Mexico – Country #2
May 16, 1998
Rocky Point Triathlon
Chris and I drove to Puerto Penasco, Mexico commonly referred to as Rocky Point in the US though the literal translation is “Rocky Port” for an Olympic distance triathlon. We left the next morning driving south through the Sonoran Desert. More hot than dry. Glad to have air conditioning. We stopped at the border to obtain car insurance, a necessity in Mexico and later passed through Customs. Once across the border easy to recognize we were no longer in Arizona or the US. Gone were the familiarity of road signs. No landscaping around houses. Only newer cars had license plates and all them from an American state. Most headed to the same location as us. My frame of reference of lower class poor needed quick adjustment when framing it to Mexican standards.
During the drive I remembered a story Ted Haydon shared after a track meet in New York City. Ted was head coach for the University of Chicago Track Club (UCTC) at age 70 when I met him in 1982. In his first career job as a social worker in Chicago he gathered data for surveys, talking with residences, giving presentations about his findings to neighborhood clubs, and more. Ted said most middle to upper middle class people he surveyed responded to questions about how they could barely live in keeping up with the Joneses on their huge salaries, while living in nice neighborhoods, owning nice houses, stuffed with nice things, and stocked with lots of food. He contrasted this with responses from poor people who shared with him how lucky they were to be better off than their neighbors in terms of having a job though lowly paid, having better health though still with medical issues themselves, and having more to eat than a family down the street with more mouths to feed and less food to go around the table. Yet these people still found extra money to share with a neighbor worse off than them. All Ted could think about was why these people would part with any of their small earnings because anything they kept and spent, would make them better-off; yet the middle and upper class would not give away much because they felt too poor to share with others as to find themselves falling further behind their neighbors in wealth and material items. One group was living high and always looking up for better, the other group was lower and always looking lower to compare how good they lived and what they could do to help others stay alive. Coach Haydon always had a great story to put things in perspective. While witnessed in America in limited places, in Mexico, the poverty was pervasive across the entire landscape from border to beyond.
What Coached Haydon experienced early in his career he took to heart to improve the lives of others his whole life. He had the clearest blue eyes and a keen sense of humor of someone much younger. His signature events were the All Comers’ Track & Field Meets he organized. These were “all comers” meets as anyone who had a dollar could enter and compete in an event. Ted let people enter who didn’t have a dollar to spare. He always removed barriers for the right reasons and causes. All Comers’ races brought in the entire talent spectrum. Some performance times and distances achieved during competitions were close to national and world records. World class American and foreign Olympians competed against athletes from the neighborhood surrounding the UC campus. Some competitors were still in high school, others were high school dropouts, and others were students or alumni from big and little name colleges. Ted thrived on this wide spectrum of participation.
Ted coached the US Olympic Track team twice. First as an assistant in 1968 when the Games were held in Mexico City and again four years later at the Munich Olympic Games in West Germany. He enjoyed sharing track and field stories when on road trips to meets as much as we enjoyed listening to them. Another favorite equality story pertained to his coaching capabilities for the Olympic teams. Back then the athletes were amateurs in the true sense of not earning money for their sport’s performances. He said athletes paid for meals unless a formal team meeting preceded the meal. Ted always kept the athletes’ best interest as his best interest over those of the governing bodies who seemed more to impede performances than boost those of the athletes. In addition to his coaching responsibilities, Ted liked to hold team meetings. The athletes arrived on time, five minutes before meal time. He called his single agenda item meeting to order and asked if anyone had questions or comments. No one did according to Ted. He quickly adjourned the meeting with a full meal served immediately afterwards. Ted wanted his athletes well fed, with money remaining in their pockets, and in top condition to bring home the gold for the USA. Three years later, Jim Ryun, a world record holder in the Mile Run and 880 Yard Run, who was on the US Olympics Teams in ’64, ’68, and ’72 confirmed Coach Haydon did this frequently and was endeared by athletes for his superior coaching abilities and how to chair athletes’ meetings. (Learn more about Coach Haydon here: https://www.si.com/vault/1975/09/22/616696/this-coach-is-first-class).
