“Dagnabbit!” That was my half-exasperated, half-fearful reaction when my bike pedals suddenly started free-wheeling like hamsters at spin class. At the bottom of a steep hill, the chain had just come off its sprockets. (Note to self; stop putting off bike maintenance course.) Now that I have you poised on a cliff-hanger — will she complete her first Ramblin’ Rose women’s sprint-triathlon, or will she fall into the clutches of the sag-wagon? — let me push rewind.
I heard about Ramblin’ Rose tri series a couple of years ago, shortly after I ran my first 10K. My miles had been increasing, but that increase was taking a toll on some of my parts. I decided cross-training might be a good idea … and signing up for an itty-bitty tri might give me the motivation to do something other than running. So I tried to sign up, but had missed the deadline for the 2011 Chapel Hill race. I didn’t give up, though, and as soon as the registration opened for the 2012 events, I signed up, for both Raleigh (May) and Chapel Hill (October). How early bird was I? Just check out the number scrawled on my arm. It was good for laughter and encouragement all day. Nice.
But there was a road to travel between registration and race day, and it seemed to keep getting longer. Fairly significant laparascopic surgery. Two cataract surgeries (upside: no contacts in the pool!). Another (thankfully minor) surgery. And then, just when I was about to start pool training this spring, I tore something in my shoulder. “Um, no,” was the PT’s reply when I asked when I could start swimming. “You probably shouldn’t plan on swimming for at least a year.” Well, I took all her other advice, and rehabbed the heck out of my shoulder. And started swimming a couple of months before the race. Lightly. Slowly. Occasionally.
That was the last major hiccup; the last couple of months have been a series of swims, rides, and runs, sometimes on the road, sometimes in the gym, sometimes alone, often accompanied by my sag-wagoneer, my best beloved M. (Who I can’t thank enough for carrying me through this year. I’ll keep trying, sweetheart.)
And then it was race day. M and I got there plenty early; I set up my transition area, where I would segue from swim to bike, and from bike to run. I pulled on my rainbow EQUALITY bracelet and walked out to where M was waiting. We milled around with 600 other women and their friends and families. As the race was starting, M left to find a place to watch the swim. I had one of those “airport-goodbye” moments; sometimes you just want to kiss your baby before she goes. So I did. I think I embarrass her when I do that; but I think she likes it, too. I know I do. Such a simple thing; kiss your sweetheart in public. Yeah.
The faster swimmers went first, and I plowed through with the middle of the pack, and then drip-shuffled off to my bike. Quick-dry (thanks Deb ‘n’ Anni for my Special Towel!) and shoes on and running the bike through the gate and into the ride. It was a tough course (for me anyway): nine miles of 23 turns and lots of hills. I had been riding mostly in my middle range of gears on my training rides, and had just begun working with the lower gears I’d need on Raleigh’s hilly course.
Whatever happened in my race snafu happened so fast I couldn’t even tell you what it was; one second I was shifting, coming downhill, and the next second, my wheels were spinning and the chain was off the gears. I dismounted, surveyed the sprockets, and — somehow channeling my inner 10-year-old (the one that was still occasionally riding bikes before her first motorcycle showed up) — accidentally got the chain back on. I was rolling again; with no ability to shift ranges, but hey, middle range will get you through a lot. Trust me. I know.
I pushed on through the ride, thanking the volunteers, offering my “on your left” to those I passed … and then I began to hear the camaraderie. Most of the volunteers were cheerleading, but some of the riders were, too. “Looking good!” “Ride strong!” I peeped out a “Go girl!” to those passing me.
Into the last transition, I racked my bike, doffed my helmet and began trotting for the run start gate. And then I heard my sweetheart calling out; she was standing by the gate watching for me, and hollering “Finish strong, honey!” I teared up as I gave her a running high-five. This was our tri; we were doing it together, like we do everything together, even when we are apart.
Since running is what I’ve been doing the most of the last couple of years, I felt good on the run, after the rubber-biker-legs subsided. (Quads don’t take kindly to that particularly transition ….) With more and more women closer together, the camaraderie kicked into high gear. My inner voice hectored, “What are you afraid of? Why so solitary?” and I got over myself and started throwing out my little comments — especially to my fellow 50-year-olds — so touched by the grace of the women who were encouraging me as I passed them.
And then there was the finish line, and cowbells and my name getting called and M waiting at the end, laughter and tears all mixed together.
It felt like it was over very quickly … and like I had skimmed the surface of the day. I had done my personal best; but I felt keenly that somehow I had not done my communal best.
I have wondered about a lot of things, in hindsight. How much more powerful the day would be, training and racing with a group. How much more mindful I could have been, during the race. How much more encouragement I could have offered, as had been offered to me.
I was in the race as I am in my life, for good and for ill. I was bulldog-determined, and that got me through injuries and surgeries and setbacks. I was also isolated, in some ways, perhaps even isolating.
It was the athlete me on the day; I wanted the rest of me — and you — to be there, too, but I didn’t know how. Queer, Christian, Carolinian, … mom, partner, friend. I had a sense of “our” with my beloved M, and I was so glad of that. And I wanted the “our” to be even bigger and wider, somehow ….
Let me give another example, one that also has been instructing me.
On the night of election returns a couple of weeks ago, when the electorate of North Carolina drove another nail in the coffin of my full belonging in this state, a dear friend contacted me to make sure I was okay; my friend invited me to join an after-election thing going on. I demurred. Why? The easy answer is that my introvert side kicked in; it was going to be a crowd of people I didn’t know, and I didn’t feel the energy to walk into a space where I didn’t know people.
How sad, I think. How selfish. Because instead of thinking about how I might feel in that setting, I could have thought about how my being there might have made a difference for someone else. Maybe I would have had an encouraging word for someone that night. Like in the race. Like in general.
That’s all right. What lies ahead is going to be all about that: being there for other people. The next few months of the Clinical Pastoral Education internship will be a different kind of training; soul-work. And I love that. Praying for and with people. I love that, too. Getting better at meeting people, where they are, ’cause that’s how you get to be with them.
I have been struggling in the community department, these last few years, especially wanting and desiring and dreaming of and trying to work for a community that would center around the God-love and neighbor-love I believe we are created for. Maybe I have held on too strong for too long to my version of the dream. It seems time to let go, to free-wheel into the future of whatever God is dreaming up.
This is me saying yes to my life, to our life, to the way that I hope and pray I can be open to God’s yes.
Whatever the question turns out to be …