I Love to Race.

An Unofficial Account of UC Davis Aquathlon 2012

Shelley Harper

I decided I was going to be a Golden Bear on a Monday morning in November 2007. It was November 12th to be exact and I know this because it was absolutely the best decision I have ever made. It marked the beginning of a remarkable journey at Cal that has now given me the opportunity to be part of something incredible: the Cal Triathlon team.

I love to race. I love it because the concept is simple: push myself as hard as I can and whatever happens happens. It’s the thrill of not knowing what will occur that gives me chills every time I race. Sometimes everything goes right, other times everything goes wrong and over the years I’ve learned to embrace the unpredictability of racing and use it to my advantage. My love for racing brought me to Cal Tri and Cal Tri has since put a smile on my face that can persist a ringing alarm at 5:45 am on a Sunday morning in October.

The journey to the Davis Aquathlon began in my legendary 2001 Gold Honda Odyssey van also known as the “Swim Taxi”. It may have a dented sliding door and an illuminated maintenance light, but it always gets me, and my carload of triathletes where we need to be. The drive went by quickly and I chose the music, which meant we listened to Taylor Swift’s new album for 90% of the ride and “Call Me Maybe” for the other 10%. An hour later we arrived at the course, checked in, put our stuff in the transition area and got our bodies marked with our numbers. Before our team headed to the start of the swim, we did the team cheer. Cheers are one of my favorite things about being part of a team and I was so excited that I had the honor of screaming 1, 2, 3 to signal the start of the chant. While I know I was only asked to yell these 3 numbers because I have a remarkably loud voice, it still meant a lot to me. It’s hard to describe in words my emotions during that first pre-race team cheer, but I can guarantee I will never forget those 30 seconds. It was my first time representing Cal Triathlon and marked the official beginning of my participation in a sport that is already turning into life-long passion. For me, my focus of this particular race was about enjoying the experience and the opportunity to race. Of course I also wanted to perform for my team since this race has to do with something called the “Omnium” which to me sounds like a Harry Potter spell, but apparently has to do with Collegiate Triathlon.

After the male collegiate heats had started, it was my turn to sink my feet into the thick swampy mud and submerge my body into the 60-degree water to warm up. My heart was racing and my adrenaline was pumping enough for me not to be bothered by the water temp. The announcer starting counting down from 10 and I lined up next to my teammates, gave them a “Let’s Go Bears”, and waited anxiously for the “Go!”. When I heard that word I took off like a bat. After 10 seconds of sprinting as fast as I could, I realized two things: I was not Nathan Adrian and I was not in a pool. I calmed myself down, assuming a more appropriate rhythm for the 600-meter race and began “sighting” to make sure I was swimming in the right direction. The water was clear but instead of seeing that black line on the bottom of the pool that I was used to, I saw the algae beds below. It was a completely new experience and I loved every minute of it!

The swim was over in no time and made my way to the transition area. After finally getting my wetsuit off, I tried to put on my shoes. This was a much more difficult task than it looks and after I almost falling twice so I gave in and sat on the muddy ground to put them on. I simultaneously smiled at the volunteer next to me and asked her not to judge me for sitting down in the middle of a race. We both laughed. I got back up, slipped on my makeshift Cal Triathlon tank top (which consisted of a piece of duck tape with “Triathlon” scribbled on it) and began to run. Three months ago I would have told you I hated running, but after a team run in Tahoe earlier this year I am now hooked. While this run in Davis was not a scenic as that glorious run back in September, something happened that made it even more awesome.

As I was running down the road I saw my teammate, Kristen Curry, running in the other direction. We smiled at each other, moved toward the dividing line and high fived as we pasted in opposition. There are many reasons why I am now a member of the Cal Triathlon Team, but Kristen may be the biggest. We met in Japan this past summer where she told me about Cal Triathlon and 3 short months later we were racing together in Davis, CA. When I gave Kristen that high five and “Go Bears”, I found the run got easier. It was my realization that the sport of Triathlon allows my teammates and I to support each other during the race that allowed me to run with greater ease. This is something I have never experienced before. Coming from a swimmer background, giving a high five and a “Go Bears” to a teammate while we are both in the middle of a race would never happen for obvious reasons. This moment I shared with Kristen gave me the opportunity to motivate my teammates while they simultaneously motivated me. The faces of all my Cal teammates who crossed my path during the run each gave me a little burst of energy. Some faces were smiling, some were focused, and some were grimacing. Every time I saw a teammate it reminded me that I was racing not only for myself but also for them. When I ran those last 20 meters of the race I realized I wasn’t just running toward the finish line, but toward a group of cheering teammates who already finished. While I was almost shocked by that amazing team support at the time, I look back now I don’t know why I was surprised. I had a feeling after my first practice that Cal Tri was not just an ordinary team, and those last 20 meters of my race confirmed my suspicions that Cal Triathlon is indeed not just a team but also a family I am honored to be a part of.

Go Bears.