Sometimes you just can’t deny who you are.
I ran into Maritza in a Starbucks during lunch and she asked me if I was going to do the ITU Cancun Triathlon that weekend. There would be a sprint and an Olympic-length.
“Come on Fumiko,” she had said. “You’re really good.”
Good? I was normally one of the last people to finish. How was I good?
I saw Aline, who I met at my very first triathlon in 2008, online later that day. And so I asked her: why do people think I’m good?
Because I put my heart into it, she had said. That I don’t care what anybody else thinks and that because I wrote all my Fumi-Chronicles, exposing all the parts that no one wants to admit about themselves.
I was stunned. I write my chronicles because that’s my therapy. I never meant for them to be anything more than that.
That next night, I registered for the Sprint.
And there I was again, setting up my transition, surrounded by the people I admired and respected. I got down to the beach and saw the people milling about, waiting for the start. Some people congratulated me because they knew that I have had a hard time coming back to the sport.
“Welcome back,” they said.
And as I watch my friend Ruben Grande, the man who was so much more a man even without his right leg, hop into the water in his own swim start, I wanted to cry. I had left this sport angry, frustrated and despondent. I didn’t understand why I was doing it and why I had to suffer as much as I did. And like a parent who has finally come back home to her child, my baby welcomed me back without a single questioning glance.
I am so sorry for having left you.
“Red caps please come forward!”
We walked to the starting line. I know how to do this. Why am I nervous?
This was what I would later baptize as a “sardine swim”. Women on all sides of me, trying to swim to the next buoy. I touched ass so many times that I was waiting for a bitch slap to fly. I swam over sargasso and sea stars and made a mental note of the muscles that hurt: the muscles I have to work on in the gym.
I got to the turn and swam back. I saw the two cheese triangle buoys and swam between them. I jumped over mushy sargasso and ran down the stretch to T1. It started to drizzle as I ran.
Take off cap. Stuff into suit. Pull hair out of bun and tie back the loose strands away from face. Put on helmet, sunglasses, race belt.
I’m outta here.
The mount/dismount area was far from the bike parking but I felt like an expert as I got on my bike and raced off. It was now full-on raining as I raced after those in front of me. And even though the last time I’ve been on a bike was months before, I could feel my legs falling into a rhythm that told me one thing: I belonged.
And as I passed people up, I thought about how hard it is sometimes to start but how even harder it is to keep going. And then I thought about Lance Armstrong and a recent interview I had read. He was talking about cancer and about this one time how he went into a restaurant. While he was there, he went to the bathroom and the kitchen was nearby. He overheard the kitchen workers:
“Hey, you know Lance Armstrong is here.”
“Where is he?”
“In the bathroom.”
“Why don’t you go and rub his testicle for him?”
He told the interviewer that he had heard every ball joke there was. And I thought about it: it is really easy to criticize him but how many of us can actually stand having something that is that personal thrown into our faces, day in and day out?
And I thought back to when I was living in Mexico City. There are very few Asians there and I was reminded of that fact every single day for 10 and a half years:
“Look, there goes a chinita (little Chinese girl).”
“Are you Chinese or Japanese?”
“Can you see with your eyes being so small?”
“Can you see like us? I mean, do you see everything like in a line?”
You kind of start hating people for a while. It wears on you and you want to start carrying a gun. To be told such ignorant things so many times makes you think that perhaps we suck as a species.
And then I understood, if only just a bit, what Lance felt. I had a whole city try to beat me down; he has entire countries who know that most personal thing about him and who try to do the same thing. It became very clear to me why he stopped his fight; it just wasn’t fucking worth it to listen to idiots when all you had to do was listen to yourself.
I have heard the stories: he’s a diva who’s a royal pain in the ass. But I choose to defend him and until I meet him and see for myself, I will not do otherwise. And as I ran across the finish line, I knew that you have to be a very strong person to come back and compete and be in the spotlight again, exposing yourself to the media and the speculation.
Who am I to criticize him?
He has balls. And so do I.
I finished. Whether I was medal-worthy or not is pretty insignificant. I came back to do what I have to do because the time was right and I belong. And as one competitor asked another what he was going to do, he replied, “I’m going to triumph.”
And that’s what I just did.