As I sit here and contemplate the unusual gold/bronze sheen of the palm-encrusted Kaiser Permanente LA triathlon “finisher” medal, I can review the different sensations and emotions that went into the day of the great event, October 3rd, 2010. There was the muffled predawn dark 5:00 am excitement of entering the sanctum of the T1 transition area. The professionals were spinning the wheels of their upside-down bicycles, tuning their machines like violinists before a philharmonic concert. The aerodynamic bikes were matched by the helmets that seemed to zoom off the asphalt surface of the parking lot. Wet suits were half on, rolled down, but ready for the upcoming swim. A calm Venice beach smelled fresh, salty, and sweet with the aroma of fresh coffee from “Bellisimo Venice” wafting towards the hyperfocused crowd of athletes and tyros for the day. The water was 66° F, and relatively warm for this time of the year, still “freezing” for the non-ocean swimmer. Watching the fresh-faced young pros sprint into the water at 7:15 am was a celebration of humanity and athleticism. There was a clear sense as well of the joking camaraderie of this elite group of world-class performers, not a liposome among them. They swam round the 0.9-mile course like a disciplined dolphin pod, a phenomenon that was mimicked in increasing degrees of ungainliness by the following groups wearing differently colored caps from “Olympic” and “Sprint” groups.
By the time our “Clydesdale” group of over 50s took off, the pressure seemed very low (we preceded the women’s “Athena” group). One of my aquatic comrades mouthed his mantra between gulps of air while floating on his back halfway toward the incomprehensibly distant pier, “We’re not here to compete, we’re here to complete.” I noticed a blue-capped entity splashing pathetically, a long way behind like some HG Wells apocalyptic creature. Little did I know that this obese, but apparently very fit man would be haunting me for the rest of the event, passing me three times during the 40-K cycling and abbreviated 5-K run (yes, we did not fully complete), up and down a 20-degree grade to Disney Hall. He forced that little extra effort and pain that made this event worthwhile. Running down the blue carpet toward the camera, the medal and the insulation blanket provided by the medical tent never felt better.