Monday, October 10, 2016

The weekend I got to hug & pray for some Ironman athletes!

Oh mercy y'all...

My ears are ringing, my throat is scratchy from screaming & my feet hurt from standing for almost 8 hours.
I didn't go to a rock concert... I got to stand at the finish line of the Ironman competition yesterday 'catching' the athletes!!!
Mercy - what an experience.

Image result for ironman louisville

I've worked so many jobs in this race - from giving out water, & working in tents helping women in transition areas, to chip retrieval - & I've always wanted to be at that finish line & catch the finishers.

I always wondered what it meant to be a 'catcher' - what a strange name. But sometimes, you legit CATCH the Ironmen.  Some of them are so pumped up, they keep running & you have to stop them... have a huge man running full speed at you. That's a life experience.
& some of them, you have to legit catch because their legs are mush & they are shaky & wobbly & you have to help them get through the crowd.

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What the athletes see running to the finish
... with a few HUNDRED PEOPLE surrounding both sides of the line

But the job of a catcher... you greet them at the finish line with their medal.  You are supposed to be full of energy & excitement for them. CHECK - totally can do that.  My goal was to always say to them in their face, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!  I know some people just want to hear those words.

Then you check that they are OK.  See if they need medical assistance, which the medical team was wonderful.  Half the time, they could see the runners coming down the chute & know if they were going to need help by the way they were wobbling on those last bits of the run.

Then you take the IRONMAN to get their chip off. That's the job I did last year. That's not an easy job. I feel for those people... & was excited to see some of the people I worked with last year still there doing it once again.

Then off to the fast part - you get them water, you get their shirt & hat - which I found out the athletes were very adamant about getting these shirts & hats.  This must be better than the medals.  So many people said, "Where's the shirt?" because it was wrapped up in the hats.  They didn't want to miss out on these babies. I wish I saw what they looked like.
Then its off to escort them to get their pictures taken & then you send them off to the medical tents / food / morning bag pick ups & hopefully to friends & family who are waiting for them... which I found out isn't 100% the case.

It's an experience - let me tell you.

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I gotta take this Monday to just go over a few of the things I saw & got to experience myself.

My first athlete in... his name was Rodney. He came in fairly early - & man, he was PUMPED!!! Like screaming & pumping his fists & so ON FIRE!!!! I had to basically run to keep up with him.  This was his 2nd Ironman & he said he PR'ed the **** out of this one.  He was an older gentleman so I was super impressed he was an early finisher.  When I helped him get all his stuff, I had asked him if anyone was there for him & his face lit up & he began to tell me that his wife was with him.  & then I pointed him to the tents & told him that everything he would need would be there... he saw his wife & then said, "No, everything I need is right there" & then he ran to her & she was just bawling & he grabbed & picked her up.  Oh my... I'm already teary eyed on my first person? ... It was like something out of the The Notebook.  I congratulated them both & sent them on their way.

Funny thing - about 2 hours later, he was cleaned up, in jeans & a nice shirt & he & his wife were at the finish line cheering on the other athletes coming through. How nice was that?
His excitement will stick with me.
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My 2nd person?  May be one of my favorites.  He was from Boston.  He was a younger guy & just so excited about crossing that finish line. He told me it was his first Ironman & I high fived him & told him he was amazing.  He looked me in the face & said, "DO IT - DO AN IRONMAN" - I laughed & told him there was no way I could do it & he literally stopped & gave me a pep talk. He grabbed my shoulders & said, "You can totally do it! Believe in yourself"  He was just precious.  His family came running on the sidelines - his parents & his girlfriend & they were all just as precious as he was.  This is what got to me - he stopped & asked me what my name was.  I told him & then he just kept using my name in every sentence.  So special.

The best part about this guy... when he went to do his picture - he got down & started doing CLAPPING PUSHUPS... after finishing an Ironman!!! I was screaming & getting the crowd screaming for him & when he stood up, I said, "What the heck are you made of man?".. he looked at me & said, "IRON!!!".. YEAHHH!!! Perfect answer!!!!  His energy was so contagious.

When I send him on his way with his family - he & his family both thanked me for taking care of him & again, said my name, "Rebecca, I appreciate it so much you took the time to come out & volunteer"... I told him  it so I could meet amazing people like him  & he hugged me & headed out to the hugs of his family.
His joy will stick with me.

