Not Your Average Ironman

16 03 2009

By F4 Coach Michael Stone

My Dear friends and family!

What an experience this was! For once, this was a relieving “not about the race” experience. This was never my intention. In fact my intention was to only tell a few of my friends and family. The very day prior to my leaving Boulder one of my swim lane mates asked me what my race plans were for ’09. I told him Canada. Here I was leaving the next day for an Ironman and I didn’t even mention it. If it were not for Facebook I would not be writing this report. All said with a smile.

As most people close to me know, I have a very special relationship with a young lady (now 17). I met her just after she turned 12 when I decided to race Ironman New Zealand in 2004. Her name is Kimberley and she has the dreadful disease of Cystic Fibrosis. We were “buddied” up and I began fundraising for her cause. Who knew this would become one of the most special relationships of my life. Not just with her, but her mom and sister as well. Seldom a day goes by without at least some contact between us. They really have become family and I am beyond blessed for this. In fact I am finding it difficult to share the proper words that describes the love we all have for one another.

As life had taken a significant change for me personally over the past few months, the nice folks at Ironman NZ gave me an entry to the race. Kimberley’s mom had decided to race this year for the cause and share the experience with her daughter. They asked me to join them a few months earlier, but said my ankle probably wouldn’t allow it and I had more personal things to attend to. I have had the pleasure of crossing the finish line with Kimberley twice before. It makes for a long day for person who spends most of her days in a hospital bed. She has a severe case of this disease and I will spare you the details other than she is fed through a feeding tube in her stomach. She as very little capacity in her lungs for breathing and it shows. We all know how challenging it is on our supporters, but she goes beyond the call of duty.

This was the year I decided I would battle my fear of the snow. If you are reading this, you already know what this means. As a former avid skier it was a painful decision to stop. I did re-start skiing this year by skate skiing and will be hitting the downhill slopes when I return. Now that I know why skiing became so painful for me, I can now enjoy it without the fear of crashing and not knowing why. Again, if you are reading this, you already know this, so no more needs to be said on this. I really am loving skiing again!

It wasn’t until late January that I decided that I would try to race.
I had done almost nothing other than skate skiing, the occasional swim, bike and run since Ironman Canada in late August. I had an ankle injury and I spent months sorting that injury out without doing any training. I used a mid-February one week camp in Palm Springs to test my fitness. If I could handle the volume of that week I would race, but left it out there that I probably wouldn’t. To my surprise I was able to handle the training in California and made a promise to myself that I would simply rest until the race. I had no intention of doing something destructive.

I had no idea what to expect of myself and tried to keep my promise that it could NOT be about the race, but sharing the experience one last time with Kimberley. I didn’t even know what to expect from that as she had been in the hospital for the past couple of months. I arrived in Taupo to a hand written letter from Kimberley awaiting for me at the motor lodge where I was staying. I will share it with you although a few of you have seen this: “Dear Michael, I just wanted to write you a little something for you so you know exactly how much you mean to me and whenever you’re feeling down you can read over this and I hope it makes you feel better. You are such a generous man, you give so much and never ask anything in return. You have changed the lives of hundreds of CF children in NZ because of your willingness to give and most important you have changed the life of me and my family. You go through so much yet you let nothing hold you back,
you’re an inspiration and you’ve made me feel that I can do anything.
We may live on opposite sides of the world yet I feel that you are a life friend and that no matter what happens I know I can always count on you to be there to crack a joke just to make me smile. You have changed my life and I love you for that. Some people spend theri whole lives looking for a friend as good as you. I am just glad I found you. You’re my inspiration. I just wanted to say that to the
world you may be one person, but to one person you mean the world.
Your Kiwi family will always be here. Love you more than you’ll ever know! Kimberley”

Needless to say this started the tone for the week that I really needed. No secret to most of you that I had been really beaten down for the last few months. For some of you it seems even longer. Of course her letter sent me right to tears.

My swim went alright as I came out around 1:09. Still can’t figure out how to get away from slower swimmers that start off so strong and just die. I actually swam relatively straight for a change. I had a really bad vision day, actually all week was rough. Not sure why other than the fact that I was probably just overly tired. The T1 is long and they add this to the swim with a long uphill run and then a staircase to the Transition area. First, they couldn’t find my bag, then I couldn’t find my bike. I asked for help and the lady lead me to the wrong bike rack. 🙂 Normally I have a great system for finding my bike by counting the racks from the changing tent. This time I believe they added a rack from the prior night as I am sure I counted right. Oh well just a little time and it didn’t matter.

