Sport Parallels Life
This past weekend was the Danskin Philadelphia Triathlon held in Fairmount Park. This is a women’s only event and is part of a national multi city race series. This race is owned and operated by the same folks that produce the Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon held in June and is another one of my “give back” races. The race’s co founder and the race director and management team are all friends of mine so I commit to being a part of these races from a production standpoint. And I totally love being able to help put on such a class event. I encourage anyone who races to try their hand at volunteering at an event. You will quickly realize that there is way more beneath the surface of an event than what you see on race day. And you will probably never take anything for granted again, nor be disrespectful to anyone who is out there giving their time and energy so the athletes can realize their dreams. The production of an event such as the Danskin Philly race is nothing short of … well, it’s big.
Think about all of the work and effort that goes into a large race, with road closures, permits, course marking, signage, port-o-john, awards, public address systems, etc. the list is literally endless. Now think about the amount of time that your average athlete may train for such an event and you are looking at a lot of time invested in an event that will last bit a few short hours. As a race organizer, and athlete alike, you plan, you prep, you coordinate, you plan some more, you think, rethink, and think again to make sure that you well prepared and that everything will be right on race day. And then mother nature throws down her hand and laughs at all of your preparation efforts and reminds you that some things are not within your control.
Sunday’s weather for the Danskin Philly race was among the worst I have ever seen in my many years of involvement with multisport racing. The day started out relatively “ok” when we showed up at 4:30 am to get ready for the 2,000 plus women athletes who would be arriving by 6:00 am. However, excessive debris in the Schuylkill River forced the race director to make the first of a couple of very tough game day decisions which was to turn the triathlon into a duathlon and call off the swim. In place of the swim would be an additional run, making it your standard run-bike-run duathlon format. I think half of the athletes complained while the other half celebrated, depending upon whether their strength was in the swim, or on the run. But regardless of your strength, the debris in the water, combined with a very threatening forecast, made this the right call to make.
And so with a couple of quick adjustments to start lines and timing mats, the redesigned race kicked off without a hitch. The skies flirted off and on for the next couple of hours. One minute it seemed like the rain just might hold off, the next minute things looked less promising. And then ultimately, the bottom fell out and heavy rain was ushered in by thunder and lightening. Rain is one thing. We have all raced in the rain. And most race directors are ok with allowing athletes to continue in the rain. But there isn’t a race director anywhere who would or should let their race continue with the threat and presence of nearby lightening strikes.
It didn’t take along before I started to hear the chatter over the two way radio between race director Barb McKeever, and race staff as they evaluated the weather and the potential risks to the athletes on the course. That chatter was brief and was quickly followed by the decision and announcement to immediately terminate the race and get all athletes off of the course. Volunteers and staff worked diligently to ensure that the athletes were pulled off of the course and the production essentially stopped dead in its tracks. For the next hour people took cover anywhere they could as they waited for a break in the deluge to try to collect their belongings and make a mad scramble for their cars. It was one of the fastest and heaviest storms that I can remember and it left behind swimming pools of mud throughout the transition area.
From an athlete’s perspective, I’m sure one of the first reactions was one of disappointment. So many training hours invested,… and many never got the chance to finish what they started. Well guess what ladies, what you all experienced yesterday will build far greater intestinal fortitude, and should give you a much greater sense of accomplishment than had you actually crossed the finish line. None of you “lost” yesterday in any sense of the word. You all battled and struggled and fought. And when the decision was made to stop the race, a decision that was completely out of your control, you reacted with grace and dignity. You may be disappointed, but you are not beaten. You will talk about this race for a long time to come. And trust me, when you are at your next race, you will find yourself thinking back to Danskin Philly 2009 and feeling proud that you were a part of it. Toughing this one out has given you bragging rights for a very long time.
And to everyone involved with the race from a management and production standpoint, this was a feather in your cap as well. It’s far more difficult to make decisions such as these than to sit back and let a race hum along on autopilot. It’s never easy to make these calls, but yesterday was a win for everyone. The right calls were made at the right time to keep everyone safe. Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Being able to redirect, react, and adjust to those obstacles on the fly are critical factors to success and to happiness. We’ll all be talking about this for a while!
Congratulations to every athlete who had the courage to even be in that race yesterday. You were all winners as soon as the starting gun went off. And congrats to the race crew for knowing the right thing to do and when to do it.