I am coming down from one of the most amazing race weekends I have ever experienced. Let me first clarify for you finish time results lurkers out there, I did not “race” fast. In fact in some respects I had no business being out there this weekend. But I was committed and determined to get this under my belt not in spite of some of the obstacles that have been in my way these last couple of months, but BECAUSE of the speed bumps that got in the way recently. And any chance to see Rob Vigorito and my friends from The Columbia Triathlon Association always proves to be a great time.
I haven’t raced Eagleman in a couple of years and in fact my wife, MG, has only seen this venue when I’ve raced ChesapeakeMan. Which is a much different animal. (and bigger) So I was anxious for her to see Cambridge abuzz with all of the Ironman hype. We cruised into Cambridge late Friday night and checked into our hotel around 10:45. Next stop – the package goods store right next door for a bottle of wine….and a cork screw…..oh and a couple of plastics cups.
We dropped our gear in the room and then took a drive to the race expo area just to go see the water. And almost drive INTO the Choptank River because one of the boat ramps at Sailwinds Park was not very well lit or marked. But we remained on land. We headed back to the Hyatt Regency to enjoy a glass of wine and a great walk around the hotel grounds and pier. (Note – we weren’t actually STAYING at the Hyatt, we just thought it would be a fun place to hang out – and it was).
We were up early on Saturday for a great breakfast buffet and then it was off to race registration, packet pick up, bike drop off, etc etc etc. All of the other stuff that goes along with racing. MG was her usual trooper self and volunteered much of the day at registration, and then again on race day.
Bob and Mary Ann Blais were at the expo manning their Blazeman Foundation booth that both honors their fallen hero son Jon, and provides a strong line of defense against the ongoing war against ALS. Please take a few minutes and read up on Jon Blais and what his name has come to mean in the multisport world and in the fight. His is a special story and one that I was so moved by, I dedicated my second book to Jon and his family, “The Inner Triathlete… Forever Ablaze”. Check that out as well for even more on Blazeman. I got the chance to hang out with “Blazemom” and “Blazedad” as they have become affectionately known as and popped in and out of their booth throughout the afternoon. We sat through a few of the pro and athlete meeting briefings, spent a little money on a few race toys and generally had a great afternoon just hanging out with friends and and meeting new ones.
What happened next will remain with me for the rest of my days.
At the conclusion of the the 5 PM athlete briefing, Bob and Mary Ann Blais took the stage along with Columbia Triathlon Association chief, Rob Vigorito to make the annual presentation of The Blazeman Spirit Award. The Blazeman Spirit Award is given annually to a participant in the Ironman 70.3 Eagleman who most exemplifies the spirit of Jon “Blazeman” Blais. While many are familiar with Jon’s heroic performance in the 2005 Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, few are familiar with Jon’s professional life as a special education teacher where Jon focused his energy on helping kids who were emotionally challenged and learning-disabled. This is also where he became better known as “The Blazeman.” Jon did amazing work with the kids. Through summer recreation programs and outdoor activities, his students learned to overcome obstacles and become stronger through hard work and determination. The Blazeman Spirit Award keeps Jon’s memory alive by recognizing an individual who inspires others to become a better person; leads by example; and has a passion for the journey of life.
Vigo delivered a little background on Blazeman. Bob Blais gave a little background on this year’s recipient. And then Mary Ann Blais took the microphone and announced that I – yes – ME – was the winner of this year’s Blazeman Spirit Award. I just stared at the three of them on stage in disbelief and paused for what felt like minutes. In reality I think I hurdled the stage in a nano second and embraced them all. The only actual words that I can recall saying is that I didn’t ever think I had ever been in the company of so much greatness and compassion on one small stage. I was moved beyond belief and beyond words. Although I think I did utter a few more comments about something….. remission… or something. But coming home with that award gave whole new meaning to the half ironman that I was about to race the next day.
