Well, here we are at the end of our shift. We all volunteered to be swim handlers at the 2015 Oceanside 70.3 Half Ironman. I wanted to race this race but I missed the signup, so I went with St. George instead. The next best thing to racing is volunteering. It’s my chance to give back to the sport and to the racers. In my early days of racing I never really paid much attention to volunteers, in fact I really didn’t care about them. I paid my money and most of the time I was out there suffering just trying to finish. Then after my first volunteer gig as a swim buddy I started to really take notice and start thanking them as I’m running or biking. I’m usually a swim buddy and out there swimming with the slower swimmers. At Ironman events that’s not allowed, so I took the next best thing. Making sure everyone gets in and out of the water safely.
Race DayHanging out with TCSD before reporting.
The best part of being in the water is that you have access to transition and you don’t have to be down at the entry/exit till 20-30 minutes before the pro’s start. So I was able to wander around T1/2 and talk with some friends and give some final words of encouragement to other first timers I knew racing. Before I knew it, it was time for me to head down to the swim entry/exit. I really wasn’t expecting anything since when I’m running out of the water I don’t take any assistance and I’m off down to transition. However, I got to talk to some of the pro men and women before they got into the water and they thanked me for volunteering. Andy Potts is a nice guy on top of being fast in the water, and Jesse Thomas is flat out funny before the swim. I couldn’t recognize the women with their goggles on already and caps, but that’s ok. The gun went off and the mass flow of racers entered the water in waves in what seemed 3 minutes apart. All the swim handlers cheering them on as they marched towards the water. They even had the seals to cheer them on and provide some entertainment while they made their way to the start line. About 22 minutes after the start the pro men started to come in and I had to go over to the exit for safety reasons.
As the pro’s came in the mass of age groupers were not far behind. At about 45 minutes after the start it was madness. I was assisting swimmers up and unzipping wetsuits. I pulled up several of my friends swimming and cheered them along the run. Then I felt someone grab my hand and as I turned and looked at her she said, “I have no legs, will you help me?” I got down and picked her up and carried her to her chair that was waiting on the ramp with her legs. She was an amputee racing with CAF. Everyone was clapping for her and she was smiling. I was moved and inspired to be sharing her moment with her. Every day I listen to people complain about how bad of a day they had or are having, but here is a woman with no legs out there swimming and enjoying the simple things that we often take for granted. It was an honor and privilege for me to assist her. In a moment that seemed like it took 20 minutes had only taken a couple and I was back to action holding up swimmers who couldn’t find their land legs after being in the water for so long. As the slower swimmers started coming in we started seeing a lot of people disoriented so we spent some time walking up the ramp with them till they found their land legs and knew what was going on. I saw an older man who waved me over and I grabbed his hand. He really grabbed on strong and started to shake as I pulled him up and he stood up. He looked at me and said “I did it, I didn’t think I’d make it, but I did it!” I said “Congratulations, the hard part is done right!” We both laughed but when he took off his goggles he had tears and a smile ear to ear. He gave me a big hug and said thank you for being here, and said “I did it” one last time as he went up the ramp. I started to get teary eyed. (I’m starting to get teary eyed just writing this).
As less and less swimmers came in we know the swimmers coming in now were at risk of not being able to continue. Then the race official appeared and there were 3 swimmers who weren’t allowed to continue. It was a little heartbreaking to see. Some of those swimmers were in the water well over 1 hour and 10 minutes. Then the floatilla of boats, SUPs, and wave runners came towards the dock. It was the last swimmer in, and everyone gave him a cheering welcome back. We all knew he wasn’t going to make the cut off but he at least finished the swim which is a great achievement.
As I was helping him up since he couldn’t stand on his own we got to the race official and I heard the official give the DNF speech. It’s not one that I ever plan to hear for not making a cut off. I really hope he comes back next year and finishes the entire race. I could feel how deflated he got after receiving the news. Once all the swimmers were out we got the dock all ready to go for use again and I was off to the TCSD and FilAmTri tents to cheer on the racers. All in all for the day I walked/ran over 12 miles and cheering is a workout on it’s own. I was exhausted all evening. I tried to get my 8 mile run in but got 2 miles before I was done. I was sleeping by 8:30PM… ZZZZZzzzzzz