I felt a kindled spirit with Coach Haydon in a life lesson shared with me on challenges. Still today, Caroline and Hayes are challenged with AHC and related symptoms. Both girls continually rise above their setbacks. Each one of them recovers to return to their personalities, school, and life skills development. We face challenging days too when parenting our kids. When the days are an extraordinary challenge, we realize how fortunate we are to have kids. How fortunate we are in understanding that Hayes and Caroline could be much worse off. Many other kids face much more difficult afflictions as do their parents daily. On our entry into Mexico, we both felt fortunate for where we lived and the opportunity America provided to us.
We drove the 100 kilometers to Rocky Point, a coastal town located at the northern end of the Gulf of California and a vacation destination for Arizonians who call it Arizona Beach. All the hotel guests were either competing in the triathlon, had a roommate competing, or managed to arrive on the wrong weekend. Everyone’s room came with a balcony facing the water which provided white noise generated by one foot breakers on the Gulf. And the sea salt scented air confirmed for any desert dwellers we were now seaside vacationers.
One of the great things on race morning was no porta-potties and no long lines to use the restroom. The most convenient head was located in our hotel room, quick access and right beside the starting line. The sandy beach was clean and smooth as was the water of the Gulf of California for the 1,500 meter swim leg. High tide brought the water in but due to the relatively flat land, we were required to run or at least wade through over a 100 meters of water to the bike transition.
The 40 kilometer bike course was relatively flat with a start through the city and an out and back in the open desert. The road was rough and pocked mark with potholes. The bigger holes were encircled with Day-Glo orange paint to warn riders. Someone joked he rode on an orange-top road instead of blacktop. Racers knew of poor road conditions prior to the start. We were encouraged to keep our heads up and eyes on the road when riding. I didn’t see any bike parts littered across the pavement, though scavengers would have napped anything left behind and found a use for them.
The run was a mix of on and off-road surfaces with a steep hill climb located midway through the 10K run. Once on top of the rise we were treated to two gorgeous views of water. The beautiful blue of the Gulf of California stretching across the horizon and a crystal clear ice cold bottle of purified water to quench our thirst. After the race and a shower we headed out for lunch at an outside restaurant on top of a building in downtown Puerto Penasco. The food options offered nothing found on a Taco Bell menu board. The best selection was the Ceviche de Camaron, Shrimp Ceviche Cocktail with its bursting flavors of lime, cilantro, and fresh shrimp. Muy bueno! Nothing we ate in the States was half as good.
In the afternoon we enjoyed some sun time at the beach and contributed to the local economy buying some well-crafted and genuine silver jewelry from the wandering sellers. Dinner was a race sponsored celebration at the hotel in the courtyard and consisted of the four F’s of triathloning and travel: fun, food, festive, and family. The entire evening was wonderful. Awards were local handmade wood carvings of dolphins jumping out of the water. Beautiful, authentic, and much more memorable than a piece of acrylic with an oversize brand logo. At night, we again slept with the sliding door open to experience the white noise of the water. However about midnight we heard a louder over-served, over-sexed, and most likely over-tired beach goer telling his nearby girlfriend how much he loved her. Not quite wilderness and not quite Las Vegas, that’s Arizona Beach.
On Sunday we headed north to return to the States before the bewitching hour of expired car insurance but not before the Mexico Army soldiers, toting rifles and ammunition belts strapped over their shoulders, shook us down halfway between the Gulf and the border for our Mexican and US coinage. These collections, errr donations, were later distributed to people in need. I would have been scared shitless had a co-worker not warned me a week earlier to expect this collection point. For what Mexico offered us on the trip, we were more than happy to contribute. People living in these conditions benefitted much more than us trying to keep up with the Joneses. We added some paper money knowing my mother enjoyed Mexico on her trip, over five decades earlier and how great for future generations to enjoy a trip there with parents or for racing.
Results: 8th overall. 2nd in age group.