by Kristen Curry
There’s something special about that first triathlon. The unknowing of what is going to happen next. The cluelessness of how to set up a transition. The race day morning realization of, “wait.. how do I warm up for three sports at once?” This is why I love the Stanford Treeathlon. It is the start of a new, incredible journey for so many young athletes.
Unfortunately, due to the race date change, the Treeathlon did not have the large attendance that they usually do. But this did not make the race any less special. Of the eight competitors representing Cal, I would be one of the two returning members. If only they knew that just hours before race start, I did not have a race suit, a wetsuit, or a USAT membership, they would know that I am a rookie as well.
However, as we approached the race the start, it felt all too familiar. Watching the boys start felt like just another race. Listening to the chatter of all the young girls speak of how they had never completed a triathlon before made me feel old.
The race began and it all felt calm. I no longer had that fear of trampling people or getting trampled that I experienced when I completed my first triathlon here a year ago. Sighting was not an issue and I did not feel the pain on my feet that I remember during the long stretch after the swim and into T1. But as I started stripping down my wetsuit and picking up my helmet, I looked down to see two perfectly tied laces on my running shoes. And as I grabbed my bike to head out of the transition area, I realized I did not know what direction the bike out was. I paused for a second and let an athlete pass me so I could follow her out. But as we approached the mount line, I blanked. Do you mount before or after the line? It’s funny how something so obvious becomes so unclear during a race.
As the bike started and I took the first turn, a volunteer yelled out to me, “Fourth girl! Great job!” What? Me?! I am actually in this race right now? My calm feeling wasn’t due to me being “experienced”, but to me being out in front? Is this how Erika always feels? I thought about how far I had come with biking. From the complete look of shock on my face as Cat told me that they bike up Grizzly Peak…on an easy day. To being trapped under my bicycle blocking a busy intersection when I first experienced clip-ins. And finally to me being able to look out over the San Francisco Bay area after summiting Mt. Diablo for the first time. Biking has been a long, but amazing journey. In this moment, during this race, I am finally given the opportunity to show the world how far I have come.
I kept my eye focused on the girl in front of me. I was not going to let her get away. I looked over to see Spencer Pace. I remember his first practice where he asked me if it would be ok if he wore board shorts to swim. Look how far he has come. I then saw Jason Allenstein. I knew he was a freshman just by the fact he was on time. He was always so quiet, but today he looked so strong. For the first time, I did not feel like I was racing for myself. I was racing to represent the University of California at Berkeley. I was racing to prove that even when we don’t show up in large numbers, or with our strongest competitors, Cal Tri will always be on the podium. I was racing to prove that it’s not just experience that carries you through a triathlon – it’s heart.
I headed into T2 just seconds behind the third place girl. She was able to greaten that gap as I struggled untying and retying my shoes, but I still kept her in sight. I locked my eyes on the center of her back and thought about how great it was going to be in just a few minutes when she would be looking at my back instead. The run was just three short miles, so I knew I had to work fast.
Louie Cao and I crossed paths at the start of my run. Just a few short months ago Louie struggled with running, but not today. Today he is a runner. Just minutes later Shawn Mehrens and I passed as well. He did a big cheer with that contagious smile of his. He truly is someone who is “stoked” off triathlons. That was just what I needed – a quick reminder of the irreplaceable triathlon spirit. And with that, I was able to gather the strength to complete the race.
As we approached the final mile of the run, I was finally side by side with the girl who was in front of me. While passing her, she said a few quick words of good luck and congratulations. Triathlon has to be the only sport where your opponents cheer you on while you are competing against each other. It is such a beautiful thing.
I thought about this final mile I experienced a year ago. I was so tired and ready to quit. But not this time. This time it felt good. I poured all I had left to keep my lead. Every inch, every ounce, and every little bit of strength. “And from UC Berkeley we have our second place collegiate female coming in!” I never thought those words would be directed towards me. But now what? Do I smile? Shed tears of joy? Drop to the floor in exhaustion? I know it was a small race, but I have never felt so proud. I am no longer that mediocre athlete receiving pity claps. My hard work and determination is finally showing results I never dreamed possible.
I crossed the finish line and ran straight into my teammates. I looked at Varun. We shared the same exuberant smile of “wait…did that really just happen?” I’m not sure which of us was more shocked with my second place finish. Nor am I sure of who was more proud with his fifth place finish. Either way, it was a damn good day to be a Golden Bear.
While we waited for awards, we were able to talk to many other teams and participants. Nothing compares the post race environment. The mutual feeling of accomplishment and wanting to talk to your competitors is a unique one. I got the privilege of speaking with the Chico triathlon team. They had just started their team this year, and were able to bring their entire squad of 6 people to the race. When I was called up to the podium, every member from their team cheered my name, making them the smallest but loudest group there. They perfectly embody what it means to be a triathlon team and they definitely deserved the first place collegiate men’s team that they won.
Stanford Treeathlon 2013 was not the usual “Zerg Rush” for Cal Tri, but it still was the opportunity for triathletes young and old to shine. It was a reminder of what triathlon is all about. It is about challenging yourself to new levels and learning how strong you truly are. It is about the pain, smiles, and sense of accomplishment that can only be found when experiencing something as powerful as a triathlon. As Arthur and Ari’s videos have shown so clearly, it is not about the final result – it is about every second of every day. Each day is something different, each race is something new. I am no longer that rookie who sits on the sideline wondering. But I am so far from being the next John Dahlz. My journey with triathlon is just getting started, but I can already guarantee there is a long list of empowering stories and surprises to come.