She had been admitted to the hospital last weekend, not doing well on the new chemotherapy. She hadn't been able to keep any food down for 48 hours. Her family decided to halt chemo treatment, and brought her home on Thursday night. The trip was exhausting, and so plans to visit her on Friday evening were cancelled. Friends managed to see her briefly on Saturday, but she was heavily sedated. She had a wonderful hospice nurse who helped the family in her last days.
Robin was a courageous woman, a source of inspiration to many of us. It is hard to believe with her fortitude and determination that she is gone, but the illness was too much for her.
Robin was an inspiration to Connie as well, who wrote about her after her first triathlon.
“Wave 14, you’re up!”
“Good luck, ladies” we exchanged our last few encouraging words before diving into the swim portion of the triathlon.
We’ve spent the last half hour standing in a sea of swim caps, our color is yellow, but if you look down the boat ramp it looks like a rainbow pack of Skittles from above. Pink just headed out into the water, purple is lined up behind us.
The gun goes off and instead of diving off into the lake, we all ease off the platform, heads up to see where we can make a space for ourselves in the water. Most of us are competing against ourselves, the more competitive souls have positioned themselves appropriately in the front of the wave.
I swim freestyle a good distance, remembering my swim coach’s advice: “long means strong”, I focus on swimming “downhill” and making every stroke count. For much of the time I’m staring at a pair of feet in front of me and when they disappear I do a heads up to locate the buoy I’m to swim to next. I see I am way behind my wave, I’ve got one yellow-capped buddy beside me and taking a look behind I see a swarm of purple-capped madness approaching.
The wave behind me is catching me, passing me, it is nerve racking and I move to the side, treading water while I let them pass. I tell myself that these ladies are fantastic swimmers and in no way should I feel bad about being the last in my group, after all, my primary goal today is to finish this race.
My morale comes crashing down as another wave of swimmers passes me, then another. I’m reduced to doing the backstroke, also known as the “desperation stroke”. I’m having trouble slowing down my nervous breathing to do the freestyle. Sally Edwards, a 16-time Ironman triathlete, told us we should swim with a mantra and I use hers, with every stroke of my arm repeating “I - AM - A – GREAT - SWIMMER!” It seems like forever before I round the last buoy and start swimming for the shore again. I’m the lone yellow cap among pink, purple, blue…then I see more yellow caps swimming from behind. They’re not in my wave, they’re part of the 20-25 year old age category catching up to me. Well, I laugh to myself and think, when I get out of the water, the spectators will think I’m an awesome swimmer coming in the front of the other yellow caps. No worries. A young man grabs my arm to pull me out of the water, he says “Let me get this off of you” as he pulls away a strand of the aquatic plant, Hydrilla, that had wrapped itself around my arm. I must look like the Swamp Thing emerging from the depths of the murky water.
When I reach the transition area I have no trouble finding my bicycle, the green machine is the last one standing on the bike rack. A group of relay runners are hanging out beside her, and kindly take my bike down for me to have ready for “speedy” to hop onto when I she gets her shoes on. I once again feel a bit demoralized being the last of the age group to start the bike but I remind myself it is about doing my best…and finishing.
The bike ride was my favorite part of the triathlon. Two days ago Deb and I did the route and I had to dismount on just about every hill. After we finished, she told me that it is the toughest bike route of all the Danskin Triathlons across the country. Today I know my gears, I know which hills to build speed down. I find myself constantly saying “on your left, on your left”. I come up behind a woman who has a sign on her back that reads:
“This one is for Bonnie”. I say “Go Bonnie!” and as I pass…”this one is for Robin!”
I’m riding Robin’s bike. I love the bike, it is old but it is my first and more importantly, Robin used it in a triathlon. Robin sold me the green machine for $50, thanks Robin.
Another hill, as I slowly make my way up, I’m passing a 58 year old woman.
How do I know that? We all have our ages written on our calves. She’s working hard to get up the hill. I give her some encouraging words, ensuring her that I’m having the same difficulty with the hill. She says, “I just don’t know how to work my gears”. I tell her I’ve had the same problem. The she tells me “Ever since chemo, I just don’t have the memory I had before, I just can’t remember which gear lever is which”. I let her know that my memory can’t keep the gears straight either and I haven’t been through chemo. I hope my words were encouraging.
