My friend Pam and I have a symbiotic relationship. One of us gets a terrible idea, and the other goes along with it. I don’t remember who thought of celebrating our birthday by entering a mini-triathlon in Minnesota; I’m guessing it was my Gopher-friend who wanted to show off for her competitive Gopher-siblings. We were turning 60, and I could bench press the shutter-release button on my Canon Rebel. Who better to tackle a half-mile swim, 12-mile bike ride, and 3-mile run?
We dove right into training. This involved biking, running, and both of us developing stress asthma after one lap in the pool. We read about masses of swimmers who kick and punch weaker participants as they race over, under, and through them, and that truly helped the asthma situation.
We were informed that we must have a wet suit because we’d be swimming in a cold Minnesota lake. When the package arrived, I was surprised how small it was. I ripped the box open and pulled out a wet suit the size of a 6-month onesie. I called the company and explained there’d been a mistake, that I’d received an infant’s wet suit. They said, no, it was the correct size, but at first it might take some effort to put it on.
For an hour, I was on my back, rolling on the living room rug, feet in the air, stretching and tugging, but I couldn’t get it past my knees. I called the company again. Put some water in it, they said. It’ll slide right on. This is not true. Eventually, with the help of my husband, a spatula, and a little spray Mazola, we got it up to my waist. All of my body fat and most of my internal organs were now above the belt. Finally, with much effort and some unnatural verbalizations, the task was accomplished. I looked like Gumby’s Grandma. I could neither bend nor breathe. Could not raise my arms. Could not move one foot forward without the other one snapping up to kick me in the Achilles tendon. Had to blink to communicate with my husband. He, too, seemed unable to form words.
The time came when I had to try that wet suit in an actual body of water. My husband accompanied me to an obscure state park on a river two-hours south, a place where I was sure no one would know me. I stood on the shore while he stuffed and folded me into the rubber garment. Nearby, a large family was picnicking. They pointed, laughed. and pounded the picnic table, unable to contain their delight at this unexpected floor show.
Once in the suit, I walked to the shore like a wooden clothes pin might walk. I fell over onto the water and tried to move my arms in a crawl-like motion. The river, it turned out, was only about a foot deep. Giant carp circled me, their fins sticking out of water too shallow even for fish. They stared at me as only carp can do. I gave it about two minutes and slithered back to shore, side-winding over the surface like a lizard. My husband jerked me into an upright position and rolled the suit down to my ankles. My body expanded like those rolls that come in tubes, the ones you peel and hit it on the edge of the counter, causing the dough to ooze out through the cracks.
Pam and I persisted with our training because neither of us is good at accepting defeat. But, two weeks before the race, reality overtook our competitiveness. We agreed on some revised and potentially achievable goals: come out of the race with only minor injuries and do not finish dead last in our age category.
Unfortunately, after a summer of training, and just a few days before the race, Pam’s brother had a heart issue, and my husband was told he needed immediate bypass surgery. We were going to miss the mini-tri. As I sat by my husband in the cardiologist’s office, I heard him ask the doc if the emergency surgery could wait, because his wife was going to be in a triathlon in three days. I think he wanted to see me in that wetsuit one more time. I bet it turned him on..