November 26, 2008


My friend Chris is an extremely good swimmer. Which is why everything seemed a little bit surreal last April.

My friend Chris and I did Ironman Arizona in April. It was his first. I'm a decent swimmer, I finish my Ironman swims in a bit over an hour but Chris, he's nearly 10 minutes faster than me. Definitely a sub-one hour guy. Which made it all the more interesting that I came out of the water before he did in April.

Then we realized he may never come out of the water at all. That's when "interesting" turned to frightening.

My friend Chris used to be a water polo player. He doesn't get phased when there's a lot of kicking and hitting and jostling for position. That's pretty much just another day in the water for him. Chris is also an avid scuba diver. He feels comfortable moving around in the open water and seems to have a deep appreciation for the immensity and power of the ocean. Chris also swims with a masters program every week. He swims in the fast lane - he's one of those guys.

Nobody expected Chris to get vertigo on the Ironman swim. Nobody expected him to lose the ability to tell which way was up and which way down. Nobody expected that he would push himself deeper into the water as he struggled to get a breath of air. Nobody expected him to get scared - to think he was going to die.

Nobody expected it. Fortunately, the life guards were prepared for it.

They pulled him out of the water. Literally, grabbed the back of his wetsuit and pulled him out. He couldn't lift his own face out of the water, fortunately they did it for him. He threw up. They told him his day was over, but they were empty words. He already knew it was done. Your first Ironman is done before it begins. It could bring a grown man to tears.

Ironman is a 140.6 mile journey. In April, my friend Chris barely made it 1 mile. He was brought to the medical tent and threw up. He was sent back to his hotel and threw up. He lay in his hotel bed all day, sick, dizzy, nauseous, vomitting. Racing your first Ironman is a celebration of all the months of hard training. My friend Chris wasn't celebrating. He was hanging his head in a plastic garbage can as he lay in a dark, dreary hotel room in utter misery. It was his first Ironman and he wasn't even there to experience it.

He was embarrassed. I can understand that. He felt like he let everybody down. I can understand that too. The next morning he got out of bed and signed up for Ironman Arizona again.

That's the type of guy my friend Chris is.

He left Arizona with no medals, with no finishers t-shirt, with no feeling of pride. He went through weeks of medical testing. X-Rays, MRIs, CAT scans. They found nothing. His dizzyness subsided. He was still weary in the water, but that didn't stop Chris. He kept swimming and the confidence came back. He biked harder, ran more. He bounced back. He amazed me. Cat said it best. Chris is the courageous one who taught me a couple of things about picking up the pieces and not letting circumstances rob you of the journey.

My friend Chris' journey began again this past week at Ironman Arizona. Same place, same course, new day. He didn't want us to come and watch him. He didn't want to let us down. But it would take a village to stop us. That's what inspiration does, it drives you forward, it doesn't leave you sitting at home wondering if you should get up and go.

People knew about his abbreviated journey in April. They knew his trepidation with the water. So when he emerged from the swim in 59 minutes, an entire triathlon community breathed a mutual sigh of relief and shed a communal tear of joy. The smile on my friend Chris' face as he ran to the change tent was all we needed. I did it! he screamed as he ran by.

He powered through the bike course with awe-inspiring grace and he conquered the run with seeming ease. Everytime he passed us he was smiling. Even when he was hurting, he was smiling. And when he came down the finish chute, when he was screaming and laughing, when he heard his name booming from the loudspeakers, when the crowd was hollering in joy, the frightening hearbreak of April faded away.

And as he stood there on the finishers side of a long Ironman day, he looked at his wife with the wide eyes of happiness and the glow of a million candles. I did it, he said with an ear-reaching smile. I did it.

My friend Chris is an Ironman.


TriGirl Kate O said...

What an inspiring story. Way to go Chris! Congratulations.

Jennifer Harrison said...

wow! This is one of the best IM stories ever!! Congrats to Chris! Thanks for sharing! Jen H.

Charisa said...

Awesome!! Congrats to Chris!!

Matt Getting said...

very inspiring -sent chills up my spine

Kate said...

That is freakin awesome, I could cry for him right now!!!!

Chris said...

Man, you really know how to get to a guy, don't you? What an awesome post........

Looking forward to actually racing with you again.

Thanks for being there.

jbmmommy said...

Now that's a comeback. Thanks for sharing the story of a very deserving Ironman.

Laura from NY said...

That's a very well-written inspiring story. Congrats again to Chris for an amazing race.

Colleen said...

AWESOME post! Thanks for sharing his story and congrats to him!

Alili said...

Your friend Chris is an Ironman and I am a sobbing idiot. What a fantastic post.

Rich said...

I don't know Chris...But I'm soooo Proud. I'm sobbing fool right now, but I think I'll go train. Thats inspirtation at its best...Thanks so much for posting this to a wanna bee Sprint Triathelete.