First Place Finish In Maui Aloha Style

I have heard it said that the Mexicans say that the Pacific Ocean has no memory.

Today of all days, I was counting on that one being true.

As I toed the start line of the Pacific before my first triathlon race in over a year, I recalled the last time I crossed the ocean that was fabled to have no memory.
Instantly, memories surfaced to my conscious mind from somewhere deep within my subconscious of the last triathlon I did in another country in the Pacific, ironically also on an island not too far away from this Aloha state.

I smiled to myself as I awaited the pre-start race Hawaiian blessing, to be given by a local Reverand Alalani Hill.  The last time I competed in a triathlon was March 3rd, 2007.  That race ended in an emergency room visit and marked the beginning of nearly a year’s worth of health transformation and renewal.  After that race, the emergency room and experiencing what it took to overcome all the stress and internal changes my body would grow through….there were moments where I didn’t know if I would even want to compete again, let alone be at full strength to compete.  I didn’t race again after that experience.

Yet, on Sunday, June 8th, I was back in fine form and ready to challenge my body to a race.  Don’t get me wrong, I was definitely feeling a bit anxious at the thought of competing again after my transformation and time away from the sport that had defined me over the past decade of my life.  I had even written a book about it.  How could I not compete in a triathlon again?

Yet, if the Pacific Ocean didn’t remember my last finish and ER exit, who was I to live in the past?

This race was different.  This race was dedicated to the memory of my friend, Mikey, who had died from leukemia just over ten years ago.  He inspired me to compete the first time I ever raced in a road race as a 20-year-old.  His mom, Jan, had even made the trip from Iowa to support me and cheer me on.  She had not even flown or left Iowa since my fist marathon for leukemia back in 2000.  This was big, not just for me, but for her too.  She has struggled with alcoholism and depression since Mike’s passing and her own transformation was ongoing since his death.  Her own courage at being there alongside me on this trip was enough to bring me to tears as I listened to the Reverand share her words of love and inspiration/encouragement in her blessing.

I knew Mikey would be with me in Spirit as I made my comeback as a triathlete – fit not only in body, but also in mind and in Spirit.  I was beginning to feel like “Rocky Balboa” after he made his comeback to fight the Russian giant, Drago, in Rocky IV after Apollo Creed died.   I wasn’t here to prove myself so much as a triathlete, as I was competing and fundraising one more (and possibly last*) time for a cause that meant a lot to me in my life’s journey.  (*AUTHOR’S NOTE:  Even Rocky didn’t stop after Rocky IV… time will tell if my fundraising days are over, eh?)

The race was centered around the Maui Prince Resort, in Makena, Maui.

The course consisted of a 1.5k single loop ocean swim, a two loop 40k bike ride and a two loop 10k road run.

Promptly at 7 a.m. local Reverand Alalani Hill began her blessing.  Wow.  What a difference a Hawaiian blessing could make on one’s race prep and mindset.  I walked on the white beach with the thought of just racing for fun and focusing on the reason for being there.  Reverand Hill inspired me to experience more than that.

She reminded us of all the triathletes that had gone before us and how the ocean, the lava rocks, the wind, the trees and the environment was there for them, it would be there for us that day, and it would be there for many generations after.  She inspired us to respect Mother Nature and see the ocean as Her blood and to see the earth and lava as part of the Earth that was set there for us now and how we were running in the footsteps of many others that had gone on that same trail – the King’s Trail.

She helped us focus on each moment of each swim stroke, of each breath, of each bike pedal, of each step on the lava rock ground that stretched beneath our feet….to embrace every moment, every ocean view, to honor and respect our teammates, our fellow triathletes -
and not focus on what was to come.

This is somewhat foreign to a competitive athlete such as myself…always analyzing the next move, the next transition, the next discipline to plough through to get to that finish line.  It is born within me to count every second, because, as a competitor, every second counts in the end.  It means the difference between finishing first or finishing second or third or last.  Not thinking ahead meant not to analyze the “what if’s” of racing.  Anything was possible on this course.  One could have a flat tire, or five (as one of my teammates did).  The Hawaiian heat and humidity was not going to escape us that morning and leave for important hydration and nutrition/fuel needs along the way.  There were cut off times to beat and hills to climb.  Bathroom stops and unforeseen road rash that one could experience from falls.  Lots for the mind to take in.

Reverand Hill closed her blessing in reminding us about the Aloha Spirit, the Aloha Way of Life, which I had never been educated on.  When she told me that it meant, “The joyful sharing of life energy in the present” or simply “Joyfully sharing life” in mind, body and Spirit, I got goosebumps.  Indirectly, that was exactly the lesson I had learned in the past few years in building my new business, moving to California, in training for this triathlon and overcoming my health/stress/mental obstacles along the way.
It is now part of what I teach people in my classes, what I coach my clients to experience every day….I just didn’t know it could be called “Aloha”.

As the Reverand finished and we were told to take our places in our different waves (swimmers who would start at separate times according to our ages and genders), I felt a renewed sense of hope and whole new outlook.  I was reminded to be in the moment and enjoy the simple joy of being in the present and having fun with my fellow triathletes.  We weren’t competing against one another.  We were simply fellow travelers in this space and time, headed toward the same finish, most of us having raised money for the same cause (over half the racers were with Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training program).

I ended up having the most perfect race ever.  The swim was exhilarating and I finished the .9 mile distance in 35 minutes (not too shabby considering swimming was my least trained component and I experienced an anxiety attack in my last triathlon).  I did exactly what Hill had told us to do and took in every breath of the swim with ease and honored the water as more than just water, but the blood and Spirit of Mother Nature.  It was refreshing to experience the warm water temperatures and go without a wetsuit.

On the bike I felt strong the entire time and was able to feel the energy continue to increase with every pedal stroke – even up “Heartbreak Hill” – the only major hill climb we had the opportunity to go up twice due to the two loops.  Fortunately, living on the coast of California, there is no lack for training up hills just like this one and I had little to no problem mentally or physically to crest the hill with gas left in the tank both times.  I crossed into that second transtion into the run after completing the 24.8 mile bike leg in 1 hour and 29 minutes (a 16.7 mph average on a rolling hills course).

I often say the run is where the race beings for me.  I usually get passed on the swim and then make up a lot of time on the bike, but the run is where my own passing of others begins.  Today, however, in the Spirit of Aloha, I didn’t even think about that.  I listened to my body and walked when the heat and growing humidity was taking its toll.  Hydration was key and the rolling hills were consistent enough that walking at times was greatly welcomed.  I finished the run leg in 57 minutes (merely a 9:14 per mile pace).

As I finished and collapsed on the grass next to Jan, I smiled with sheer joy and elation flooded through my body.  “Run for Mikey” was the sign Jan had created the night before at our pre-race Leukemia pasta team dinner.  She had been out there just as early as we athletes had been to support and encourage the athletes.  I did race for Mikey, Jan and all the others impacted by the disease.  Most of all, for the first time, I truly can say I raced “Aloha” style and will never forget this experience.

And as an added bonus, I found out that my 3 hour and 7 minute, 32 second finish time, was good enough to be honored as the first place finisher of 42 women in my age division of 30-34.

The moral of the story?  I think I have officially adopted the Aloha lifestyle as my way of training and living life!  I didn’t expect to win first place in my race.  I just went out and stayed with the inspiration Reverand Hill shared – to experience the moment in my mind, in my body and in my Spirit.  Do my best and trust God with the rest.  Don’t live in the past or in the future.  The bonuses from there are the fruit of aloha.  That’s all I could ever ask for.  That’s the best I could wish for you, my friends, my family and everyone in our World.


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