When Rain Came to Loretta’s

We had heard many stories about Loretta’s, but they varied mostly by degrees of heat. August in Tennessee: one could only imagine it as a smoldering place. And since my good moods are sometimes held hostage by humidity, I thought only of heat as the event approached.

So when I pulled into the Hurricane Mills Wal-Mart parking lot in Tennessee at 2:00am and jumped out of the truck and shuddered with cold, well naturally I was incredulous.

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The day after our arrival, it rained. And rained. And rained some more. Some people vaguely remembered a year here or there when it had rained. But in 32 years, they had never seen the likes of a storm such as this.

By day two the races were postponed due to rain. Golf carts teeming with teenagers hydroplaned through the backwoods. Flooded camps produced inflatable boats captained by tenacious moms. All manner of mud-fights between crews of rascally kids ensued.

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When the racing resumed, we watched as bikes piled up in the mud on the holeshot; otherwise experienced riders sought speed hopelessly in the slop; tiny kids on 50’s came off the track with hot tears streaming down their faces; vet riders peeled steaming gear from their bodies and dumped buckets of cool water over their exhausted, muddy faces. Miraculously, rarely a complaint was heard.

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By Thursday the rain stopped and the sun returned to bake the track. Friday brought blue skies. But the storm was scheduled to return on Saturday—the day of the first ever live broadcast of the AMA Amateur National Championship on NBC.

The rain arrived once more in a steady drizzle, followed by the rumble of engines on the starting line. Between the morning races, tractors resumed their tasks of plowing and scraping the track, searching for a dry layer beneath the puddles. More scraping. More plowing. When they discovered a crushed drainage pipe that would have served to drain the track, when they had scraped so low that they were almost to the water table, when they saw the clock counting down what little time remained, the situation appeared truly hopeless.

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It was then that the heavens stopped their crying. Forklifts were enlisted to bust open the blocked drainage pipe. The track received its final grooming. Cameramen assumed their positions. The best amateur racers in the world took their places at the gate. Hearts pounded as the long-awaited moment approached, when the Loretta Lynn’s AMA National Champion would be crowned.

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Watching, I remembered something that I had heard once, that though today might bring rain—it might bring grief or pain, challenges, or even death—

Tomorrow, we race.

By the Desire to Achieve

I recently heard a quote from the always controversial Ayn Rand that reads, “A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.”  

I rolled this statement over in my mind for a moment. Having spent so much time at racing events lately, I have seen plenty of creative people motivated by the desire to beat others.  So I wasn’t totally convinced.

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Last weekend we sponsored our first ever triathlon with Leon’s “World’s Fastest” Triathlon in Hammond, IN.  I had never really understood the allure of a triathlon.  You wake up early to swim in usually cold, crowded water; then you peel off the wetsuit that has inconveniently suctioned itself to your body in order to hop on a bike for a chilling bike ride; then you take your now jellowy legs to the road for a lung-wrenching run?  It’s all very impressive, but I have to say, I could think of more enjoyable ways to spend my day!

Sunday began with the buzz of nervous excitement as a chilling cold front swept through the gray morning.  Across the arena, the multitudes of sleek-bodied wetsuits chatted as they went about their preparatory rituals.

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A hush fell over the crowd with the unfurling of a giant American flag, and two dozen competitors rushed in to cling reverently to its edges.  A pure voice rang out, “Oh say can you see…” and the crowd was still.

The calm before the storm.

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As the ceremony drew to a close, they all donned fluorescent swim caps and arranged themselves according to color, lining the docks of Wolf Lake.  When they entered the water, group by group, they looked like brigades entering  battle. I shivered as I watched them go.

While they were gone I whipped up a tasty breakfast burrito and ate it. I chatted with a few people about the weather and asked them who they were here cheering on. I spent some time at transition to snap photos of people as they rushed in and out, trading in wetsuits for bicycles, bicycles for running shoes, each time looking a bit more exhausted than before.

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And then I waited, marveling at the fact that those competitors who had left the dock a couple hours ago were still out there hustling.  The crowd gathered around the finish line when word traveled that the winner was near.

He approached the finish line at a sprint, and as he crossed over it to a reception of cheering spectators and reporters, his chest heaved in accomplishment.  

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More runners followed him across the threshold, and with each new arrival, another series of handshakes and hands clapping on backs and congratulatory hugs.  

With each runner to join the crowd on the other side, the fervor in the winner’s circle grew to almost spiritual proportions.  In relief and joy they heaved a collective exaltation.  Caught up in the energy, the warmth, the epic, palpable feeling of achievement, I felt almost, dare I say, jealous?

Here, in a competition against self–against one’s own limits–was the very spirit of achievement.  Every triathlete’s face glowed with it, whether they were first, or 800th, because they had battled. They had finished the race.

I wasn’t surprised then, when the very last person to finish the race, arriving hours after the winner, came across smiling, greeted by a roar of cheering.