Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Anything Is Possible – Ford Ironman World Championships

Ironman competition is consecutive back to back to back events starting with a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and finishing with a 26.2 mile run. It is grueling and not for the faint of heart.

The Louisville Ironman competition this past September is a qualifying event (there are about 30 qualifying races per year) for the Ironman World Championship competition in Kona, Hawaii. Approximately 1,800 competitors from all over the world qualified and would be racing in the World Championship race in Kona.

There were 4 competitors this year that qualified to go to the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii from Louisville, Kentucky; Andy Rumsey, Jo Ann Jessie, Chad Holloway, and our daughter, Monica Murphy.

In Kona the environment was great. The scenery was beautiful and the weather was terrific. We met people from all over the world. There were 47 countries represented plus 48 of our 50 states for the Ironman competition.

We arrived as “Team Murphy” a week early. As the days progressed, Monica made final preparations as the town of Kona transformed with people, bleachers, banners and broadcast structures. The excitement was building.

Race Day! We were up at 5:00 am for the final check in. Race numbers are painted on the participating athletes. The sun comes up and the competitors enter the water. A C-130 cargo plane circles above the bay as the crowd gathers. 5 Navy Seals parachute from the plane into the bay as part of a ceremonial pre-start for the race.

A few minutes later, at 6:45 am, a cannon blast signals the start of the swim for the professional triathlete's that number about 120. At 7:00 am the remaining “non professional triathlete’s” begin to swim to the start line for position. A second canon blast echoes off the surrounding coast and crowd.

It is 7:00 am and the beginning of a long arduous journey for these 1,800 competitors. Only the most committed and determined will finish sometime in the next 17 hours.

The support group of Team Murphy is in place to give cheers and words of encouragement plus offer prayers of safe passage for our daughter and the other participants.

The professional triathlete’s exit the water in a steady pace and take off on their bikes. They will be followed by the “age groupers” who are non professionals. The swim cut off is 2 hours and 20 minutes. The first pros out of the water (both men & women) are magnificent athletes that have trained for upwards of 50 hours per week to compete in this event.

Team Murphy cheers Monica as she passes us and heads off on the bike. It is going to be a very hot day. The temperatures would eventually top out at 105 degrees. Taking fluids and staying hydrated is literally a lifeline.

On the lava fields of Kona, it is long, hot, boring and windy. The trade winds are a steady 30 to 35 miles per hour with gusts to over 60 miles per hour. There is no way to get out to this portion of the course to lend encouragement. The athletes are alone with their thoughts and physical pain. It now becomes as much a mental challenge as a physical challenge. We won’t be able to see them for about 100 of the 112 miles.

We can check on the internet to see if loved ones have passed quarter points. However the website is down. We wait. It grows hotter. The professionals return and start their run. We worry. We pray. Finally we see Monica and explode with relief and enthusiasm. We try to find out how she is feeling as she whizzes by us on her bike. Thumbs up!

Team Murphy quickly scrambles to the next vantage point to cheer our daughter as she comes out of the transition area onto the run. We decided to split up so that we can give encouragement at multiple locations on the course.

I am at the last vantage point before the athletes head back out the road to the lava fields. We stay in touch be cell phone. I get the call that she is on the way. There is a blur of people passing. Finally Monica arrives. She looks strong. I tell her that we are so proud and that we love her. She smiles and heads into the peak heat of the day. As Monica fades in the distance, I yell “See you at the finish line!”

Hours later, darkness has fallen and we wait. Team Murphy is now all together; Mom, Dad, our son Sean and daughter-in-law Katie. We have picked up friends along the way. We still wait.

Monica arrives and passes us. She has a mile to go. Thank goodness she looks good. Monica wants us to run in with her at the finish line. We take a short cut diagonally across a parking lot. We all join hand in hand to cross the finish line.

The announcer calls Monica Murphy’s name amongst all the lights, cheers and music. “Monica…YOU…ARE…AN…IRONMAN!”

Monica finished in 12 hours & 9 minutes. She insisted on staying until midnight, the final cut off. Monica knew how important our support was for the others that were struggling to the finish within the allotted 17 hours.

I am glad we stayed. We saw friends finish, plus a 76 year old man completed the course. A young lady with one leg completed the event. Another man that had been in a terrible car accident and died 8 times on the operating table 4 years earlier finished the race.

Now time was short. It was 11:30 pm. Just a few people left on the course somewhere out in the darkness. We saw a blind man finish with his assistant. But yet we waited for one more person.

This person was seeking to achieve something never done before in an Ironman. This man had no legs below either knee. How absolutely courageous.

We got word that he was coming down a long hill about a mile out. We looked at our watches and at the official timer. It was going to be close. The crowd waits in anticipation of history being made.

The young man appears out of the darkness and finishes to thunderous applause and cheers at 11:50 pm. Yes, he is an Ironman too.

I came away from Hawaii with a new view of the world. Never had I experienced such dedication, inspiration and example. We are very proud of our daughter, but then again, we always were and we always will be.

Monica and all of the other athletes have shown us that Anything Is Possible!

By Pat Murphy (my dad!)