Ironman 2012

On Sunday, my family had the privilege, and I do mean privilege, of witnessing our friend Chris Hollinden complete the Ironman Triathlon in Louisville, KY.  We had never been to an Ironman competition, and thought it would be fun to watch, and we wanted to support Chris in his effort.  Well, let me tell you, fun does not begin to describe the day.  And as hard as I try to put our experience in words, I can assure you, I will not be able to do it justice.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Ironman format, it begins with a 2.4 mile swim…in the OHIO RIVER!  Can you imagine?  I would be crying as soon as I hit the water.  After the swim, the competitors transition to the cycling portion – 112 miles of cycling.  Once they get their legs warmed up by cycling, and they have already been competing, oh, say six or seven hours, they have to…run a full marathon!  26.2 miles!  That is a grand whopping total of 140.6 miles for the day!  I don’t run that in a month. 

Our day started early; we left our house at 5:15 am.  The first wave of the race was to begin at 6:00 our time, but I really am not a morning person, and did not want to leave at 4:00.  We arrived at the riverfront in time to watch the swimmers come out of the river.  What a sight it was to see nearly 3000 athletes swimming in the river.  Since we couldn’t find the Hollindens, we texted back and forth so that we would all see Chris come through.  We positioned ourselves where we could see the swimmers running through to the transition area, and then take off on their bikes.  We were afraid we would miss Chris, but spotted him (or whom we thought was him), and then received a text that it was.  We were able to see him take off on his bike, and he saw us as he began that leg of his journey.

After he left the area, we met up with his wife Kelly, and his parents Tony and Rhonda.  We drove to Lagrange, Kentucky to the viewing spot for the cycling portion.  We were in awe.  These men and women came cycling through, smiles on their faces, waving to the crowds.  We all stood together anxiously awaiting Chris’s entrance into Lagrange.  Of course, we saw him for about ten seconds, but it was worth it to get to cheer him on.  The Hollinden clan stayed to watch him come back through Lagrange, but we headed back to Louisville to do some shopping (I can always work that in!).

After our shopping, it was time to travel back to the riverfront to watch the transition from bike to run.  At this point, I was just so impressed with these athletes.  To even want to attempt such an incredible event is just so admirable.  We stood watching as the athletes started the marathon leg of the Ironman.  Some were beginning to wear down; some were dropping out.  I must mention that by this point it was in the 90s.  And sunny.  I whined trying to run eight miles Saturday and it wasn’t even the hottest part of the day.  These people are beasts!  Once again, we were so fortunate to get to see Chris as he began his run.  He still looked so strong. 

At this point in the day, I decided I am a wimp.  I had, for the past couple years, felt pretty good about my so-called athletic ability.  I can run 13.1 miles – I was proud of that.  As we watched these amazing athletes who were completing 140.6 miles, 13.1 miles seemed like nothing.  Nothing at all.  13.1 miles?  That’s hardly a warm-up for these people.  Please note, that absolutely does not mean I have the ambition to ever in my life attempt an Ironman.  I would cry, vomit, and throw a tantrum – all in the first mile.  My daughter confirmed that I was a wimp as she pointed out every single woman who was in my age range and competing in the Ironman. 

After watching Chris take off for the marathon, we knew we had some time, so we hit Joe’s Crab Shack for our only meal of the day.  I felt rather guilty as I ate my fish and chips in the comfort of air conditioning.  Not too guilty, I guess, because I enjoyed every bite!  Once our bellies were full, we took off again.  We headed back up toward Fourth Street toward the finish line.  We arrived there at about 4:00, and many athletes were already coming through the finish.  We somehow ended up getting the perfect spot to watch the finish:  we were about 15 feet beyond the finish line right on the fence, so we could see everyone come through the finish.  Wow.  Let me attempt to describe this experience.

The first things I noticed were all of the wheelchairs lined up.  Seriously.  These athletes had just finished 140.6 miles, and their bodies were spent.  I would venture to guess that 20% of those who actually finished (many had long since dropped out – some literally), had to be wheeled through the finish area once they hit the line.  Many people just collapsed into waiting volunteers.  They had lines of volunteers on both sides just past the finish line, and they were instructed to immediately aid the finishers as they walked through the finish area.  Some runners would wave the volunteers off thinking they were fine, only to have their legs give out.  Others came through looking pretty good.  There were also those who headed to the nearest trash can to vomit.

There were those who came through raising their hands to God in gratitude, and those who sobbed, overcome by the emotion of the moment.  Some grabbed their loved ones for hugs, others grabbed the nearest volunteer.  A couple of people rolled across the finish line (I don’t really know the story behind that), and a volunteer told us one man immediately got down on one knee and presented an engagement ring to his girlfriend.  As you can imagine by now, emotions were running high and free.  I have watched the end of many races and have run three half marathons, yet I have never experienced anything so moving.  My daughter Addison kept laughing at me because I teared up every time someone crossed the finish line.  I watched as a young man went straight to his mother and they just hugged and cried.  Sniff sniff.  We stood there for almost three hours, and were in absolute awe the entire time.  What an amazing accomplishment for all who finished.  And then Chris came through!  He still looked strong, walking unaccompanied as if he did this on a regular basis.  We went to meet him at the end of the chute and were so impressed with his composure.  He was an Ironman!  He told us he felt pretty good, just hungry.  Gary and I laughed on the way home because after we had run a half marathon, we ate uncontrollably for a couple days.  I couldn’t imagine what these folks would consume in the coming days!

