I just returned from Kona on Monday and was thinking about this piece which I previously wrote. Since I stopped competing, I’ve worked for David Huerta and the Transition Team for the last several years transforming the Kailua-Kona pier into a transition area. It’s a good bit of work, but by noon on Friday, when the first athlete show up to rack his/her bike, the pier has come alive and it gives you goose bumps. Here then are Two Ironman Stories.
Sometimes, in surprising ways, the human spirit of kindness saves the day. A triathlete I know, despite his best efforts, is tad forgetful at times. I worked the men’s changing tent in Hawaii in 2010 when this gent came in flying after a pretty good swim. As is custom, he dumped his bike transition bag on the floor, quickly changed in to his biking gear, and was out the door. In a matter of seconds he was back having forgotten an item.
He eyed me, and asked if I could find his bag and retrieve it. Well, if you’ve ever served in this position, you know that there are 50 men at any one time in the tent, all moving as quickly as they can in many different directions, and the stress level is right high. In short, it’s controlled mayhem with a great deal of activity in a very small space. Also, when an athlete is dressed and out the door, the bags are thrown into one huge pile to be sorted later.
But, our friend hadn’t been gone long, so I gave locating it a try. After searching through about 50 bags, the other volunteers and I realized the futility of our efforts and he abandoned the search sprinting toward his bike (which went fine by the way.)
Fast forward to 2011, same situation – different volunteer – and our buddy is out the door…and back in a flash having forgotten his sunglasses. These are pretty important given the wind and heat of the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway and the near complete absence of shade. Again the volunteer made a noble, but unsuccessful search for the bag containing the sunglasses. Without hesitating he said, ,“Here, take mine!”At first this gent protested, but after a second offer , an order actually, “Take mine”, the athlete did and had a quite successful ride. At T2, he looked for that volunteer but there’d been a shift change. The sunglasses were left with thanks and instructions for return to the volunteer.
This helping gesture, non-competitor supporting competitor was done in the truest spirit of triathlon. I think that both of these folks benefited from this spontaneous and selfless act.
One of my roles on Saturday was being stationed at the entrance to the men’s changing tent. At the debriefing last year, it was noted by many that the pros exit the swim like a house on fire and when they tried to change direction to enter the tent, they lost footing ending up on the ground. My goal was to eliminate this. It worked. By simply getting eye contact with the athlete and actively directing him to turn, nobody “went to ground.” In fact it worked so well I was encouraged to keep my position and direct the age groupers, women to the women’s tent, men to the Men’s. And, it was almost completely successful. Almost! When you consider 1800 swimmers passing by you in a six foot wide space they almost suck you along. I was able to prevent 9 women from mistakenly entering with the men…but not the tenth. This somewhat smaller woman was directly behind a large bodied athlete and it was only out of the corner of my eye that I saw her slip in. But, because of the sheer numbers of bodies, I was blocked for a moment from following her into the tent. By the time I was able to thread my way in, she was already dumping her bag and ripping off her swim suit – almost. Interestingly, she was so focused on the job at hand, she didn’t notice that she was the only woman in a tent with forty men in various stages of undress! In one quick movement I got her arm and her bag, slipped back out of the tent, and directed her toward the women’s tent. Exit stage left and back to my post. One can only imagine the reaction in the tent if I’d missed. As they say on TV, priceless!
The View Into Kailua Bay