By Jen Home, IPA Endurance
Last month, several IPA Endurance athletes traveled to Havana, Cuba, to compete in the 3rd Annual La Habana Triathlon. While the thrill of competition is present in every race locale they visit, the real story here isn’t in the PRs set (or lack thereof), the stomach bug that took down (but not out) a few, or the sunburn or misery that plagued the final laps on the Malecon; it is in the connection that was forged with fellow athletes, and the spirit of sport that runs through the blood of all people.
After a collection effort back home in Colorado, the group arrived fully stocked with generous donations of tri gear, with no idea how or to whom to gift the trove.
The opportunity easily presented itself when we spotted a delightful, yet sadly outfitted group of young male, mostly pre-teen, cyclists; they had spent the day as spectators. They were accompanied by a weathered but obviously dedicated man, for whom the young bunch clearly had enormous respect. We would learn his name was Jorge, he was their cycling profe, in his 70’s, and had been coaching young athletes for more than 50 years. He dedicated his life to sharing his love of the sport, but struggled endlessly to acquire the basics required for a decent bike ride. Instead, they wore oversized kits, used packing tape on the handlebars, and rode on torn saddles. After some shaky communications (thankfully, one of the IPA competitors saved the day with her Spanish-speaking proficiency), we arranged to meet the following morning to deliver the goods.
Not long after, we befriended a team of young triathletes, most of whom had competed that day. Having faith that we had enough goods to go around, we invited them, too, to our meeting spot the following morning, albeit at a later time.
When we arrived the next morning, several minutes early with bags in tow, both groups were already waiting. It was a moment of realization: they were in such great need, and for a few minutes, it was unclear how to proceed in order to be fair and generous to both. We decided to split up, quickly dividing the strictly cycling gear from the obvious tri gear, and set to it.
The graciousness and goodwill that flowed during that next hour or so was an incredibly moving experience for the IPA Endurance athletes. Items that had been easily given up without second thought by Colorado athletes that had been blessed with good circumstances and plentiful opportunity in life, were embraced with such glee and gratefulness, it was hard to not get teary-eyed. “Cuba was an amazing experience,” said athlete Teri Ward. “I am always touched by the outreach of the IPA team led by the caring and generous coach Bill. It was an honor to participate with that group!”
A lifelong connection was forged during that brief exchange; already, work has begun on a new round of collections to help the young athletes get the clothing and gear they need to enjoy and excel in the sport. Talk of a return trip began before this trip had even ended. If you can, get La Habana Triathlon on your 2018 race calendar for an experience unlike any you have likely had. Triathlete Donna Shaw added, “If you are on the fence about this race, my advice is to go before it becomes too popular. Do the sprint, leave the tri gear at home – wetsuit, tri bike, HRM, etc. – and take the essentials: race nutrition, patience, a sense of humor, and open mind, and toilet paper. Yes, you read that correctly!”