Let’s start with the night before the race. As expected, I could not sleep much. I kept looking at the time realizing 4am was fast approaching. I got up and started to prepare for the most incredible day of my life. I ate my breakfast, put on my spanking new OnUrLeft triathlon suit and began to pray that I could keep my breakfast down, as my nerves had begun to get the best of me. My sister flew in from Chicago to be with me on this exciting day, and she began documenting everything. While making a short pre-race video, we were having so much fun that I finally relaxed a bit.
At body marking, I was greeted by my two amazing friends, Francisco and Dihn. They marked me up, gave me some consoling words, and I felt ready. For about an hour, I contemplated whether or not to wear my wet suit, and I finally concluded to do so, even though being ‘super fast’ and qualifying for Kona Ironman were not on my goals list for that day.
The swim start was by far the most insane predicament I had ever experienced. I was incorrect in thinking it was smart to go to the back of the pack and stay away from the madness. As I floated in my wet suit, I watched what looked like ‘bugs on water’. I waited patiently and bobbed, moving my arms in an effort to warm them up. The next thing I knew, the shot gun went off, and in slow motion everyone began moving. I was in a pile of athletes literally fighting to propel forward. I passed up so many bodies. Starting in the back of the pack was not a good idea. I soon realized there was no way around it, and I was stuck. There was kicking, scratching, grabbing and dunking. I got kicked in the face a couple of times. It made me mad, so I too became aggressive. I like to call it “ninja swimming.” I soon heard the crowd and saw the ‘swim out’ buoy. I glanced at my watch and saw a 1:20, a surprisingly fast swim.
I rushed out the water feeling good. I wasn’t tired and was filled with the energy from the crowd. I easily found my bag with its pink bow, and after visiting the changing tent, I was off to my bike ride. The adrenaline was pumping, and the crowd was amazing. I could hear my sister screaming the whole time. Leaving from transition I told myself, “easy breezy”. I had planned on riding easy and not pushing too hard. As much as I wanted to push, I held back. Many people passed me, but I kept to my plan and believed I would see them during the run. I observed my watch like a hawk and fed myself like a baby bird, a little at a time. I made sure to drink enough liquids, and even though I was not sweating much, I still took my salt pills.
Soon I was greeted by my friend and training buddy, Grant. We rode for a good 30 miles together until reaching the special needs bags at about mile 60. The whole way we were singing and predicting our run times. The next thing I knew, Grant was long gone. I began to lose my juice at about mile 80, and I really needed to use the bathroom. I will say that I did contemplate peeing on my bike, but I could not bring myself to do it. After my pit stop, I continued on my merry way. Once I hit mile 90, I was ready to be done. The last 10 miles seemed like an eternity.
Here comes the fun part. As I turned in to the bike dismount area, the crowd filled me with energy and excitement. After finishing what seemed to be the hardest part of the race, I was golden. I approached the dismount line, unclipped and put both feet on the pedals. I went to throw my leg over my bike, lost my balance and fell. All my weight and bike came crashing down on my left knee. It happened so fast that I just got up with my bike and went into transition. I looked down on my knee and saw a stream of blood running down my leg. I didn’t let it stop me. I figured I would just throw a Band Aid on it. Wrong. At the changing tent, I realized this was more than a scratch. My knee would not stop bleeding – even all the way through the Band Aid applied by one of the volunteers. I knew it was serious, and the white looking flesh was not looking too hot. At that point, I decided to visit the medical tent. I spent 18 minutes getting my wound cleaned and bandaged up. It seemed like an eternity. I was asked by the medical staff, “Do you want to continue?” I responded, “Wrap it up, and let’s get this thing done!” Bandaged up pretty tightly, I began my run. Surprisingly, I felt good. I was running, and I could not even believe it. My knee soon became numb, and I forgot I had even injured myself.
I told myself I would at least run the first loop to start land-marking and familiarizing myself with the course. I was soon greeted by teammates and many familiar faces. My teammate Chad caught up with me. We ran together for some time, and we were soon met up by another teammate, Rich. The three of us got into a pace and continued our run. Soon after, I began running on my own and still feeling great! I saw my OUL coach, Aaron Palaian, and Gabrielle, my “Ironbear” (as I call my fellow Ironman finisher). Both asked me how I was doing, and I said, “I feel great, despite my fall.” I continued running – drinking and walking at every station. I began pouring ice down my shirt and shorts which worked magic. I saw my sister and so many friends on the course cheering me on. It kept my spirits high. I continued running at a nice coasting pace and was very surprised that I was still feeling good. At mile 18, I began to feel some serious stomach cramping, and my coasting soon turned into a walk.
I arrived at about mile 20, and the cramping worsened. My knee also began to burn. I tried running, but my feet were not having any of that, and it made the pain in my knee and stomach worse. I took a quick bathroom break in the hopes it would help. I came out of the bathroom at mile 20 and saw my “angel” Devin Brown, a fellow HRTC member. He asked how I was doing. I said, “Not so hot. My stomach is a mess, and my knee and feet are about done”. We decided we would land-mark and finish the last six miles together. We ran to the bridge and stopped, ran to a tree and stopped. The whole way we encouraged each other and tried our best to run as much as we could. The closer we got to the finish line, the worse the knee pain was. At about one mile left, Devin said, “We will run the last turn around to make sure we ‘soak it all in’.” That’s what we did. As I saw the finish line in the distance, my pain went away. I had dreamt about this moment so many times, and it was here. As we began running down the finishers’ chute, we could see the people, and best of all, the finish line! As we made our way down the chute, my eyes began to water, and I told myself, “I did it, I really did it!” I was about to become an Ironman. As Devin and I crossed the finish line, I even had the energy to do a “happy jump”. Hands down, crossing that finish line was the most amazing feeling in my life. I was greeted by Coach Carolina and my amazing friend Margo. My wonderful friend Triny handed me my medal. I saw so many familiar faces: Lee, Chris Hoover, Tamara and Amy Cadriel.
I began to cry and let it all out. The long months of training, the early morning sessions, the specific nutrition, the soreness the headaches, the laziness and the discipline all summed up to this amazing experience. I soon saw my sister, my mother and father, my ‘Ironbear’ Gabrielle and my ‘baby gazelle’ Gohar. I hugged everyone letting my tears flow. I was an Ironman. I had a “shredded knee”, but I was an Ironman. The next thing that crossed my mind was, “Ironman Arizona, here I come!”
My blood, sweat and tears were shed on that course consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 mile run, and doing it for a bigger cause, Cherish Our Children International (COCI), has transformed me. COCI and their mission of giving children a brighter future helped me realize that I could make my Ironman dream come true while impacting the world at the same time. With the support of many friends and family members, I raised over $1,000 for the COCI cause, and I thank everyone for their generosity. I know now that I make a difference and that I canaccomplish anything I set my mind to do. Team COCI, I love you and all the COCI children who strengthened me each step of my Ironman journey. Thank you kids; this one was for making a difference in your life while you made a difference in mine.