon was in June. I really didn’t have enough time to train properly, nor did I have the motivation right when I got out of the hospital, but I ended up putting in enough time in the chair that I felt like I could go race, only I had decided to stick with the half marathon instead of doing the full.
The night before the race I was anxious because I wasn’t sure I really knew what I was doing, but sitting at the start line, I had this wave of excitement coming over me. It was a similar rush to that of sitting at the start of a bike race. It was that feeling that I was about to test my body, mind and overall resolve in racing forward through whatever may challenge me and get to the finish line. Whether first or last wasn’t a concern in my mind. It was that I was there, breathing in and out, taking advantage of my second chance at life and I was going to go for it!
I think that’s what the Ironman is about, not only for me, but for hundreds and thousands of athletes who attempt what may seem like an insane race. Sure there are those super-talented crazies out there who really are in the running for first place and prize money and the glory of being the best in the world. But then there are those of us who line up at the start just because we can. Because we are here and what is life, if not an adventure?
I can’t wait to return to Kona and hope I can rekindle the thrill of my first wheelchair race where I was proud just to be at the start and elated once I got to the finish. When those feelings rush back into my system I will feel excited, energized and ready to go. Or maybe—I’ll just feel nauseous.