Oct 15 2007
With my last post I introduced Aaron Scheidies and my experiences with him leading up to the World Record attempt at the Toyota US Open Triathlon in Dallas put on by Life Time Fitness (a real mouthful of a name). This post is my race report. Aaron’s race from the perspective of the one person that was there with Aaron for the entire race. It was remarkable. Here’s my story.
If I have not made it clear already, Aaron befriends everyone he meets. He is also willing go out of his way to help out his friends. Friday night we were joined by Jillian Petersen, a first year pro that Aaron met in Switzerland last year, and by Saturday night before the race our small hotel room was home to four people and a chorus of snoring sang tribute to the coming day.
When race day finally arrived, Aaron and I had met so many people my warm-up consisted mainly of thanking all the people who approached us to wish Aaron luck. Aaron shared stories of past competitions were his fellow racers had accused him of cheating for riding a tandem, but this time there was no confusion.
After being introduced to the crowd we started the race with the elite amateur wave, just minutes behind some of the world’s top professional athletes. The 78 degree water made for a warm swim. We stayed in the middle of the pack for the swim, which meant I had the responsibility of keeping other athletes away from the 2 meter long tether between us. By the end of the race when the field started funneling toward the finish shoot my “mama bear” instincts turned on and I started attacking anyone that came close to my little bear cub. Between yelling at other competitors to stay away, and yelling at Aaron to keep up the effort I did manage to breath once or twice. Aaron came in from the swim just over 20 minutes, almost two minutes slower than his goal, but we weren’t about to give up yet.
We hopped onto the 25 pound Griffin Aero-framed tandem and started hammering right away onto the 40km bike course. We knew going into the race that Aaron’s goal was going to depend on an epic bike split, and I was determined to pull my weight. The rolling 40km course started with a false uphill and the feedback from my Garmin Forerunner on the handlebars was too negative to tell Aaron. We needed to push speeds near 30mph to give us a shot at the two hour mark, but for the first ten minutes we crawled along at 21 to 22 miles per hour. My coxswain talents were fading as I gasped for air to feed my straining muscles, and Aaron was already so focused on his effort that my silence didn’t seem to matter. It may have been the only time during the race that my vocal cords were allowed to rest. As we passed the 10km mark the course crested and headed back downhill toward downtown Dallas. Suddenly I was seeing numbers like 40mph as we dipped down a series of rolling hills. I started relaying information to Aaron as cyclist appeared on the horizon. I was counting seconds between us and the other competitors and then yelling “left” to the competitors, who all looked shocked to see us come by with such determination. I should add that piloting a tandem in aerobars is not exactly an easy task. There were a couple close calls with curbs, potholes, policemen and other competitors, but Aaron didn’t seem to notice.
We came into the second transition, 25 miles from the swim start at Reunion arena. Riding full speed into downtown Dallas we took our shoes off while riding (that took practice), and dismounted right in front of Amanda Stevens who was having a great race in the pro women’s field. Aaron looked nervous as we sprinted through the transition area. I took the bike and Aaron followed me to where the race planners had set aside an entire rack for us to use as a transition area. We threw on shoes and a tether and darted out onto the course on Amanda’s heals. Suddenly I was a cheerleader again. Aaron looked tired, but I wouldn’t let him even consider a negative thought. I normally talk to myself during a race to ensure my thoughts remain positive, but this time all that attention went to Aaron. He stayed with Amanda Stevens for the first half of the 10km run. After about a mile running with Aaron and Amanda I decided to start cheering on both of them. Between the two, I couldn’t tell who was working harder, but I figured that unlike Aaron, Amanda did not normally have such a blank stare.
As we finished the first lap of the run Aaron visibly began to struggle. With thousands of people lining the side of the course I started raising my arms to inspire the crowd to help him out and they obliged ten fold. Deafening cheers filled downtown Dallas as Aaron rounded off his first lap with 20 more minutes to complete his second five kilometers. As quickly as the cheering started it ended as we headed into an underground portion of the course. Aaron began to fade, and I attempted to make up for the quiet surroundings by chanting everything that crossed my mind. Steven’s pulled away from us on a slight uphill and I told Aaron to keep pushing after her. “Aaron, that girl is really cute, so stay with her!”. The leaders of the amateur elites started to come by us, and not one went by without sharing words of encouragement to Aaron. Jillian Petersen came by on her way to a personal best run split, and I told Aaron again to stay with the hot chick. I was saying all this loud enough that Amanda and Jillian could hear me, and hoping it would help them along, rather than annoy them.
As we rounded the five mile marker Aaron’s stride started to look shaky. He drained a cupful of Accelerade as we headed into the final stretch, and I started jumping along next to Aaron and clapping and doing everything I could to keep him from passing out on me.. Aaron’s face showed determination, and I could tell that every stride was filled with pain an uncertainty. As we came into the final 500 meters I told Aaron to zip his top. “I don’t care about pictures” he told me. “I do, and you will, and you’re about to break a World Record, so zip it up and smile!” With a bit of a struggle Aaron managed to zip the front of his TYR race suit so that the C Different Foundation logo was clear, serving as an emblem of hope to athletes who share similar disabilites. I fell a few strides behind as Aaron entered the finish shoot and the crowd went absolutely crazy. “Ladies and Gentlemen, Here’s Aaron Scheidies crossing the finish line in… 1 hour 58-O-EIGHT!!! A NEW WORLD RECORD!!!” The roar from the crowd grew even louder. My eardrums would have shattered had they not been hidden behind the biggest smile ever to cross my face.
A dozen or more photographers came inches from our faces as I held the champion to keep him from toppling over. Aaron gave everything he had to the course, and the cameras, the crowd, and the slow recognition that he had finally accomplished his dream of a sub two hour triathlon were barely enough to keep him on his feet. It wasn’t until an hour later while I watched Aaron laugh along with newspaper reporters I could tell it had finally sunk in. When asked if he felt like he was inspiring to anyone he blushed and said he was just chasing dreams one step at a time.
He says his vision just a part of who he is, not something that holds him back and he has shown how true that is. He is the World Record holder. He is the fastest disabled athlete ever.
Aaron inspires the rest of us to believe again in the childhood lesson:: If you can dream it, you can make it happen.