Thursday, July 02, 2009

Oliver 1/2 ironman. We knew you could....














This past June, we had a very succesful event up in Oliver competing or supporting the Half Iron Man. I would like to share one particular story of Val Samson from West Van, who challenged herself in January to take on this epic event, overcoming adversity by learning how to swim and finally celebrating the victory with her completing her first Half Iron Man. 

Her story below is one of true dedication, determination and overall inspirational to all of us.

Kate Perry 



Hi All, 

As you know, I have been training for the Oliver Half Ironman and, although I took swimming lessons and spent a lot of time in the water, I just haven’t been able to get over my fear (yet). Two weeks before the race I went to Oliver for training with the Innovative Fitness (IF) group. The ride was beautiful and I really wanted to do it again on race day, but the swim was a catastrophe. I was so afraid, I was disoriented in the open water and I just knew I wasn’t going to be able to make it 2,000 metres in open water. I made the decision that I wasn’t ready. I really wanted to do that ride though….so I kept it in the back of mind to keep considering. Then a couple days after the Oliver training, vertigo set in. It’s scary to not have your balance, especially is you are going into open water, or riding a bike. That made it difficult to get out on my bike or into the pool for any further training, or worse, open water. 

To be honest, it didn’t bother me when I decided I wasn’t ready for Oliver like it would many others. I felt so good about my training and the people I met and learned to know better, that was reward enough. However, it seemed others did not feel the same. I soon started to receive phone calls and e-mails in support, encouragement and, well, STRONGLY suggesting that I couldn’t just give up, I had to at least try. When I told my sister Bonny that I wasn’t going to try the race, she surprised me by saying “Why not?” I thought she would say something like, “It’s OK, you’ll know when you are ready.” I started to realize that I was talking myself out of it, when I should have been talking myself into it. By Thursday before race weekend, I received a call from Justine (the manager at IF) and, along with everyone else’s support, she had me seriously thinking that I should at least give this a shot. I realized that I had been spending more time rationalizing why I shouldn’t do it, than why I should. I also realized how many people would be disappointed that I didn’t at least give it a shot. I later learned (after the race) that because I made the decision to do it (technically I didn’t mentally decide until Saturday night), another gal that had been training but was going to pull out decided to do it as well. She did do it and crossed the finish line beaming!! I’m so happy for her. 

Going back to when I decided not to compete, I still wanted to go to Oliver and support all those that would be competing in our group. I wanted to give each of them a hug of encouragement before the race and see their big smiles as they crossed that finish line. (Instead, they did this for me.) So I lucked out and was able to get a camp site reserved at the Lakeside Resort, right beside the race start. Very lucky as I am sure it was sold out – I just happened to call after they just had a cancellation. Hmmmm, that may have been a sign? Anyway, my sisters and I drove up Saturday morning and arrived at around 11am. The one thing that would stop me from at least trying the swim was the wind. The lake we would swim in is very small and when the wind kicks up, as it seems to do in Oliver, the lake can get very rough. Well, Saturday this was the case. The wind was so strong that we had to tie extra ropes to our tent so that it would not collapse. The tents around us were literally flattened to the ground, and the water was churning. Not a good sign. 

After setting up camp, we met the group for a big pasta enriched lunch at a winery in Osoyoos. We ate outside, the view was beautiful, but I had a hard time concentrating on anything but what was to come the next morning. There I was met with yet more people who would encourage me to give this a try. So much support and enthusiasm, how could I not? I was told that the forecast was for calm winds by Sunday morning and, sure enough, by the time we were finished our dinner, the wind had subsided and by the time the campsite went to bed at 9:30pm, it was calm. I think most everyone camping that weekend was either in the race or there to support, so we all had the same idea to get a good nights rest. That was not to be for me. I laid awake the entire night. This is typical for me before any event, so I wasn’t upset about it, I just used the time to visualize and think about how I would make this happen. In the morning I methodically went thru pre race rituals and preparation. Double checking my gear, ensuring I kept focused and positive. 

