by klassman

I met some wonderful people in Nevada.  There was the great cab driver, the guy who was there to support his daughter because, as he said, “She wins all the local races but chokes at these big time events,” (NB–She went on to win second place in her age group — IN THE WORLD!) and the extremely funny cleaning lady at my hotel.

Crucial to my good experience were four friends — four new friends.

Salomon and Richard are from Panama City, Panama.  Here we are celebrating at the awards dinner on Sunday night.

Richard and Salomon wouldn't hear of me paying for gas, buying lunch or otherwise thanking them until I twisted arms and they agreed to let me buy them a drink at the awards dinner where a cash bar reigned.

Richard and Salomon wouldn’t hear of me paying for gas, buying lunch or otherwise thanking them until I twisted arms and they agreed to let me buy them a drink at the awards dinner where a cash bar reigned.

Richard raced last weekend and Salomon trained for an upcoming marathon, drove everywhere and served as translator.  He was also the master of logistics.  These guys were fantastic and generous.  Richard — a coach and personal trainer at home — helped adjust my rear derailleur.  In addition to being an XTERRA champion, he is a mechanic too.  We swam together on Friday and swapped our favorite drills with each other.  Altogether, we shared at least half a dozen meals.  Essentially, within an hour of arriving in Nevada, these guys adopted me as their Good Samaritan project and they helped me get around between the various venues and obligations.  Obligations I might add, that I severely underestimated before arrival.  They’ve invited me to visit and race with them in Panama City — an idea as exciting as it is unlikely.

The other new friends were introduced through Salomon’s instinct toward kindness.  Nancy and Teri were walking through the rain on the expansive Lake Las Vegas campus and as fast as I could scoot over we had picked them up and were driving together to the welcome dinner.  Nancy founded and now leads a non-profit organization in St. Louis promoting fitness through activity — lots and lots of activity.  A quick scan of the Go! St. Louis website shows 10 races or events including the annual St. Louis Marathon.  All of these programs as well as others are produced by her organization.

Good fortune smiled and as it turned out, I was second-to-last to board the first flight to bring me home.  Right up near the front, one of two open seats on the whole plane was next to Nancy and right in front of Teri.  We picked up where we had left off at dinner and the friendship cemented.

No legroom?  No problem!  I'll just squeeze my big frame in there and take every available bit of space left in this row of the plane.

No legroom? No problem! I’ll just squeeze my big frame in there and take every available bit of space left in this row of the plane.

And Teri?  What of Teri?  Well you might be impressed to know that she started the day with a 1.2 mile swim under 36 minutes and she — though I didn’t ask — was born when JFK was a national political figure.  Not enough you say?  How about the fact that the smiling blond woman in the photo is also currently in chemotherapy treatment and has been fighting colon cancer for three years?  Yep — she is that Teri.  The one featured on the Today Show and NBC Sports when she raced at Kona two years ago.  (I did the math for you — she raced Kona after diagnosis.)

What is the point?  What lesson to draw?  Is it that generosity and kindness trump all the lights and pizazz of Las Vegas.  Or is it that the troubles and challenges in my life are small compared to what others have already overcome — did I mention Salomon took up running and is now on the cusp of qualifying for the Boston Marathon because he weighed more than 300 pounds?  Is the message about hope and inspiration?  Richard is expecting to become a father for the first time next month and Teri’s diagnosis spurred both her sisters to get checked — one of whom also had cancer.

It is all of that.  It is all of that and more.  It is about people.  Sharing a meal, lending a hand, listening to someone’s story these are the experiences of life lived well.  I certainly don’t want to trade the experience of participating in the World Championships but they were so meaningful because of the people.  These four people in particular but in all, there were thousands who made it happen.

What am I doing with the message?  In a couple days I’ll race at Savageman.  It will be my fourth time.  Each time we tackle was has been called the hardest race in North America among other things.  I simply call the course absurd.  Each time we raise money for cancer research, I ride in beautiful mountain country with friends and I draw the season to a close.  This year it will be a little different.  A friend who is part of the annual trip to Savageman is coping with a terminal cancer diagnosis of a dearly loved family member.  Within the last month, I had my first skin cancer screening.  After nearly 40 years of playing in the sunshine at every opportunity including untold number of summers spent in nothing more than a bathing suit, I was due.  My results were good, but I’ll go back next year for another check.  At my age, my next physical will include a new set of scans for colorectal problems.

I hope that through the next year, the stories from the people I met in Las Vegas will be understood and I’ll make them part of my own story.

There is the story of Teri’s triumph — triumph through fortitude in the face of long odds; Nancy’s story of making the most of opportunities to do good in her community;  and the story of life through good deed told by Salo and Richard.

If you are inclined, please visit this page and contribute to my fundraising effort for the Joanna M. Nicolay Melanoma Foundation.  Regardless, do something now for the people in your life: The people you love most, the people in your community, and the people who you meet.

Next Post — IM 70.3 Championships where I swam happy, rode hard in the rain and blew up on the run.  It was big, big fun.