Thursday, June 9, 2011

Another tri

Cooper completed his second triathlon on Saturday. He raced well and enjoyed the whole experience -- even waking at 5 a.m. to get to Irving in plenty of time to set up his transition area. I'm certain that Cooper would compete every weekend if there were enough kids' triathlons offered in the Dallas area.

I continue to let Cooper know how proud I am of him for his training and determination. And how very proud his Daddy is, too. Can't you imagine how excited Steve Damm would be to see his son run, bike and swim? He would be cheering and smiling and being silly and giving sage advice and getting a little weepy.

Cooper in Irving on Saturday, after swimming, biking and running

I completed my first triathlon on Sunday. (You may remember that I tried a few weeks ago but wasn't able to finish.) I struggled to get started with the swim, as you can read about in my Briefing column below, but I finished.

Julie sent me a text after I finished: "Steve Damm is so proud." I know it is true. I feel it in my heart.

In murky water or in life, staying afloat is all mental

On the first day of May, I tried to complete a triathlon and failed.

The trouble stemmed from unusual weather and mechanical malfunctions. There were severe winds, hail, sideways rain, temperatures dropping to the mid-40s. Plus, the bike I was borrowing had a broken pedal and later a flat tire.

At the end of that sad morning, I was just two-thirds of a triathlete. Lightning closed the running course before I could begin the last event.

I vowed to not let months of training go to waste. I registered for another race.

The second triathlon was last Sunday. There was little wind, no precipitation and temperatures in the mid-80s. There were no mechanical malfunctions. Only mental ones.

In May’s race, I swam 300 meters in an indoor pool, very much like the one I had trained in. On race day, I was unnerved by so many competitors in the pool and the waves we all made, but I kept moving and finished in close to the time I’d estimated.

This week’s race was different. The swimming event was in open water. The murky water of Lake Carolyn, to be exact. Perhaps you’re not familiar with Lake Carolyn. You might know it better as the big pond in the middle of Las Colinas.

Yes, the manmade body of water surrounded by signs that say “NO SWIMMING.”

Swimmers shimmied down a concrete embankment into brownish-greenish water. Then we stood on slimy mossy stuff for a few minutes, waiting for the signal to begin. (I stood on just one foot at a time, barely able to tolerate the unknown squishy muck between my toes.)

On the count of three, we began the 300-meter course. But my start was fitful.

I could not get horizontal. My body stayed vertical. I was overwhelmed at first by the mass of limbs and bobbing heads around me. I was overwhelmed by my inability to see through the water. My breathing was out of control.

For a moment, I thought that my fledgling triathlon career was dead in the water.

I waved at a lifeguard in a nearby kayak. She paddled toward me, and I latched on to the side.

“I need a little time to catch my breath.”

The young woman told me to stay as long as I needed. Then another kayaker joined us.

I told him that I couldn’t force my body to get flat enough to swim. I couldn’t see and I couldn’t breathe.

“It’s all mental,” he said. “This isn’t the water you trained in. You can’t touch the bottom or see through it, but it’s still water.”

He told me to look up every four or five strokes so that I’d know I was swimming in a straight line instead of circles. He assured me that kayaks would be nearby.

With his advice, I loosened my tight grip of the boat and glided through the water, assuming my comfortable freestyle stroke.

“It’s still water,” I told myself over and over.

Every now and then I’d pop my head up to make sure I was pointed toward the correct buoys, all the while trying to focus on the small space of water before me. I needed to accomplish this stroke, not worry about the many more still to come.

Finally, I reached the temporary steps that led me out of the lake and onto solid ground.

As soon as I stood and could feel my legs beneath me, my confidence returned. I still had miles to go on bike and foot, but I had overcome an obstacle that was scarier than I’d ever anticipated. That accomplishment, plus the reminder that “it’s all mental” pushed me forward.

My struggles on the bike were miniscule — a few hills that seemed tiny compared with some I had trained on. With each push of the pedal, I focused on the next one — not the hundreds still to come.

Midmorning heat and fatigue forced my run into mostly a walk. I concentrated not on the finish line but on the patch of pavement directly in front of me.

I finished the race physically and mentally exhausted — and after hearing my name announced at the finish line, I was emotionally refreshed with the rediscovery of one of life’s most basic truths:

Meeting a monumental goal requires countless incremental moves. One stroke at a time. One pedal at a time. One step at a time.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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