What was different? Just a month ago, I was laying on the grass by the finish line, icing my left ankle, disappointed and exhausted. I had just failed to qualify for the Paratriathlon National Championships by only two minutes. I would have to wait another year, I would be ready this time. I was learning, somewhat complacent in this initial deception.
But my coach came to me, touched my shoulder and said:
“Charles, you know that you will try again right? You have until July 17 to qualify.”
I learned so much during those few minutes. Yes, I had failed, but suddenly, I was determined to come back. I had only one thing in mind, finishing a triathlon under 1 H 29. What was different? Someone truly believed in me.
Fast forward a few weeks, Stefan and I are in the cold water of Norwalk, ready to race against the clock. This time, this is our last chance to qualify for the nationals. There is a drone above us, filming the first wave of competitors. We start at an easy pace, I want to avoid unnecessary contacts between my nose and the feet of my fellow swimmers. Stefan and I communicate well, I keep my anxiety under control, I can tell that there are many swimmers around me. Did I finish with the best men? This would be a first for me. Hopeful, I lift my head, but I hear the voices of several women, (they started three minutes behind us), I understand that they caught up with us, yep, I still have a lot of work to do to be competitive in the water.
On the bike, my German guide reminds me why everyone calls him Kaiser! There is a steep uphill for about half a mile, he simply says: “save your legs Charles, I’ll get us up there”. You have no idea how bad ass he is during that climb! I can feel his determination, his raw power, I am fired up. We pass dozens of riders, I can’t wait for the run, I want Stefan’s work to pay off. I can hear Abbey and Kat on another tandem, also here to qualify for the Nationals, I am so proud of them.
I feel surprisingly good early in the run, the closer we get to a potential qualification, the giddier I get. I tell a joke to Stefan, he simply responds with his beautiful German accent:
“If you can laugh you’re not working hard enough”.
Oh boy did that motivate me. I ran the next mile in 6 minutes and 30 seconds! As we get closer to the finish line, I realize that we will qualify with plenty of time to spare. We slow down a little to enjoy those last yards, how satisfying! We will go to California, I am sure of it now, I lift my arms, hug Stefan so hard that he almost collapses.
But wait, where is Abbey? She is still running. The minutes go by and there is no sign of her, I am getting a little worried. But suddenly Stefan tells me that he can see two yellow jerseys coming, we look at the clock, they are going to make it! I yell her name, I have this song by the Mamas & the Papas in my head:
Thank you Kat for believing in me, thank you Stefan for your incredible determination, and thank you wife for pushing me to pursue my dream. It will be such an honor to represent Achilles at the Nationals on August 14. See you in California!