June 5, 2011
Kicks on 66 Triathlon
Hayes loves to travel. She counted down the days to race trips like kids counted down the days until school was out for the summer so right after Memorial Day, we were in single digits for the next race on the journey. The Kicks on 66 triathlon was a qualifying race in The Best of the US race series which ensured good triathletes from Oklahoma would compete to qualify. Learned from my journey that a handful of great triathletes lived in every state. The race also offered an American history icon with the bike course on US Highway 66. Riding and driving on parts of the historic Route 66 was an entertaining opportunity to experience nostalgic travel in the US before interstates crisscrossed the more modern landscape.
Hayes chose to be more independent. She continued to travel with me as her time and my free airline tickets and hotel stays allowed. She chose what area to volunteer in at races if the volunteer coordinators allowed her. She preferred direct interaction with the triathletes in a group volunteer setting. She chose appropriate restaurants based on the likes of all parties’ food preferences. Comments from others helped her mold her behavior to meet their needs better while re-enforcing positive traits. Hayes showed more confidence, she grew comfortable being in new places, with new people, and with different responsibilities. Adults in her life in our home community recognized her growth from the experiences she learned at many places including while at races with me.
Hayes took pride in her accomplishments when mentioned by others. She engaged in discussions with other athletes at both races and on the street when she recognized triathletes from their tattoos they sported or from race shirts, jackets, or caps they wore away from races. She recognized late model watches that primary triathletes made fashionable. She knew what race related questions to ask about. She knew unique comments to throw in about different locations, distances, and the size of races based on participates. She knew bigger races meant more people for her to serve. And generally the bigger the race, the more prestige the race. More than a few triathletes questioned her or me of all the places where she saw races and helped out in them. She was more traveled than some of the envious newbies. Her experience of supporting triathlons as a volunteer developed her capabilities to handle responsibilities. She liked the companionship with me and thrived in the camaraderie of other triathletes.
Hayes also learned from volunteering how intense the athletes could be in their competition yet show so much camaraderie afterwards. She adopted much of what she saw in competition from triathletes in her intensity for the sports she competed in year-round. She competed in her local Fox Valley Special Recreation organization and many Special Olympic events including swimming, basketball, volleyball, skiing, soccer, and softball. She and her teammates gave recognition to her competition after the contests. Hayes always extended the celebration of the activity to more than just a win/loss outcome with full camaraderie afterwards.
The Kicks on 66 Triathlon was held 25 miles west of downtown Oklahoma City in El Reno. El Reno was about the same population size as my home town of New Castle, Indiana at 17,000. Like my hometown, it is the county seat. Farmland surrounds both towns. El Reno is close to Interstate 40. New Castle is close to Interstate 70. El Reno is close to US Route 66, once referred to as the Street of the Nation. New Castle is close to US 40, once referred to as the National Road.
And that’s where the similarities end with my hometown. And in a contrasting comparison, El Reno hosted its seventh consecutive year of triathlon races while New Castle hosted a “1 and done’ off-road triathlon in a nearby county park.
Also, two weeks ago I raced at the Memphis in May where the race relocated this year and ended up near a flooded area. El Reno relocated the whole city from five miles north after it was flooded out for a second time. If a race didn’t change locations, then sometimes the town did.
I ripped my wetsuit when pulling it into proper position over my body. The suit served me well for the seven years I competed in it. The wetsuit blew-out at the seam wrapped around my left thigh. The rip was caused by my mistake in tugging at the top of my leg instead of slowly pinching together a small surface area of the neoprene and then gentle pulling it upward and into proper positioning. I pulled hard and quickly on the wetsuit below my waist and lost to the materials’ physical properties. About a 6” x 2” horizontal hole resulted with my leg flesh full exposed to air. Looked like I didn’t know how to properly put on a wetsuit. Proved I didn’t know or worse, thought such a rookie error would never happen to me, since thought of myself as an experienced racer. For future races I not only took greater care of putting on a wetsuit but more thoroughly thought through all my race ready activities. Through this lesson, learned anything can happen if not taking the proper preventative measures. We swam in Lake El Reno, a relatively small reservoir on the west side of town. We started at the sandy public beach with calm and clean lake conditions.
Per the requirements of the governing US body of triathlons, racers need to walk or run through the transition area (T1) and then fully out of it pushing, pulling, or carrying their bikes beyond a line marked, drawn, or painted referred to as the “mount line”. Once racers fully crosses this line and are out of the way of other competitors, they allowed to get on their bikes to ride safely and swiftly over the entire bike course to return or move on to the next transition area (T2). Prior to entering T2, triathletes are required to get off their bikes before crossing the “dismount line”, then walk, run, or stagger to their transition spot to rack their bikes and start the run leg.
Most triathletes will put their left foot on the left pedal, then hoist their right leg over the bike seat, also called a saddle, and start pedaling. The process is similar to a horseback rider stepping up with their left foot into a stirrup and slinging the right leg over the saddle. I witnessed some highly skilled triathletes who used a flying mount. The process required pushing the bike by its saddle as the triathlete ran, then in a single continual motion step up on the moving pedal, arching the right leg up and over the saddle while landing squarely on the bike seat with his butt.
You gotta love a race director with a sense of humor. As we exited T1 the line was marked with the words, “Mount Here.” Followed with a second comment of, “That’s what she said!” In reality, that move would require a different type of flying motion.
