The last event was the California Sprint/International Triathlon, put on by USA Productions every year – and this time there were over 900 racers, including some relays. I had a wonderful team of therapists, friends, and family who assisted in coordinating logistics, like helping me into a wetsuit, moving the recumbent tandem bike I borrowed from BORP Cycling in Berkeley and arranging for an appropriately-open transition area.
Their efforts allowed for the several of us recovering from spinal cord injury to focus more on the race itself than on the coordination of smaller issues. I count myself very fortunate to have had such encouragement to enter the event, as I'm sure it would have taken me much longer to work up the gumption to register without all of the outside support I received.
I recruited one of my really close swim-team training buddies, Brad, from my club team to join me for the swim and tandem bike legs, along with one of my therapists, Rachel, who would be running for our relay. In addition to these two, and the team I mentioned above, I also had assistance from my mom, who was there quietly supporting me, just as she did at swim meets when I was younger.
The water course was a half-mile loop that began with a crowded, deep-water start which quickly turned into a de-facto brawl to create personal space after the horn went off.
Probably because I'm so familiar with jammed swim meet warm-ups having so many people in a lane that one must be aggressive simply to find a gap to take a few strokes – I felt totally exhilarated by the mess of arms and feet kicking all around me. Even though the field was distributed into several waves, there was still a frenzy at the starting buoys. I did backstroke, and Brad helped with sighting, guiding me around the turn buoys. Happily, we beat quite a few able-bodied people who went off in the same wave…!
The transition zone, where all competitors keep their biking and running gear and change from one discipline to the next, was a couple hundred feet from the swimming finish. Our group had designated two strong guys to lend some help getting me, and one other friend also competing, out of the water and into our chairs to wheel over to get on the bikes, but as soon as I felt sand under me at the end of the swim, I heard "Grab on!" Before I could say anything, Brad scooped me up from the water and jogged me single-handedly across the beach and up the ramp toward transition – it was just automatic for him, quite unexpected for me, and completely natural for one teammate to rely on another. (He's also one of the few I would trust to do so.)
I admit that when I signed up for the races in February, I was filled with apprehension about all the details that had to get resolved. In the same way that, currently, when I need to get up or down stairs, it takes conscious effort for someone to help by carefully guiding the wheelchair – whereas most people need not even think about it – so, too, do these new experiences simply demand figuring out. As I have recovered, I have: 1.) needed less help with all the little things, 2.) gotten better and faster at figuring out new situations, and 3.) even learned to make some things automatic. I know that those three stages will continue to manifest with ever-more complicated tasks, and ever-more upright pursuits…!