After picking up my Mom from the airport early Saturday, we headed north toward Lake Lanier to prepare for the Iron Girl triathlon Sunday morning.
My eldest daughter (the one who taught me how to swim only several months ago) turned to me and said, with a worried look on her face, "Mommy, I don't know if you can do it."
I quickly and confidently commented back to her, "Makena, I know I can do it," finding it bit odd that my daughter would question my ability to finish the race.
Yet, it occurred to me that, at ages 8 and 5, they are not old enough to have experienced their Mommy looking down the barrel of nearly impossible and pulling through anyway.
They were both babies when I was very unexpectedly diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and in the hospital only a week later, having surgery to remove my entire thyroid and surrounding lymph nodes.
They were both babies when I went through two rounds of radiation, a dosage so strong that I was required to be in isolation, away from humans and animals for a week at a time.
And yes, to celebrate 40 years on this planet and five years since my cancer diagnosis, I signed up for a triathlon, an Iron Girl nonetheless.
So, yes Makena, your Mommy can do this race and will finish. I didn't let not knowing how to swim stop me. I didn't let getting t-boned by a car stop me. I didn't let a separated shoulder and multiple serious contusions all over my legs stop me.
The team met in the lobby of the hotel at 4:30 a.m. on Sunday morning to head down to the transition area where our bikes were already racked. I hardly slept the night before. Nerves maybe, but likely, just flat out excitement.
Upon arriving at the race start and transition area, a volunteer greeted me, wrote my race number on both of my arms and my age, 40, on my calf. I wanted to write "and fabulous" under the 40, but unfortunately she just wouldn't part with the sharpie pen.
I unpacked my bag (and if I knew all of the gear you needed to do a triathlon, I may have reconsidered!) next to my bike in preparation for the transitions out of the water and off the bike.
I felt as prepared as I could be for the race, even though my endurance on the swim portion was surely compromised since I had to cut back on the training in the pool after my shoulder injury.
My training partner, Donna, and I made the conscious choice to try to stay together for as much as the race as possible, specifically so we could cross the finish line together. We had similar time splits in all of the events so doing so would not really hold either of us back.
Our wave started in the water at 7:15 a.m. I was unexpectedly very calm at the start and chose to actually lay down in the water on my back to acclimate my body temperature to the water temperature.
As expected, the swim was very challenging, as I knew it would be. Running out into a lake with hundreds of others and kicking about just isn't something you do every day.
We made it though with me literally screaming as I ran out of the water (see picture) in sheer delight to have that portion of the race behind me. I had slayed the dragon.
Next came the cycle portion. Thankfully, I was well trained on the bike and prepared for the brutally hilly course. Without sounding too braggy, I have to say I totally rocked the course, clocking a personal best time.
I felt particularly fierce as I headed toward the steepest hill on the course. Ahead of me, I could see that literally everyone was already off their bikes and walking up the hill.
For me, conquering this particular hill would be the culmination of all of my training and the celebration of overcoming any obstacle I had faced while doing so.
I gutted it out, chugging up the hill on my $40 garage sale bike and in my green and purple tutu, more determined than ever to make it. Women half my age (I know, because their ages were written on their legs), walking their much more expensive and tweaked out bikes up the hill, cheered me on, encouraging me to keep going. I was uplifted and energized (and yes, I made it).
I finished the ride about five to seven minutes ahead of Donna, and chose to wait anyway for her in the transition area so we could do the final three miles together.
For me, I was not competing in the Iron Girl to break any records or finish in record time. I could have come in first place or 1,400th place, and it wouldn't have mattered (OK, 1st would've been epic).
What was important to me was to share the experience with my children, my Mom, my team and my friends there to support me. I had wanted to cross the finish line, hand in hand with Donna.
So instead of rushing through the race, I consciously chose to soak in and savor every moment. I stopped for pictures when I saw my family and took a moment to hug my kids, every time I saw them. The girls even ran with me for a little while as I came out of the transition area.
I was smiling for nearly the whole race, and can honestly say, that as we approached the finish line, I had a tinge of sadness that my first triathlon experience would soon be over.
My dear friend Donna and I sprinted through the finish line, just as we did 12 years ago after completing a marathon together, holding hands. My family was there to greet me and offer congratulations and to tell me they were proud of me.
My daughter said, "Wow Mommy, you're an Iron Girl now. You did it."
And in that moment, I realized I had planted many seeds for them, and I was more than just an Iron Girl and more than just their Mommy. I was a role model for them of a strong, healthy and capable woman.