Washington #8

May 13, 1995

Elma Triathlon



While I competed in a handful of races over the next four years, none in a new state. The destination race to Washington State was one big destination. In the previous year race season was trumped by other priorities – a second child, a new employer, a new house, and a move of 1,800 miles to the Seattle metro area.  


Our choices for these changes after realizing how fragile our family was in the world. In January 1994, Hayes (2 ½ years old), was diagnosed with Alternating Hemiplegia of Childhood (AHC) by a doctor at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. The doctor didn’t share what implications AHC held for Hayes’ future. Two days later, Chris, an RN, visited Loyola Medical library and learned not much was known, understood, or documented about AHC. As she provided a summary her voice tapered off to a soft sob, “I don’t like what I saw.”


Little more is known today about AHC. It’s a rare neurological disorder in which repeated paralysis of a portion of the body occurs, usually affecting one side of the body at a time, hence, the alternating portion of the name. Although named “of childhood,” people affected by AHC do not grow out of the disorder. AHC causes ongoing mental and neurological deficiencies on an unwelcomed progressive course.


In January 1994 our minds were spinning in uncertainty. Our world wobbled. Chris was pregnant with a second child due in two months. No one could tell us what the outcome could be for our new addition. Meanwhile, my only employer since college offered a severance package, the seventh offering in less than four years. That signaled the company would not be an on-going entity for a lifelong career. Moving on from one employer became an interesting possibility after seven years but after extend consideration we decided to make a career commitment in 1990 and stay the course. Then things changed dramatically.


In the 1980’s people who arrived at a milestone crossroads of a seven year itch in work, marriage, or hobbies were not uncommon to implement significant changes. Work opportunities turned to be limiting and inequities became more apparent in the last 3 years leading up to departing Chicago. I didn’t complain about the situations but never accepted the explanations. I also didn’t pull back from work responsibilities or mope that conditions weren’t fair. I passed through each without a course correction until a tipping point with the kids. Life was too short. Moved on from the bitterness which I could control and the inequity which I could not control and created opportunities. Chris and I discussed options, opportunities, and unknowns.


We assessed the situation. We agreed now was a good opportunity to control some of the change and not be bogged down in changes we couldn’t control. We stripped away the artificial limitations in how we defined our lives; one being where we lived. We wanted to live elsewhere if not constricted by self-imposed boundaries of a current employer. By early March we narrowed living choices to seven desired locations based on what we liked during previous vacations, talking with others, job opportunities, and change in lifestyle. At the end of March, we welcomed another daughter into our lives, Caroline Greta. She came home with us the next day on Good Friday. A good Friday indeed.


Within a sequence of eight days we welcomed Caroline Greta into our lives, gave notice to Human Resource department personnel about leaving, interviewed on the phone and flew for an in-person interview of a panel of future co-workers. We made choices, controlled our attitudes to the outcomes, and acted with decisiveness. We choose to thrive with what the decisions brought and the kids we brought into the world. Our progressive actions to the new norm of special need parents provided new opportunities in our future.  Looking back, we took a subconscious lead from the airlines safety walkthroughs prior to take off, “put your own oxygen mask on first”. Translated to, “take care of yourself first so you can effectively take care of your kids”. Dead parents cannot care for gasping kids. With the discovery of Hayes’ diagnosis and pending concern about our unborn second child, our lives seemed to be losing air pressure but not the will to live. We took care of our needs first to ensure we could continue to breathe to care for our young family.


Within three months we moved to one of the seven cities, Seattle. We traded in the winter grey skies of Chicago to the fall, winter, and spring grey skies of Seattle. More rain, less snow. The city was green before the green movement was defined. On clear days when standing in downtown Seattle the Olympic Mountain Range covered with rain forests that drain into the Pacific Ocean could be viewed to the west. To the east, the city is surrounded with sharp peaks of the Cascade Mountains. To the south is Elliott Bay, which melds into to Puget Sound, pointing towards Mt. Rainer topped with its year-round cap of snow. And looking north, another volcano, Mt. Baker, a two-hour drive away. When the sun is out, Seattle is arguably the prettiest city in the world. On sunny days I snickered they paid me to live there. On the overcast days, I was glad to receive those paychecks.  


During an impromptu group ride with a half dozen triathletes on Star Lake Road near our house talk turned to Ironman racing and triathlete designations. The group’s consensus was triathletes were not really triathletes unless they completed a full Ironman triathlon of 140.6 miles. Never met these riders before but for me, after 25 triathlons in 10 years, I was a triathlete, even without an Ironman race on my resume. Told them too. In reality, triathloning is a sport of accumulation. People cannot take away what you already accomplished like completing your first triathlon or crossing the finish line at your first destination race. Triathletes do not put asterisks by their names because of times, places, or distances to callout your accomplishments. Whether you raced in an Ironman or any other triathlon, you will always be a triathlete.


