Ironman Lake Tahoe 2013: Not all winners finish

There are lots of things I'd like to tell you in this post but unfortunately I just can't.  The long and the short of it is the cards just weren't in our favor on this day.  What I hope you take from this post and this story is the immense amount of pride I feel for my mom, not only in her successes but also in her struggles.  The lesson I learned this day is that the source of my pride is truly a result of my mom's efforts and examples.  It is the pain, the grind, the commitment and the strength that mean so much more than what the result board says at the end of the day.  I know this is a long post, but I hope you read it all.  These are the race stories that typically go untold, but they are just as valuable as the stories of the finishers.

On Sunday, September 22nd, my mom set out to compete in her 5th Ironman event - Ironman Lake Tahoe. For those unfamiliar with an Ironman event it consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike and a marathon (26.2 mile) run.  Ironman is a one day event, usually starting around 6:30 a.m. with a finishers cut-off at midnight.  As much as I know completing an Ironman is possible, even for a "regular" person, the thought of anyone accomplishing something of this caliber seems equally ridiculous.  The fact that both my mom and step-dad have done it - multiple times over - seems crazy.  Crazy, but crazy-awesome.

There are of course, professional triathletes who compete in Ironman but the majority of the field consists of "age-groupers", regular people who compete purely for the challenge.

Most people know about Ironman Kona (or Ironman Hawaii).  What a lot of people don't realize is in order to even participate at Kona, you have to qualify.  Ironman Kona is the championship Ironman event.  If you make it, you are competing to be the best in the world in your age group.  In order to qualify, you have to "win" a slot.  Slots are given based on percentage of people in your age group.  At IM Lake Tahoe in my mom's age group (60-64) there were 12 women and ONE slot.  Which meant in order to win the Kona Qualifier (KQ), she would have to win her age group.

This was my mom's year to get the KQ.  She aged up to 60 and entered a new age group.  She put in the time, bought the equipment and trained her ass off.  For months.  At altitude.  She was stronger than ever. The race was in her back-yard.  She was ready to go.

Seriously ready.

Typically Tahoe weather in late September is mild to cool.  But sometimes, weather happens and the day before the race it certainly did.  Driving over the summit it was snowing.  Hard.

It only looks like rain.

Cars were turned around.  Nick and I took our Subie and made our own path, on side roads and around traffic. I kept saying, "I feel so bad for my mom, she has to swim in the morning".  
Being a mom, my mom was concerned about us driving in the snow.

Nick said it would only be snowing on the summit, not in Tahoe.

Snow.  In Tahoe.  Boo!

Unfortunately it was snowing in Tahoe.

We text back and forth, talking about the snow and the race.

Swim.  Bike.  Banana....Poop.
Then my hubs, brother, sisters and I, like all good spectators, had drinks and a heavy dinner in celebration of the fact that we didn't have to race tomorrow.

Race morning brought 35 degree temps.  A fog layer over the lake and snow capped mountains made for beautiful scenery and weather much colder than anyone expected.

At this point I was relatively unconcerned.  Us kids had brought along a forgotten squid-lid and booties, so mom had those.  She had raced IM Coeuer d'Alene in much colder water.  She would be fine.

We missed her getting into the water, so like all good spectators, we went to eat.  It would be awhile before we saw her in the bike transition.  As we sat in the restaurant complaining about the 10 people who cut in line in front of us, filling our bellies and getting warm, we giggled at the fact that we should probably feel bad that our mom was out in the lake as we sat around chatting.

We waited at swim transition looking for a red helmet and vest to come running around the corner. Waiting is the worst part of spectating.  We had an idea of when she got in the water, but it was only a guess.  We had trouble getting our phones to connect to the athlete tracker so we weren't really sure where she was.  We saw a woman with 62 on her leg, "uh-oh....but the starts were staggered so maybe she isn't really leading?"  So we waited, excited and nervous and then we saw her.

She came running around the corner and tossed her glasses at my step-dad.  A lens was missing.  He threw her his glasses and she took off, smiling all the way.

We jogged to the road and watched her pass on the bike, still smiling. We failed to get a bike pic because our camera was off.  Oh well, we'd get another photo opp in just a bit.

We started to walk back to our room, where like good spectators, we planned to nap and hang out before she passed us again.  Finally with access to wi-fi we saw the swim results, 1st Place!  One woman close behind and a big lead on all the others.  "She's doing awesome!  She's going to win!".

A little while later, the phone rang.  And just like that the day turned into a total bummer.

The number was unknown.  I watched my step-dad and listened.  It seemed serious, but maybe not?  I hoped it wasn't about my mom.  He hung up and said, "well guys, the race is over, your mom crashed".

She crashed.  She was OK, but couldn't move her arm.  She would call us back.

