What parents will do to see their child athletes endure, even when they become adults.
I thought about this as I walked past a couple wearing matching T-shirts supporting “Stacy” in the St. Jude Ironman 70.3 Memphis. As the rain flooded everyone, the couple slowly walked arm in arm along the sidewalk.
“I love your matching t-shirts,” I said limping from a lingering foot injury. Nan and I were both wearing our newly purchased but soaked “IRONMAN SUPPORT TEAM” t-shirts.
“Well, our daughter had them made for us,” the father joked, wearing a Marine Corps veteran cap.
“It’s good for you that you’re supporting Stacy,” I replied.
“I don’t know how long we can endure this,” he replied. “She’s in her forties now. I thought these things would be over by now.
For members of the Ironman athlete family, these things go on and on.
I never thought that my youngest daughter, Elyse, would do triathlons, endurance races in which you swim, cycle and run various distances. Growing up, she preferred team sports and hated running in training. A competitive football coach berated her for being among the last to complete her required 1-mile run.
Playing goalie at the University of Notre Dame started to change that, especially when injuries and multiple surgeries forced her to end her football career a year earlier.
She turned to fitness and individual sports at a distance: running, cycling and swimming.
Being an outdoor athlete and the parents of an athlete includes enduring weather conditions ranging from temperatures over 100 degrees to wind gusts of 40 mph during rainstorms and sometimes snowstorms.
In Memphis, it rained regularly. That and parking in muddy fields – lots of cars got stuck – then long distances to travel to events including Hyde Lake for the first 1.2 mile swim.
“With the perimeter surrounded by a paved walkway,” the Ironman website boasted, “your family and friends are sure to spot you throughout your time in the water!”
But not during the regular rain and murky water with a sea of pink and green caps swaying up and down. I took several photos and cheered on someone I thought was Elyse but was later told it wasn’t her. After waiting with other wet but encouraging fans, one of them holds a “PAIN NOW. BEER LATER ”in bold, multicolored letters, we finally spotted Elyse. And she was smiling.
It would be awhile before we noticed her because, according to the website, she did a 56 mile bike course that had “a lot of scenery along the way.” Roll through the hills and embrace the charm of the south…. ”
Elyse, 27, later said the relentless rain turned this charming ride into the scariest of her life. But, after she finished that run and started the 13.1 mile run in Shelby Farms Park, she was smiling again. And continued to smile every time she passed us, with the biggest smile at the end when, almost exhausted, she finished the race first and third overall in her age group. It was his first Ironman.
I noticed other exhausted athletes were smiling, especially those with family members and others to support them. One from Oklahoma thanked me for punching him when he passed during the race.
Elyse suffered a lot to get to this point in her athletic life, but I will never forget her joy on that rainy day or the camaraderie of everyone there. She’s already signed up for more, including Memphis next year.
No matter the weather conditions, Nan and I will attend. I suspect Stacy’s parents will too.
Joe Hight is Director and Fellow of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, an editor who led a Pulitzer Prize-winning project, the Chair of Journalism Ethics at the University of Central Oklahoma, President / Owner of Best of Books, author of “Unnecessary Sorrow” and author / lead editor of “Our Greatest Journalists”.