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My 3rd guy came in & he was running carrying an Columbia Flag.  He was so emotional.  So proud of running for his country.  We had just gotten across the finish line & while they were taking his time chip off I asked him if this was his first & he just BEAMED & said it was his first Ironman ever.  We had just gotten a few steps away & I could see he was emotional & when I handed him his shirt, I said to him, "I am so proud of you"... those words are always powerful to me. It must have been the same to him because when I said them, he just stopped in his tracks & grabbed his face & started bawling. He turned & grabbed me & just sobbed.  Oh gosh. I have a policy that people don't cry alone so I just started crying with him. A total stranger.  We got up a little further & we saw his GORGEOUS wife & beautiful children.  They all started hugging over the fence & he & his wife just started sobbing together.  I was thinking, would it be strange if I just go up & group hug that family? ;) haha... I didn't.  Relax.

The photographer was also from a Spanish decent & came over & took pictures of the family & they were all speaking Spanish.  What a cool event where this family from another part of the world came & could have someone relate to them in their language.  When I took him down the final part of the chute, he again hugged me & thanked me for taking care of him.
His emotion will stick with me.

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THE WINNER!!!!
I love doing this job just to be so close to the athletes.
Side note - I had a video of him coming by & stopping to get his chip off. I reached out & patted his shoulder... my video somehow didn't work. I got an error message on it. DANGIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Then, I got my first woman in the group.  & not just any woman!! She was the first place finisher for the oldest age group. She was in her upper 60's.  UPPER 60'S!! Doing an Ironman. & man, she looked AMAZING!!!! Her daughter & son in law were at the finish line & they started screaming, YOU DID IT - YOU BEAT HER!!! We went to the side so she could get some recovery drink started & as I was helping her with it, I could hear her daughter talking about "She was gaining on you mom, we were so scared" - so I had to ask who they were talking about - if it was a friend or rival - & that's when the daughter said, "You are here with the top age group women's winner!!!" ... Mary.  I'll not forget her name. She was amazing.  & to see her daughter so proud of what her mom just did.

Mary was another one that stopped to ask me my name & thanked me so much for helping her.  What an honor.
Her timelessness will stick with me.

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Another woman that came through, I knew I was going to immediately like her.  She came across the finish line & did a side yoga pose on the ground for the photographer to take her picture. YES!!!! She got up & I was jumping up & down to give her her medal.  She just immediately hugged me with all her excitement. She was so full of life & energy. I told her she looked like she could keep going &do another 26.2 mile run.  She told me, "Do you know, my doctor said I shouldnt do this... I just had a hysterectomy done 12 weeks ago"... WHAT???? she said she was sore but she felt great because "... they told me I couldn't do it & I wanted to show them I could"... YES YES YES! That's the attitude to have.  She was something else.  When we went to get her picture taken, she said she had to do the yoga pose again.  With a shirt that said, "You're Only Getting Stronger"... YES YES YES!!!

As I took her to the end of the chute, a young man, about 19 or 20 came running through & just grabbed her & picked her up.  It was her son.  Oh mercy - what a proud son. She looked at me & said, This is my baby.  I asked him if he was proud of his mother & he couldnt speak.  Enough said.
Her determination will stick with me.

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The WOMEN'S WINNER!!!
She was still so full of energy & so kind to everyone!!!
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I met so many other people.

One who was from Phoenix, Arizona who did his 6th race & was all by himself. He said he just enjoyed doing these races by himself. It was his hobby. But he said he was going to bring his wife back for the next one.

A young man, Ian, who came from Florida. He had to be 6'5. The tallest guy I had to "support" in my life.  I told him it was probably a good time for him to get out of Florida with the hurricane & he totally agreed. I had asked him if being used to Florida weather made the morning cold for him in Louisville (it was in the 50's) - he said he was so cold that everyone was making fun of him for shivering. Poor guy.

I met one guy who just pushed himself so hard at the end, he looked like he was going to faint. He was my only medical assist.  His face was as pale as the white screen I'm looking at.  His legs were giving.  I asked him if he just gave it all he had at that last part & he said he did. We got him some water & let him walk a bit & I could see blood going back to his face. By the end of the chute, he was great & talking about his military training.  The medic stuck with him though & told me he was going to make sure this guy got an IV.

I met a guy that when he saw his girlfriend on the side, he just ran & kissed her... & kissed her... & kissed her... & kissed her... I just stood to the side & said to the other catchers, "I am not going to interrupt for one moment" Some things, you just leave alone.  When he finally came with me, I said, "So I take that that's a special lady in your life"... & he told me, "I just met her today".. haha!!! I busted laughing so hard I nearly tripped over my feet.

I met people that came through disappointed about their time & that they didn't feel like they did good... but I had to remind them THEY FINISHED... & was STANDING UP!! To me, screw time - that was the best accomplishment of them all!!!

