After much internal debate, I decided that Lake Placid Ironman 2015 was going to be my first full distance triathlon. Why not shoot for the stars? Lake Placid is the longest-running North American Ironman and a former Olympics venue. After doing the research on courses that would potentially suit my strengths, I settled on Lake Placid. It ticked all my boxes: double loop swim, manageable bike course (if I fuelled properly) in the Adirondack Mountains, and the run, while not an easy affair (after all, it’s Ironman), has great spectator support during the last miles of both loops. This journey to Ironman ultimately began during a conversation I had with my son, Daniel, in the winter of 2008.
However, tragedy would intervene and on April 28, 2009, the world I’d known completely fell apart. My 23-year-old Daniel died by suicide at our family cottage. Life stopped for me on that day and it would be several years before I connected to the world again.
Living beyond tragedy is about the slow, agonizing process towards acceptance. We are all dealt painful and often difficult life experiences. How we find our way through the pain shows us who we are. I think our scars reveal the true courage we are born with.
My Unlikely Path to Ironman
In 2008 as a newbie triathlete, I signed up to compete in a 70.3 Ironman race in Muskoka. A race and dream that I had first shared with my son. But it was not to be.
In 2015, my life would take a complete 180-degree turn when I finished that Ironman 70.3 race. Crossing the finish line set in motion a new path towards fulfillment and joy. Daniel and my entire family carried me across the finish line.
I finished the 70.3 Ironman Triathlon race that I had talked about with my son many years earlier. And then I did another 70.3 and another. I had found a reservoir of strength that would allow me to move forward. I had found courage and grace in interesting places. I learned to trust the hard training, and to manage the anxiety and panic in open water. I rediscovered the peace of having my mind and body work in harmony once again. I found purpose in training blocks, wattage, and proper fuelling. For a very long time, the act of putting one foot in front of the other was a victory for me and some days will still be much tougher than others. I have spent many years reflecting on my other life – the life with all my children in it – and although I cannot change our reality, I have found inspiration through accepting and understanding the woman I’ve become in this life.
Throughout all of my experiences, the overwhelming sorrow of losing my son, and my own health conditions, the things that kept coming back to me were about finding peace and finding purpose.
Swimming 3.8 kilometers, biking 180 kilometers and finishing with a 42.2 marathon is a gruelling test on every level. Peace and purpose. Purpose and peace.
And when everything is lost, we start over.
Time heals and grief remembers. Sometimes, I felt completely immobilized by sadness. But my most difficult days were (and are still) always followed by moments of grace. Every tear I shed for my son became an act of healing. The difficulty of training and completing a long-distance endurance race was matched by a mental toughness that grew out of a very deep, personal grief. Life experiences sharpened my emotional resolve. And at the age of 60, I became an IRONMAN.