September 19th, 2012
07:29 AM ET
Editors' note: Jeff Dauler, a radio host from Atlanta, Georgia, is one of seven CNN viewers who was selected to be a part of the Fit Nation Triathlon program. All of the "Lucky 7" crossed the finish line in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon on Sunday.
A gun, some cheers, and then scores of red caps dash off into the Pacific. I watch the pro and elite triathletes swim toward the first turn buoy as I walk to the starting area with my team. In five minutes I'll be in that ocean. I am calm, peaceful, happy. Confident. Excited.
I separate from my team and walk to the very back of the corral, and all the way to the left. I want to be the last one in the water, and I want to be far left so I could use the current as much as possible.
Announcement: “Three minutes until second wave start!”
Next to me, I see one racer tap the woman in front of her on the shoulder. There was a problem with her wetsuit collar and he wanted to fix it for her. Kindness in the heat of battle.
I hear my name being called and I saw Kurt Hoy, a friend I met on our training trip to Hawaii in May. He's with Triathlete Magazine and was taking pictures of the start. We shake hands. He takes my picture.
I laugh. Triathlete Magazine wants my picture? That's funny.
“One minute until second wave start!”
Kurt wishes me luck and steps out of the way. I pull down my goggles and check my cap. Look around. Remember my personal rules: "Stay quiet, stay calm, breathe, swim, enjoy."
I am in the water, doing my first triathlon. I AM DOING MY FIRST TRIATHLON.
Around the first turn buoy. Past the midway marker. Passing some of the elite athletes who are struggling with the waves. Being passed by some of the people in the wave behind me. Around the second turn buoy and headed toward shore. Swim swim swim. Then beach. Walking, then running, in sand. Cheering, excitement. I think I hear my friends.
Wetsuit around waist. Where is my bike rack? Is it really this far up? I see it!
Wetsuit off. Sunglasses, helmet, chamois butter, gloves, socks, shoes on. High-fives to my friends watching from the fence. A look into the stands and there is Mom and Dad. Standing. Dad's arms raised above his head cheering, Mom screaming, "Go, Jeffrey, go." I take a mental snapshot, my favorite one of the day, and off I go.
I drink some water and start pedaling hard. The bike is my strongest leg of the race. Nine hilly miles out, turn around, and come back. No problem. At one point on the return, I actually forget I'm in a race. The Pacific to my right, sun overhead, breeze pushing me along. My mind wanders to all sorts of different things, and I realize that I'm heeding the most common piece of advice offered during my training: Enjoy the day.
That moment was as perfect as they come.
Bike over, back to transition. More high-fives and then it's time to run. My goal is to run the whole four miles, but I need to walk a couple of times. Make it a mile, walk for a couple of minutes, then run again.
Encouragement from every direction, including other racers. I am running next to one guy, and when I stop to walk, he yells over his shoulder, "Do what you gotta do, man, we all get the same medal!" Constant shouts of "Go CNN"' and "Fit Nation!" and "You got this!" Unbelievable, uplifting energy. Such camaraderie. Amazing team mentality within an individual sport.
One mile to go, and I pick up the pace. Laughter again as I realize I'm going to finish the race, then tears for the same reason. Then laughter and tears at the same time. Euphoria.
I see the approach to the finish and break into a sprint. Around the corner and under the timer. Pumping my fists and a huge smile on my face. Right into the open arms of Chrissie Wellington, one of our coaches and four-time Ironman champ.
In her perfect British accent, she kept saying, "You did it, Jeff. You did it." I couldn't stop hugging her. I don't know if I was laughing or crying, but I was a mess. I did it.
My teammate Nancy had already crossed the finish line and was there to greet me. I threw my arms around her and we talked about months ago in Atlanta. It wasn't a finish line. It was a starting line. And we had crossed it. We did it. We both did it.
Hugs to my friends who were there. Mom and Dad. A medal. Pictures.
Cheering the rest of the team in. More hugs, more pictures. The most amazing day in a long, long time.
I am a triathlete. Isn't that absurd? But it's true. I AM A TRIATHLETE. So are my teammates Nancy, Denise, Glenn, Rick, Carlos, and Adrienne. WE ARE TRIATHLETES!
The physical transformation is obvious: I've lost weight and I can now swim, bike, and run. Mentally, I'm stronger as well. What I've learned about myself while training and during the race has transformed and improved me in a way that I never could have imagined. Lessons about moving forward and remaining calm and confidence and perseverance, and the list goes on.
I told everyone that I'd be doing one race, and then I was done. I'm not an athlete, so I just wanted to challenge myself with this one race.
"Wait and see," everyone said.
Now I get it. I'm not done. Not even close. Not only am I going to continue to race triathlon, but I'm now an ambassador for the sport. It's how I'm going to repay all the positive energy I felt on race day. It's the least I can do.
Triathlon changed my life.
For more from Jeff, click here.
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