The raspberry pound cupcakes were still warm when I got on the ferry to Cozumel, the night before the 70.3 Ironman. I had made them for all my triathlon friends who were doing the event and of whom, in the end, none of which partook in cakey goodness. I had just met Victor, who had come on the bus from Cancun as well, and we talked about competitions and bikes. I gave him a cupcake which he ate with gusto, even scraping the cake crumbs off the paper wrapper with his teeth.
At 5 o’clock that next morning, I was walking on a dark winding road near the sea. I set up camp by the gang-plank next to the Chankanaab Dolphinarium and as the athletes passed by, Amy, the voice of every single one of the IMs in the area called our attention to a little green raft, guarded by lifeguards on surf boards. A man decided to give his little girl, Ana (who suffered from brain damage), a chance at seeing the things she might have never seen otherwise: he was doing the competition with her; he was towing her in the green inflatable raft the 1.2 miles. Luis Enrique Gutierrez, her father, inspired by the story of Team Hoyt (Dick and his son, Rick) and the similarities between Rick’s and Ana’s conditions, decided to share a bit of that happiness that comes from sports with his daughter.
The rest of the athletes were waiting for their wave to be called and they got a lovely show of dolphins elegantly jumping out of the water. As much as I dislike the idea of zoos, circuses and dolphinariums, I couldn’t deny how incredible it is to see these animals.
When Ana and her father came out of the water, I pretty much lost it. He carried her with all the care and gentleness that you would give to the most precious thing you had ever owned. I pretended to take photos of the park as I waited for the lump in my throat to disappear.
On the bike, I kept running into friends. At the bike turn-around, Hector and Kike’s loud orange shirts made them blend in to their surroundings. We collected empty water bottles on the side of the road and looked like hungry squirrels, hoarding nuts for the winter.
As the sun continued to blaze, we searched for the little shade that was left.
And it was only 9 in the morning.
A female triathlete passed the turn-around when I heard what seemed to be the crunching of a beer can.
It was the woman’s bike: the deraillieur on her carbon fiber frame made such a distinctive noise that it was bit appalling.
I rode back into town and other competitors, knowing full well that I wasn’t competing (I looked like a virtual pack mule with a knapsack, a Tupperware full of cupcakes and a plastic bag filled with bike bottles, all on a mountain bike), smiled, laughed and cheered me on. And I knew that those types of triathletes/absolute strangers would be friends of mine, had we met.
Back in town, I was watching athletes run a very humid 13.1 miles.
The atmosphere was getting more and more electric. People were in the streets cheering on random strangers, smiling and telling you you can do it. Some zipped by with the elegance of race track horses. Others were losing their steam.
And there was Genaro.
Genaro’s good friend is an Ironman who, three weeks before this 70.3, told Genaro that he was completely exhausted after his last event and wouldn’t be able to do the competition.
Without meaning to sound vulgar, he asked “Do you want my slot?”
Without hesitation, he said yes.
As it were.
Having never run more than 6-8 miles, Genaro did what I would have deemed suicidal: run in homemade sandals, do a 70.3 without having specifically trained for it and run 13.1 miles without having ever done the distance in training. Ever.
Like me, he got into barefoot running and had been fashioning his own sandals. Karla had his kicks, should he have wanted them during the race. We were very close to the start of the lap and she looked worried when he came back to start his second lap, limping. He was jogging and was in pain. I ran with him for about 200 meters, giving him advice and telling him to take it easy.
The sun beat down upon us but we kept cheering people on.
And then, my hero of heroes, Ruben Grande came along. There is a certain type of happiness that comes from just being there in the presence of a person. I don’t know if I can explain it as an emotion, a situation or even as chemistry in the air. What I do know is that when a person smiles after having done a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride and is about to finish a 13.1 mile run after bobbing up and down on a prosthetic leg, you know that person is:
1. Very abnormal
2. Perhaps an overachiever and a sado-masochist and
3. The person you’d most likely hang out with because he’s just as sick in the head as you are.
And that’s all good.
And so as I watched Luis Enrique run with Ana in her stroller to the finish line, I knew that the only reason I would want to have a kid was to teach him to become a man of measure and to become a triathlete, not because I am one but because it was where time and time again, I saw the two things that I thought worth teaching and that are the two most valuable things in the whole wide world:
Humanity and spirit.