It is the winter of 2015-16, and I have convinced myself and an acquaintance that we can complete the Mattapoisett Lions Club Triathlon that summer.
My partner in crime enjoys swimming and upon surveying the course from the beach declares that she can do the swim portion. I’m so psyched up that we will be doing this, I can hardly contain myself.
I t was my attendance as a reporter covering the 2015 triathlon and seeing a lone participant cross the finish line long after the crowds had melted away that gave me inspiration. I didn’t care how long it would take me to do it, I just wanted to try.
Now with a mere two days remaining before the event, I was getting cold feet. My triathlon team member and I had “trained” for two months, her swimming, me bicycling, and speed walking. We called ourselves the “Yes We Can Duo,” but as the day approached, self-doubt and anxiety were seeping into my staunch resolve.
I told myself a true athlete would never doubt their ability to complete a physical challenge, that muscle memory and preparedness coupled with mental steel will find me coming across the finish line – which is, after all is said and done, the goal.
I kept reflecting on that lone participant from 2015.
No one had seemed concerned after it was learned that one runner remained out on the course long after all others were accounted for. I waited. After a while off in the distance, I could just make out a figure. Yes, someone was coming, and it was a woman. I nearly wept. She was struggling but she kept picking up her legs, kept her feet, albeit very slowly, moving forward.
I jogged up to her and said, “almost there, almost done, a bit further.” She did not acknowledge my words or me. Deep, deep within her own world, her own resolve to finish, she lumbered across the finish line. She had won her race. She had finished. Maybe I could, too.
It hurt me to see that no one ran up to her with congratulatory comments, praise for a job well done or simply to help her now that the task was over. She waved off my offers to assist, saying, “I’m alright.” I respected her need for space and privacy. I wondered why she had challenged herself in this manner. I would find out for myself.
That July 2016 triathlon would be my first and last. My right ankle had been bothersome that spring leading up to the event, making training tough to face. But believing it was not a serious problem, I plowed ahead, speed walking 3 miles every day, doing the course over and over and over again.
On the day of the triathlon, the weather was much as it was for the 2022 event: overcast, humid, and stagnant air. My swimmer took her position at the start line filled with self-doubt bordering on wanting to walk away. Instead, she hung in and slogged into the low tide at Town Beach. That swim is deceivingly tough. As she emerged from the water, she was knacked, breathing heavily and rather pissed off with me.
She reached the hand-off point to give me the electronic timer, sputtering, “… never again, never again.”
Then it was my turn. I grabbed my bike and was off like a rocket. Okay, maybe not a rocket but pretty darn fast for an older person pretending to be an athlete. I had ridden the course many times in preparation so I had a homefield advantage over those just visiting, so I thought, until I realized I was passing people who had finished the entire event. Anyway, at the turnaround point I was feeling confident I would clock in a pretty good time. Endorphins were pumping.
I dismounted at the appropriate spot to begin the run portion when I suddenly realized my thighs were no longer flesh, they had turned to stone. It was all I could do to simply move a foot forward in an attempt to walk. A friend came to my aid with a bottle of water that I greedily gulped down, pouring much of it over my seized-up body. All the while, I kept staggering toward the running course – ha-ha – resolved to finish even if I had to crawl.
For clarity’s sake, I do not run. I speed walk, or rather I did speed walk. And so I was able to pick up my pace after some more encouragement from the sideline and was off, heading towards Ned’s Lighthouse. Once I rounded Ned’s, I knew I was going to be able to finish. I’d been speed walking for about 10 years at that point so I was in my groove. The pain in my right ankle was miraculously gone. I was now boogying on down the road.
As the finish line came into view, I heard one of the event volunteers say, “Wait a minute, here she comes.” Those few onlookers still hanging around the finish line were comprised of my husband and two friends, but to me their voices sounded like an entire stadium.
We had done it. I had done it, and it felt so, so good.
The pain in my ankle would eventually be diagnosed as a stress fracture of the Talus bone. I’d wear an orthopedic boot for two months and then rehab for another two. That would be followed in subsequent years for fractures in other places, back surgery and chronic-disease issues. But I was good once as I ever was, as the song goes, and thanks to the other half of the “Yes We Can Duo,” I have the memory to enjoy forever.
This Mattapoisett Life
By Marilou Newell