Saturday, March 23, 2013

I didn't just meet a champion, I met one of my idols...and she blew me away

I've said this before but I have the greatest admiration for athletes in the top of my sport but think they'd have no reason or desire to talk to a training-my-ass-off-to-be-mediocre-age grouper like myself. To give credit where credit is due, professional triathlete Cait Snow was the first to break that idea when I met her. After meeting her at a triathlon training panel, we chatted back and forth on social media, she came to talk to me after a half marathon we both raced and she was even nice enough to come to talk to me after her 2nd place finish at Timberman 70.3 last year...asking me how my race was the day before and telling me I look great and that all my training was paying off. Ya, that kind of made me feel like a special kid.

Then I was lucky enough to attend Craig "Crowie" Alexander's book signing event last year (you can read about it here). He was honest and open in his talk and very personable when getting a few minutes to chat before he signed a picture and a copy of his book for me. But then there's Mirinda "Rinny" Carfrae. She's a whole other level of athlete for me. A woman who in her rookie outing at Kona took 2nd overall (her 1st attempt at the Ironman distance) and won Kona the following year. She is a train hard, race harder, take no prisoners kind of athlete who was once quoted as saying, and I paraphrase, "...most people can't deal with the pain and that's why the won't be a champion. In order to win you have to be prepared and able to suffer"... You had me at pain Rinny...
So I was able to find out and attend a private event that Rinny was doing for World Bicycle Relief, a charity that provides bikes to third world countries where the bicycle represents an enormous leap in productivity and access to healthcare, eduction and economic opportunities for those that wouldn't have it otherwise. A charity worth your donation where $50 can provide a mechanic with tools and $134 can provide a bicycle built for the harshness of those parts of the world.
So of course I need to get there early, and if you know me that means almost 2 hours  early, in order to make sure I get a good seat. So I dragged J along with me to be the early birds. Seats staked, some other great Tri friends showed up, some only known by Twitter handles, followed by Rinny herself. Rinny, all 5'3" of her, walks in the place and I was awestruck. This tiny woman, essentially a human engine/piston, who owns the women's marathon record at Kona with a 2:56:51, walks into the place and I can't even speak. And what kills me is all these people just walk up and start talking to her. Don't they realize she's Ironman royalty?! A top 3 podium finisher almost every race she runs....destined for more Ironman wins in the future? You don't just "talk" to someone like that. Yes, utterly ridiculous I know. Since I couldn't work up the nerve to go talk to her I played the role of photographer for all my friends. When I finally did muster the courage and walk up to her it was time for the Q&A session. I'll talk to her after...I told myself.

The discussion consisted of her support of World Bicycle Relief, her background, how she'd gotten to where she is, what she enjoys doing and how much ice cream she eats. She was so humble when receiving accolades from the group and said she has no idea how we balance our lives, jobs, family and other stuff in addition to training and racing because its easy for her since that's all she does.

During the Q&A Rinny talked about: 
- what she's had to struggle with...not a natural swimmer she swims 6 days a week in order to get better. Preach it sister!
- talking about how even if events other than Ironman offer big purses or gain popularity, her sponsors pay more for participating/placing/winning Ironman events than anything else. Not to mention pro's want the "Ironman Champion" title. Implication? No one is gonna unseat Ironman from triathlon anytime soon
- explaining that she has no "mantra" when racing, she concentrates on racing faster because then its over sooner. Amen!
- and one thing I thought was very interesting is that she "eats to feel" not to specific caloric numbers when training/racing and is a big fan of eating lots of ice cream which flies into the face of what we always hear from magazines and coaches about our diet.

So with the Q&A over, I forced myself to get up and make a beeline to Rinny to get the chance to talk to her. I have to admit J, Lisa, Bryan, Jen and Joe all literally pushed me forward to get me to meet her. And there I was...staring this pint sized machine of an Ironman athlete, one of my idols in the face and I couldn't speak. Me...the guy that can talk to anybody, that could talk a dog off a meat truck, the guy my former boss said could sell ice to Eskimos...couldn't say a word. Rinny politely reached out her hand to introduce herself and I melted.

I explained how that with all my injuries, the weight gain, the weight loss, the finding my fire in was her interview about dealing with pain that I use as my mantra during training and on race day. The she is what pushes me to dig deep and work so hard to be on a podium. Her response? ME? You give me goosebumps, you're an inspiration to me! All your hard work has paid off, you look fantastic and you've had great success.

I...was...blown...away. Rinny spent the next 10-15 minutes (yes, almost 15 minutes!) talking to me about nutrition, power, training, recovery and our expectations of pro triathletes. She liked my "there's only 2 ways to finish...crossing the finish line or being carried off on a stretcher" line and couldn't have been more genuine, engaging, caring and sweet. I was awestruck to say the very least and couldn't be more happy that I finally got the chance to meet her. I can't wait to see her at Rev3 Quassy and can't wait to see how she does at Kona this year.


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