Tri for Camille

By David Pickett | July 31, 2017, 3:52 p.m. (ET)

camille 

When I was first asked to write a blog about the upcoming 2017 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships, I began thinking about all the possible topics. I started writing a couple of times usually going into my competitive history, when I got started in triathlons, training, diet, etc. Although my first couple of passes at a literary masterpiece might have been interesting to a few, for the most part each was an uninteresting tale of a 54-year-old man making his first attempt at a national age group event. So I realized I didn’t have any secret training tips, special diets or transition area tidbits to share that may help my fellow triathletes. But we all need something or someone to help motivate us, drive us, to keep us focused on our goals. For me that’s my 4-year-old great niece Camille, and that’s what I want to share today.

David PickettAll of us deal with physical issues that may sidetrack us from either training or racing. Ankles, knees, shoulders, hamstrings — we’ve all had to sit on the sidelines during our athletic careers with nagging injuries. For most of us, these “inconveniences” to our training or racing are short-lived. For Camille and her wonderful parents, their lives are filled with “inconveniences.”

Spinal Muscular Atrophy or SMA — until three years ago I had never heard of the disease. This disease robs children of their physical strength by affecting the motor nerve cells in the spinal cord, taking away the ability to walk, eat or breathe. It is the No. 1 genetic cause of death for infants. Camille was diagnosed with SMA about a year after she was born.

In 2016 I began training and competing in sprint triathlons after a 15-year hiatus. My main goal when I got back into triathlons was to have fun and lose a few pounds. But I found that my great niece Camille motivated me to do more. I felt I owed it to Camille to push myself harder during workouts and in races. I would catch myself thinking of Camille’s struggles on mornings when I didn’t want to get out of bed at 5 a.m. on a hot humid Louisiana morning to run or bike. I would recall videos on Facebook of Camille (@ Camille’s Corner) fighting to simply stand or taking a few amazing steps on her own. Am I really going to complain about the Louisiana humidity? I would end up having some of my best workouts on those days.

With Camille’s motivation things started with a bang in 2016, finishing third in my age group in my very first race. Two weeks later I won my age group. I dedicated my third race to Camille, wrote “Tri for Camille” on my forearm as motivation and promptly went out and won my age group again. Of course I gave Camille the finishing medal for that race. All in all, since returning to triathlons last year I have finished on the podium in seven or eight races. I would say Camille has been a great motivator.

In case you are wondering, things have been going great for Camille too. The FDA finally approved an important drug, Spinraza, for all children with SMA. Trials had shown great improvement for children on Spinraza. It’s extremely expensive and Camille has to fly out of state several times a year for the injections. Although Camille has been on Spinraza a short time, her parents have already seen small but important gains in her strength. True miracles. For more information on SMA visit Cure SMA at curesma.org.

So maybe I do, after all, have a special secret, tip or tidbit for my fellow competitors in Omaha. We all have those days when we don’t want to do that workout and would rather stay in bed instead. We all find ourselves struggling through a workout or at a key point in a race. It’s at those times that we need to find something within, something to grab on to, something to motivate us to do our best on that day. For me, I think about Camille and kids like her. I hope all my follow triathletes have a wonderful race in Omaha, have fun and tri for Camille!

Want to learn more about the 2017 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships in Omaha, Nebraska? Visit usatriathlon.org/agnc17.