October 16, 2005

The Hawaii Ironman Experience

This is supposed to be one of the nicer hotels in Kona, but it’s tough to believe that as I see two cockroaches hurriedly scurry across the brown tile floor as if they knew they were in the wrong place doing the wrong thing. They quickly scamper under the door to the neighboring room as I lay on the bed disconnected from reality, and watch them scurry off. And yet. I don't care.

I am in shock. It is an
emotional shock. It is the kind of shock you experience when feelings escalate to an overly-excessive level and your body doesn’t know how to respond. When the intensity of your sadness - or elation - exceeds the conventional parameters of normality. The body inevitably becomes immobilized. And so I lay on the bed stunned, feeling myself mere inches away from complete paralysis. Emotional catatonia.

I can feel my heart beating through my chest as I lay here in the hotel bed. It is banging on my rib cage, feeling like the next burst may break it loose. My breathing is surprisingly steady in this state of shock. I know my world has changed, but I can’t quite fully sense it yet. The adrenaline is coursing through my veins. I’m tired, I’m drained – but I can’t fall sleep. My eyes are wide open.

The cheering is still ringing through
my ears. All I can hear is the cheering. That is perhaps the most staggering aspect of the Hawaii Ironman: the cheering. The cheering doesn’t stop, it seems to never stop. And over the 17 hours, the cheering just keeps getting louder and louder. The “woohoos” and “yeah’s”, the screams and applause, the names shouted and encouragement bestowed: it is a 17 hour stampede, a freight train powering towards the finish line. And as each competitor stumbles towards the finish, it feeds the monster. And the cheering continuously pulls you deeper into its chasm. The symphony of cacophony builds stronger, until it lulls you into its embrace, wrapping its arms around you, grasping firmly on your emotions. And suddenly you become energetically connected with each and every one of the Ironman finishers. The line between you and the competitors dissolves - and you strive to yell louder, to cheer harder, but with each passionate outburst you become even more emotionally connected with the finishers. And as the 75 year old grandmother crosses the finish line in front of you, your heart seems to grow more fragile. And then the 35 year old with Lou Gehrig’s Disease passes you by. The wheelchair athletes. The paraplegic who couldn’t finish last year. The 80 year old great-grandfather. One by one, your cheering lifts their feet off the ground and drives them to the finish. And one by one you can feel your emotions break down deeper. Further. Tears swell in your eyes and you can feel your heart firmly lodged in your throat. And yet.

You continue to cheer louder. They become enveloped by the cheering - engulfed, embraced and consumed by the crowd. They pass you by so slowly, starving to grasp the moment. To squeeze it tighter until
they can no longer contain the love. You can see it in their eyes as they approach the end. You can see it in their heart. The sound gets louder and louder with each step; the shrieking of the whistles, the banging on the billboards, the clapping of the hands. Until their feet practically leave the ground and they float, drained and exhilarated, across the finish line. And I am there with them. I am with every single one of them.

I can feel the beating of my heart as I lay here in the hotel bed.
The cheering is still ringing through my
ears. And I don’t know if it will ever go away...