Tri Like Carin

There are always two races. There's the race - the event. The course, the people who make it happen.  All the gear, the logistics - the things that make up what one shows up for and all that leads up to it. There's also the race that plays out in the heads of those who compete. The dense, emotional collage of what racers feel, what they see, the arc of the short story every racer writes for themselves as soon as someone says "Go!"

Yesterday I did my first triathlon. Today I did a 22 mile mountain bike race. As things go, this was quite a weekend and I will tell you about my two days of racing - it was funny, hard, disappointing, amazingly redemptive, and unspeakably muddy - But I want to tell you about what I saw at the triathlon first.

The "Beaver Freezer" is a wildly popular, if horribly named, sprint triathlon down in Corvallis. It's put on by the OSU triathlon club. Carin Norris was riding with them when she died last November. We decided that a bunch of the family and friends would do the race in her memory. That's how I ended up there.

With a slow swim time, I was staged to go off in the first wave at 7am. I didn't think I'd see anyone there. It was rainy, dark, not really family bonding weather. But I saw Mel Norland who was volunteering and we talked for a bit about the race and as I was walking to check out the run to the pool, Julie found me and gave me a big hug. I know I go on about getting hugs from people quite a bit but be honest: when you're outside of your comfort zone, in the cold and dark, what do you want? Yeah, I thought so. After I got back from the pool, they tossed me a bright yellow t-shirt that said "I heart Me" on the front and "Tri Like Carin" on the back. I tucked it in below my bike kit in the transition area and managed to put in on over my windbreaker when I moved to the bike. I'm glad I did.

I had no idea. There were dozens of people on the course wearing them! We waved at each other. There just seemed more and more as the race went on and more waves got out of the pool. This kind of event is odd as it takes so long to move hundreds of racers through two pools, the fast racers sometimes have an hour or more to cheer the slower ones on before they start, and then the roles reverse. Julie got a picture of me running and I got one of her finishing. I cheered Mallory in to the finish and we all cheered as a parade of runners pushed Julie's daughter Celeah around the course in a wheelchair. She was recovering from ACL surgery and wasn't cleared to run. So her mother pushed her for awhile, then others stepped in when Julie had to start her race. Everyone was there. Xander, Carin's boyfriend was hard to miss. He must be 6'-5". Carin's dad Bill was out there. Her cousin Maddie, friends of hers, friends of Julie's. Everyone was out there with those shirts.

And eventually, everyone finished. That's the joy and sorrow of any race. You are done. You have finished your story. There is nothing left to write. It may have a happy ending. It may not. But it's over.


When Julie finished, I went around a crowd of people and saw her surrounded by a mob of yellow shirts. Friends and family throwing their arms around her. We all hug each other after these things. We've all written our own stories of the event and we bond over what we shared. But this was different. This was grief. And this was solace. This was a sea of people who loved Carin and love Julie and love Bill who was still out on the course, and love Celeah, who was in the middle of this scrum. And all those people, myself included, wanted to hold her, and maybe each other, to try to pull us all back from the hole that Carin left when she died. But we couldn't. All the hugs in the world won't do that.

But it was something. I don't know how Julie and Bill and Celeah feel. I've never experienced their loss. When Xander finished and I saw Julie and Xander holding each other -  not hugging - holding - like you were holding on to something after your ship just sank.... words fail me. That space belonged only to them.

I saw this. This was the story that happened around me. And if there is one thing, above all others I will remember about that day, it was the people who lost the most, who swam, biked, ran, and didn't pay lip service to the memory of a luminous soul. They lived. They hurt. They raced. They tried like Carin. They made me get up at six the next morning to go do a mountain bike race in the mud and rain  because I saw in all of them, what it means to be alive and what it means to be strong. I don't mean muscle strong. I mean, clenched fist, lean in to it, deal with the pain strong - real strength - because if you think your  bike race is hard, try losing a daughter or a sister.

And I did it because Carin would have done it. Because she would have thought it sounded like fun.

All of that said, I'm sorry you missed me running through a parking lot at 7:15 in the morning in the pouring rain wearing nothing but a pair of spandex tri shorts. It probably would have brightened your day. More on that later...


Anonymous said…
What a beautiful, loving, unique, outstanding, caring, emotional and beyond words tribute to Carin and her family.
What an honor to be Carin's Great Aunt and belong to such an 'over the top' family.
Unknown said…
That is truly a wonderful account of doing something in another's memory.
I just know she was in the midst of you all, cheering you on and grateful for all the love.

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