The race was over.  She crashed.  If you could have walked into our room at that moment you would have been able to feel the definition of bummed through every ounce of your being.  We were all so sad for her.  I was shocked.  It wasn't supposed to end that way today.  Today was Ironman.  Today was cheering at the finish.  Today was saying "you did it, you got first place".  Today was her KQ.  Today was planning a family trip to Hawaii next year.  And now, today was suddenly over.

My disappointment in the day quickly turned into just wanting to see my mom and make sure she was OK. To hug her because I know how sad she would be.  So we jumped in our cars and quickly got stuck in a long line of traffic trying to make it over to the hospital.

We finally made it.  Nick and I followed the nurse around the corner to see her, and there she was, in triage with scrapes on her face.  I lost it.  Being a mom she reassured me that she was OK.  Being my mom, she thanked all the nurses by name as we wheeled her out and loaded her into the car.  Being my mom, she cracked jokes while we waited for her prescription.

I knew the weight I felt on my shoulders, so I could just imagine how my mom felt.  But, she was more concerned about letting us down than the DNF that would show in her results or the fact that she fractured her collarbone.  None of us wanted her to feel this way, but being a mom, she did.

We rode home and made lunch.  My mom and step-dad later ventured back to the finish to pick up their friend and fellow racer who reported upon finishing that it was the hardest IM he had ever done.....he has done several.  Nick and I had a nice dinner and lamented with strangers at the table next to us.  Everyone agreed what a bummer it was.

Before I begin what I'm about to say next I want to preface it by saying the woman who won my mom's age group completely deserved it.  She was the only woman in the age group to finish.  Her efforts should not go un-noticed or ignored.  She did it, she finished, she KQ'd, it was her day.  That said, its only natural to root for the home team.  We are filled with would haves and could haves.  We are sad because we wanted our mom to win, we know she had a great chance.

In the next couple of days my step-dad asked my mom if she was ever going to cry.  It was then that she finally did.  As I sit writing this she hasn't signed up for IM Lake Tahoe 2014.  Yet.  I am wondering when she is going to get pissed.  Because, once that fire ignites in her belly, watch out.

This though, is easy for me to say.  I don't have to put in the time, I don't have to feel the pain, I don't have to train my ass off.  She does.  And it is seriously hard work.

It is when I reflect on this crappy story that I realize what a good story it really is.  Our family is incredibly blessed to have a mom like this.  A mom who can give us not only an example of toughness, commitment, struggle, strength and achievement.  But also a mom who gives us an example of grace, courage, humbleness and positivity in a super disappointing circumstance.  Someone who puts in a crap ton of effort only to get hurt and have it dashed, but worries about letting down her family, friends and team instead.

It doesn't matter that my mom Did Not Finish.  She will always be a winner as far as we're concerned.

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  1. Cousin Jen is always a winner. Happening to be in Tahoe that weekend, and to see our friends daughter run by, was quite exciting. We hadn't expected to see any of the event since we knew there would be hords of people. I had even told Jen that we wouldn't see her but wished her well. Then I downloaded an Ironman Tracker app and started following them both. Her swim was amazing and, unless I am wrong, it looked like she was 3rd overall. I couldn't believe it. Then I heard the news about her crash. So sad and shocked. She is such an amazing athlete, and at our age. And such an amazing person too; and so funny like her mom, Auntie Flo. I am not at all surprised by your post, Sarah. I would be surprised if you'd have posted anything less. Great story, Great Blog.

    I'm so glad Jen is on the mend and fully expect to learn of her registering for another IM soon. Go Jen, Go Jen, GO JEN!!!!

  2. Here I am at work...reading about your Mom, choking back the bull frog that's trying to rip its way out of my chest. Had to look away from the monitor a few times to keep from losing it. I'm such a #@&#!
    Your Mom Rocks! We all already know that...but the fact that her daughter loves and has such a high regard for what gets me most.
    Well done "Mom".
    Great post Sarah.

    1. Awww, thanks J! You set this kind of example for AJ too, give yourself a pat on the back! :)

  3. I am sorry to hear about your moms crash and glad to hear she is alright. When I met your mom I could tell she is a woman of strength and determination. She has the will power to accomplish all that her mind sets her out to do, with that said I know she will be there again next year, At the age of 60 that is an awesome task to do. All that training and hard work pays off it just helped her get ready for next year! Thank you Jen for giving me the courage to go ahead and do something I've been wanting to do and that is get myself in shape. I'm 51(in one more day) and by the age of 60 I could be competing in the 60+ 100 meter dash championships! That would by awesome!!!! Thank you Sara for sharing your mothers story she is surely a winner in my eyes.

    1. Thanks sister! Can't wait to see you in those 60+ 100 meter dash championships, you will rock it!


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