By May, after a two-year break, race time returned. The first race on the outdoor calendar was in Elma, halfway between Seattle and Mt. Rainer. Too far away to fall within the shadow of Mt. Rainer, even on a sunny day; however, the race site was literally in the shadow of the 500 foot WPPSS (aka  WHOOPS) cooling tower in Satsop, an ill-advised and ill-planned use of $2.25 billion that resulted in an unfinished nuclear power plant. With extensive water generated power in the northwest, you can only ask, “What were the so-called visionary builders and actual investors thinking?”


The swim in Elma was supposed to be a 1/2 mile loop but the distance turned out to be fluid. It seemed most of the water in Washington State was cold, numbing almost, except for the two YMCAs where I trained. The pool water there rivaled the temperatures of any reasonably heated hot tub. Instead of anchored buoys marking the turn points, race organizers chose to direct someone in a boat equipped with a small trolling motor and a rope of small buoys. Floats like the ones you find in a pool that mark the imaginary line from the shallow-end to the start of the deep-end. The boat driver decided slower swimmers spent too much time in the cold water relative to the fast swimmers. He continually moved the boat to pull the buoy line, designating the turnaround, closer to the swim-to-bike T1 transition. The slower racers swam, the less distance they covered. The race official handicapped the swim leg in real time.


The transition area was a parking lot with no bike racks. Early arrivals leaned their bikes against a small stone wall or trees just off the asphalt. Everyone else laid their bikes down in the formerly empty lot. A progression of shivering triathletes – though the sun quickly warmed us -- straggled out of the water looking for their bikes. Once out of the transition area and on our bikes, the course included two laps with a steep climb to circle the non-functioning, non-nuclear cooling tower.


If there is a single secret to reveal to all I learned on the journey is triathloning is as much about time management as it is about physical fitness management. Working at a mind-boggling fast growing company, staying married after convincing my wife to more two-thirds of the way across the US (then halfway around the world), parenting special need kids, and wanting to race created multiple auguring in opportunities of burnout and divorce if not appropriately handling time management in real life. In essence, optimal time management became a critical component in positive outcomes. I rode the bike a couple of miles to the morning bus stop off Interstate 5 and took a King County Metro bus into work into city center Seattle, not too far from the Pike’s Place Market. I rode home by Rainer Brewery, which in 1995 still brewed fresh beer daily.


Chris felt like a tri widow more than ever during the summer. She made lots of sacrifices to accommodate us. One late evening I arrived home at dinner time but skipped it to enjoy a bike workout in the late light of the Seattle summer. Another family opportunity missed. She welcomed me home knowing I was happier when riding and racing. We both acknowledged understanding, acceptance, and comprises were required ingredients in a successful relationship.


Accepting our fate of unforeseen challenges and expanded opportunities in life, we realized hope for a cure of AHC was great for motivation but not a great plan of action for life development and achievements for a family. This awareness put us in a better position to support each other on a development plan for Hayes and the family going forward.


Never much liked the word hope, especially after starting high school. Thinking in terms of only hope, as in wanting a specific outcome, the ability of fulfilling the outcome didn’t seem attainable without a set plan followed by actions. Felt more in control of outcomes when thinking in terms of specific action plans for achievement. With more experience in life I realized though with hope, came possibilities. With a choice selected, action occurred. Looking back, I missed out on motivational aspects by shying away from using hope. The word and reference to hope would have served me better for motivation in how to create an action plan for reaching my goals. Learned better as a parent specific actionable items helped reach goals and hope gives an uplift to the process. Hope gets us going and the plans help us achieve milestones along our journey of life. This approach worked on the girls and helped me keep a better balance along the journey. The dual approach can easily be adopted for triathletes who will never be world-class pros but enjoy the sport. Triathletes continue to be coached, try new workouts, achieve successes in races, hope for improvement, and enjoy the sport’s payouts for a lifetime.


A takeaway from Hayes’ diagnosis, and changes brought about in the challenges and opportunities it presented, was our family also adopted somewhat of “The Grinch That Stole Christmas” philosophy. Though a lot was stolen from Hayes’ future opportunities though her spirit of life continued unabashed. As for us, hope and continuing parenting/coaching keeps our family motivated for future payouts. Our lives are controlled by choices we make, influenced by things we cannot control, and fulfilled by actions we take with attitudes we adopt.


Results: 10th overall. ? in age group

Doug Morris

Coach of Exceptional Outcomes

Palm Trees Ahead, LLC

Tel: 1.630.457.7889


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