Lessons From an Olympic Aquabike

The day started in the wee hours of the morning with the cries of our almost 3 year old daughter, Alexandria.  Her sleep habits had been off the past few months since she was potty training and that day was no exception.  She ended up in our bed and amidst my strange dreams and fitful sleep, her Dada went and slept in her room.  Just a few hours later I woke up to the rumble of thunder and the crash of lightening.  I am not going to worry, I am not going to worry.  This does not mean anything.  I told myself as I groggily reached for my glasses and made my way to the bathroom.  I gently closed the door, so not to wake my sleeping child, and reached for my phone.  As fast as my fingers could fly, I navigated my way to check the weather.  Things did not look good.  After closer inspection on my computer at the radar maps, things looked pretty bad.  Rain, lightening, thunder for the entire day.   The websites could not keep up with the changing weather patterns.  Every 5 minutes the chance of thunder showers during my race changed.  I told myself that obsessing over the weather map was not going to change anything, so after asking my friends on Facebook to pray, I washed my face and quietly made my way into the kitchen.  

I wrote my deceased daughter's name on my arm in case I needed some encouragement.
Throughout the morning, I ate breakfast, tried to read my Bible, packed my bags, checked my "to bring" list a hundred times, checked the weather page again (and again), and eventually, just an hour and a half before my race was to begin, we made our 45 minute trip to Taylorsville Lake.  My husband's directions indicated that we should take a different way than we had the previous weekend, where I did a test run of the wrong route.  As we drove through the rain, over the rolling hills, I began to recognize the route of that practice run.  

The practice run that I did was, in one word, insane.  My husband and my daughter dropped me off at the marina at the lake and I followed 41, not in the straight path that I was instructed, but on the path where it veered off to the left through neighborhoods of houses (if you could even call it that because there was a lot of wide open space in between each house).  The hills were crazy!!  During the 25 mile ride I probably climbed at least 10-15 good, steep hills.  The day itself had equal parts sunny and cloudy skies, perfect for a bike ride, but it was extremely windy.  A few times while I was riding, I felt like the wind was going to pick me up and take me off into the clouds.  I couldn't help but wonder if that was how Elijah felt when God took him up in a whirlwind to heaven (2 Kings 2:11).  At one point I was so discouraged and exhausted I almost called my husband to come and pick me up, but I pressed on.  I grew so desperate that I started begging God to make the wind stop, if even for five minutes.  He answered my prayer, but then it started blowing all over again.  He's a funny guy.  I made it through the practice run, but barely.  I was so worn that I thought there was no way I would be able to ride 25 miles in that terrain after a 1500 meter swim (.93 miles).  Then I reminded myself, the pain that I felt on that bike ride was nothing like the pain of losing a child, so I could and I would make it.  

You know you want to laugh. 
On the actual race day, when we arrived at our destination the rain seemed to come to an abrupt halt.  I quickly moved my bike and my gear to the transition area, put on my wetsuit and donned my cap and goggles for the swim portion of the even.  After 10 minutes participants brought themselves to the waters edge.  It was a sight to see so many people dressed in wetsuits with swim caps on their heads.  I had to stop myself from chuckling a few times.  While instructions were given, it began to sprinkle.  I chose to focus on the task at hand and not worry about a little rain.  Before I knew it, the race began.  After swimming in the Ohio, the previous August, swimming in Taylorsville Lake was cake.  Once I was able to break myself from the crowd of arms and legs, I mentally visualized that I was swimming in the pool at the seminary.  It wasn't until the second lap I realized that I was ahead of quite a few people.  It gave me the confidence I needed to sprint the last 1/4 of the swim race.  I could see my family out of the corner of my eye, cheering me on as I swam my final laps up to the ramp.  I found that I was not as tired as I remembered feeling in my last race, so I booked it to the transition area (asking a complete stranger to unzip my wetsuit) and found my bike.  Taking notes from the previous year, I did not stop to go to the bathroom, eat a banana or get a drink of water.  I methodically removed my wetsuit (my triathlon bike outfit was underneath) and put my helmet, gloves, sunglasses, shoes and socks on.  My husband stood on the other side of the ropes while I got ready and without saying a word, I could hear him tell me "You can do this.  I'm proud of you."  That was all I needed to press on. 

The hill out of the park was a very long incline.  As I climbed it I began to cry.  I wasn't supposed to be there that day.  I was supposed to be 37 weeks pregnant with a healthy baby in my belly, but I wasn't.  Instead, God had given me this to focus on.  And I knew I would rise to the challenge.  After making it to the main highway, I realized that the sun was peaking through the clouds and it had stopped raining all together.  I smiled to myself, thinking there must have been an Elijah, a prophet of God, who had prayed and because they were righteous, God stopped the rain (James 5:17).  For that, I was grateful.  There were perhaps 6-7 hills (more like inclines) in all.  They were nothing like the hills I had been on the previous week and I found myself being thankful for the miles I road on the wrong course.  

