A Winner at Heart

March 24, 2012
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“Hi, welcome to the Tough Kids Triathlon,” a young woman said cheerfully from behind a table covered in registration forms.
“Thank you! Jade is here to register,” my mom said in a grateful tone. The lady sifted through a draw full of files until her expression changed to one of satisfaction.
“Jade, have you ever done a triathlon before?” the lady asked as she turned her attention to me. I actually had never done one before, but I have always tried to seek new opportunities and challenges. To me, doing this triathlon was a mental and physical challenge that allowed me to discover my full potential. As excited as I was to try something new, I was also extremely nervous, not only because I had never done one before, but also because it was in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people.
“This is my first one,” I replied as a layer of sweat coated my already clammy hands. My head was spinning from a burden of unanswered questions. How will I know when to start? What if I can't finish? What if I forget how to set up my station? Can I actually swim half a mile, bike five miles and run one mile?
I turned my attention back to the lady as she replied, “That's okay, you will love it! You are all registered, which means you can proceed to the table across from here to receive your tag and additional supplies.” She pointed to a table covered in t-shirts, backpacks, water bottles, bathing caps, and tracking tags.
We proceeded over to the table and walked through the line taking one of each item. With each item I took, the more nervous I became. With every step, the closer I was to the starting line.
My mom must have sensed my fear because she looked me in the eyes and said, “Just have fun and try your best. This is your first time. Most of the kids here have been training year around.”
I know she was only trying to help, but knowing that most of the kids here had experience and will be much faster than me, made my stomach tighten. The morning dew moistened my feet as we made our way to the transition area. The crisp air offered a gentle breeze which blew through my hair. Across the way, more and more cars filed into empty parking spots. Bike after bike was lowered from the top and back of cars and the line for registration now stretched nearly to the parking lot.
My mom and I walked through the festive ballooned archway onto a long strip of grass. Several racks were lined up for contestants to rest their bikes on. We found an open spot and slumped down onto the damp grass and began to contemplate the set-up process. Fortunately, a friend of mine's mother gave me a brief lesson on how to assemble the station, so we had some background knowledge when we reached this step of preparation. I gathered my supplies for each of the three components of the triathlon. I laid out my sneakers, belt, water, and towel based on the order I was going to need them, knowing it would be critical not to waste time within the intervals leading to the next step.
“Attention contestants! Please head down to the waterfront as quickly as possible for the start of the race,” the lady said over the loudspeaker. I quickly scarfed down a power bar, grabbed my bathing cap and goggles and headed off to the waterfront for the swimming portion of the race.
As nervous as I was, I knew that this could become a hobby of mine. I heard from experienced triathletes that once you do one, you will be hooked and want to keep doing more because they are a great experience. I gazed out at the water and begged for it to keep the waves to a minimum size. I glanced at the bike path and pleaded for it to give me bursts of speed. Lastly, I looked down at my legs and told them to never stop moving. I have always been capable of pushing myself hard both athletically and mentally. I knew that if I told myself to make it all the way to the finish line, I would do it in the blink of an eye.
The sounds of the voices over the loud speaker announcing the beginning of the younger heats, became a muffled silence as I began to enter my zone. My throat felt like it was tied in a knot and my heart pounded in my ears.
“Twelve and under contestants please line up,” the announcer said. This is it, I thought to myself as I hugged my mom and ran to the water's edge. I moved through the horizontal line of contestants, until I reached the front. I looked back and waved to my mom and I felt a wave of reassurance wash over me. I reminded myself I was only here to have fun and to try something new.
“Beep!” The sound of the buzzer signaling to start rustled the trees overhead, as I dove into the water and began to swim. I struggled to fight the waves tossing me about. As I stood on the shore a minute earlier the length of the course seemed so short. Now as I began to become short of breath and weaker amongst the waves, I scolded myself for thinking it would be easy. Each time I came up for a breath another person would be hoisted onto the safety craft and brought back to shore. I told myself I would not be one of those people. After rounding the final buoy, I neared the shore, stood up, sprinted across the sand and through the arches of victory. I had successfully finished the first component. I silently tapped myself on the back.
