The human spirit is an amazing thing. I have, in my life, been witness to a few examples of just how strong someone's can be. Recently I was fortunate enough to make my way to Lake Placid to be a spectator/cheerleader for this year's installment of the Ironman. For those of you uninitiated in Ironman competition, it is a "race" of 140.6 miles broken down into a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bicycle, and a 26.2 mile run. The word race is one I use lightly because for many of those who enter it is not so much a race as a matter of survival. I imagine that for the average person entering and preparing for this event can be quite daunting. For my friend James, who's deployment to Afghanistan left him little time to prepare, I can only think that this is a giant understatement. To make up for lost time and lack of experience (he had never swam as far in open water or run a marathon prior to the Ironman) he entered numerous events through out the spring and early summer to race himself into shape. After crashing or flatting on the bike portion of every race, his publicly stated goal was just to make it through the Ironman without any of the same problems. Add the lack of training/experience with the technical difficulties and I am sure, even if he never said it out loud, that he was more than a little apprehensive as the big day rapidly approached. When July 25th arrived, friends and family dispersed to different parts of the race course to cheer James along. Without giving a play by play I will just say that he made it through the swim comfortably and avoided any issues while on the bike leg. It seemed as if luck was on James' side that day. He was on pace for a good time and all of us who went to support his effort were pretty excited for him. In the excitement an unnamed person let it slip that his secret goal was to finish in under twelve hours. It seemed very doable as he transitioned into the run. He looked strong and comfortable. That illusion was soon shattered by a phone call from my dad who volunteers out on the run course with a groups of guys from the local ATV club. James was cramping in his legs pretty bad and his pace had dropped dramatically. We waited in town for him to reappear as the minutes ticked by. The coveted twelve hour mark was rapidly approaching. When I finally caught sight of him rounding onto the last hill that led onto Lake Placid's main drag he was sporting a grimace and his run was more of a hopping limp than a stride. I let loose with the supportive yelling from the sidelines. He could still make it but he would have to push past the pain and do so for the remaining few miles. My brother, his wife Rebecca, Seth, Shea, and Simon, his sons, and his parents all joined in. I don't think that there wasn't a person around who didn't hear us. When he passed we all made our way into the finishing area and waited again as time continued to slip away. My palms filled with sweat and my childhood wish for Jedi mind powers kicked into overdrive as I tried to mentally will his legs to keep moving. Just as I was beginning to fear that he wouldn't make it he came around the corner with a painful hitch and entered the finishing arena with less than two minutes to go. My brother and I screamed to the point of losing our voices and scared a few people in the process. He was going to do it. In the face of adversity he pushed on and dug deep inside himself to find the strength to continue. 11:59:03. Several weeks later when I think back I still get cold chills. James has, at several points, said that he could never have done it without all the support and that my brother, Matthew, and I were a big part of him reaching his goal. I don't agree though. Like the band America said, "Oz never gave nothin' to the Tinman that he didn't already have." I do agree with that. He always had it in him, he just needed to dig deep to find it.
(in case you are interested; http://www.beginnertriathlete.com/discussion/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=219854 )