In the car ride back to the hotel I turned to MG and pondered why my life was such a fairy tale and how it could possibly keep getting better with the turn of every page. On the ride I shot a quick note to Scott Tinley who has been somewhat of a perspective mentor for me in many ways and someone I have looked up to for his thoughts and ideals far beyond those on sport, and I told him the news. Scott was a huge part of Blazeman’s life in his final days and it felt special to bring that full circle for ST. Scott’s response was “Nicely done… you deserve it”. Those five words speak volumes to me.
OK, aside from weird creaks and noises coming from our (not Hyatt) hotel (motel) room, the rest of the night was pretty uneventful. I did get some good rest and was up by 3:15 AM and ready for race day. I slammed down some pre race nutrition and boarded the RemissionMan team Chevy Equinox, captained by MG. (who did another miraculous job of finding parking about 3 blocks from the venue!)
We had the chance to again meet up with Gretchen and Gordon Cooney, our buddies from Philly and spent some time with them. But by 7:10, this guy was in the water and starting his day. The swim was “fine”. Not stellar, not poor. I had some lung capacity issues throughout a good portion of the day and generally speaking, lungs are kind of a big deal in this sport. But the legs were strong, and the heart was big and full of emotion so I felt I would be OK. I exited the water in a little over 50 minutes and made my way through transition and off to enjoy the beauty – and WIND of Cambridge’s Wildlife refuge. It’s a gorgeous course. But we hit about 93 degrees or so on Sunday. The heat and the wind were – well, hell, they were exactly the same as every other Eagleman race! But I got through it without any major issues.
I had very little left for the run though. When my already dinged up body collided head on with the high afternoon heat, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. But I didn’t care. I was finishing, and I had some wonderful talks with Blazeman along the way. At one point I edited the popular “WWJD” saying from “What would Jesus do” to “What would Jon do”. It helped.
At around mile 9 or 10 or so I met an angel. We were both walking a little and of course I had to make some kind of goofy comment because I tend to think it’s my job to talk to 75 % of the athletes out there. (which doesn’t always work at a race like the NYC marathon where so many languages are spoken!)
But BethAnn Telford was different. BethAnn is also survivor and fighting a heroic battle against both brain and bladder cancer. She was the happiest, most upbeat person I talked to on the course all day, Not a care or worry in the world. We chatted for a few miles and then split up until we met again at the finish.
I finally made my way down the long stretch to the finish. And In true Blazeman Warrior spirit, I had every intention of doing the Blazeman roll across the finish line. And if I do say so myself, mine was one of the best rolls all day. But now being the recipient of the 2012 Blazeman Spirit Award, I may never cross a finish line on two feet again.
The list is endless of people to thank for this experience. First and foremost my wife for always fully supporting, if not leading the charge of every challenge I take a bite out of. Vigo and CTA you are the crème de la crème and I am always honored to race with you.
Blazemom and Blazedad ….. I can say thank you again but it still isn’t enough. But what I will also say is that I will serve Jon’s name well and will do my part to represent and continue to fight this fight by your side. And alongside a large and growing warrior nation… SO OTHERS MAY LIVE.
While this weekend was about Eagleman and the Blazeman Spirit award, I want people to understand just how deep my ties are with Rob Vigorito. In 2006 I was registered to race his iron distance race ChesapeakeMan, having already done the race two times prior. As many of you know, in February of 2006 I was diagnosed with leukemia. Vigo quickly became one of my “go to” people and was a mentor and confidant on many levels. He helped out with additional medical opinions of my diagnosis and treatment protocol. And he was there for me to talk about my disease, and my future as a triathlete, and a man.
As we realized that I was responding very well to my treatments, it became a very real possibility that I may still be able to race “Chessyman” that September. By May I was in remission. By July I was back to racing short course. It was then that Vigo told me “WHEN, not IF, you cross that finish line in September, I will personally be there to rename you “RemissionMan”. I crossed that finish line, and many more. And the name has stuck.
Thanks Vig for all you continue to do for so many.