Submitted by Kim Stamp
As we journey through our lives there are moments that define us. These moments become not the sole definition of who we are, but rather they become like a thread that gets permanently woven into the fabric of our being in such a way that we are not complete without it. For me, one of those moments happened as I crossed the finish line of my first Danskin Women’s Triathlon. Even now the emotion I felt on that day is palpable as I recreate the scene in my mind. Competing in that race is an experience I will never forget, and one that marked a course of change in my life. I became stronger that day, not so much physically, but emotionally and mentally.
The race came just two years after undergoing a multi-level cervical fusion due to degenerative disc disease. A few months into rehab I became convinced that my previously active life was, for all intents and purposes, over. My dreams of running a marathon and competing in a triathlon were put neatly on a very high shelf, only to be taken down to join me in an occasional pity party. Going into the surgery I was hopeful that my years of debilitating pain would be over, but the long and arduous recovery stole away every remnant of hope within me.
I was no stranger to physical therapy due to chronic spine problems but this time was different. As I faithfully arrived for my therapy appointments two days a week, my movements were slow and painful and progress felt virtually nonexistent. Unable to lift anything more than 5 pounds and feeling the effects of a sedentary life I slipped into a dark place, mourning all the things I couldn’t do. I am usually a “half full” type of person who doesn’t find it difficult to see something positive in every situation; I was walking through new, barren, territory. Then, at the seven month mark, my pain began to subside and I saw a glimmer of light drawing me out of the darkness and I fixed my gaze on it with renewed hope.
Hesitantly I headed to the gym and started some light weight lifting and walking on the treadmill. Not only were my workouts difficult physically but my pride took a beating every day as I hoisted beauty bells…you know, the pretty little weights that don’t have enough self respect to be called dumb bells. I distinctly remember the day I attempted to run on the treadmill and found that I could go for about 5 minutes without experiencing a big increase in pain. I was elated and hope was rising within me. I have a tendency to be pretty impulsive, but for once in my life, I forced myself to take it slow and to check everything I was doing with my physical therapist. Four months later, I was able to run in the Capital City Marathon’s five mile race which felt like a victory for all mankind. That spring, watching the trees in the forest behind my house begin to bud, I had the revelation that in nature death is necessary for new life, and growth, to occur. Leaves die and fall to the ground so that new growth can happen and, in the middle of winter when things seem dead, they are merely lying dormant, waiting for the warmth of spring to bring them to life.
That summer, I watched a friend compete in the Danskin and I realized, as I watched 4,000 women of all shapes and sizes finish the race, that perhaps my dream to compete was not dead but just dormant. It felt as though the heat of the sun was causing my soul to spring to life in a very beautiful way. That entire year I was thinking about the race. I pictured every leg of it in my mind, but mostly, I pictured coming across the finish line. It was a very challenging year for me personally as my 25 year marriage came to an end just two months prior to the race. In every way, the Danskin became a symbol of overcoming for me. Overcoming personal challenges and physical hardships. Overcoming fear and uncertainty. The landscape of my entire life was shifting before me and preparing for my race served as a constant reminder that I was an overcomer. Certainly there were times when I faltered, especially in my training. As I poured over training plans on the internet, seeds of doubt flooded my mind as I realized I was not going to be able to follow a conventional plan. Fortunately, a good friend of mine who is experienced in both training athletes and rehab, formulated a training schedule that I could physically endure. With each passing week I got stronger and stronger and my excitement began to build. I was in the best shape of my adult life and ready to prove myself on the race course in Seattle.
The energy at the Danskin is electric on race day! And, unlike so many other races, there is an atmosphere of camaraderie that permeates the air, making this race a wonderful event for first timers like me. I knew I was ready and as I entered the water I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. The swim proved difficult due to the numbers of women in the water and I took two big gulps of water within the first few minutes. I had trouble catching my breath and finally rolled over on my back to float and get myself calmed down. Over and over I told myself “You can do this; you trained hard for this, don’t give up now!” After several minutes, I rolled back over and made my way around the buoys and out of the water. The bike course was almost majestic as we crossed over the I-90 floating bridge with the sun coming up in the distance. I pushed myself hard at the end of the bike leg and nearly fell when I tried to get off my bike at the end; I was mentally and physically exhausted at this point and still needed to run the three miles to the finish. The run proved to be difficult, but my friend and trainer met me at several points on the course and shouted encouragements in my direction. Cresting the hill for the final few blocks of the run, I was equally grateful that the course finishes on a downhill slope and the crowds of people line the street to cheer you on.
Coming into the finisher’s shoot, I dug deep and sprinted my way across the finish line with my arms up over my head; go big or go home I always say! As soon as I crossed the finish line I began to cry. I had done it! Not only did I finish my first triathlon, I beat my goal time of two hours. Never mind that I could barely walk, I limped along completely spent, wearing my medal proudly. My Danskin experience is one of my life’s greatest moments because of what it represents in my life and I am ever grateful to all the people who helped me achieve one of my life’s dreams.