I have to write, because even though I’m swamped with things to do, I’m also feeling a lot of emotion. Mixed emotions, from joy and gratitude to some serious nostalgia and even longing, or sadness. Here’s today’s story:
This past weekend was the Ironman race in town. Rewind 5 years, and I volunteered at the 2009 race at the “Sun tan lotion” station. We put our gloved hands in big vats of sunblock and rubbed down the athletes as they ran through. I worked first shift so I got to be there for the pros. Most ran through without stopping, but one tall, young Slovakian with a tattoo on the shoulder nearest me came to my station. I sunblocked up his shoulders while telling him that he was doing great and that he looked amazing. He did. He was stunning: young, muscular and taller than most professional triathletes. He said a couple words to me with his cute accent and was one his way. Except, as he ran through the transition station, he kept looking over his left shoulder at me. It just took those 30 seconds to make an impression, to feel a connection. My breath was taken away. I remembered his number — 22 I think. After the race I looked it up, found his name, googled him, and we emailed sporadically for about 2 or 3 years and got to be fairly decent friends. Then, after he he found himself a serious relationship with a pretty little Hungarian woman and had a baby, we lost touch. He deleted his facebook and changed his email and the military stationed him in Bosnia — not sure in what order all those things happened. Anyway, I forgot all about him. His name was K.
A couple of months ago I got a message saying he was thinking about coming back to Madtown to race. He included his 2009 picture and a recent picture with his daughter. Wow, had he changed. Fast forward again, and K showed up in Madtown. It was super cool. Keep in mind, we had never had a conversation before! Only the sunblock, and emails, and I think he did call me one other year when he was racing somewhere else in the USA, but the phone conversation had been awkward.
This weekend, I got to give him a ride a couple of times, as I mentioned in the last post, much to the distress of the Yoga Buddy, which made me feel sad and like I was a bit of a traitor. I love the Yoga Buddy deeply, dearly, and completely. He and I are in it to the end. All that is untouched by my friend from afar appearing in town, but he didn’t feel very good about the ordeal. I guess I would be the same way if it were reversed. He was funny though. Once when the call dropped and I texted him to call me back, he wrote: “You’ll have to wait a moment while I pick up my Russian supermodel friend from her photoshoot. But don’t worry, she’s just a friend.” Lol! I love my sweet, sensitive, jealousy-prone Yoga Buddy so much.
Anyway, back to the Mr. Triathlete story. K and I had coffee and some talk time. I told him how happy I am with the Yoga Buddy now, and how my life has changed. It was super cool. I learned so much about him and about training and the military and about life in that brief time. It was also sort of strange and surreal. Like I mentioned, his appearance had changed tremendously from the guy I saw so briefly 5 years ago. I’m sure I had changed, too. Training is his job in the military now and he lost weight to race faster and has been through a lot, in general. You can see the experiences he has had in his face; yet the little kid smile and contagious laugh dramatically contrast the rugged look.
Race day was incredible. I felt like a superstar myself nearly, just by association. The Puppy Mom and I cheered for him on the race course. We stood there tracking him on my phone and watching for “the gazelle,” as she put it. We saw him at the 22 and 23 mile point, and he looked so happy to see us. His whole face lit up. Then, the Puppy Mom drove me as near the race end as she could and I ran all the way to the end to try to get there before he crossed the finish line. I made it!!! As soon as I got to the corner of the finish I asked people how many elites they had seen so far. Just then he appeared. I was so excited that I ran like I was going to see Usher or something. He crossed the line in 6th place.
Amazingly, he was so glad to see me. Asked the medical volunteer, as he was going to the tent to lie down, “Can she go with me?” I couldn’t, but I felt so honored, so humbled by the experience. I waited for him. Afterwards, he was high on endorphins and laughed like a little kid as he ate his post race pizza and pop.
(See the Hello Kitty yoga bracelet on my Slovakian superstar? — I’ll explain.) He told me how get got a penalty (unfairly, imo!!!) on the bike and had to wait in the penalty box for four minutes and contemplated quitting the race and one guy talked trash to him. The trash talker ended up finishing by walking in, which in his endorphined state, made him roll with laughter. We talked and laughed so much, sitting there in the sunshine in front of the Capitol building, with the crowds, the loud music, the joy of it all. He finished 6th overall, in under 9 hours. Amazing. 2.4 miles swimming, 112 of biking, and 26.2 of running. Stunning.
He gave me his medal. I gave him my Hello Kitty bracelet, because that’s all I had. When I dropped him off at the airport the next day, and he left hauling his stuff with my Hello Kitty yoga bracelet still on his skinny wrist, I cried. I sent him this picture of me wearing the bracelet on my right hand — look closely. When he got off the plane he texted me, and said he still had my bracelet on HIS right hand, and that he was going to give it to his daughter soon. I cried some more, of happiness, gratitude, sadness, maybe of just of too much emotion. Next year, our town won’t offer prize money or points to pros. It’ll be an all-amateur race. So, I’ll never see him again. But I will do an Ironman one day.
I feel like I shouldn’t have taken his medal. To me, race medals are sacred. There are few things more meaningful, and I’m moved beyond words to have this from him. I’m going to give it it’s own spot on my wall, to remind me that I, too, can be tough, I can get in shape again someday and do something extraordinary. Someday. If he can do all he has done in the military, if he can train on those hills and in such cold that his bike water bottle is frozen when he tries to drink, well… I should be able to get my butt outside and run. Even when I’m tired.
So, all this got me thinking about how I am so drawn to people who are really, really good at what they do. It is intoxicating to be with someone who excels in something, or someone who is almost-famous, like he was at the end of the race. It made me feel like I, too, was special, just by association. There is such a danger in that, too; I see how people fall for famous people or super-talented people, then realize at some point that they are not really compatible at all.
Anyway, I just want to end this post with a picture of my real-life guy, the one I want to be with for a very, very long time. Here he is, in all his dark-skinned, muscled glory. Isn’t he beautiful? I’m so lucky. K is gone, but I have his medal and inspiration — even though I had nothing to offer to him, except a little friendship and ride to the airport. I don’t know why he was so nice to me, I don’t know why the Yoga Buddy is so incredibly and consistently good to me too, or what I did in life to deserve all this goodness… Life can be so terribly hard, but then again, sometimes, we really CAN have it all, too.
OK more later, along with a little whining about the horrid shape I’m in lately. Hasta pronto!