Athletes had traveled from across the country for IRONMAN Lake Tahoe. It would be the first IRONMAN for UCLA triathlon team member Adam DeBrosse. But when word came down the morning of the race the event was canceled, hundreds of athletes were devastated. Refusing to let his training go to waste, the UCLA triathlon team had their own plan for DeBrosse.
By Jared Slinde
Adam DeBrosse didn’t believe it. He didn’t want to believe it. Even when friends and family told him everything was true, it was still difficult to comprehend. When he finally accepted the reality, emotion got the better of him.
Like so many athletes that day, DeBrosse’s preparation started months earlier with the goal of completing the 2014 IRONMAN Lake Tahoe. It would be the first race at that distance for DeBrosse, a fourth-year member of the UCLA triathlon team.
But all the hours spent training and all the sacrifices flashed before his eyes when officials canceled IRONMAN Lake Tahoe the morning of the race due to unsafe air quality from recent fires. DeBrosse, along with seven of his UCLA teammates, his brother and parents, who had all traveled hundreds of miles to be there, were shocked.
“At first it was disbelief,” the 22-year-old DeBrosse said of his emotions that day. “I was really disappointed and I cried. You understand the smoke in the air is bad for you, but at the same time you put so much time into this. I had my wetsuit on and I was about to touch the sand. To have it stripped away so quickly was disbelief.”
DeBrosse and his teammates slowly made their way back to their cars. His dream of completing an IRONMAN triathlon would have to wait.
PLANNING THE RACEIt took an hour for the shock to wear off before conversations turned to finding a solution. The group began joking about staging their own IRONMAN the next day for DeBrosse. While first met with laughs, the tone quickly changed.
“We felt it would be such a disappointment to come back home and not release all the training he had done,” said the UCLA triathlon team vice president Monica Morucci.
Planning started quickly for the first ever "IRONMAN Orinda" to take place in the San Francisco Bay area the following morning. Jonathan Young, Allie Light, Morucci, Rachel Allen, Ella Eser, Ansom Lam and Matt Stewart were all on board for this inaugural IRONMAN.
Calls were made to a community pool where the 2.4-mile swim would take place. Stewart, another UCLA teammate, began mapping the 112-mile bike route and a plan was put in place to use a Garmin watch for the 26.2-mile run. Logistics were covered to include transition areas and food and water throughout the day.
The end goal was to build a course similar to what DeBrosse would have experienced at IRONMAN Lake Tahoe, which featured a bike course with more than 7,500 feet of elevation gain. When Stewart finished mapping the grueling bike course, the end result was more than 9,200 feet of elevation gain.
| UCLA triathlon team member Jonathan Young compiled a video on
Adam DeBrosse's journey.
DeBrosse arrived at the community pool around 7 a.m. where his first challenge would be a daunting one — 169.5 laps in the pool.
“Everyone was great at helping me count laps so I would stick my head out of the water about every 20 minutes to see where I was at,” DeBrosse said.
Upon completion of the swim, he was guided through the clubhouse and into the parking lot for T1. With Stewart leading the way, DeBrosse mounted his bike and headed onto the bike course.
For nearly eight hours Stewart remained 10-15 yards in front of DeBrosse to show him the route. In accordance with USA Triathlon Competitive Rules, Stewart remained at least four bike lengths ahead to avoid the benefit of drafting.
As darkness began to fall, DeBrosse landed at T2 in the back of an SUV on the roadside before heading out on the run. Over the next three-and-a-half hours he counted down the miles as he approached 26.2. With a half-mile to go, DeBrosse turned into an open baseball field for the finish. Surrounded by cheers from the friends that helped him get there, DeBrosse fell to his knees in relief. One day after being denied the chance to compete in Lake Tahoe, DeBrosse had filled his dream of completing his first ultra-distance triathlon.
“It was relief when I finished,” DeBrosse said. “I had been envisioning for so long running down the finish chute with cameras and music playing. I finished in the middle of a dark field surrounded by my friends. It was complete darkness and quiet. It was surreal finally being over with it. I was so happy that it happened this way. It’s terrible the race was canceled, but personally I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
COMING TOGETHER TO HELP A TEAMMATEHis teammates were able to capture much of his experience on video and shared his progress throughout the day on the team’s Facebook page.
While the 2014 "IRONMAN Orinda" may be the only edition of the race, the event will be marked by the selflessness of a group helping a teammate.
“It’s hard to convey everything my friends and family did to show me support,” DeBrosse said. “To have everyone come out, I definitely felt loved. To see that my friends were willing to put this on was incredible. I think that is part of this sport. There are a lot of crazy people in triathlon and lot of my teammates are crazy and only crazy people do things like this.”