Last weekend was our Valor Triathlon Lake Placid training camp. This is an annual camp where we all gather for 4 days of training and team camaraderie. I’ve always loved Lake Placid (first IM was here), and I’ve been coming here since I was young. The Adirondacks might not be the Rockies or Sierra’s, but they are still beautiful and magnificent in their own right.
As a coach, my role is setting up workouts, making sure the athletes are taken care of, they know what they are doing and providing SAG. Since my surgery (hamstring and sciatic nerve), my training is very limited. I was able to swim (3x in 4 days) and stand up paddle board (3x in 4 days) while we were up there. I was the safety SUP while the team swam making sure everyone was ok and no panic attacks were had (everyone did great). I love supping and it was actually pretty cool that my hamstring felt better after. I’m chalking that up to the balance and isometric work on the board.
Leading into camp, I was a bit apprehensive on how I would feel watching our athletes biking, running and pushing their body’s to the limits. One awesome thing about a training camp is you can really push your body. There is no work or family responsibility, only you and what you’d like to do. Last year I was pre-surgery at camp, and I longed for the chance to bike the IM course and run with the team. Last year I told myself that by this time, I’d be training with the team. Obviously this wasn’t the case, and I will admit at times, I got pretty down on myself at camp.
When I’m home in Baltimore, sometimes I get angry watching runners go by. It’s a combo of anger and envy in watching them push themselves and the just the freedom of being able to run. It’s been hard working for PowerBar because every week I’m at another endurance event. And each time I have to relax and tell myself to be patient, my time will come again. But I won’t lie, it’s been so hard to not get angry, stay positive and relax. So back to Lake Placid. I’ve worked hard to change my mindset and while I had little pangs of jealousy (no anger because I love our athletes) during the weekend, I felt great just being able to be in the midst of the group. A group passionate about a sport I love, and to feel apart of a team. Our team is pretty great too.
So while I was able to keep the jealousy down, depression was a bit high. I try very hard to be a positive person, to find the brighter side of things and look forward not backward. It’s not always easy, especially when I feel like I’ve been through the wringer the past year or so. And right when I was feeling pretty low, God placed someone in my path who showed me what true inspiration is. I believe everything happens for a reason, and people are put in our path right when we need them.
I use the word inspiration very judiciously. It’s one of those words that I place great meaning in, and while I think many people have admirable qualities, to be a true inspiration is special (to me). I had just finished a SUP session and one of our other coaches wanted to try it out. So I promised to wait for him to finish, and sat by the edge of mirror lake, just thinking. A older gentleman walked over and we exchanged greetings. I asked him if he was training for IMLP. He said he was, and we spoke a bit about the swim, and training for it in general. Funny enough, we also spoke about the 2 escaped convicts from Plattsburgh who as of when I’m writing this, are still on the run.
My faith is of great importance to me, and holding onto it has really helped me through this experience. I’ll have to admit I do start to waiver in my faith when I get so low, but he helped me to change that around. I have renewed faith from him. Early in the conversation he shared that he was Christian, but not the holier then thou crazy Baptists he said haha. I told him I knew what he meant, as I was the same. He shared how a few years ago, he almost didn’t finish LP and went on to tell this story. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent multiple treatments. They preformed surgery, and he informed me that during surgery, you’re strapped to a table that tilts backwards, allowing the organs to move away from the prostate. When he was strapped to the table, his arms were locked in place for 11 hours. The surgery was successful, however when he awoke he couldn’t feel his arms-bilateral nerve damage from his arms being compressed too tightly.
This started the next year of re-learning how to use his arms. Just things like eating, putting on his clothes, wiping his butt (his most important one he said) and learning how to swim and ride again. 5 years later, he still doesn’t have complete use of his arms, and in fact he swims by engaging his deltoids and throwing his arms forward. He still swims a 1:30 IM swim! And on the bike he has special breaks so when he can’t feel his fingers he can still break. And he was able to do all of this the year after his surgery. I’m not sure what he finishing time was, but he finished. He also added that pre-cancer his wife would complain about his training time away. Now post cancer she loves the fact that he is out there training and racing. While it’s hard on families, she understands that he’s here and he’s doing what he loves. And there’s room for both a love of sport and family. I really respected what she had said, even if it’s through his words.
So here is a man, who has done IMLP 5 times after prostate cancer, and nerve injury, and there I was sitting there feeling sorry for myself. It didn’t feel right to share about my surgery or nerve injury, however what he gave me that day was really important. And while this year will be his last IMLP (10 I believe), I am so empowered by him. During this long recovery I’ll still have days that I’ll get down, and I’ll still have days that I’ll be angry, but I know that I need to have faith and belief that I can and will continue to be an athlete. It might take a few more months, or a few more injections, but I will do it. And I may or may not be at IMLP this year, but on that day where ever I am, I will be cheering for Tony S, as he attempts his 10th IMLP. If you happen to be there race morning, he’ll also be at the morning pre-swim prayer. I actually never knew this took place, but that’s pretty cool.
Good luck to Tony at IM, and thank you for sharing your story with me. I’m sure you have know idea how much it meant to me, but from here on out, when I start to lose faith, I’ll think of you.