After the start, the bike course was relatively mundane, though we covered a significant chuck of history from decades ago. With the exception of the two kilometers getting out and back into the transition area by Lake El Reno, the whole bike course took place on the Historic Route 66 highway. Route 66 was one of if not the premier highway in the first half of the 20th century. It was one of the busiest highways in the United States before being overwhelmed by the Interstate system started in the late 1950’s. Route 66 started at Chicago’s Grant Park along the Lake Michigan shoreline, within sight of where I competed in my first triathlon 25 years earlier. The highway reached all the way to the Pacific Ocean to end at the pier in Santa Monica, California. Now in El Reno, Interstate 40, tracked to the south of the Route 66 Highway and allowed for us to race on a nostalgic and peaceful highway. Traffic was so light we could imagine the highway was built for cyclists, at least on this early, sunny morning in Oklahoma.
The run was flat and in the open. It lacked shade. The sun warmed up the pavement and the triathletes quickly. What a difference a day makes. Saturday the weather was pleasant then on Sunday it pushed up temperature close to record measurements. The temps climbed to the high 80’s by mid-morning. Combined with the relatively high humidity at 80%, we were hot, sweaty and near over-heating once off the bikes. Temps topped out later at 96°F.
On the run we followed a squiggly road that mirrored the shoreline of Lake El Reno for a mile and half to almost where the lake ended by Interstate 40. Then we turned back around to return to the transition area. We covered two laps in total with a slight angle out turn to the finish line for the 10 kilometer run leg. The overall winner was Chuck Sloan, a 31 year-old triathlete from Tulsa who clocked an amazing 1:53:17.
Hayes handed out ice cold water bottles to the welcome hands of all triathletes passed the finish line. Her face and body were flushed from the heat and shirt wet with sweat. She gave a welcomed relief from the heat to all the finishers while offering everyone a few congratulatory words with a big smile.
Post-race food and refreshments were in a large tented area that provided everyone a break from the direct hot sun. I talked with a triathlete named Ryan. He was a “4x4”. He had four years of high school, then four years of college, followed by four years of work. Now he was going to travel for four years. What a life. He was not yet decided where he would travel to on his journey. He asked me about places that interested him. I shared my thoughts. He was excited about getting started. And he should be.
I also met 2nd place overall finisher and first place age grouper in the 50-54 category, Lee Walther. Lee clocked me at this race. He had a strong swim and great bike and held strong for the run. Racing there was a great opportunity to compete on the turf of others’ for new competition push for my own improvement.
The course was fast. Our times benefitted from the small lake for the swim, rolling bike course, and dead flat run. I spoke with him after the race and he said he took a few years off from competing in triathlons but had been running and biking a lot. Nice guy and humble. He mentioned he used to be good but still rusty now. Regardless, 2:01 was pretty damn fast for anyone, at any age. Hell, I'd take a rusty 2:01 at age 52 these days. A 2:01 was good for me in my early 30's. The rest served him well. He added his racing had been in the Oklahoma area only but he was headed to the US National Age Group Championships in Vermont in a couple of months. We would race against each other again a 1,000 miles east of Oklahoma in a few weeks.
Hayes continued to handout water bottles to the last few finishers as the awards ceremony started. Once she wrapped up with her responsibilities, I grabbed my bike, helmet, shoes, goggles, and newly ripped wetsuit.
We went back to the hotel and took in a late morning swim in the pool. She did a few laps while I floated around for a while. She goaded me into a couple of race laps against each other. She was tuning up for her next race, I was already tapering for my next one. I packed the bike while Hayes packed her bag. We checked out and I dropped my bike case at the front desk to be picked up the next day and shipped out to Cambridge, Maryland.
While waiting for the plane at the airport to fly us home we talked about her next weekend races at the Special Olympics Illinois State Games. The Special Olympics organization created an athlete's oath: "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."
The oath is something for all of us to learn from. Think of it this way, Special Olympics’ athletes experience the same race scenarios as “normal” athletes who engaged in sports through schools, clubs, or other athletic associations. This includes the process of learning new skills, training, teamwork, and the actual emotions of a competitively measured contest. We all learned the most important measurements of the event were not the time or distances or heights achieved but the number of smiles displayed, pumped fists in the air, hugs awarded, and sighs of relief that the special athlete achieved. Something many were unsure of achieving at the start of the event. All participants were deemed winners for their involvement at Special Olympic events.
A young Hayes at 10 years old when she came to me after a swim meet where she was in the 25 meter breaststroke event. She was disqualified for changing stokes after falling behind her two, much older competitors, both age 18. Hayes was on the verge of crying because she thought I was angry with her for the DQ. She also did not want to swim in her next race. The most important thing was she participated. She had fun. She smiled in relief and bravely went on to her next race and tried her best to win. In the real world not everyone will be the best in everything. But everyone can feel good about themselves if they know that did their best in trying to be the best in their world. Any normal person would not feel bad about doing their best. And no special needs or no especially gifted athlete should feel bad about doing their best no matter what the measurements read.
Hayes was already in countdown mode for her next race travel, this one of her own. She would compete in swimming in six days with that attitude at the Illinois State Special Olympics Games. Ironically, the Games were held in the city of Normal at Illinois State University not far from where former US Route 66 went right through the city. I would go and compete at the Subaru Ironman Eagleman 70.3 only seven days away in Maryland with the same attitude too.
Results: 5th overall. 2nd in age group.