More Than the Numbers

By Toria Sullivan | April 26, 2017, 5:47 p.m. (ET)

collegiate club nationals 

There were two thoughts that convinced me to show up to the start line: obscene amounts of post-race ice and the comfort of my parents’ arms.

The plan was for my parents to skip making the expensive trip to nationals this year when it became clear that my injuries would prevent me from making a good showing. However, as nationals drew closer, I called them:

“Do you think maybe you guys can come to Tuscaloosa? I’m just going to need someone there to hug after.”

“I kind of figured the same thing,” was my dad’s answer.

As I walked out of the medical tent post-race this past Saturday, ice bags shrink wrapped against my injuries, there was my dad at the fence, just like he promised.

Triathlon has become a central activity for my family: my brother having been on the U.S. Naval Academy team before graduating last year and becoming my unofficial and usually rather reluctant coach, my dad being my go to for pep talks and encouragement and the person who drove a thousand miles to make sure I got to the NCAA qualifier race in October, and my mom, understanding none of it, but loving us all anyway.

When my brother decided that he would be joining my parents and I in Tuscaloosa, I immediately knew that nationals would hold special meaning for me. While I’ve been fortunate that my brother’s training in the Navy has allowed him to remain on the East Coast and even to compete in the same triathlons as me every once in a while, there is limited time before he ships off on a submarine to fulfill his commitment to the Navy. I’m not sure when my whole family will be together again in the foreseeable future, but I can’t imagine a more suitable setting for our uncertain “see you later” or a time when I was in more need of their presence and support than nationals. I realized pretty quickly Saturday just how much I needed them.

Because there was one thought I had when I pulled myself from the water from the swim: quitting. It had been the most demoralizing and painful swim of my life so far and hopefully ever. I was so far behind, was there really a point in continuing?

There was one thought that convinced me not to walk off the course: my brother, who in his senior nationals last year, crashed on the bike and broke his hand. He got up and still finished top 50. So, when I stumbled onto my hands and knees on the shore, I got up.

My one thought on the bike? Oh my gosh, I love this so much. I made goofy faces at my brother as I zoomed past him on my bike, I smiled at the hot sun that has been missing from our dreary D.C. spring, I enjoyed every second of flying down the beautiful, smooth and speedy bike course. Don’t get me wrong, I gave it my all, but after blowing it on the swim, any pressure was off. I genuinely had fun. Having fun got me, unofficially, the fourth fastest bike split.

The two thoughts that got me through the run and across the finish were the two thoughts that got me to the start line — ice and family. I crossed the line in a not terrible 2:27:28. Not as bad as I was expecting, but a handful of minutes behind where I was only months ago. If you had told me a few months ago that would be how I would finish, I probably would have been in heartbroken tears. But Saturday was mostly happy tears, because post-race was everything I could ask for.

collegiate club nationals

I sat in an inflatable pool surrounded by three things: ice water, my family relaying my results back to me (I almost PR’ed my run split?!), and my brother’s former Navy teammates who have adopted me and who I am forever grateful for (basically just more family.)

In a triathlon, we often get caught up in thinking solely about numbers: time, places, paces. We waste away races spending our thoughts only on numbers. We feel disappointment if the numbers don’t reflect what we want, we tie numbers to success, and we forget to think about how spectacular it is that our bodies allow us to race like this. We forget about the sacrifices others made to get us to where we are.

It is not the numbers from Tuscaloosa that I will remember; they are not what drove me. Unless you’re counting three people.

Find more coverage from the 2017 USA Triathlon Collegiate Club & High School National Championships at usatriathlon.org/usatcn17coverage.