Sunday, June 3, 2012


"It is better to look ahead and prepare than to look back and regret." -Jackie Joyner-Kersee

This was to be a weekend filled with excitement.  I would be travelling down to CT to see some friends from TRI LIFE and Miriam from Enduraguide; stay with a lovely family I know through LPA; race in the REV3 Quassy Olympic distance triathlon and then finally meet up with pro triathlete Kelly Williamson. Kelly and I connected almost a year ago and we have been corresponding virtually through social media.  She was instrumental in helping me raise enough money so I could travel out to Iowa last summer to race in the HyVee 5i50 US Triathlon Championships.  I had even been asked by Rev3 to do a brief interview on what the "finish line" means to me in regards to triathlon.

The trip down on Friday was uneventful and I managed to get down to the race site by about  4:30 in the afternoon.  The weather was calling for some major rain (and mother nature did not disappoint) on Saturday.  We were required to rack our bikes on Friday night and I had a large plastic bag I would use to cover my bike to try and keep it dry.  Check-in went fine and all aspects were pretty smooth.  After checking in I contacted Greg through REV3 to see about arranging the interview.  He said we would not be able to do it on Friday unless I was able to go where he was at an off-site hotel.  As chance would have it, some of my friends were staying there and it was on the way to my friend's place in Monroe, CT.  I hurried over there and once I found Greg and his crew, who was he finishing up interviewing, but Kelly.  I'm sure she probably thought I was "stalking" her now and was maybe a bit reluctant she had "friended" me so many months ago.  I hope she was relieved when she finally realized I was there for an interview as well.  We had a quick chat. She wished me luck for Saturday and I did the same for her for Sunday and promised to be out there cheering for her.  The interview went well and we were done in about 15-20 minutes.  Funny thing, Greg, his wife and another member of his crew were from southern Ontario near Barrie.  Most of my family is in the southern Ontario region.

After the interview I contacted Miriam by phone only to find out she was not coming down until later in the day Saturday.  We chatted for a bit and she wished me luck.  I then tried to get in touch with my Tri Life friends.  They were already settling down to dinner off-site and were going to call it an early night.  I then contacted Leticia in Monroe and found some dinner on my way there.  It was a tiny little hole in wall place called Lorenzo's.  Took my chance and waited a LONG TIME for a plate of pasta.  The food was great but really wish I knew ahead of time I would wait more than 50 minutes for my food.  I ended up getting to Leticia's house by about 8:30pm.  A little later than I had hoped.  Her and her husband Pedro have a young son named Jaden who has achondroplasia and Autism.  He is a beautiful young boy who is full of life and potential.  Leticia and her family were getting ready to do a Autism walk on Sunday in support of Jayden and others like him.  Their crew is called "Jaden's Angels".  If you are inclined to make a donation on his behalf, feel free to click this link AUTISM SPEAKS.

Me and my buddy Jayden

After a brief visit I headed to bed in order to be rested for my 4AM wake-up for the race.  Of course, just before I headed of to bed, Leticia was able help me put on my race TATS.  Leticia was hoping to be able to come to the race later in the day and see me cross the finish line.

These TATS are nice because they can
stay on for days and are kind of
a nice badge of honor to wear.
Once I settled in for the evening and got my race gear repacked and ready, the RAIN STARTED.  I would lay awake on and off most of the evening listening to the rain.  I hoped it would stop and it never did.  That along with my usual pre-race nerves kept me up a lot of the night.  I did manage some sleep and was woken by "It's a Beautiful Day", by U2. I was up quickly and ready to get out the door by about 4:50AM.  I arrived on race site close to 5:30AM, and of course the rain continued to fall.  I did manage to park in a handicapped spot right next to transition.   I got my poncho out and proceeded to go see how my bike was doing.  I was upset when I arrived to see no sign of the bag I had used to cover my bike.  The bike was soaked as were a lot of others, but I was annoyed the bag had either blown away or been removed.

The rain stopped for a little bit and then we were actually tempted it might start to lighten up a bit.  That was all for not, as the rain quickly came back and basically would fall on and off all day.  I managed to arrange my bike and running shoes in a plastic bag and all my other gear as well in transition.  I grabbed my wet suit gear and got changed and then made my way down to the water.  I had time for a quick dip and the temp (they stated it was 71 degrees) was fine.  No worries about a cold shock.  I swam around a bit and soon realized it was actually colder out of the water.  