We got home at about 9:00 last night, and do you know what?  There were still athletes running the marathon.  They were 15 hours in, and still going at it.  The Ironman truly is a race in which time doesn’t matter in the least.  If one can complete this grueling triathlon, he or she is a winner – plain and simple.  As we watched the Olympics a few weeks ago, we kept hearing that the winner of the decathlon would be deemed the World’s Best Athlete.  I beg to differ.  The endurance, passion, and dedication shown by all we saw yesterday make them the World’s Greatest Athletes in my most humble opinion.  So, congratulations to all, especially to our Ironman – Chris Hollinden!  You inspire us all!


Let the training begin!

Time to get back to writing about running and fitness.  Both have become such a focal point in my husband’s and my life over the past three and a half years, and especially in the past three months as Gary has worked to lose almost fifty pounds (Can I hear a ‘Woo Hoo’!), and I have spent countless hours preparing to teach Zumba.  And now we have race day approaching.  I hardly have time for a job!

Several of my running friends, my husband, and I are now into our training for the Evansville Half Marathon that takes place on October 7.  I ran it two years ago.  It was my first half marathon, and I ran it with my friend Jackie.  It was a terrific experience for both of us.  Neither of us could even imagine running 13.1 miles when we began running.  It just seemed impossible.  As we continued to log miles, we also began to dream.  Just maybe we could pull it off.  And we did!  On 10/10/10, we ran our first half marathon at a 10:10 pace!  We were quite impressed with ourselves as we crossed that finish line hand-in-hand.  Since that time, I have run the Kentucky Derby Mini Marathon twice, and Jackie has run Evansville again, as well as the Owensboro Half this past May.  Jackie, Kassi, and I (and sometimes Jennifer) will be training for this year’s Evansville together.

We began our long-run Saturdays last weekend.  Today we were scheduled to run eight miles.  The high today was going to be over 90, and it began to get hot early.  The heat just sucks on long runs.  We got our eight miles in, but we ran slowly, stopped to walk several times, and whined throughout the run.  One of the benefits of running with a couple of friends is that usually at least one of us is having a decent day and will push the others along.  Today was Kassi’s day.  Jackie was struggling to keep going, and I was willing to stop at any point, but Kassi saw to it we ran the full eight miles – and I am thankful she did!  I have never regretted sucking it up and completing a tough run.  I have regretted giving up.  Next weekend we want to run eight miles without all the walk breaks.  We might not be able to run together because of other obligations, but we will hold one another accountable.  And we will pray for much, much cooler temps!

Beginning in September, along with training for the big race, I will begin a busy Zumba schedule.  I will be teaching at least four classes a week, and will likely add one or two more.  I have worked hard to put together a good class, and look forward to sharing such a fun form of exercise with others.  I think it will be interesting to see how this form of cross-training affects my running.  Maybe I’ll be crazy fast!  Or not.  I know that I am in better shape physically than at any other point in my life, and that is good enough for me!  But running a wee bit faster would be a pretty sweet bonus!

How are you staying fit these days?  There are so many great forms of exercise, find one you enjoy!  You won’t regret it!

In Memory of Stephen

One year ago this week, my young nephew, Stephen, died.  As we journey through this week, our thoughts go back to this last year, when amidst back-to-school preparations and our town’s annual Schweizer Fest, our family was planning a funeral for a 26 year old young man.  The following is a story I wrote about Stephen’s death with the goal of informing other young people about the dangers that lurk at parties. 

In Memory of

Stephen Paul Fordyce

I can’t erase her voice from my mind.  Sometimes her words come back to me at random times.  As I am walking up the stairs with a load of laundry it comes to me, “Stephen died.”    I remember how weak my sister’s voice sounded on the phone as she, still in shock, told me of my nephew’s death.   She sounded like a lost child, a wounded soul.

That morning was August 8.  It was the week before school was to begin, and I was in my third grade classroom preparing for opening day.   At nine o’clock my cell phone rang.  It was one of those calls I will never forget.  At first I couldn’t comprehend what my sister, Bobbi, was saying.  How could he possibly be gone?  Stephen was 26 and had just begun to live life.  He was healthy; actually he was more healthy than had had been in previous years after starting a workout routine and improving his eating habits.

I dropped what I was doing and stopped in the office to let them know what had happened, and that I wouldn’t be in for several days.  As the words came, so did the tears.  I couldn’t believe what was coming from my mouth.  My nephew was dead.   I have lost many family members, including my father when I was seven, but this?  This was incomprehensible.  What happened?  On the drive to my sister’s house, I just kept wondering what to do.  I don’t know what I am supposed to do.  What do I do?  Whom do I call?

