If I can give it a tri, why can’t you? | TheUnion.com

If I can give it a tri, why can’t you?

I’m doing a triathlon,” I said to my chickens tonight. Lucy cocked her head and looked at me sideways. Ruby stopped pecking the cracked corn and stared. Penny ran and hid behind the feeder.

I don’t blame the chickens for their alarm. I’m not a triathlete. Spellcheck tells me I don’t even know how to spell it. I’ve never raced anybody in anything. Part of my training is just to practice saying it out loud.

Remarkably, I’ve signed up for the Barbara Schmidt Millar Celebration of Life Women’s Triathlon on Aug. 29. My friend, Kerri, got me into it.

“If I can do it, you can,” she said.

I cocked my head and looked at her sideways. That probably would have been the end of it had Kerri not left a message about it the very week my sister-in-law, Sharon, was visiting. Sharon runs every day, swims a mile every week, teaches tennis and guides hiking trips. Within 48 hours, my check and registration form were in the mail, and I’d been shooed out the door to go for a run.

I ran downhill to the end of my cul-de-sac. I stood hands-on-knees, gasping for air. I knew I had to stay out longer than five minutes or Sharon would send me again, so I chatted with a neighbor before returning.

It had been four years and two babies since I’d been in the pool or on a bike, and two decades since I’d run. I could carry laundry up the stairs or walk the dog, but a triathlon?

When I signed up, my only goal was to finish. After my first run, my only goal was to start. But that’s slowly changing. I’m beginning to believe I might enjoy myself.

This triathlon is different, Kerri told me. She described an overwhelming spirit of cooperation and support.

“Twenty people show up to win, and the other 300 show up to have fun,” said Connie Strawser of Tour of Nevada City at a free cycling clinic, where she checked our gear and gave us tips for a safe ride.

Eager for any help I could get, I attended the swimming clinic also.

Here Cathy Anderson-Meyers, the event’s organizer, Sandy Frizzel and several other volunteers spent two hours of their Saturday individually coaching us for open-water swimming. And there are three more free clinics to help first-timers like me find out everything from how to pace ourselves to where we stash our flip-flops.

Turns out Kerri did not overstate it. There are practices twice a week.

“Competitors” gather to swim and cycle together on the course. On the day of the race, the organizers even assign an athlete or two to be last, so I don’t have to be! They also provide “swim angels.” If I feel uneasy about swimming out in the middle of the lake, I can request a swim angel, and, presto, there will be a volunteer with a flotation device ready to swim beside me the whole way.

What I’m realizing is that this triathlon actually is a team sport. But there’s only one team – us.

And I think that’s how Anderson-Meyers envisioned it 10 years ago when she and 12 friends gathered at Cascade Shores to take as long as it took to complete a triathlon in honor of their friend, Barbara Schmidt Millar, who had recently died from cancer after having survived her earlier battle with breast cancer.

Each year, these friends donate the money they raise to the Barbara Schmidt Millar Memorial Fund and Memorial Scholarship Fund.

“But I hate running,” I moaned to my friend. The biggest surprise is that that’s changing, too.

Paradoxically, motherhood has readied me for this. Maybe it’s the hundreds of squats I do every day picking Lincoln Logs and shell noodles off the floor. But more than that, I’ve watched my daughters learn to run.

At 14 months, my oldest ran more than two miles while I tagged along pushing the empty stroller. She ran because she could. She laughed most of the way. I think of that when I run down Litton trail in the early morning.

Joy. Joy to swim outside. Joy to ride past a horse farm in twilight’s long shadows. Joy to have a training buddy.

I forgot what this kind of fun is like. While I train, I also think of the tribute those first 13 triathletes have given their friend.

Love and joy. What a way to face down cancer.

In case you carry laundry up stairs too, there’s still time to sign up.

You can’t come in last. You might even get a swim angel. If I can do it …


Jennifer Petch Babcock, who lives in Nevada City, is a mother of two and a freelance writer and editor.

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