August 8, 2008
By Brigit Carlson, Brielle, NJ

“Go! BRIGIT, GO!” My lungs were on fire, my legs cramping. I dragged my legs up and out of the water to step over the wash as I struggled out of the surf. I ripped my goggles off my head and threw them at my teammate, who jumped to catch them. My little feet pounded the hard sand as I ran to my paddleboard. I had just gotten out of the water after the second leg of the Iron Woman at the National All-Women’s Tournament. After 250 yards of running, and 250 yards of swimming, I was in 8th, and running back down the beach 100 yards to find my board and start the third leg, a 400 yard paddle. I wheezed audibly as I approached the flag that marked the end of the second run. I could feel my chest muscles tightening as I picked up the board by it’s handles and plunged back into the water with it.
The pain involved in an asthma attack is comparable to having rubbing alcohol poured on an open scrape. Except the scrape is on your lungs. The first time I felt that feeling, I was at a swim meet. I sank to the bottom of the warm down pool and held my breath, listening to my heart beating in my ears as my lungs screamed and I refused them the air they wanted. I thought I was dying.
At 17 years old, I developed asthma. My once extraordinary lung capacity was diminished to an embarrassingly low point. My athletics took a major hit, and I began to withdraw from the “insane” competitions that I adored because I dreaded the way I felt when they were over. At the All-Women’s tournament however, something inside snapped. I set my mind on competing in the most grueling event, the Iron Woman. Half way through the swim I could barely breathe, but kept pushing myself. Something in my mind kept telling me to keep going, to keep pushing, that I would be able to breathe when I was done. I needed to prove to myself and to everyone else that I had not gone anywhere, that I still had that spark of insanity that sets an athlete apart from the rest of the world.
I was paddling on my knees, using my entire body to pull through the water with long, deep strokes. My lungs felt like they were being sucked into a black hole. I focused my eyes narrowly on the board below me. I had pulled up to 6th, but even the smallest wave could upset my lead now. The shore was in sight. I had a 100 yard run as soon as I got there, but a big enough lead in the water would help. I made it in safely and hit the beach running in 6th place.
“GO! BRIGIT GO! BEHIND YOU! GO!” My teammates screamed as they waved me on wildly. I saw the girl’s hand out of the corner of my eye. I ran down towards the shore, into the harder sand. My legs churned, my lungs burned. I could not breathe.
It comes down to who wants it more at this point. My thoughts echoed the words I had heard once from my mom about the end of a race. I didn’t even have to ask myself. I knew I wanted it more. I put on a burst of speed I didn’t know I had, and held my breath. I reached out and grabbed the popsicle stick from the official as he held it out over the finish line. I looked at it, going cross-eyed as I did. 6. Another official walked over with a clipboard. I gave them my number 6 and turned so they could read the number off my arm, 511. My legs gave out. I was on my butt in the sand, and fell to my back. I lay just behind the finish line, gasping for air with my eyes closed as the other 16 competitors finished. A teammate’s voice floated down to my ears.

“You going to be okay Brig?” Was I? My body wasn’t working, I couldn’t get up, my lungs were drawing deep, ragged breaths, the gulps of fresh air were burning as they went in and out. Was I okay? I was fantastic. I was better than I had been in a very long time. I had won. I beat more than just the other competitors. I won more than glory or a 6th place popsicle stick. I won myself. I won myself back. I drew a deep breath and forced out a halted sentence.

“That. Was. Awesome.”

Similar Articles


This article has 0 comments.

Parkland Book

Parkland Speaks

Smith Summer