Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tales from the Front - Racing for my Uncle

Hello all,

I know its been some time since I've posted, and I really don't have an excuse. New job, being sick, but most importantly, spending some time with my Uncle Tony, who passed away last Friday has been taking up a lot of my time. Below is my race report, and my tribute to him.

This is my race report for this past weekend's Clark's Lake Duathlon, in Jackson, MI. 

I left on Friday afternoon, knowing that my uncle Tony, a huge supporter of mine, was lying on a hospital bed at his home, barely conscious, losing his 5 year battle with prostate cancer. I had seen him the day before, and with my mom, his only sister, trying to wake him, he was able to recognize who I was. Although it meant a great deal to me, I could see it meant even more to my mom, who had been at his side, along with my dad, for the last 4 months, trying to help out as best they could. I was the last person he recognized. 

Once I got settled into the hotel, I called my mom and we both spent several minutes comforting one another, crying, and remembering the great times we all had with him. My uncle never had children of his own, so he always thought of his nieces and nephews as his "kids", acting like a surrogate father at times. And even though he was an immigrant who learned English on the fly, he was my biggest supporter when at the age of 20, I decided I wanted to compete in triathlon. Here was a man who knew as much about multisport as he did jet engines, yet he saw the passion I had for it, so he would talk about it with me, encourage me, even bought me my first set of race rims. Before I hung up with my mom, she said one thing - "win it for your uncle". I intended to do just that.

On Saturday, I was doing my best to stay focused while reconning the course, noting the road surface, the climbs, etc. I remember leaving the race site thinking "what the hell did I just do? Did I actually ride that course?" The rest of the day was much of the same, and being solo in a hotel room wasn't helping. Sleeping Saturday night was tough, and getting up Sunday morning to the sounds of thunder was even harder.

Got to the race early on Sunday, rain pouring, heavy heart, legs not super fresh, but I knew there was no way I was backing off. When the gun went off, there was a light mist still coming down, and the road was slick. I didn't care. I ran blind, barely focused on where to turn, simply barreling ahead to get to T1. 

With about a 15 second lead, I jumped on the bike, and just hit the gas. The road surface was awful, rain soaked, with huge pot holes everywhere, and the majority of the age group athletes who went ahead of the pro field, trying to stay upright. I managed to find the clearest line possible and just rode as hard as I could. I rode as if the race would end once I got off the bike. I didn't know where anyone else was, and I honestly didn't care. 

As I got off my bike for T2, I noticed immediately I was going to pay for riding so hard. My legs were fried, but I kept a good face, and ran out of T2 strong. The second run was awful. It was humid, standing water all over the course, slick streets, and heavy legs weren't helping. But anytime I thought of slowing down, I would think of my uncle, and press harder. As I approached the finish line, I couldn't even sprint in. All I could manage was a look to the sky, and  a wave of my hand as my name was called the winner. My thoughts immediately turned to getting home as quick as possible. I called my parents, told my mom the news, and she cried, happy that I was able to do it for him. She then asked me to do something that would be more difficult than any race I'd ever done - she bestowed me the honor of giving his eulogy. I was humbled and stunned, knowing how much this meant to her.

On Tuesday, July 15, we held his services, and I honored him as best I could. As I stood on the altar, I couldn't help but lock eyes with my cousins, and my brother and sister, knowing they were hoping for some words of closure. I did my best, and ended it with a few lines from a Tale of Two Cities; the final speech of Sydney Carton, a man, like my Uncle, who sacrificed much in life for the greater good. That was my uncle - a man who sacrificed having a family of his own to help all of us. He gave up so much, yet he did it with such grace, making it seem effortless, that we never realized until it was too late exactly how much he really gave up. Below are the lines from that speech -

"I see a beautiful city, and a beautiful people rising from the abyss.
"I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy.
"I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendant's and generations hence.
"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done, it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

 I couldn't have made it without the support of my family and friends, all of you, who have been so good to me. Your support means more than I can say. 

Thank you.