After some free Bandana's BBQ at the end of the race I said good bye to Carter, Gracen, and Amy, jumped in the car and headed to Reid Stewart's house. After a quick shower we hopped in his car with his son Benjamin and hit the road for Madison, Wisconsin and the 2008 Ford Iron Man race our friends Steve Ahn and Dave Shack were competing in. These are the guys I've been running on and off with for the past year as they trained to compete as a team of 12 type one diabetics. I hadn't been planning on attending the race until I had been talking to Heather Stewart our secretary. She was talking about how bad her husband (also a type 1 diabetic) had originally wanted to be part of the team but due to some health issues had been unable to make it happen this year. She also mentioned how badly he wanted to be able to see them race. I too had a huge desire to witness this inspirational performance. After a quick discussion I told her that if Reid was up for it I would be interested in road tripping together to be able to catch the race. After checking in with the boss I was definitely in and within a few days Reid had committed. He also wanted to take their first grader Benjamin along with us who is also a type 1'er. I have to admit that the idea of a 13 hour road trip with a first grader did not sound like the best idea. However as the weekend went on I also understood how important it really was for him to be there and see all of these other diabetics accomplishing something so impressive while exercising control over their disease. And to his credit I don't know many first graders that could handle an 18 hour day of cheering on racers as well as he did. But more on that later.
Reid powered out 12 hours of driving while I tried to hang with him. I lost the battle a couple of times but got to spend some good time getting to know him better while Benjamin sacked out in the back. We made it to Chicago just past sun-up and after a classic Cracker Barrel road trip breakfast I drove us the last hour or so into Madison. We hung out with Steve and family at the house we were staying at. The organizer of the whole team Michelle graciously gave up her house so the Boonies would have a quiet and comfortable home base. It couldn't have been located in a more perfect location imbetween the swim/ run course downtown and the biking loop. After catching up with Steve and then Dave who had come over to pack their bags for the transitions I gave up and took a nice nap in the back. I don't think Reid ever got any rest that day. In the afternoon I woke up and we all headed over to a reception for the friends and families of the Triabetes Team. It was a quaint get together where we got to hear the whole story of how this had come about. Let's just say that as with so many other incredibly powerful things in our world it started as an idea in a coffee shop. And like those other incredibly powerful things what made it really happen was the people willing to see it through to the weekend we were all now part of. After the reception Reid and Benjamin and I drove around to scout out the bike course for the next day. We found some good hills to spectate from and the easy access points (something that would pay off big time the next morning). Then we headed downtown to make sure we knew how to get to the start. We crashed out relatively early psyched for the race.
Sunday morning came early but we were all psyched. Steve left early to get driven to the race. Reid and Benjamin and I rallied and got out the door and over to the start of the race just in time. We parked a little ways from the lake and rode bikes down to the waters edge to watch the craziness of 2200 people swimming the first of two laps unfold. It was insane and we slowly made our way over to the transition area to watch the swimmers begin coming out of the water. If you have never seen an iron man or a triathalon period the first transition was high energy and singular focus for both racers and a small army of volunteers who helped peel wet-suits off the racers as they emerged from Lake Monona. The crowd was packed around the transition and I ended up only really seeing one of the team make the actual transition. The rest had been lost in the hoards of people exiting the water. Reid actually saw Steve Ahn and I finally saw John Moore although I can't be sure if the announcer hadn't called out his name if I would have. We were both wondering if the rest of the team was still out in the water and started getting really nervous as the cut-off time for the swim of 2 hours and 20 minutes rapidly approached. We stayed until the last swimmer to make the cut-off made it in with no time to spare. If you have a chance go to youtube and type in "The last guy out of the water" the crowd was going nuts when he made it and was an energizing start to our day as specators. At that point we realized that we must have simply missed them coming through. In wet-suits and swim caps with goggles it was almost impossible to tell anyone apart. We saw a couple of other Triabetes fans and heard the good news that everyone had made it through the first leg and all in good time. We were relieved and headed back to the car to head out to the bike course.
Pre-scouting the course enabled us to get quickly to one of the better viewing spots. Reid and Benjamin dropped me off first so they could head and get some snacks. I biked down to a good viewing hill after immediately seeing the lead rider for the team Bill Carlson rip through the intersection. (Bill was the first ever diabetic Iron Man back in 1983) This was his sixth Iron Man and he was leading the team. I don't know what else I can say except Ok well nothing, just let that sink in for a minute). A full fifteen minutes later I started seeing some of the other team members roll through aptly named Bitch Hill. Finally I saw Steve Ahn come through. By then Reid and Benjamin had made it out to the course as well as the whole Shack contingent. We cheered Steve through and then the following team members. Steve looked so strong and spotted me immediately at the bottom of the hill. All of us were wearing royal blue Iron Fan t-shirts that said Triabetes on them but he was smiling and having a great time. I was astounded to see Steve about half way in the pack of team members ahead of Iron Man veterans John Moore, Ann , and a couple of others. I figured that John would catch him on the run after having had an epic swim start complete with a blood sugar so low he was falling asleep in the water. Shack came through about 30 minutes behind Steve. He looked solid and in control though he baerely responded as I cheered him on up the hill towards his family (This was not the first time I had experienced "Silent Dave"). He did give me a sideways glance with just a hint of a smile to tell me that he was a machine. That he was! All of the team was looking in control. We were getting twitter reports that one of the leading members was out of insulin but he ended up just fine. After the initial cheering on Bitch Hill we headed into Verona where a whole street was blocked off for the race. We got some local bratwurst and cheered on the riders as they flew through the flat section of the course. Eventually we caught the team coming through on their second laps before heading back to the run.
