I believe it to be part of life’s natural rhythms to realize that at different times in our lives, priorities shift. What may have been extremely important to you a few years ago you find is of little immediate concern today. Along with this, I find that outlook and attitudes can change as well. When you spend many years being a competitive athlete, and when this becomes your ‘job’, it’s natural to, despite staying focused on the process, realize that the outcome fully matters. It matters in terms of achieving goals, gaining or maintaining relationships in the industry, sustaining a ‘living’ at what you’re doing and ultimately it is the fruit of your labor; we can all work very hard, but we always want to achieve ‘success’ in our own right. It may be hitting time standards, crossing a finish line, qualifying for a specific event or becoming a champion. Despite having had a very long run of competing, I still seek to achieve goals; I still have that hunger. It helps drive me in the day to day; keeps me focused on the process, and motivates me to get the most out of myself physically and mentally. Yet no matter how focused we may be, how driven; we are all human, and we are all susceptible to emotion; as we well should be. While I went into Ironman Boulder with focus and confidence in my ability to perform well, I fell short of my goal of a Top 3 finish and a very strong run; however when I reflect, I view this past weekend as one of life’s very tough lessons and I feel proud to have finished what I started.
This one doesn’t need the usual play-by-play events of the day a typical triathlon recap follows; to be honest, the details don’t seem to really matter. Derick and I received the word we all dread just prior to the weekend. A very close friend (and a mentor and colleague to Derick) lost his life while riding his bike. Derick told me this news on Friday. I was in Boulder by myself, and Derick was planning to come up on Sunday morning. While I was shocked, it felt like I just rode a roller coaster of emotions the next few days. One minute I remained focused on the ‘task at hand’, and the next moment I was in tears and overwhelmed with sadness; simply feeling numb. While I usually love solo time prior to a race, this was probably not the best scenario, as I was alone with thoughts churning in my head. I don’t think of myself as an overly emotional person, but that’s the crazy thing about emotions; we can’t always predict them, control them, or put them into a box and pack them onto a shelf.
Sunday morning, I headed to the reservoir excited at the day ahead but still feeling a little ‘confused’, if that makes sense. I was able to feed off the race morning energy; a beautiful sunrise, a sea of excited faces, and a nice small field of friendly fellow professional women. I managed to distract myself enough in the swim and the bike to where I knew what I needed to do, and remained focused; swim strong, move into the lead when you feel good, take some confidence from this; ride steady and consistent, eat, drink, etc. I didn’t feel great, but I reminded myself what Derick often reminds me, “Think of all the times you nail a workout when you don’t feel good.” As I came off the bike, my thoughts drifted to Derick. Where was he; when would I see him; and now I realize in hindsight, I was thinking (as I had been the days prior), “How is he doing?”
As I started out on the run, what almost always is my most anticipated part of the day felt just hard. There was no zip, no pep, and no real excitement at the final part of the race I always looked forward to. As my body began to feel the fatigue of everything, it felt like my heart, my emotions and my legs got very heavy. Around mile 10, I stopped, struggled to catch my breath, feeling as if I were hyperventilating, and began to cry. I thought to myself “Come on Kelly, get it together. You’ve come this far. Keep moving forward. Stay focused.” I managed to stand up and put one foot in front of the other, wondering how I would possibly manage to go 16 more miles; that felt like an eternity. All I wanted was to see and hug Derick. However, it was probably good that I didn’t see him for another 6 miles, by which point I had composed myself and was still making forward progress. I stopped briefly to hug him, telling him I didn’t think I could go on and he just said put his arm around me and said, “But you’ve worked so hard…”. It was what I needed to hear. He understood; he wouldn’t judge my weakness or force me to continue, but he simply supported. I kept moving, pushing from 5th into 4th, and then realizing I was now within 6 miles from being done, my thoughts moved back towards Derick, Steve, and our other friends who were so close to him. I managed to get within 30 seconds to 3rd place; but in the moment, what would usually be an inviting challenge, sounded insurmountable to me. I just tried to hold it all together and get to the finish line. I tried to quiet my mind and focus on running strong, the simply joy of running; but one thing that helped push me along was realizing that Steve would want me to carry on, to keep moving forward.
And I guess that’s the most important thing. These things make you stop and see a little more beauty around you; appreciate small things. As badly as I wanted to ‘race for Steve’, make him proud, it was tough decipher how it was all that important to dig deeper when it was so damn unfair that he is no longer with us. But with that, you realize that life is fragile; and life is for living. Seize opportunity, be the best version of yourself, don’t sweat the small stuff. Life is for going out and pursuing what makes your heart happy, and sometimes, in the depths of confusion, frustration, challenge and immense fatigue; you come to understand that at the end of the day, you just need to keep moving forward; for yourself, for those you love, and those who have loved you. And simply do your best; put your best foot forward; be courageous, be vulnerable; but most importantly, be brave.
Steve was a true individual. He was wise and always had a quick wit. You never were quite sure what would come out of his mouth, but he always had me laughing. He was a natural charmer. He connected with people, evident by the volume of friends and family at his memorial. The tributes to him were moving. He and Derick had a unique relationship; both opinionated, both pragmatic, both intellects; but Steve challenged Derick, and he valued that in their friendship. Derick had immense respect for Steve, and while they laughed often, I know Steve taught him some intangibles. As Derick succinctly put it, “I miss my friend.” We’ll all miss you Steve. I wish you hadn’t left us so soon, but thank you for leaving us all better for having known you.
A big thank you to those who support me on this journey and make even the toughest days, which in reality are still a huge blessing, possible. This is by no means an individual sport. I’m proud to represent you all. Zoot (and the new WikiWiki wetsuit; I’ve never been a fan of wetsuit swims but the comfort of this one is a game changer!), Beachbody Performance, Road ID, Nulo, Durata Training, Rudy Project, Recovery Pump, ISM, State Wheels, Kogel Bearings, and Endurance Shield.
Photo by Durata Training
Photo by Katie Ingram -This Amazing Day
Photo by Durata Training
“It’s not just about the destination, it’s about the journey along the way.” ~Steve Pye