Through the rain I rode the first lap through the rain nice and easy.
Just after the start of the second loop is a fast short downhill to the main section of the course. My rear derailleur cable snapped as I tried to move down the gears and was therefore stuck in my biggest gear. I couldn’t just go to the small ring in that gear as that would have stressed the chain even more so I just moved from the big ring to
the small ring. The bike was JUST re-cabled by CMS. So here I am
mashing away, my legs were already cramping. After about 90 minutes of riding this way I finally found bike support and stopped. It took them just over 30 minutes to totally “MacGyver” my bike. I will show you photos of what they did, but it was amazing and gave me a few more gears by taping a new cable down my frame. Time to ask Ivy to make things right! I know how much he loves working on Guru’s internal
cables. 🙂 I hammered the best I could back without being entirely
stupid, but it wasn’t all that smooth sailing as the gears were so so, but it got me to T2. I really thought my day was done out there while bike support was trying sort this out. The quote, “we are not letting you off that easy mate, might just take awhile”. I also might add watching Susan Davis in Wisconsin with her bike drama came to mind rather often!

My legs were just thrashed as I had to stand for much of the bike just
get up those hills with that big gear prior to being “fixed”.
Kimberley was waiting for me just as I started the run and I told her that I was sorry, but I don’t think I have it today and I was asking too much of myself. She told me that her “Mum” was just ahead of me and could run with her. I knew what that meant, so I was thinking “duh, she wants you to finish this race genius”! I saw her mom at the first little out and back and she was about 2K ahead of me. I kept going with no intention of catching her and then ran into Fiona and told her about the bike thing and she made me laugh about my Mike Reilly crack of “you are an Ironman AGAIN”. I kept going. It was so incredibly painful, but I gained on her mom (she’s about the same age as I am). I had to make a decision as she was just in front of me and I didn’t have the heart to pass her. I figured I could just run with her and it would be fun for us all to cross together. Then I thought maybe she wants her own race so I just kept the distance. She was
running really well and having the race of her life. This race meant
nothing to me other than the time here with her daughter and her mom knows this. My relationship is with the whole family, but it is based around the relationship with KLady. 🙂 It was fun to run with someone without running “with” her. As we approached the finish I had to make the decision of going with her and have Kimberley run the finish line once or wait and have her run it twice. Our little run here over the years has become kind of famous in her community as we have both been on TV, the newspapers and the radio. It has become part of her Cystic Fibrosis world as well and she talks about her friendship with her American friend. At 5K to go I literally stopped and let her mom go and we would run the finish line separately. That was the original plan, but we assumed that I would be first. Just goes to show you how difficult it is to make a plan for these events. The bike thing kind of changed that plan. 🙂 I enjoyed my little stop and looked out at the lake and had a little balling time. It just occurred to me that I was at that same spot in 2003 just about to finish my first Ironman and that my identity would be changed forever. I was thinking about how lucky I was just to be here, right now and I kind of didn’t want it to end. Of course I did and we had an amazing little finish. Her mom didn’t know about my bike drama and would have been floored had I passed her as she was having the race of her life. Later on she said it would have been fine if we ran together, but I could see it in her eyes that I made the right decision. Of course I didn’t share with her what I shared with you. Our little secret. I know it all this sounds funny and just to make it clear that this was not as altruistic as it might seem, I really never had any intention of being behind her in the first place and found the whole thing rather confusing, and I must add physically painful. Believe me it wasn’t like I was feeling great. I enjoyed not having the pressure for a PR.

I promised Fliegs when I decided to do this race that it would be nothing more than a training day and I would only even attempt this if we do not make it about the race. I used nothing more than a watch and that was more to help me during the morning. No computers, heart rate or power. I know very few people that pay attention to what is going on behind them even when they have money on the line. We tend race our own race and Kimberley’s mom knew I was behind her, but didn’t know exactly where. As I said this was never about the race.
Had it been, I am quite certain that most of you reading this (and I am sharing this with only a few) would not have let me go without properly training.

It is coming close to giving this distance a little break. I plan to finish out the year as planned and make it an even 10 Ironman races in
6 years. Nothing special about that number, but I am looking forward to Canada with some very special friends!

I can’t thank you enough for your support. I know it has been really rough on all of you seeing me go through rather rough times. I feel so blessed having you all in my life. This time out here was rather special and unique. I hope that I am now on the mend. I most certainly could not be so without you!

With much love and gratitude, Michael




One response

16 03 2009
Barb Kauffman

Great story Michael – there is always more to an ironman than just the swimming, biking and running….you captured what it was for this race…

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