I made my way to the transition area where I would see several people in our group. All so happy that I was there and decided to give this a try. I buddied up with Deb, another competitor who is plagued by knee and shoulder injuries, but was still going to do the race. That made me think that all I was having to do was get over the fear, I wouldn’t have to deal with injury (or so I thought). We made our way down to the water and at some point I lost sight of Deb. I did meet up with several others in the group who took the time to seek me out and provide last words of encouragement, a quick hug and a big smile saying “have fun!”. What more could I ask for? I wasn’t nervous, I was doubtful. I had told myself I’ll give this my best and if that isn’t enough, then I pull out. 

The first heat started with all the young guys (the blue capped swimmers). Our group was next, all women under 50. I thought I was in the back of the bunch but when we got going people started swimming over me. That didn’t last long and after the initial rush we thinned out and I was able to get some room to myself. I set a course and realized that the only stroke that I was comfortable with was the side stroke. However, I’m way stronger on my right side and that meant I was facing away from the course boeys. I kept going off course and by the time I reached 700 metres I was doubting my ability to do it. I put my hand up for assistance and swam to the closest kayak. You are allowed to hang on, you just can’t move forward. So I grabbed on and told him I didn’t think I could do this. He asked me what the problem was and I said that I was afraid, and that I’m not a swimmer. In my head I was saying that I had no right to be there. I kept trying to shove that thought out, but out in the middle of the lake, it was difficult. He simply said “You’re hear though, right?” He told me we had two options: I could hang on and think about for a minute, or he could call the lifeguard over and they would pull me out. Just the thought of having assistance getting out made me realize I couldn’t just give up. I told him I would get around that first corner boey (the course was a triangle, so we had two corners) and then I would see how it goes. He ended up following me along the course the whole way, taking breaks to watch others from time to time, but always catching up with me. The rest of the swim was a mix of trying to think about good things, and trying to talk myself into taking one more stroke. Because I was doing the side stroke on only one side, my neck started to ache and I knew that I was blowing my legs up using a tonne of energy I should have been saving for the ride and run. I tried the back stroke, but became so disoriented that at one point I was actually going in the opposite direction. So side stroke it was and I finally made it to dry land. I tried to stand up but the vertigo was enormous. I staggered as though I had just drunk two bottles of wine, but eventually made it to the suit stripping area. Thanks to that gal that was so patient with me and managed to get my suit off! There was quite a run from the swim to transition in bare feet but to be honest, I didn’t even notice it. I was so happy to be out of that water and looking forward to the ride. 

The ride was great, albeit windy, but I really enjoyed it. Transition from bike to run has got to be the hardest part of the race (not counting the actual swim). Getting your legs to move is very difficult (liken it to that feeling after a good hard snow shoe trek or getting off a horse). By the time I hit the 1km mark I would feel the effects of doing the side stroke for 2,000 metres. My back went into spasm and would not let up. I stopped and stretched, walked, jogged a bit, stopped and stretched. This went on for 6 km. Then the Advil that I took at transition kicked in and thankfully I was able to get into a consistent, slow lope, favouring my back. I wouldn’t really even call it a jog because I was trying not to move my torso or my back would spasm. Somehow my body worked itself out and I pushed on. When I had 6kms left I met up with two other runners. I knew one of them from IF, Matt. He trained there from time to time, but we hadn’t really talked much. The three of us stayed together and talked our way to the finish line encouraging each other and those we knew along the way. I was so grateful for having them with me. It helped to push me to finish strong and it was a welcome distraction to all of the thoughts that would have been running in my head at the end of such a tough race. 

It felt good to finish. Everyone was there to congratulate us on achieving this huge milestone. After the race I made a pact with myself that I needed to conquer my fear of swimming, not unlike how I have overcome the fear of going fast downhill on my bike, or running hard up a steep hill to the point where you think your heart will explode. 

Thanks to all of you for your generous support, either telling me to “go for it” or to take the time I needed to get comfortable with it. Either way you supported me, and it is wonderful to know you care. Thanks to my sisters for being there to support, and to drive me home!! Thanks to the coaches and clients with Innovative who wouldn’t give up on me. The phone calls and e-mails (right to the race start!), the smiles and hugs and strength you shared with me. I hope that I can provide the same encouragement and support for you at some point. 

Hugs, 
Val
 

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