Sunday, June 1, 2014

Just Tri to Top This

     In honor of my mom's birthday on Monday, I'm posting this column that I wrote for The Greer Citizen in 2009. I'm so blessed to have an amazing mom and this was an incredible day in a life filled with happy memories with her. Happy Birthday Karen Lynne Oaks Colle. You are an amazing woman!   

  I will spend Mother’s Day exactly the same way I spent it last year: competing in a triathlon at Disney World with my mother. We swam in the lake; we rode bikes along service roads; and finally ran through the Magic Kingdom last year, crossing the finish line together in the Danskin Women’s Triathlon.
     My mom, Karen Colle, had been challenged by her Bible study group in the summer of 2007 to train for the May 2008 race with them. She reminded them that she was 69 years old. The thought of completing something so grand by the time she turned 70, though, made her take the leap.
     During a visit later that summer, she brought me into the fold. I was apprehensive, but this was the same woman who sat through my 0-30 tennis season in high school without complaint; the same woman who told me, “You can do this,” as I sat holding my newborn son with tears streaming down my face as she got ready to go back home.
     I couldn’t tell her no.
     A little background: I almost lost my mom when I was 16 years old. Just before my senior year in high school, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. She had immediate surgery to remove a tumor, her spleen, part of her pancreas and 18 inches of her colon.
     Two weeks later, it abscessed and she had another major surgery. She stayed in the hospital for four weeks. I went to see her every day, twice a day, and it forged a bond so deep that our relationship was never the same.
     We trained for the race separately. Though a Florida resident for over 30 years, mom learned to swim the freestyle stroke for the first time. I trained here in Greer, swimming at the Eastside YMCA and biking and running around town.
     We shared our triumphs and our trials. The closer the race loomed, the more fearful she became of the Open Water swim.
     It is quite frightening; no matter how well you swim. Every five minutes, 150 women jump into the water and take off toward the orange buoys in the middle of the lagoon. A kick to your head or arms flailing into your back are typical and expected features of the swim. The race began at 6 a.m. so the water looked murky and uninviting.
     Mom, in the senior age division, went out in the first wave of triathletes. My wave started two behind hers. Over a thousand women participate in this annual Mother’s Day race.
I knew going into the race that I wanted to be able to complete the race with my mom, but I also know my penchant for competition. Knowing this, my mom told me to go on and try to race for a good time, not to worry about her.
     Right as I dove into the lake, the timing chip strapped to my ankle slipped off into the water. I looked down once, trying to find it, but the muddy muck had swallowed it. I knew then, that the best Mother’s Day present that I could give and receive was to find my mom and race with her, that the race clock didn’t matter at all.
     I found my mother by the time I reached the first buoy. With everyone wearing a swim cap and goggles, it wasn’t easy. She was hugging a flotation noodle so tightly I almost didn’t recognize her.
     A swim angel, one of the ladies designated to watch for those struggling during the swim, helped me get my mom around all three buoys. The angel found my mom before I did and told her that God said to find number 57, which was my mom’s race number that was tattooed on her arm with a marker.
     We did everything we could to keep her moving. We even quoted all the same scriptures that she had taped all over the house on sticky notes to encourage herself. At one point, I took her arm and pulled her for a while.
     Crawling out of the water, she told me she was done. She had faced her fear of the water and that was all she needed. My arm over her shoulder as we walked to the transition area, I told her there was no way we were quitting now. The worst part was over.
     I waited at my bike until she found me. We took off on the bikes and that’s when mom came back to life. This was her favorite leg of the triathlon. Many cyclists passed us, but we passed a few too. Everyone along the way shouted encouragement to us and we shouted back.
     By the end of the nine miles of riding, we were tired but determined to finish the race.
We walked more than we ran the last two miles of the race. We were inside Disney World traipsing through Adventureland and Cinderella’s castle. We just kept moving.
     We finally ran across the finish line hand in hand, mother and daughter, best friends and now triathletes.
I’m going back to do it again this weekend. I’ll have to swim and run alone, because mom is doing the cycling leg with a buddy team this year, but I know that she’ll be there at the finish line waiting for me to come across and will be the first to congratulate me. It will be another incredible Mother’s Day for me, as a daughter and a mom.

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