After a quick drive back to the downtown area Reid, Benjamin, and I got on the bikes again and rode in search of the marathon course. After a quick stop for a beer and snacks we caught up to the team in various places. Again everyone looked strong. At one intersection I saw almost the entire team pass including Dave. He was dealing with IT band issues and in a fair amount of pain but still had a smile on his face when he told me how much it hurt. I got to ride along a little with Steve and John who had met up on the run and had decided to finish together. They seemed in pretty high spirits. I was able to catch them several more times on the course including their final turn-around for the home stretch of about 7 miles. I never saw Dave again but his family was out there cheering him on . Later I would find out he was pretty isolated on the course as he power walked faster than most of the walkers but much slower than anyone running. We headed for the finish line getting there in time to see several of the Triabetes team run confidently through the tape. Most of them had their Iron Kidz training partners with them as they crossed the finish line. (each team member had been paired up with a diabetic kid from around the country with whom they kept in contact with thoughout the year of training) The finish line scene was high energy. The announcer really had his act together as each individual came through to the announcement of their name, home town, and often tidbits about their life. It was made abundantly clear as each person came down that although we were cheering on an amazing team that was accomplishing something so incredible and meaningful that there was no lack of touching stories in the other competitors. It was a heady emotional experience watching so many people accomplish the seemingly impossible task of Iron Man. I think intoxicating is not an exageration. My adrenaline never stopped pumping all day long. Out on the course I even found myself asking the innevitable "could I do this" question. The smiles on so many faces belied the truth of what it must take to push yourself so far and so long. But then there were also the looks of utter agony. I imagined that these looks were the same as the ones I had worn months ago pushing through "JUST A MARATHON". It snapped me back to reality a little and reminded me of the recent conclusions I had arrived at in my own pursuit of endurance events. But back to our heros. After a few other Triabetes athletes crossed the finish line here came Steve Ahn and John Moore around the final corner picking up their Iron Kidz and Steve finding Zoe. I must admit I almost cried just watching this over the shoulders and heads of the throngs of people lining the finish. Both finished in just under 14 hours just as the sky started to spit at the crowd and finally release a steady drizzle that was unable to quench the high spirits of the finishers or the crowds. Quite the accomplishment I'm told. I caught up with Steve as he walked with Ashley and the kids. I saw utter relief and total satisfaction albeit with quite the dose of weariness mixed in with his expression.
Next we turned our attention to Dave. A quick touch base with Nate let us know that they had seen him at the final turn-around and at his courageous power walking pace would probably be at the finish line in about an hour and a half. We caught up with John for just long enough to congratulate him on not only finishing but also officially breaking the Hiatt blood sugar curse that seemed to plague him whenever I either ran with him or in this case simply happened to be in the neighborhood. We took the time to move our car closer to the finish just so we wouldn't have to stand around in the rain. But then the rain decided to quit of its own volition. We rode passed the Shack posse on their way up to the finish. They were in high spirits indeed. After the car shuffle we made it back in time to see Dave Shack (with IT Band issues and now giant blisters to boot) make the triumphant final turn, under the Iron Man Balloon and through the finish line. Reids wife Heather had been following the race all day long and had been our update person via cell phone. She had set up her own personal Triabetes HQ in her living room with two lap-tops and two phones running non-stop. Ah technology. I could almost here her celebratory cries all the way from Boone as she and our principal Wayne had stayed up late to see everyone finish online.
Words do little to express what I felt watching these guys throughout the day. I have never felt so much a part of something I had so little to do with. I learned so much in the past year about diabetes, determination, the hidden powers within people, and commitment to a cause and all this as a spectator. I feel amazingly blessed to have witnessed such a performance from such incredible human beings (most of whom I do not nor will I ever know). If you are reading this post and know anyone with diabetes please spread the word about TRIABETES. Also please check out the posts from the actual athletes themselves. Steve and Dave's blogs are both linked to mine and they have the rest of their teammates linked through their blogs. Also keep your eyes and ears open for the Triabetes Documentary that was created about the team.