When writing my story for the SpeakUp Race Team newsletter in August, I had set a huge goal - to complete Ironman Florida. After being pulled from the race course on my bike at Ironman Chattanooga, some days that goal seemed too big, unattainable. I was so afraid to devote so much of my heart again to an event that I had previously failed. So, I trained harder, I raced better, and I constantly reminded myself why I wanted to achieve my goal. I worked with my incredible coach, Will Turner, who himself has unbelievable goals and the drive to go out and achieve them (check out his story - live your bold 60@60). He pushed me week after week and set me up for absolute success. I spent my season racing consistently, overcoming hurdles that are part of long races, and focusing on being mentally strong. I found so much joy in my season, and I was able to share Cameron’s message with athletes at every race.
When I sat at my desk at work a few weeks before Ironman Florida and watched Hurricane Michael hit the Florida panhandle, I was absolutely devastated. My heart went out to the communities that had been hit by the storm, and I was disheartened that achieving my dream seemed to be out of reach for the year. Three weeks out from race day, Ironman emailed all Florida athletes announcing that the race would be moved to Haines City, but would still be able to take place. I felt an overwhelming rush of emotions - elation that I would be able to compete, equally met with nerves for what the new race course would bring. My fears of repeating history on my bike were not calmed by finding out the course would have several big hills to conquer on a two-loop course. I tried to stay calm and trust that I was as prepared as I could be and know that I was mentally stronger than I had been a year ago, but it’s a hard battle to fight self-doubt and fear. Sometimes those emotions sink in, and I had learned to acknowledge them, but combat them with my own arsenal of mental strength tools. I had done the training, I had to trust myself, and I had to acknowledge how far I had come in the last two years.
When race day came, I woke up feeling nauseous, but otherwise mentally clear and strong. I was ready to face the day, and I was ready to become an Ironman. I have never wanted anything so much in my life, and I’ve never been so proud of myself of completing every step towards achieving my goal. I held on to that pride of getting to that start line ready to face down my fears and challenge myself again. As I raced through the swim, every stroke I took, I repeated my mantra for the day: “Cameron, I am your Ironman.” I must have said it over a thousand times during those 2.4 miles. Every word taking a stroke. Then repeat. Every buoy, getting closer to making those words true. While the swim had some challenges (thankfully no alligators), I felt strong coming out of the water off my second loop. I drew so much strength from Cameron, her incredible legacy made possible by this Foundation, and from the amazing group of people supporting me (both in Florida and at home). I had my parents, Shelly, Scott, and Kimmie, my biggest cheerleader, Grace, and two fantastic race day coaches, Coral and Leo, cheering me on out on the course throughout the day. Their support kept me focused, positive, and thankful and gave me mental and physical strength that I needed to continue on each leg of my race.
I put on my bike gear, ran out to get on my bike, and I was ready to fight. I knew this would be the most challenging part of my day and that I would have to battle through the next 112 miles. There were certainly peaks and valleys (both personal and topographic!), but the best part of my day was seeing my support squad everywhere on the course. They kept me going and knowing that I would see them every 25 miles allowed me to push through my toughest mental spots and continue fighting. I was facing hills that felt like mountains, managing a stomach that was still not settled (and starting to make it hard to eat), and coping with the fear of looming time cut offs that I had faced before. I refocused on the hills between miles 75-100, reminding myself to be proud of what I was accomplishing, to be proud of every hill that I beat, to be proud of facing down and conquering fears.
Finally, after two years of sinking my heart in to training every day, I passed mile 100 on my bike for the first time. I did not anticipate how much that moment would mean to me. I was completely overwhelmed with emotions – I have never been prouder of something I have been able to accomplish or more thankful for the journey I have been on to get to that moment. I shared that moment with my incredible family who was cheering as I passed the mile marker, then finished out the last 12 miles of my bike feeling grateful.
When I headed out on my run, I knew there were still huge hurdles to face in my day, but I held such gratitude in my heart that I was ready to face them. As the miles ticked by, the weather turned. I ran mile after mile in severe thunderstorms, just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other and attacking hill after hill with everything I had in me. Unfortunately, my stomach still had not settled, and it was keeping me from being able to keep down any nutrition. When I made it through the second loop of the three-loop run, I made the final time cut off of the race, but I felt the best decision for my health was to end my race after over 18 hard fought miles on the run. While this decision was incredibly hard to make, I still have nothing but pride in my race.
Over the last two years, I have faced and conquered fears, achieved personal goals that seemed impossible, and have become stronger mentally and physically than I could have imagined when I join this race team. On the day I raced in Florida, I found an old post I had made four years prior saying that I had completed my first 3-mile training run for the 2015 SpeakUp Shamrock team (the first training run I had ever completed for a race). I am forever grateful for the incredible members of this race team who have supported me every step of the way, for the wonderful purpose we race for, and for Cameron who has given me the strength to chase these dreams.