Those were fragments of Mike Reilly’s voice I was hearing from our rental car. Shawn and I were awaking from a nap in Kona. Funny, really…We were napping while 1,800 other athletes were participating in the race of a lifetime. Kind of ironic, isn’t it? Instead of losing our coveted parking spot, we decided to sleep in the car for a couple of hours so that we would be awake, alert and ready to cheer those final competitors across the finish line until the bitter end. We wanted to be at the finish line for the last hour of the Ironman World Championships in Kona. Hour 16 to Hour 17…the moment of truth for so many…coming in under the wire with mere minutes or seconds to spare.
“You Are An Ironman!” was heard over and over again as I drifted in and out of sleep throughout the evening. Only, I was hearing his voice for real. Reilly really was calling out people’s names for hours on end—and never, not once, sounding weary of shouting one of the most life-changing cheers in all of sports. “You are an Ironman.”
We shuffled over to the finish line where we found a perfect spot right by the chute. A step up on a curb gave us an even better view of the “promised land.” The atmosphere was electric. Yes-it was now 11pm and we were still a little nap-dazed, but the crowd was huge and the loud music and video screens only added to the excitement. How can you not get pumped up when AC/DC is blaring over the loud speakers?! By this time, the winners Chrissie Wellington and Craig Alexander had both finished, showered, eaten, napped and were now at their places at the finish line to greet those who were coming across. How lucky for these “last hour” finishers to get to hi-five and hug the official champions! Kind of makes you wonder who the real champions are… Is it the guy who can finish in 8 ½ hours or the 70 year old who crosses the line in 16 ½?
The last hour of Ironman illustrated compassion, exhilarance, determination, love, support, perseverance, and faith. These competitors fought the toughest conditions, tested their physical and emotional limits, and still managed that final sprint across the finish line to now hear the ENTIRE crowd now yelling, “You are an Ironman!” The last hour didn’t discriminate. It saw the oldest finisher, a 78-year-old male, and the youngest finisher, an 18-year-old female. Both were equally inspiring. How did either of them do it? I was forever changed by that last hour and consider myself honored to have been a part of the celebration for those who conquered the achievement.
Yes, it’s true that completing an Ironman and fighting the fight up until that last hour really is a metaphor for living.
Today, my sister-in-law WON her fight against cancer and is now in the arms of the Spirit. She crossed the finish line a brave and battered soldier…exhausted and yet, complete. The last few months have been full of desperate moments followed by miraculous moments. Through it all, she continued her life’s journey when it didn’t seem possible…When the clock was against her, she kept pushing. She continued the race, even though her 140.6 miles lasted months and years at a time and were much more difficult than a few measly miles on the road. A flat tire or two set her back, but she always found the right tools and the right doctors to help her carry on through the race. Her husband and family provided her with her spiritual nutrition mile after mile. Truth be told, her attitude provided the family with much needed nutrition as well. We often forget that the spectators are more exhausted than the athlete sometimes. Like most people who have ever done an Ironman distance race, you know you can plan all you want to, but the race itself is unpredictable. Such is life…no matter how much we plan, who can predict these turns of events? You simply have to adapt your plan to live for the moment and not necessarily for the end result. Often enough, the end result isn’t what we plan anyways.
Her last hours were much like those of the Ironman athletes in Hour 16: she was surrounded by compassion, support, unwavering faith and deep, deep love. Her last hours were brave as she fought hard through the most difficult conditions. Fear gave way to peace when she realized that the race was almost complete. And now, as she crosses the finish line, I can stand with the multitudes of angels and loved ones when I say, “Monica Barrett, You are an Ironman.”