This past Sunday we went to New York City to cheer on our niece who was taking part in the NYC triathlon. She had run and completed the Central Park Half Marathon two years ago but the triathlon is exponentially more difficult. It starts out with a one mile swim , then a 40 km ( 24 mile ) bicycle race and finally a 10K ( 6.2 mile) run in Central Park. Even though our niece had trained rigorously for the past five months she was understandably a little apprehensive about staying the course.
We were staying overnight at the Comfort Inn on 71st Street near Central Park and we arose at the ungodly hour of 4:15 AM to witness the start of the race. The swimming leg was in the Hudson near 95th Street and a kind friend gave us a ride to Riverside Park . We then walked through the park to the staging area where the competitors were assembling. It was an impressive sight and , for the first time , I got some idea of the effort involved in staging such an event in NYC.
There was a festive atmosphere as everyone got ready. The participants were divided into groups by age and gender, e.g Women 20-29, Men 40-44 . In general, the men started ahead of the women and the younger competitors started before the older ones . The idea was to get the strongest swimmers start out first so that, as far as possible, no group would overtake an earlier one . The first set of swimmers , due to dive into the Hudson at 6:15 , was the professionals . They jumped in exactly on time and it was a sight to see them churning through the water. After them , groups of 15 jumped in at 20 second intervals . Our niece was in one of the middle groups due to start at about 6:45 and we spent the time looking at the sunlit towers on the Jersey side of the Hudson and scoping out the athletes. There was certainly a lot of variety among them . Most were young and fit looking but there were all ages from their twenties to 60+ and some, frankly , didn’t look like they’d make it . One woman , in her late 40’s, didn’t seem like she could walk around the block without wheezing but I saw her later on the running leg and I believe she completed the race.
Anyway , it was a sight to see the swimmers set off at exact intervals . There was an appreciable current aiding them but , afterwards , my niece told us that the water was filthy and that her bodysuit was streaked brown from the dirt . There was also a dead fish and pieces of driftwood in the path of the swimmers and she was glad when the swim was over. After seeing her start her swim , we walked across Riverside Drive to a vantage point where we were able to see her zip by on her bike .
BTW , there was a neat app available for 99 cents which allowed us to use our iPad and track exactly where she was at any given time. Biking is her weakest event and we were happy when she got through it almost two hours later. We took the time to have a breakfast at the hotel and were on hand when she entered Central Park for the start of the 10K run . Standing there , watching the athletes pounding down the paths in Central Park was an awesome experience . As I said , there were all kinds . I counted at least 10 with prostheses. Since they were all young men , they must have suffered their injuries in Afghanistan or Iraq . It brought home the true cost of the war … not the dollars but the sacrifices that our young soldiers make for the country. It was both sad and inspiring . Here were these young people who had suffered devastating injuries fighting for the country but had somehow put the trauma behind them and were living their lives to the fullest . Running is one thing, but how they swam and cycled while missing a limb is beyond my imagination . I was happy to see that each of them got a rousing cheer from the bystanders . In fact , I was very , very impressed with the behavior of the spectators. They cheered everyone , not just their friends or relatives who were competing . Two hours later , when most competitors had finished the race and received their medals , there were some stragglers who were just beginning the running leg and even they were cheered enthusiastically as they entered the Park .
The first place finisher among men completed the race in an astounding 1 hr 45 minutes ( he got $ 8,000 as well as a medal) , the first place woman did it in just under 2- 1/2 hours . Our niece finished in a very commendable 3 hours and 31 minutes , fantastic considering that she is petite and is not a pro like the top participants . Every finisher received a medal and that’s the way it should be , because just finishing such a gruelling race is an achievement. There was one girl who collapsed , unconscious , barely 50 yards from the finish line and was rushed to the hospital . Sad to say , she did not get a medal.
While we were waiting to greet her after the finish of the race , I was looking at the crowds around us . It was such a good feeling seeing the exhausted athletes being greeted by their families . Little girls waving home-made signs ( YAAY Daddy ! , Go Dad !!) and proud men and women hugging their significant others. There was a carnival-like atmosphere and it felt great to be a part of it.
Organizing a distance race , even a marathon , is comparatively child’s play. For a triathlon , each leg presents its own set of challenges for the organizers. The Hudson swim is perhaps the most difficult to prepare for . The entire course has to be marked with buoys and there have to be a large number of lifeguards on paddleboards to make sure the racers stay on the course and are not carried off by unexpected currents . There also have to be some boats with medical personnel to tend to competitors who run into medical problems. After the contestants finish the swim , they run to a staging area where they strip off their body suits and collect their bikes for the second leg . Afterwards , they drop off their bikes and begin the run . The bikes and the personal belongings have to be stored safely until they can be reclaimed at the end of the race. Then there are the problems of redirecting Manhattan traffic and closing down the bike route and the runners route. It is a logistical and organizational nightmare , particularly when you consider there are over three thousand ( 3,000 !!) participants . There were at least as many volunteers and probably 25,000 spectators. It was a h-u-g-e event and very , very impressive.
Each of the runners was running to support a charitable cause . There was a wide variety of causes , some to further education , others to fight hunger or disease, and others for international relief such as helping children in Rwanda. Our niece was part of a 500 strong group called Team in Training and they were running for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society . Team in Training raised i-1/2 million dollars for their cause of which our niece was responsible for almost $ 12,000. Good show !
Sometimes when I read the news ( war , grim economic predictions, calamities both natural and man-made ) it is difficult not to feel depressed. Then , I go to an event like this and see people who are actually doing something , instead of sitting at home typing out inane smart-aleck comments on message boards , and I once again feel good about the future.
If there is a triathlon or similar event anywhere close to where you live , do try and watch it . Go and cheer the athletes as they exert themselves to the utmost . It will take you to a different world and it will lift your spirits as you realize that THIS is the real America .