I rushed through another set of arches and into the rows of bike racks. It took me a few minutes to transition and find my bike at the end of the third row. I panted as the day heated up around me. I nervously watched as more and more people sprinted out of the water and through the arches. I easily became intimidated because people were gaining on me fast. I ripped off my cap and slipped on my belt and sneakers. I yanked my bike from the rack and pedaled over to the start. I began to pedal more smoothly as I took to the course. I had four more laps ahead of me so I intended to pace myself at a moderate speed for the first two laps. As I coasted down the pavement, I began to think about how lucky I am to have the ability to take on such a challenge. I thought back to the start of the swimming component, where a group of girls and boys removed their prosthetic legs before entering the water. This reminded me of how fortunate I am to have four arms and legs that allow me to take on this task. I began to pick up speed on my third lap. Each time someone passed me, I felt my muscles tighten and my heart race. A rush of adrenaline allowed me to pick up speed and every so often surpass the person that passed me earlier.
At last, I approached the end of the biking component. I pedaled through the arches leading into the transition area once again. Here I parked my bike and followed the other contestants to the arches leading to the race track. The running portion included a one mile loop ending with the finish line. I was almost done, I told myself, almost. My legs felt foreign as I tried to stabilize myself. I began at a medium pace, until a cramp emerged in my side. I will accept a very slow jog, but I will not walk, I told myself. Then a cluster of three kids passed me. The familiar rush of adrenaline was injected into me, as I began to pick up speed. With the cramp still piercing through my side, this was not an easy task to take on.
“Pass them Jade, you can do it!” I whispered to myself, over and over. I closed my eyes for a moment and sprinted. Sprinted as fast as lightning. I never felt so free and courageous until this one moment in time. As I said before, if I put my mind to something, I will do it. Sure enough, when I opened my eyes I looked back only to find the cluster trailing far behind. I turned back around and resumed a moderate pace. The cramp in my side refused to quit pestering me, as I continued to run. I spotted the last set of arches hovering over the finish line. I ran, sprinted, to the end. That is who I am. I push myself hard and I never give up. I ran through the arches with pride and joy. I did it, I finished my first triathlon. A medal was placed around my neck as I exited the arches to find my mom. She waved to me with the biggest grin on her face.
“I am so proud of you. You really did it!” she greeted me with a hug and an ice cold water bottle.
Once in the car, I stuck my head out the window and closed my eyes. I let the warm summer breeze cool down my hot face as I reflected on my accomplishment. I realized this triathlon helped me to discover my full capacity. I never knew the full strength I had within me until today and I was able to recognize it because I didn't give up. I tried my hardest from beginning to end; from the first set of arches to the last. My reward was not only the medal hanging from my neck, but more importantly the feeling of pride and accomplishment I experienced as I ran through the last set of arches. It is a feeling I will never forget.
This recognition of how important it is to always try my hardest reminded me of other experiences in my life. This triathlon meant more to me than sports and a medal. It allowed me to prove to myself that this event, as well as many others, have symbolized my true work ethic. Since the day I ran through the final set of arches, up until this day, I give everything my best shot. I try my hardest to do well in school, to be a good friend and sibling, a loyal daughter, and a hardworking athlete.
Not too long ago, I had a trimester math test. I told myself that I was going to study to the best of my ability and receive a grade that reflected my effort. This reminded me of the triathlon and how I set mind to reaching the finish line. I reminded myself of how powerful trying your hardest and giving your best effort can be in any scenario. I put my best foot forward and took the test, knowing I can do anything I set my mind to. I scored very high and received a better grade than I had hoped for.
I learned that life isn't about winning or being the best, it's about what you personally can accomplish. I didn't win the triathlon but I tried my hardest and reached the finish line. As far as I'm concerned, I was a winner at heart for finishing my first triathlon and that is what matters most to me.

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