Early event morning before daylight, the transition area is quiet and subdued in contrast to what will come with the dawn. Volunteers and participants are becoming awake and getting everything ready. Talk between strangers seems to come easy and natural-the world should flow so well. Illuminated out of the dark backdrop of morning mistiness, the start/finish/transition areas stand like a beacon in the night. Body marking, chip pickup, laying out our transition: anticipating what will be needed in times to come. There is a subdued excitement to it all; the anticipation, the uncertainty, the hopes.
Across the lake the first hints of dawn glow softly. In short moments, the eastern sky becomes a pink and orange beauty, giving a dim light, raising hopes, and indulging doubts-the event will soon begin.
Now, the worry. Am I ready? Do I need to go to the bathroom one more time? Are my swim goggles too tight? Is my bike in the right gear to begin the ride? Should I take in a few more calories right now? Should I check my transition one more time?
In a group now, walking to the swim start; more light conversation with strangers. We are all a bit nervous. The national anthem, and afterward it is announced that there are only minutes to start of the first swim wave. Pulses quicken. Quiet moments are about to end. The morning stillness, the mirror of pink dawn on the water will soon be shattered by the thrashing of many hands and feet.
The horn sounds and now we all know: there is no turning back now. After the first swim wave leaves, the next wave of swimmers move forward and enter the water. Then it is our turn; our wave. Goggles in place, a prayer in the last quietness for a while, and the horn sounds again: it begins. Face in the water, someones hands are hitting my calves, an elbow jams into my hip. I kick something or someone. Head in the water trying to gain speed and then I find myself beginning to swim over someone. Roll to the side and wish I could say I was sorry, but I can't tell who or where it was. A hand is in my face and my face goes back into the water, digging stronger strokes to try to clear myself from the crowd. After a few moments there is only someone touching my feet now and then; probably drafting off me. That's fine. Not much traffic now. A sighting shows, however, that I have drifted wide, out of the mainstream of swimmers. Back into the fray, but it is not as crowded as before. I began to race someone beside me. He is a good swimmer, but eventually, he fades. This is fun. A female swimmer, stroking at twice the rate as mine, goes my me like I am towing an anchor. You go girl !
The water is cool, friendly, and I am swimming well, loving the experience, hating for it to end. Ahead swimmers are beginning to wade ashore. A few more good strokes and my hands graze the lake bottom; time to stand up. Up I come, and for the first moments there is a sort of dizziness. Helpful volunteers help get me from the lake and onto the stairs. The crowd is yelling. Everyone is clapping, shouting encouragement. What great moments!
On the course, just trying to settle in, find my stride and maintain; nice and easy here. Ah, the rhythm is there, that's nice. This really feels OK. Pick up the pace just a bit, and again. This is the hardest pace I can hold, for now. I'll stay here. It is humid and sweat is pouring out of me. A turn-around, and we head back to the transition area. With that, I can feel the pace begin to quicken, almost as if it is out of my control. The finish line is visible, the crowd's wonderful noise comes to me. As much as possible, the hammer is down. The finish line banner - it seems as if I am flying - raised arms - thanks and praise - step onto the timing mat - I did it ! Praise God, I did it!
A helpful volunteer takes the timing chip off my leg. A finisher's medal is placed around my neck. I smile and look for a place to sit down. By the lakeside, gathering myself; I offer another prayer of gratitude, then head to the post-race refreshments area under a large tent.
Food, drink, and great spirit abound there and the volunteers are so friendly and helpful. Where do they find these people? Eat until I am full and then the awards ceremony. In the middle of the awards ceremony, the announcer asks everyone to show appreciation to the volunteers. We clap, and clap, and clap; then, we stand and continue to clap for many moments: the loudest and longest applause of the entire ceremony justifiably goes to the volunteers.
My name is called. I get on the podium with my award and photos were taken. What a day! As we load up the bike, saying goodbyes, readying for the trip home, there is an emptiness within. I seem to be empty of malice, anger, and all the mental meanness that is sometimes humanity; that can too often, be me. I felt whole. And so, as long as life lets me, I will return for more of that emptiness through which I can be more truly filled.