One Sunday I was riding south with my peeps down to “Robert’s is here.” During our stop to refuel, I found my friend Monica with her group. My buddy Bernie just did a relay with the Thumbs Up team, and it did spark my attention to do something similar. I talked to Monica about it since she’s the one in charge of the team organization and told her I was interested and just to keep me in her mind for a relay on the swim.
Flash-forward 3 months, and I received a message from Monica to see if I was still interested. I was LETS DO EEETTT! :)
So who are these Thumbs Up people you may ask? It begins with the story of Kerry Gruson. As a reporter, she went to an assignment in Hawaii to interview a Vietnam War veteran in March 1974. During the interview, the veteran had a PTSD flashback and attempted to strangle her, thinking she was an enemy soldier from Viet Cong. At 26, she was left incapacitated. Years later Kerry met Cristina Ramirez, who had just finished doing her first Ironman, and was inspired to help people feel the rush of triathlon after seeing a visually impaired woman competing on the race. The unlikely pair got together and did their first triathlon. The event inspired many and Thumbs Up International was born.
The organization seeks to change attitudes about limitations by embracing life’s challenges. It is always looking for adaptive athletes and able body athletes to compete together in swimming, running, cycling or triathlon events. As a non-profit, all proceeds go to the purchase of jogging chairs in order to get more adaptive athletes on the road!
So Monica made a group with other athletes and some of the volunteers and organizers and decided to do the Key Biscayne Trilogy Bonus Sprint, with 2 relay teams. I was so excited to help, I knew some people in the organization, although I was a little shy as not to know what to expect, since I will be meting everyone for the first time race day.
It was nice that you could choose your leg of the race. For me it was the swim, since is the one I feel most comfortable with. But I think that if you want you can do 2 or all the 3 legs of the race together, since other people have done it before. I got there at 6am and everyone was there already, the people were very welcoming and it was nice to see some familiar faces like Albert, who is co-chairman, Gabe & Mari who were volunteers and bike and swim shadows respectively. They were setting up the gear, inflating the kayak, connecting the bikes with the carts and preparing transition in general.
So the 2 relay teams were as follows: I was in Team JC, in which we were helping Juan Carlos (JC) through the race together with Mari shadowing the swim and the run, Richard riding and Gabe shadowing them and Bernard running. Team Brett were going to help Brett along the way with Greg on the swim together with Kersten and Adriana shadowing them, Dennis on the bike with his shadow (I don’t remember his name!) and Wilmer on the run with another shadow (too many names to remember! LOL)
Finally I got to officially meet Kerry, the chair and co-founder of Thumbs Up, such an honor to meet her and such an inspiration for putting this non-profit together. I met the sweet lady Clarita, who takes care of Kerry and she told me her story.
So as we were heading for the start, I didn’t know how to actually pull the kayak… meaning that should I go easy, steady pace, or all out race pace? I asked Mari since she was going to be swimming with me as a shadow and what she told me had an impact on me: “Go all out! Is a race, and they are competitive, they like to pass people and such… they love to feel that intensity and rush from a race!.” I felt humbled of being the person that will help at least make that happen on the swim. Being their arms and legs for the 400m swim on the race and I was ready to go all out! I felt like the eye of the tiger just woke up!
So on the race start we moved to one of the waves, and waited for the race organizers to let us go. The wave started and waited until most of the wave was in front and we started the swim. Very shortly I caught up to the tail of the wave just before the first buoy, so I was passing people already… if it felt awesome for me, I cannot describe how was JC feeling. We had a good strong current pulling us, which made my swim really fast, considering that I was pulling the kayak with JC on board. Mari keep swimming next to the kayak the whole time.
I got to the last buoy, and turn right in order to swim to the shore. As I was swimming (and still passing people) I didn’t notice that the current was really strong that it was pulling me away from the swim exit. Mari shouts at me saying to swim to shore and noticed that I was going a bit off course, so I started to swim diagonally to the shore. Finally we made it. Pulled the kayak in shore and with the help of volunteers, we carried JC to his prep wheelchair in order to get him into transition. I ran into T1 and gave my chip to Richard in order for him to prepare for the bike. JC got to transition and I helped him with putting his socks and shoes, and then he was off with Richard and Gabe on the bike.
Afterwards, Team Brett got in, and they took off on the bike. While waiting, I got to catch up with members of Thumbs Up, learn more about the organization and took photos of the race. The bikers got in, and surprisingly Team Brett got first, unfortunately Team JC had flat on the bike and took a bit longer to get into T2. My swim advantage was lost! LOL
But everyone were in good spirits regardless anything else, both teams started the run, in a scorching hot day, but still happy to have helped each other on the race. Team Brett got in first and then team JC, where all of the relay members were together and waiting for them to run to the finish line. What a fantastic day!
We were recognized by the race organizers, and shared lots of laughs together. Sometimes when you cannot find inspiration and you ask yourself where does inspiration comes from, I got to say that inspiration comes from moments like these. To help others without receiving anything in return (ok, I got to admit I got a nice Thumbs Up T-shirt! haha). Thumbs Up are always looking athletes, so if you are interested in helping or if you know anyone that will like to participate in an endurance event, let them know! If you want to donate you can do so here: http://www.thumbsupinternational.org/
Plus, if you live in the Miami area you can join Thumbs Up in the Parkfest 5k this October 3rd 2015. Half of the proceeds of the registration will benefit Thumbs Up Sign up Now!!!
I would like to thanks Monica (for bringing me), Kerry, Albert and Mari for tagging me along and being so nice all around. And of course the rest of volunteers and relay participants that helped to make this possible.