Fresh off my second Paratriathlon Mideast Regional Championships win, I was excited to team up with Todd Smith for my next two races. As a warmup for his XTERRA World Championship in Hawaii, Todd offered to guide me for the Paratriathlon US Nationals Championships in Tempe, Arizona. Having not raced together in a couple years, we agreed to race the North Shore Triathlon on September 14.
Cold temperatures in the high thirties greeted me race morning. If I could freestyle 750 meters at Fox island, I could swim 500 meters at North Shore. Todd and I agreed to treat this as a training session. Water temperature was in the low forties. Rumor was the swim would be cancelled. I was happy yet, I needed the swim. Todd needed to see how I react in the open water as preparation for Tempe. Water temperature was in the low fifties. Swim was a go.
Wearing my XTERRA wet suit, I walked to the swim start where Todd and I jogged back and forth on the beach as a warmup. We performed pushups. I dip my face in the water and let some of it fill my wet suit. We were the first wave. Horn sounded. Todd and I began. It was cold. I was scared. My heart rate was fast. I could not breathe. Todd said I could stand. I stayed horizontal. Off to my left, a female volunteer moved with us. I slowed down my breathing. I started to relax. “There he goes. He’s fine.” I only had to get through 500 meters. I swallowed water. I could not breathe. Todd had me hold on to him. “You got this, buddy. All day every day. You’re the national champion.” I kept swimming. Within a few meters, I gasped. I screamed for Todd. I wanted out. “However long it takes, we’re getting through this together.” Every so often, as I would take a breath, a wave would swallow me. I would panic and scream for Todd. I would clutch to his arm, relax, then resume. “Halfway home, Is.” My arms, chest, and legs hurt. I could not find my motorboat rhythm as in Fort Wayne. “We’re turning, Is.” Loud screams. “Fifty meters to go!” I powered my way to the finish. Todd and volunteers lifted me up.
I put on my bike shoes. Stacee Seay of Dare2Tri and Todd agreed we should wear our XTERRA wet suits for warmth. We mounted. “Don’t be a hero, Is. On a scale of one to a hundred, give me seventy-five to start.” Wind howled. I buried my head behind Todd. Although not maximum effort, we were flying. First loop complete. “You are much stronger than I remember. One loop. give me eighty on the scale.” Soon the bike was done.
I put on my Brooks Running shoes, run tether, Pinnacle Performance hat, and Dare2Tri jacket. “You don’t need to prove how fast you are today. Save it for Tempe.” I found a comfortable pace. Ground felt slippery. “Israel, you’ve made up plenty of time on the bike and run,” said Nicole Williams Keston as she ran ahead of me. Footing changed under me. From concrete to marvel and back to stone. It was slippery. One mile left. Cold, wind, and rain made it a rough day. We ran a pickup. Half a mile, I shut it down and coasted. 400 meters to the finish. Forty-five degree turn. I slipped. I fell. To avoid face planting, I put out my forearm and twisted my body. I landed on my ribs. Female spectator yelled, “Oh my God, he fell!” I bounced up. Todd asked if I was okay? I nodded. We jogged. Same woman, “Way to bounce up. You’re a warrior.” We finished.
So much pain. I needed to recover in seven days for Paratriathlon US Nationals at Life Time Triathlon Tempe. Nicole said I finished first in my division. Thank you Todd. Thank you Jenna Parker. Thank you Pinnacle Performance Company, Dare2Tri, and Base Performance. Thank you Amanda Leibovitz for my doing the race. Thank you North Shore Triathlon for a para friendly course.