This race I was more prepared. I learned to ask more questions. I didn’t feel as awkward when it came to the transition. I even trained some.
This time when I came out of the water I could hear my brother yelling my name. He ran alongside the chute to see me go into transition. He patiently waited for me to come out with my bike and even ran along for a while until I got up to speed, all the while yelling my name. When I came in off of the bike, he was already pacing the course waiting for me. He was ready to run the 3 miles with me and was visibly frustrated when the officials told him he couldn’t. I remember telling him I would be fine and I’d see him at the finish. He relaxed and indeed, his cheers and excitement were waiting at the finishline for me. His smiles and hugs were all I needed to know that he was proud of me for my athletic accomplishment. A year later, I would do the same race during his first deployment to Iraq where he managed to find a way to call my mom to cheer me on from a desert setting and it was equally emotional and motivating.
Fast forward three years to 2006. I sort of stopped doing triathlons, not because I didn’t like them, I just didn’t seek them out. I had a gym membership and occasionally I would use it. My brother had just graduated from school at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina and was now a part of the elite Special Forces community. Once again, he was excelling in athleticism and endurance and I was so proud of him and even more so to watch him walk across the stage to accept his coveted Green Beret. After graduating, he recieved his orders to move to Washington and would be stationed out of Joint Base Lewis McChord. He moved in with me and for a year we were roommates. Even though I was dating my now husband, Adrian and I reserved Tuesday evenings as “our time” to have dinner, hang out, and catch up and discuss his upcoming second deployment to Iraq. We had always been close growing up and we remained each other’s best friends as adults.
Shattered. Broken. Paralyzed. Numb. Those emotions and more consumed me for the next two years. I navigated each day through a fog and found I was lost so deeply in grief that the “normal” day to day functions had to be scripted because deviating was debilitating. Somehow in 2009, I found the courage to go back to the sprint triathlon that my brother had been present for. I found, yet again, another cotton shirt to wear for the bike and run (clearly I still didn’t understand wicking fabrics). This time I had it personalized to have both Adrian and Mike’s pictures on the back to “push me” through the course. I finished that race and felt a sense of elation, a moment of peace and genuine happiness start to warm its way back into my heart. I found myself feeling not so heavy again for the first time in two years and decided I needed to continue to find ways to remember and celebrate the athleticism that my brother modeled. I went on to sign up for my first half marathon and that brought on a whole new bag of feelings. I got halfway through and my feet hurt, my body hurt, my lungs felt like they would burst out of my chest. The only way back to where I started was to either continue or turn around and go back the way I came. Quitting wasn’t an option and I had already gone halfway. I discovered that these races were essentially becoming a direct reflection of how I was navigating through my new life. I hurt, I often struggled to breathe, but I could get halfway and still keep going because quitting wasn’t an option in life either.
In 2010, our family was contacted by a group of gentlemen that had served with my brother and Mike as well as two other individuals that were killed during the same deployment. They asked for permission to form a team and race a 70.3 distance to honor all four of the boys all the while, raising money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which would provide college scholarships for the 6 children that were left behind as well as other children who had lost a parent while serving on a special operations team. Our families decided to fly out to Virginia to watch and cheer them on. As I watched them enter the water and start the race, I remember thinking, “Wow, 1.2 miles is so far. I don’t think I could ever do that.” As soon as that thought was complete, I think a deeper part of me knew that I was going to do it.
Since that phone call, I have gone on to do a few Olympic distances, (7) 70.3 distances and on September 24th of this year, I completed my first Ironman in Chattanooga, TN. I’ve finally learned the benefits of wicking materials. I’m not fast. I still get a little nervous on the bike and it takes me a few rides at the start of the season to work those nerves out. I’m not terribly efficient when I run (picture the game whack-a-mole with my feet). What I am though, is an athlete that races with heart. I smile when I’m on the course. I thank my volunteers and police officers for their time. I talk to other athletes during the race to either give strength or get strength. I pass out sweaty hugs or sticky high-fives. I “tri” because I have an able body and all of my limbs. I “tri” because my lungs have air in them and my heart beats with life to live. I “tri” because as long as I can put one arm over the other to swim, or pedal each rotation to bike, or put one foot in front of the other to run…I will breathe life back into my Adrian’s legacy as an athlete, as a soldier, as a son, and as my brother. When I cross the finish-line, I’m never alone. His voice is in my ear, his presence is felt and we finish together. I “tri” for SFC Adrian Elizalde.