It was a warm windy August day in Cleveland, Ohio, and the waves on Lake Erie were clashing along with the current strong as ever. It was the USA Age Group National Triathlon Championships, and I was blessed to be competing.
I had been waiting for this race since I first knew I was signed up, but as most triathletes know, anything can happen on race day and today was one crazy day already. Adding to the pile of nerves building up inside of me, the triathlon board added an even bigger one by cancelling the swim. The currents were so strong that they would put any whirlpool to shame, and just like that, with one announcement, they made it a run-bike-run rather than the normal a swim-bike-run course.
However, despite these drastic changes one thing did remain the same, and that is what is at stake. The top 18 are given a chance to move on to the World Championships, but for me this race was much more than just getting in the top 18.
Recently, one of my closest training partners, mentor, neighbor and a family friend passed away in a tragic plane crash. This race was for him.
I was going to “Tri for Trever” and those were the exact words in which I had stitched onto the back of my triathlon suit, so I could remember while I’m racing that this is more than just the USA Age Group National Triathlon Championships.
Lining up at the start I told myself everything would be OK.
“You are a triathlete, and this is what you have been training for this whole summer. Go and make Trever proud.”
Just like that, I was given the gun, which was quickly diminished by the strong gust of wind, signifying the start to the first leg of my race. The small, squiggly sidewalk allowed only two people to run side by side making passing people tough, but I found a blonde braided ponytail and stuck right behind her as she pushed the pace.
I looked at my watch, and it showed we were a half mile into the race. My legs moved almost robotically and with perfect form: a straight back, heels to my butt, arms at a ninety degree angle, and my eyes focused on the prize as I was passing person after person after person staying right behind that speedy blonde braid. The mile marker came faster than I anticipated, and I turned in with a mile time of 5:23. I knew that pace would be tough to hold for another half mile, but when I saw my family cheering me on, it suddenly wasn’t so tough anymore. I zoned in hearing the thump of my own heart in my ears and feeling my feet make contact with the sidewalk. Step after step I pounded out the last little bit of leg one.
Transition number one onto my 12-mile bike ride was hectic. There were hundreds of bikes on the racks, and from the side, all the athletes looked like soldiers ready to march onto the battlefield. I hopped on my bike with determination in my heart and a big hill just ahead. The breeze whizzed through my hair as my tires dodged the constant potholes.
I watched my bike speedometer rise to twenty 23 miles per hour as I coasted down the other side of the hill and then the thing all triathletes dread. I hit the wall. My brain was telling my legs to pedal, but my legs were not listening.
No matter how hard I tried it felt hopeless. All the people I passed on the run were suddenly passing me back. One by one I watched them zoom on by. I felt like a turtle in a stampede of gazelles, but I wasn't going to give up now. I had come all this way to make Trever proud and there is no way I was going to let him down.
I remember all the days he got me up at the crack of dawn pushing me to be the best I could be. The sound of our feet making contact with the sun beaten asphalt on the last run together, our bike shoes clicking into the worn out pedals for our last ride, and his crisp friendly voice egging me on just one more time. In that moment he felt closer to me than ever before.
I hit the turn around signifying the halfway point of the race, and a completely different perspective. I was no longer demoralized, but rather hopeful. I had the whole second half of the race left, so I put my head down and grinded out mile after mile, ignoring my aching body’s cry for water. I started to move my legs faster and faster, gaining back some of the ground I had lost at the beginning of the second leg.
As the final mile approached, I crossed over a beautiful bridge overlooking the city of Cleveland where it meets Lake Erie. The sun was shining as bright as ever, and in the distance I could see the stampede of cars waiting for the roads to be unblocked, and that instantly drew me back into the race just as I was pulling into transition for the third and final leg of the race.
I quickly dismounted from the saddle of my bike, and tried to jog my bike back to the rack in which I had removed it from. However, trying to jog after the fastest 12-mile bike ride of my life was like a baby walking for the first time. My legs felt like noodles, and as I stumbled out of transition for my final mile and a half run to the finish, my legs began to regain strength and the longer I ran the better they felt.
I was putting one foot in front of the other and my mind was focused solely on one thing. Trever. It almost felt as if he was there with me cheering me on to the finish, and that God was giving my legs the strength they lacked at the start of the final leg. My mile time was almost thirty seconds slower than the first leg, but I was giving it all I had, digging deep to find something, anything, left inside of me to finish strong. I had one more downhill to the finish, and I was ecstatic.
I welcomed the pain that filled my body in the final 100 meters of the race. That feeling made me feel so alive.
To me, the day wasn’t about winning or losing it was about giving it my all and making every moment count. When you make a goal, chase it.
When you see an opportunity, take it. Life is too short to not follow your dreams, so set an example for others just like Trever Engler did for me today and always.
Share Your Story
Sometimes the best inspiration comes from the triumphs and accomplishments of your fellow athletes. Submit your own story. Email us at email@example.com and include the story and any accompanying photos as attachments. Please include "My Story" in the subject line.