There was some glitches with buoys moving around and the timing clock set up and we ended up getting into the water around 10 minutes late and 7:10AM.  I was in the first wave and found my place in the back of the wave, quickly waded into the water and then started swimming.  I was doing okay for about 5 minutes or so and then the trouble started.  I could not catch my breath.  I rolled on my back (first time in three years) to catch my breath.  Rolled back on my front and quickly had trouble again.  A kayaker named Jim came over to give me a short rest and then I tried again to no avail.  Once the next wave came swimming by I really got nervous and called for help.  Jim threw me the lifeguard tube and I started to realize my day of racing might be ending.  I tried to swim one last time and got just as winded again and waved for a rescue boat to come and get me.  They helped me into the boat and I was emotionally and mentally spent.  I laid down in the boat and started to sob.  I don't know why, but I apologized to the rescuers.  Of course, they told me that was unnecessary.   When I got to shore they asked for my timing chip and that's when I knew I was DONE.  I got a ride on a cart to the medical tent to be checked out.  The driver of the cart was Eric, the race director for REV3 Quassy.  I had corresponded with him prior to the race about specifics regarding racing as a para-triathlete.  Here's where the real mind games started with me.  

I started to worry about people who did not know see me get pulled out of the water and what were they thinking.  I could not get that out of my head.  For some reason I felt I was letting a lot of people down.  Here I was walking to the med tent and then back to transition.  Cap and goggles in hand walking, not racing.  I had to ask to go to my bike to get my keys so I could get some warm clothes on.  People running by me with their bikes, cowbells ringin the background.  And me walking.  People were looking at me, the "little person" and what were they thinking?  There is he, he tried, but couldn't do it.  Yes I have done more than 15 triathlons and other road races, but they didn't know that.  All they saw was this person who they probably figured couldn't do it, not doing it.  It HURT!  I know when I talk to groups of teenagers at other schools about what it means to be a little person, part of my chat revolves around telling them to ignore people they don't know who tell them negative things.  Don't listen to them, they aren't important in your life.  Surround yourself with supports, not doubters.  And what was I doing?  Listening to the voices in my head.  And then someone had to say something.  As I was taking my bike from transition, some older guy watching the race, probably someone's father or grand-father who came to watch, says to me, "Calling it a day?"  I was so ready to go off on him, but I didn't.  I glared at him and loaded my bike in the car.  I was able to find a gap in the action after the last bike had left and before the first place rider came it, to leave the lot.  They were nice enough to allow me to leave otherwise I would have to wait until the end of the race which would be at least 2.5 to 3 hours later.

I got on the road and drove back to Leticia's house to get my bag.  I was planning on staying there Saturday night in order to watch the 1/2 on Sunday and then drive back home on Sunday.  I could not bear staying around.  I drove home after pulling over to put a post on the FACEBOOK about my need to withdraw.  As I made stops along the way home I managed to check what people were saying in response and I was moved to tears a number of times.  The support I was shown really helped me quickly realize, its not those doubters that matter.  I have always known that, but for a brief period of time, its all I cared about.  The negative energy was quickly redirected.  After chatting with a few people I also soon realized my difficulty in the water was probably environmental.  I had neglected to take my allergy meds the night before the race and the water was covered with pollen prior to the race.  When under the water you could see the  yellowy-green particles suspended in the water.  I must have breathed in a bunch of it while swimming and it caused my lunges to close up.  I am quite confident that is what happened. 

Again, I need to thank the dozens of people who posted comments, sent me emails, or even phoned to check on me.  This 24 hour pity-party has certainly ended.  Hugs from Sue and Owen certainly helped get me to a much better place. Though this might seem silly, I also asked Sue to help remove my race TATS.  I could not return to work on Monday with those on my arms which I feel are a sign of a finisher, not someone who had to stop for the day.  I know this might seem silly, but I feel better removing them.

I would later hear from another athlete that there were more than 30 bike accidents on the course due to the slick roads.  In hindsight, maybe this was again someone watching out for me.  I would have prefered to race as I have done so in two other rainy races (NYC Triathlon in 2011 and Timberman in 2010).   I was "saved" from a terrible bike accident on Thursday, just 2 days before this race.  Riding home from work I went off the road when a car got too close to me and I ended up doing a 180 over the handlebars and landed on a pile of cushy leaves just a few feet from a couple of trees.  Maybe I am keeping my guardian angel busier than I thought.

I also am thankful that the REV3 water safety team were keeping a close eye on me.  When I asked for help they came, but allowed me to keep going until I had enough.  I am absolutely sure had it gone worse a lot faster, they would have been there to help right away.  When I was stuggling, I could see 3 different boats and/or kayaks close by watching me and when I finally did wave my hand and call out for help, an athlete nearby quickly stopped and yelled for help for me as well.  THANK-YOU! 

My next race is the NYC Triathlon in early July.  I promise I will be ready both physically and mentally for this challenge.


  1. John- I was moved to tears--I know how hard you work and how accomplished you are. Sounds like darn allergy bad luck--lots of junk in the water after a bad rain. You'll be able to rock it in NYC--and hopefully this year the weather will be perfect! Best--Elizabeth

  2. John, I was offline around the time you posted the results from the race. I am impressed that you are able to find a positive lesson from this difficult experience. I look forward to reading about the results from the NYC race.


  3. John, you are AMAZING!!! I'm hoping to just get a half in before the end of the season (I just had a baby)

    Would it be OK to share your blog?
    Please check out mine: