When I drove with Jesse down to San Francisco to his triathlon training camp, I did so with the intention to be a support system. At last! For one year, pregnancy means Jesse and I won’t be scattered around the country at our own separate camps, surviving on phone calls where we swap boring stories about workout splits and food misadventures. We’ll actually get to hang out!
Well my presence quickly proved to do more harm than good. Jesse could barely sleep because I kept him up sniffling with pregnancy rhinitis and tossing and turning all night. He can’t kick his cold without proper rest, so I offer to move to a pad on the floor. Then I contract a weird fever, and vertigo, and Jesse is driving me around to doctors appointments and pharmacies, worrying his head off over me and the lima bean. What am I doing here? I start thinking about flying home early.
Change of Plans
Then I get a text from Sally at Oiselle inviting me to Seattle for the weekend, to watch the indoor meet at University of Washington, have some girl time, get some medical attention from Dr. Lesko, and chill out. Considering my record so far as Jesse’s support crew, I figured he’d be better off without me for a few days. I was right, he got his best 3 nights of sleep in 2013.
When I arrive, excitement about the indoor track meet is palpable. Kate Grace, a rookie Oiselle pro from Yale, is gearing up for her first ever 3k, and everyone can feel a breakthrough coming. Kate and I both crash at Sally’s house, and I observe her pre race preparations and expertly contained nervous energy. It is the first time since the Olympic Trials I have put myself in this kind of position…to be back in the public track world.
The race is tomorrow…how will it feel? Am I really ready for this? When I walk through Dempsey among all the athletes, coaches, and fans, will I feel like I belong? Will I feel embarrassed? When I watch the 3k, will I feel a fierce desire to get out there? Or relief that it’s not me?
God I hope it’s desire.
When I laid out my four year plan for my athletic career a couple months ago, I did so by “acting as if.” I did it with the faith that after allowing my heart to mend, a hunger would come back inside me, eventually. The kind of hunger that is stronger than a fear of getting hurt again. Retrieving that passion is the only way I could ever hope to accomplish any of those goals I laid out. You can’t MAKE yourself feel it. All you can do is keep your heart open to it returning. Do nothing to prevent it.
As I walk through the glass doors of the Dempsey Center, the indoor track expands around me. With no stadium seating outside the track, all the spectators crowd inside the middle of the field, buzzing around, cheering, chatting. With Sally and Dr. Lesko (Sarah) by my side, we walk through the maze of people toward our cheering section.
In the distance, I see a white beard, a beacon in the blur of bodies. It’s Vin Lananna. We meet with a warm smile and a big hug. After poking fun at my baby bump and sharing a few laughs, I moved along to rejoin my group. Even though he isn’t my coach anymore, he knows my heart, and seeing him at my first track meet back makes me feel at home.
It’s time. The 3k women strip off their sweats and stretch out their limbs. Muscled bodies and strong legs power through drills and strides; spectators press against the flags lining the inside lane to get a better look. My heart rate picks up involuntarily. I feel the blood pumping through the thin skin of my forearms, the heat generated from my core gradually spreading outward. My legs twitch. Vision narrows. Ears hear no sound. I know what I want. I want to jump the flags and get on the track.
Kate Grace ran a brilliant race, and I raced it with her from the sidelines. I felt her power. Her pain. When she beat everyone in the field except one, as a virtual unknown, running 8:55 in her first ever 3k, I felt her breakthrough. As the Oiselle cheering section flocked over to hug and congratulate her, I felt her joy.
Later That Night
Back at Sally’s house, I escape the post-race pizza party for a few minutes to unwind in my room. I am exhausted, and relieved. All this joy around me, the hum of this community stoked by the fire of athletic performance. That fire is still inside me. I close my eyes and relish in it. When Sally and Sarah pop their heads in to check on me, I share this revelation, and they look at me and smile, like they’ve known all along.