Shortly after arriving at my sister’s house, I watched as her co-workers walked her in from the car.  What could I possibly say to her?  All of my life I have wanted to fix others’ problems.   I could not fix this.  As she began to explain what she knew, the story only became more difficult to swallow.  First of all, it was Monday, and Stephen had died on Sunday.  Stephen lived in a city about an hour from us, and the coroner’s office had failed to notify my sister that her son had died.  How is that even possible?  His friends knew of his death before his own mother.  There are no words to describe the pain that caused.

When the coroner first informed Bobbi, the only explanation for Stephen’s death he gave was that there had been a party at his house the night before, and that one of Stephen’s friends said there might have been prescription drugs involved.   As you may or may not know, grief comes with a wide array of emotions, including anger.  While I was extremely sad about the loss of my nephew, as I pondered his own responsibility in his death, the anger occasionally seeped in.  How could this intelligent young man make such a stupid – and ultimately deadly – decision?

While we awaited the final autopsy report, there we arrangements to be made, and phone calls to make.  Every step we took was wrought with devastation.  Watching a mother make funeral arrangements for her child is heartbreaking.  Because that mother was also my sister, it was nearly unbearable, yet I needed to be there to help carry her through.  As we spoke with the funeral directors, they tried to gently give us more troubling news.  While Stephen was passed out at his party, his friends (please remember these weren’t teenagers; they were all in their twenties) thought it would be funny to write on his face with a permanent marker.  The funeral directors knew we wanted an open casket, but were not certain they could remove the black marks.  Fortunately, a couple of days later, they called to report that they were able to clean the marker off; my sister would be able to see her son’s beautiful face one last time.

Any time a young person dies, there is a large turn-out at the visitation in our small town.  Stephen’s day was no different.  It was comforting to our family to see how many friends Stephen had, and how many lives he had touched.  At the same time I wanted to scream at his friends to remember their friend lying in that casket the next time they thought it would be cool to try drugs.  Though they were clearly upset by the loss of their friend, did they really understand the implications of his choices?  Would they remember that day the next time they were at a party?

We made it through the first week, but this was by no means the end of our grief.  We had a house to clean out, financial arrangements to be made, and visits to a lawyer to make sure the legalities were handled correctly.

After a few weeks, we received the autopsy report.  Stephen’s death was caused by mixing Xanax and Oxycontin.  There was no alcohol in his system.  According to the coroner, this is becoming a common practice at parties.  Supposedly, mixing the two gives quite the euphoric feeling.  Or it kills you.  As I began to research the effects of mixing these two prescription drugs, I found that it slows one’s heart rate and blood pressure.  If it slows them too much, death is inevitable.  While a party-goer might be able to mix the two one time with no ill-effects, the next time could end in death.

According to his friends, Stephen was intoxicated at the party, but they noticed nothing out of the ordinary.  He even woke up the next morning to see his girlfriend off to work.  After she left, he returned to bed to ‘sleep it off’, and that was the end.  His life was over.  He had a great job as a heating and air conditioning technician; he owned his own home; and he had a wonderful girlfriend who cared about him very much.  In an instant, none of that mattered.

My nephew was not a drug addict.  The coroner stated that the results of the autopsy showed that he did not make of habit of taking these drugs.  He was having a good time with his friends, and he made a mistake.  That mistake cost him his life.  That mistake left a mother without her son, an aunt and uncle without their nephew, his sisters without their brother, grandparents without their grandson, and cousins missing one of their own.

Life is about making decisions, and every single decision we make has a consequence.  We all make poor choices at some point in our lives.  When I was young I took unnecessary risks, partied when I shouldn’t have, and made my share of mistakes.  By the grace of God, I was never arrested and I lived to tell about it.  Teenagers and twenty-somethings:  You are on the brink of living life as an adult.  You can be whoever you choose to be.  You have countless opportunities before you.  Take advantage of all the great adventures this life has to offer.  Enjoy life, but make smart choices.

Many young people seem to be under the misconception that since drugs such as Xanax and Oxycontin are prescription medications, they are safer than street drugs or alcohol.  They are safe only if taken by the person for whom they are prescribed, not mixed with other medications, and taken as directed.  Otherwise, you are literally risking your life.  One night of partying is not worth the chances you take.  The wrong mix of drugs and/or alcohol can cause irreversible damage, not just to you, but to your family.  Our entire family has been affected by Stephen’s decision.  His mother lives every day with the knowledge that her son’s death could have been avoided so easily.  Let his death not be in vain.  Learn from his mistake, and share that knowledge with your friends.  Consider the consequences before making a decision.  If it would help, buddy up with a friend, let him or her know your intentions before you attend a party, and ask her to make sure that under no circumstances do you go off path.  You have to look out for one another, even when it’s difficult.

Please share this story with everyone.  Share it through your own blog, email, or your Facebook page.  If by sharing our story we save one young life, perhaps we can begin to make sense of our loss.