By Bill Plock
About 20 minutes after the last person crossed the finish line at IRONMAN Boulder, it hit me. That feeling of wow, what a great day. The next day at the awards ceremony it bowled me over just what had happened. The epic nature and vibe of an IRONMAN comes down to thousands of moments, some inspiring, others mesmerizing and many simply beautiful that causes the ultimate appreciation and respect for the race and the athletes. At some point it just becomes overwhelming if you let it–in a good way.
I was walking with 73 year old Warren Mine of California (the oldest to complete IM Boulder in 2017) to help him retrieve his bike talking about his race (his 20th+ IRONMAN) when champion Tim O’Donnell walked by on his way to get his bike. I kind of shook my head in disbelief and reflected. What a crazy sport I thought. Here is one of the top athletes in the world, having just won the race, simply going to pick up his bike, limping a bit and commenting how his legs hurt–like everyone else’s. When LeBron finishes a game I’m guessing he doesn’t even pick up his basketball shoes. The mingling of pro’s and amateurs all aiming for the same goal, with the same vulnerabilities, the same dedication and similar dreams and hopes sets triathlon apart. It endears all of us triathletes. It builds bonds and communities and lasts a lifetime.
To spectate IRONMAN Boulder for the first time convinced me more than ever that through this endeavor lives are changed. Relationships begin, are cemented, and are celebrated by a common event experienced uniquely for everyone. I parked myself for over two hours photographing hundreds of Colorado athletes as they entered the run course from T2. The relief and smiles to be on the run leg permeated most, and their hopeful gaze for a good run was greeted by hundreds of cheering people lining Boulder Creek. Hours passed. I walked miles, taking more pictures, cheering and remembering my runs on this creek for the past three IRONMAN Boulders. All I could think about was the love and support I always felt and that was the only thing I missed about not racing. It’s addictive and appreciated. I thought how lucky all these people were to experience it–especially first timers. They will never forget it.
Later that night, during the last hour of the race, I simply sat a few feet from finishers who were greeted by Tim O’Donnell and his wife and three time IRONMAN World Champion, Mirinda Carfrae. The unofficial triathlon king and queen of Boulder graciously medaled each of the final age groupers. Most gazed in disbelief or were too dazed and confused to grasp the significance–but once they understood who was putting their arms around them, the smiles beamed.
To witness the tears, the joy, the pain, the end, and really the beginning of a new journey for so many sticks in my mind. Tears came to my eyes many times.
But no race is complete without recognizing those who win and rise above. Those who persevere the most, overcome amazing challenges and earn one of the toughest and most coveted entries in all of sport–a chance to compete in Kona. A spot reserved for the top 2%. The dreams of the athletes, their families and coaches hang in the balance of getting a spot.
It’s not as clear cut as you might think. Going into the awards all that is known is that 40 spots are awarded. They are then divided among all age groups proportional to how many people raced in the age group.
Some age groups have one entry, others as many as three of four. But not every athlete chooses to go or some have an entry from
an earlier race so their spot rolls down. Each time an athlete’s name is called and there is no response, some athlete hoping and waiting erupts in emotion–some show it more than others and it is wonderful to witness (you must be present to claim a spot). The tension can be thick.
In the female 30 to 34 age group, local athlete, Team Vixxen Racing member, Elizabeth West, was third in her age group with two spots up for grabs. She is coached by Eric Kenney of EK Endurance. I knew how anxious Eric was, hoping to see her dream come true. If you know Eric, you know he wears his heart on his sleeve.
As Mike Reilly began to announce that age group I was nervous. My personal connection and empathy for Liz and knowing how close she has been in past years and remembering how I felt missing a spot by one place two years ago, put a lump in my throat in anticipation. Mike called the first name. Silence. He called it again. More silence.
Tears swelled in my eyes and I gazed not at Liz, but at Eric a few feet away, standing alone to the side. He crumpled to a knee and couldn’t fight the tears. That moment will last a lifetime. Liz hugged many and tears came to her as well and her mom sat crying; it was simply beautiful.
Ironman Boulder is over, dreams are cast and inspiring stories will be told for a long long time.