When Things Don’t Go as Planned
Updated: Feb 13, 2020
photo credit: Tommy Zaferes
by Patty Collins
I just returned home from participating in the 2017 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Rotterdam. This was my 4th trip to the World Championships in the past 6 years, and although always an exciting race, it didn’t make me overly anxious like it had in the past. In fact, as I reflected on all my years of racing, I found many of my teammates were also experienced racers and could roll with the punches race days sometimes throw our way.
Triathlons are more than just swim bike and run. There are so many variables that are upon us and how we deal with them often times determines our outcome. I’d like to share the absolute incredible grit exhibited by some of my teammates on race day.
Athlete number one arrived in Rotterdam with her bike case and her carryon bag. Her checked bag didn’t arrive. We arrived on a Tuesday and our race was on Friday. No race suit, no workout clothes, no toothbrush, nothing! Was the athlete worried? Maybe. Did she let it affect her preparation and execution of the race? Not a bit. She came to accomplish a task and she did exactly that. She had an amazing race. Racing in my borrowed arm warmers, I’d like to report, my arm warmers never crossed a finish line that quickly, but can now claim a World Championship to their name.
Athlete number two has dealt with a litany of medical issues this past summer and wasn’t certain she would make the start line. Five days before the race, she and her coach decided she would race. Instead of lingering on the fitness lost and what she didn’t have, she focused on what she did have and what she could do. She put together one of the most inspirational and gutsy races I’ve ever seen. She focused on the task at hand and pulled off what many would have seen as impossible.
Athlete number three had a terrific summer build and was ready to have an amazing race. Sadly, she suffered a bike crash on her ride to the race venue the morning of the race. While she had a pre-race minor panic about a mechanically messed up bike and a compromised shoulder, she focused on her race. She reminded herself how strong she was, how she had overcome more challenges in her life than she could count and that she was a fierce competitor. While her race might not have been demonstrative of her fitness and preparation, it was still amazing. She could have easily said, “today is not my day and it’s too hard to rise to the occasion” but she didn’t. She raced with everything she had that day.
Athlete four had an amazing race. His performance was really impressive. I know this because he ran by me on a lap of the run and passed three competitors about 100 meters ahead to clinch what we all thought was third place. Due to an unusual chain of events, the fourth place finisher protested something that happened to him in the swim transition (that had nothing to do with athlete #4). The fourth place finisher was granted a 30 second deduction from his time, placing him the bronze medal position, pushing athlete number 4 to 4th place. Was the athlete angry/frustrated/etc? Of course he was. What did he do? He took a deep breath, walked over to the new Bronze medalist and shook his hand and wished him a sincere congratulations. He could keep things in perspective knowing he still had an amazing race and didn’t allow outside events to change how he felt about his performance.
Athlete five lives in an area of the US that has been devastated by fire for the past several weeks. Every workout has been indoors and every pool has been closed due to smoke in the air. So, athlete five came into World’s less prepared than he desired. He never let that affect his confidence or execution.
Finally, athlete six was racing her first World Championships and her first international race. She came from a swimming background and had limited experience racing a hand cycle and push chair. Rotterdam was the most technical race I have experienced with 137 turns on the bike course alone. It was also raining and the course was a mixture of cobble and brick. After coming out of the water first, athlete number 5 had a really difficult time on the bike and run. There were a couple crashes and very difficult turns. Did athlete five give up? Did she say, “this is a really hard course, I’m inexperienced, I’m hurt from a crash, I’m dropping out”? not at all. She finished a very strong fourth place, and after emerging from the medical tent, could still put a smile on her face and say, “This was really hard, but I’m going to work hard in the off season and come back better next year." There is not a doubt in my mind, she will.
I could spend another couple paragraphs talking about the unthinkable things our coaches, mechanic, nutritionist, and psychologist went through to get us through the week. They are simply amazing and unmatched by comparison. But, I’d like to stay with the theme of my teammates. They can overcome the near impossible. They are super human in so many ways. Every athlete will face at least one crisis big or small leading up to race day. It might be a local race, or it might be a world championship. We have a choice to make. We can be defined by our circumstances in a negative way or a positive one.
Make the choice that makes you proud.