May is a wonderful month for triathletes, the season finally started, this is my second year as captain of Tri Achilles. It’s been a busy winter and I’m excited for the future! The team is growing, we recruited more coaches, we have many new athletes and incredible stories to tell.
Francesco, one of our young visually impaired athletes did his first triathlon in September and showed amazing potential. He trained very hard through the winter, 8 to 10 times a week, he was ready for a breakout season. Unfortunately a few weeks ago he was hit by a truck on his way to school, he is ok but he has several fractures on his left foot and hand, he will miss several months. I am sharing this story with you because Francesco (please call him Franny) could have been discouraged by this major setback, but instead, he became an inspiration for our team. The first thing that he told me after his accident was “don’t worry Charles, I’ll be in the pool in about a month”. That’s the mentality that all my teammates share, that’s why our first triathlon of the season was such a resounding success!
I competed at the NJ Devilman last weekend without Franny, but with 20 motivated teammates. There were many interesting sub stories, Brandy was doing her first full triathlon, Alison, John, Eliza and I were trying to qualify for Nationals, Ben was guiding John for the first time etc. To qualify, men had to finish this sprint under 1 H 24, women had to finish under 1 h 36. Needless to say that pressure was on at the swim start!
On paper this swim seemed easy, it was in a quiet pond, there were some cute ducks, the water wasn’t too cold, but it was a total disaster for me. I lost the tether that connected me to Stefan (my guide AKA Kaiser) during the mass start, I think that one of our competitors got tangled in it. But Kaiser didn’t lose his calm, he started shoving me around to point me in the right direction, we kept going. I tried to push, I wanted to show that all my hard work at the pool would finally pay off, but my wetsuit felt tight, I was frustrated. I really wanted to prove myself, I started to have a panic attack. I took a 10 second break, I took some deep breaths, but still felt terrible. I could hear some of my teammates yelling in the background, facing their own issues, wow, triathlons are tough.
Once on the bike Stefan and I were back in our groove, we started to pass a lot of competitors, that’s always a good moral boost. The course was flat, we were averaging about 24 miles per hour, there is nothing like racing with a great cyclist such as Kaiser. This guy is a machine! I wish I had a recording of him saying “we’ve got this Charles” with his German accent, terminator style. Following his steadfast lead helped me tremendously to shake off my bad swim, to keep thinking positively, to push on the pedals. The run was very similar, flat and fast, we averaged a 6:41 pace, that was very satisfying. We qualified for Nationals, won in our category and placed 10th overall, not a bad day at the office!
But the highlight of my day was yet to come. One by one my teammates finished this race and all of them reached their goals! John, Alison and Eliza qualified for Nationals, Brandy finished her first triathlon, Sarah yelled “formidable !” with her French guide Thomas as they crossed the finish line, it was a perfect summary for this special day. I will never forget the pride that I felt while hugging each and every one of them. This race was for Franny.
Thank you to all our guides, all our volunteers, and a special thank you to Stefan for keeping me focused throughout this ordeal. But most of all, thank you Franny, thank you to everyone on the team for being such inspiring friends, I’m a lucky Captain. Tri Achilles is a beautiful family, this is going to be our best season ever, to be continued! Our next stop will be the Paratriathlon National Championships in June.