At the very beginning of the race, I encouraged others with a, "Good job" or "Good luck" as they passed me.  A motivation technique I learned on my first Olympic duathlon.  I couldn't help but feel a swell of pride knowing that I had finished my swim portion faster than them, but knew there was no way I would ever be able to compete with their cycling abilities.  I was okay with that.  I was also encouraged by the men who passed me that took a minute to wish me luck or have short conversations about the hills or the weather.  Not once did I feel like I was in the race alone.  

As the bike portion progressed I found myself singing worships songs that we sang each Sunday at church, "Jesus, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain for us, Son of God and Man you are high and lifted up; and all the world will praise your great name" "Every high thing must come down.  Every stronghold shall be broken.  You wear the Victor’s crown.  You overcome.  You overcome".  And yes, I even found myself singing "Let it Go" from Frozen (which actually seemed appropriate), "Let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore.  Let it go, let it go, turn away and slam the door.  I don’t care what they’re going to say.  Let the storm rage on, the cold never bothered me anyway."  I also prayed for the friends that I knew that suffer from chronic medical conditions like I do and other friends, who were going through difficult times.  Each song I sang and each prayer I said seemed to strengthen my resolve that I was going to finish the race and I was going to finish it strong.  (I also thought it was a good thing that no one was that close to me because they would have surely thought I was crazy.) 

After I reached the halfway mark, I began my journey back to the finish line.  The weather was still absolutely perfect.  The rolling hills and lush green grass sparkled from the morning rain.  The road was completely dry though.  And then there was a gentle breeze.  It was a warm and soft breeze that tickled my back.  I thought to myself how much nicer this breeze was than the wind that had whipped around me the previous week.  In comparison that day's breeze felt like a whisper, breathing against my cheek.  I thought about the Bible stories I had learned as a child and remembered the story of Elijah (we were becoming fast friends) when he was being threatened by the Israelites and he prayed to God for help.  God told him, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by."  God sent a strong wind that tore up the rocks on the mountain, an earthquake and a fire, but God was not in any of those.  Then, he sent a gentle whisper and that was where God was (1 Kings 19: 9-18).  It was at that moment I understood that God was trying to tell me that he was with me and he had been with me.  This entire race and this entire year.  And he would continue to be with me.  He made the rain stop to remind me of this.  And he sent that soft breeze to make sure that I was listening to him.  

This year I feel like I had been handed a plate of sheep dung.  My life up to this point has been a series of unfortunate events.  Yes, there was my miscarriage at 18 weeks, but there was also my niece who was diagnosed with ehlers danlos syndrome, my family that seemed to get sick every time we were supposed to get together and another very close friend of mine who has had miscarriage after miscarriage.   I have grieved more than I thought my heart could bare.  I had gotten to a point where I never thought that I would hear that still small whisper of God, reminding me of his presence and comfort.  I got to the point where I never thought I would hear him again.  Until this race.  God put it on my heart to do this race for myself, but also for Ezraela (my daughter I lost) and everyone else who can't do this because of heartbreak or chronic medical condition.  He gave me the strength to endure.  Even during this race, when my IC (interstitial cystitis) was flaring like a fire that could not be quenched, I knew that I could do it because he was with me and in prayer, all of the people who were suffering just like I had were with me (and come to find out, many of them were praying for me that day as well).  

And I finished.  My goal was to not let anyone pass me once I reached the park.  I passed several people running on my way down the big hill and in admiration, was very thankful that I didn't have to run too.  I did cheer them on as I passed them.  A few told me, "You're almost there" and I felt that warm camaraderie that seemed to infiltrate these types of events.  

When I got to the finish line I saw my husband, my mom and dad, my little girl and my sister in law, cheering me on.  I had to stop myself from crying.  I had done it.  When I got off my bike, I almost crashed because my legs were so sore.  The guy that was officiating tried to get me to go through the transition area instead of the finish line and I told him, "I'm done, I'm not running."  Come to find out, he didn't realize that I was an aquabike duathlete.  He thought I was a triathlete, who still needed to run.  When I asked him what my stats were, he told me I finished in 2 hours and 8 minutes and some change.  He confessed he was so confused because there hadn't been any other people from the aquabike that had come through yet.  He told me that I was first.  I had won first place.  I looked at him, dumbfounded.  Surely his computer was wrong.  There is no way I had finished first.  "I finished first?" I asked him.  "You finished first.  No one else from the duathlon has come through," He repeated.  I was first. 

My baby girl and my first place plaque.


It was my dad's 61st birthday.  He told me that was a pretty good birthday present. 
I got a plaque.  I'm not sure where I will put it.  In some ways I feel like this event was closure to everything that has happened this year.  Not closure in the sense that I will ever get over losing my sweet baby girl, but closure in the sense that I know that her death meant something.  If anything, it reminded me of God's presence in my life, in a way that I would not have felt if I were 37 weeks pregnant today.  Do I wish this reminder had happened some other way?  Sure.  But, to know that I could overcome everything that I had been plagued with by completing a simple 1500 meter swim and 24.9 bike ride by God's power and know that he was with me and will continue to be with me every step of the way?  That is simply priceless.  

My husband and I also celebrated our 11 year wedding anniversary that day.
And the next day was Mother's Day.  A pretty awesome weekend.

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