I made it back to the transition area, put on my race belt and hat and headed through the start line of the run. I run about a quarter of a mile, past the spectators and cameras and then proceed to walk. My legs feel like they are made of stone. I drank too much water so my stomach is cramping something awful. I decide to walk a while. I see “This one is for Bonnie” in front of me. I catch up to her and we laugh about keeping pace with each other. She asks, “When was Robin diagnosed?”
Robin was diagnosed about two years ago this fall. She has a brain cancer.
My mentor in all things athletic, Robin is a triathlete and marathoner. When I decided to start running, Robin was an invaluable source of advice and encouragement. Last year when I thought I’d attempt the Danskin Triathlon, Robin sold me the bike. She’d come by my cubicle every day to ask me how things are going, “Are you riding the bike?” she’d ask. No, I wasn’t riding the bike. I was running because I knew how to run and felt most comfortable there. I didn’t enter the Danksin that year because I was afraid of the swim, I hadn’t trained well enough. I watched Deb complete that year’s triathlon and kicked myself repeatedly for bailing at the last minute, for not working harder. I longed to be more than a spectator, to be more than I was.
When Robin came back to work after her chemo and surgery, she spent her lunchtime walking up and down the stairs. The tumor had affected her motor skills area and that is how she came to be diagnosed. She couldn’t feel her foot after completing the Chicago marathon a month prior. Robin has the most positive attitude toward her illness, always with a smile on her face.
When I find myself complaining about the most mundane problem I shake my head at my attitude, I don’t have the problems some others have, how can I possibly bare a negative attitude about anything?
At work, I could recognize Robin walking among the cubicles from the sound of her labored steps, each movement took concentrated effort. It was heart-rending. Recently Robin experienced a setback in her recovery, her speech became impaired and she began losing her balance more often. She left work a few months ago to spend the summer completing an experimental cancer treatment. I haven’t seen her since, she’s with her family, working on recovering.
Today as I stood among the other swimmers waiting to get into the lake, I could hear Robin’s voice repeating the advice she had given me a year ago, “Stay in the back, it’ll be scary with all those legs and arms thrashing about you, but just keep calm”. Every time I felt like dismounting my bike to walk a hill I thought about Robin, how each of her steps was an effort.
I couldn’t help but get emotional as I told “This one is for Bonnie” about Robin. I told her that Robin would be doing the Danskin Triathlon next year. With tears in my eyes I began to run. This one is for Robin, my mentor and friend.
I caught up to Deb, she’d had some mechanical problems on the bike. We tried to catch those malicious bunnies that hide in the grass along the running trail. They laugh at us, you know. As I got to the top of the hill I put all of my effort into running to the finish line. As I ran through the spectators I heard them yelling “Way to finish strong 1493!”
I crossed the finish line, donned my medal and turned around to see Deb crossing the finish line. I saw a cancer survivor beside me, having just finished her triathlon. I shook her hand and told her she was an inspiration. I mentioned that this was my first triathlon. She smiled at me and said “Just wait until you’ve done twenty or so!” This was her twenty-first.
The fastest woman in my age category finished the triathlon in 1:15:13. I finished in 2:27:08. My time may not have been competitive as far as triathlons go, but I was pleased with it. I did better than I thought. I imagined I’d been in the water an hour, it was only 00:37:41. Again, not a great time, but it is a foundation for my future efforts. I’ll TRI again and I’ll TRI harder, I hear there is a triathlon at Sea World San Antonio in September. That allows for two months of working on my swimming and my attitude.
I entered this triathlon to challenge myself, mentally and physically. I wanted to become a better person, a better athlete. We all have the capability inside us to see a goal, visualize the outcome and take steps to make it happen. The triathlon turned out to be more than just inspiring, but a gift to my soul. Women are amazing creatures, many of us don’t give ourselves the credit we deserve or realize our full potential. When you stand beside a woman twenty years older, who has had a mastectomy, re-grown a full head of hair and completed 20 triathlons to your one…you tend to put your life and your priorities in perspective."
What a cherished gift our friends can be.