After every big race there is a period of sadness. It’s so common among athletes we even have a name for it: the post race blues. I had it after finishing the South Beach Triathlon where I pulled my quadriplegic friend Kerry Gruson as part of Team ThumbsUp. The race, the project, working with Kerry and the outpour of support have been the highlight of my triathlon “career.” Maybe nothing will ever top that feeling.
If you missed it, here’s the one minute version of Kerry’s story. She was a 26 year old reporter when she interviewed a Vietnam veteran in Hawaii during which the Green Beret had a PTSD flashback, strangled her, and left Kerry for dead. She survived but was left severely disabled from the lack of oxygen to her brain. I can’t tell you how many times I have repeated Kerry’s story and it never gets easier. However, she does not live like a victim and has shown me, and countless others, how to live life with a Thumbs Up attitude. You can read about the ThumbsUp project here.
After South Beach, Kerry and I with the help of our friend Ari, did the Swim Miami Race where I pulled her for two miles. Then Kerry did some 5ks with friends, while my attention turned to Ironman Arizona. In my mind, I was always going to do something with Kerry but probably after my November race. We day dream of cycling tours, public speaking, and such.
Kerry mentioned the Swim For Alligator Lighthouse, an 8 mile open water race in the Florida Keys raising funds to maintain the lighthouse. I had it on my radar, however I discarded it because it was in the midst of Ironman training and I wanted to stay focused. So I dissuaded her a bit: it is logistically complicated, I didn’t have the time, bla bla bla.
But on my 42nd birthday last week, my eldest son Dreamer (8) made me this cape:
After I melted, I asked him why he thought I was an inspiration and he mentioned racing with Kerry. I realized keeping ThumbsUp going was important. Not just for Kerry and me, but for all those who supported us and believed in us, including my family. Turns out my son inspired me more than I could possibly inspire anyone.
I checked in with Kerry, and she immediately said yes. No surprise there, she is always game for something crazy. She was planning a dive with sharks, and how to get to Nova Scotia where she is racing her sailboat this month.
I wrote Jonathan, the Race Director, to see what he thought about having us participate, and if it were even an option. He wrote back in a nanosecond, and since then has been helping us get this together.
Great! Now we needed the rest of the team. We have to do the Swim For Alligator Lighthouse as a four person relay, and thought it would be great for it to be all female (nothing against men but …)
I called Lilly, my swim coach and my kids triathlon coach. She was instrumental at the South Beach Triathlon, and was the spotter who kept Kerry’s kayak from capsizing in the rough ocean that day. She was going to do the Swim For Alligator Lighthouse in a two person relay with her friend Amparo (also known as Chiqui). Together, they have done several open water swims including a swim around Key West and Hawaii. In fact, the cover photo is Chiqui diving into the ocean when she did the Hawaii swim.
They spoke, and both got on board.
And for our fourth, we reached out to my Wolfpack Tri teammate Caryn, also known as supermom. Not too long ago, I wrote about her training for Ironman Frankfurt and how she did her long rides in a computrainer at night so she could spend the weekend with her three boys.
I also remember at South Beach, Caryn came up to me as I set up transition and made me cry asking me to think about the impact I am having on my children. She does too. She is Executive Director of HELP, Inc. Law, a nonprofit assisting HIV positive homeless individuals. She does so much for her children, and her community, I thought this was another neat way her kids could see how generous and strong their mom is.
And so our ThumbsUp team is set and registered to embark on yet another adventure. However, there are a gazillion details to figure out between now and September 20 which really is not too far away.
We are rethinking what Kerry will ride in; something more comfortable than the inflatable kayak she used at South Beach but not much heavier as it is a long haul. We need to determine a time interval that each one will swim pulling Kerry. If the ocean is choppy that day, one of us will also have to swim alongside Kerry to “steer.” Therefore we have to be ready to swim at least two miles each pulling the kayak, or four miles, with the additional two miles of spotting.
We need to find a boat with a great captain to support our team, and figure out the logistics that would bring Kerry back to shore if there were an emergency. We need sponsors to help with expenses, and we need help getting Kerry’s story as much reach as possible.
September 20 is going to be a long day regardless of how you look at it. My problem is that these women, starting from Kerry, are uber competitive and I am the weakest link. I’m not saying that in a “woe is me” type of way. Not only do I like taking my time (stroke, stroke, awww, look at the little fishy, breath, stroke), but even trying I don’t swim as fast. It’s a fact, don’t argue with me about it!
I am strong, I can swim the four miles, but Lily is my coach for crying out loud. And since a team is as strong as the weakest link, well, it’s on me to keep up the pace.
Yet we are doing this. As a way to show whoever will see us, or cares to listen, that life is worth living. We have problems, but overcome them. Life is not always fair, but it goes on. I’m sure Kerry didn’t expect to be strangled at 26 and become a quadriplegic. Yet now in her 60s, she continues to model a life of zest and love.
Whose afraid of jelly fish, sharks, ocean swells, tiredness, logistical nightmares, or a little post race blues? Not this ThumbsUp team … we are going for it.
More soon …..