I probably brought through about 15 athletes & it was amazing... just so inspiring.  Something I'll never forget.

My favorite part of the night though...

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every time you get in line to catch someone, you get a medal & wait in line for YOUR person to come through.  As I was standing in line, I would put my hands over every medal & I would pray for the person that I was going to meet. I'd pray that they were healthy & strong... that they would have had an amazing experience... that they were going to be OK after the race... & that I could bring some sort of joy to their day.

I didn't realize when I prayed over these medals & gave them to the people that God brought my way - I was going to be the one who was blessed the most....

24 comments:

  1. I was so excited for this recap. You know how much I love this! I totally need to come and help you next year. I love the stories you walked away with too. Amazing that people would get dressed and come back to cheer more on. I would be on the couch passed out ;)

    So so so cool!

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  2. I absolutely loved this post. It was so interesting reading about all those people. Makes me want to volunteer sometime. Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

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  3. What an amazing God-filled weekend!

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  4. What an amazing experience that you got to have!!! I never really thought about all the people who are there to help make the event possible like you. So cool getting to read about it! I am sure you wont forget some of these people!!!

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  5. I thought about you doing this this weekend! I just know you're the best Iron Man catcher in the history of catchers! Such an inspirational post today my love!!

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  6. What a great experience and such rewarding interactions.

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  7. What a cool experience!! I didn't know that you could even do that! Sounds like a great weekend to me! I hope you got to rest a bit afterward! :) XO - Alexandra

    Simply Alexandra: My Favorite Things

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  8. wow, Rebecca Jo, I could hardly finish reading this because I couldn't see through my tears. What an amazing and inspiring opportunity!! Thank you so much for sharing this. With all the ugly that is going on in our country right now this was such a JOY to read!!!

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  9. Oh wow, this sounds like an amazing experience and that you met many amazing people! I had no idea that Iron Man events had people at the end to escort you through all the post finish line stuff. It sounds like a great idea.

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  10. Oh my gosh... Rodney has me bawling right now! Thank you for sharing these sweet stories!! If I were to run an IronMan you are definitely someone I'd want "catching" me at the end!

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  11. Wow, wow, wow! What an experience! Your stories about these people gave me chills. I could totally envision being there! I felt similarly as some of these people when I finished my half-marathon. :)

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  12. All I can say is that this post brought tears to my eyes. Awesome. Blessed!

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  13. This seems like such an amazing experience! Thank you for sharing!!

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  14. That is so awesome! I teared up a few times reading your post :) I had hoped to be able to volunteer or even just go down to see the runners come in but we didn't make it this year. I think Matt's afraid that one of us would get the bug to add this to our bucket list. Considering I'd be doing a 2.4 mile doggy paddle ... I don't see it happening for me! What a blessing you were to them as they were to you - thanks for sharing the experience with us!

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  15. Wow what an awesome experience. They didn't even realize it but they were getting a medal from one of the best people out there! How amazing that you prayed for them too- love that! :)

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  16. I always love your Ironman volunteer stories, and this did not disappoint. What incredible people!! I love that you prayed over every medal you handed out too.
    Did you see the guy who crossed the finish line, then got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend? I was watching online and took a screenshot of that. So sweet!!

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  17. Oh my gosh he was doing clapping pushups after finishing - that is just insane!! So awesome that you volunteered for that! xo, Biana -BlovedBoston

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  18. What awesome stories! Thank you so much for showing us this side of the competition that we never see.

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  19. Oh this is so beautiful! I also enjoy your stories from this event. So I have to ask, Who was it that Mary beat?

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  20. Oh this gave me the chills. I love that you prayed over the medals & I love that you looked EACH person in the eye & told them you were proud & that they were an IRONMAN! What an amazing thing! This definitely makes me want to volunteer AND sign up for another triathlon. But, probably not an Ironman.

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  21. What a fun job and experience! So much adrenaline pumping through you.

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  22. When I saw this post I thought about your poor knees and wondered if you were doing the chips again.
    As someone who struggles with memory, and keeping my thoughts straight, how sweet lady do you do this?! DO you take notes? I am so touched by how things impress you about each person.
    Very inspiring.

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  23. I have tears STREAMING down my face - I have certainly teared up reading blogs before but never like this! I am truly at a loss for words and don't even know what to say, except that I hope I have a fraction of the experience at the finish line that you gave these athletes! You have such a big heart. I always try to thank the volunteers and this just makes me want to do my best to thank each and every one of them.

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  24. What a beautiful post and an amazing experience. Thank you for sharing. I have goosebumps reading this. I can only imagine that your smile and energy was exactly what those people needed at the end of that race.

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