I was first introduced to triathlon on a rainy morning standing outside the rec center at Seattle University. A very awake and strong contingent of folks around twice my age talked excitedly about rides, runs, and swims completed over the weekend. I was a burnt out soccer player searching for something. Long story short, I followed them to the pool, was welcomed with open arms, and started to learn about ‘triathlon’.
People in this group were fascinating. A chemist, pharmacist, doctor, chiropractor, and real-estate developer, the list goes on. It was this highly motivated group of great people who welcomed me into a sport that has changed my life. Tom was a corner-stone to laughter and wit within this group of legends, and though we didn’t log hundreds of miles together, he was a spirit that a person doesn’t soon forget.
Normally anesthesiologists trend towards humor backed by high intelligence, which Tom certainly embraced, but Tom wasn’t normal. Tom bucked the norm in the form of triathlon backed by a positive and lighthearted outlook.
A best attempt at describing this remarkable individual who defied odds and cranked out Ironmans in the face of a terminal illness does not make sense. What follows is a race report from Ironman Canada 2010, one of many Tom completed while undergoing cancer treatment.
Enjoy every breath, have no regrets, and take nothing for granted. Live life, love life.
Tom’s 2010 Ironman Canada Race Report:
Finally, finally, finally the time had arrived and I was wading into the chilly waters of Lake Okanagon. The lake had been the source of some anxiety in the days prior, with wind whipped white caps and waves crashing on the shore, but on race morning it was smooth as glass. There were nearly 3000 wet suit clad bodies in there with me, but somehow, as seems to happen every year, I looked to my right and there was my pal Mike Nelson. I don't know what the odds of finding him are, but they are probably improved by the fact that he dyes his god awful haircut pink. We wished each other well and then shared a special moment with all the others who had trained so hard to get here - a nice whizz down the leg of our wet suit. You really don't want to swallow any lake water that first hundred meters.
The cannon fired and a crowd that was standing in close formation all tried to lay down together with the expected results. Almost immediately someone kicked my goggles off my face, but one thing I've learned is to keep the straps under the cap so you don't lose the goggles. One thing I haven't learned is how to swim, so it was quite a while before I stumbled onto shore, half blind because I could never get those goggles to reseal. I'm sure up front they moved through transition with steely eyed resolve, but the folks in the tent with me greeted each other with the heartfelt emotions of fellow shipwreck survivors. A lot of guys named Gord saying "good to have that over with, eh? thought it'd ever end, eh? lets go get some of them on the bike, eh?"
So that's what we did. Even a mediocre cyclist like me passes quite a few people when you've flopped and chopped to a 1:38 swim. I managed to pass over 900 youngsters on the bike and run. We have our ages on our calves, so they could see my "59", although to fit it on my massive specimen they had to write something that looked more like an "11". I felt good on the bike, loved the cool temps, hated the headwinds, and was driven to distraction by ... well no one really wants to hear about an old man's prostate problems. And I figured hell, I'll be pissing my pants everywhere in a few years, why worry about ... ok enough of that subject.
I finished the bike in 6 1/2 hours, an average of 17.2 mph, which is pretty good for me. Better yet, the back problems I'd been having the past few months didn't hurt me. I came blasting out of transition like a crab who'd been out on a beach too long but gave Laura a big smile and a thumbs up so she'd know I was doing great (I found out later she went to facebook and posted "Tom just started the run; he looks like shit"). After a soul draining will every step eternity that felt like all I had I looked down and saw the 1 mile placard. Retrospectively speaking this is always my favorite memory of an ironman, because it truly feels impossible at this moment, but as we all know it isn't. People who don't do this kind of thing think the key is to endure suffering, but it's really about maintaining hope and optimism. Very good carryover into life's non elective challenges.
Anyway, the legs came around and I was running well enough till 10 or 12 miles when my back threatened to spasm, and by the 13 mile turn around I was also running out of gas big time. I thought of that old adage "it never always gets .... what, worse? Or was it always never gets better? that can't be it. Never, always, sometimes? Who the @#$%# thinks up this stupid shit anyway, and what the @#$% good is it supposed to be doing me anyhow? And so it went, inspiration wise, as I put one foot in front of the other and thought up some of my own unprintable adages.
The tri gods must have been sick of listening ("enough with the adages, you think we're not sick of them too?") because they granted me a miraculous second wind at 20 miles and I ran in feeling pretty good, actually picking up the pace as I ran through town. I had hoped to break 14 hours and as I saw the finish up ahead I realized it would be 13:30. One quick look around to make sure there wouldn't be any fatties or one legged runners in my finishing photo and through the chute I went. The ninth anniversary of piss on cancer day was in the books.
How Cancer takes its picks is not well understood, but is sure doesn’t make sense to me. Conundrums continue.
Here are some pictures from this weeks of endorphin's:
Wake and run. The air is thin, dry, and harsh. Welcome to altitude training where everyday sucks but is scenic.
Tioga Pass into backside of Yosemite. Nothing like face shots of hail in August; storm looms.
Angry clouds at 9,000ft. Hammer on.
...And spitting rain.
Tioga Pass: 1. Andrew: 0. I'll be back
Full intentions of ring fully supported reverse century of Mammoth with local club...turns out it's Sunday...Not Saturday...But then I ran into Seth (5th fastest collegiate 5km at present)...Intervals are fun!
Nasal cannula please.
Eastern Sierra = Underrated
It's all uphill from here
Until next time.