Last month I had the opportunity to take my 8 year-old daughter, Annalie, to Santee, CA for the US 50 Kilometer Race Walk National Championships. In an ideal world I would love to have my whole family, especially my husband, to support me at my races, but the cost and logistics of traveling with four children has prohibited me from turning my races into family affairs. So I tried something new this time and brought my oldest daughter along for support and left my husband home with the other three kids. I was very uncertain how it would turn out, but it was so much better than anything I had anticipated.
We started with an entire day to relax and have fun in San Diego. We cannot seem to get enough of the ocean, so we spent most of the day at the beach getting our feet wet, climbing on rocks, and trying to keep the seagulls from eating our food. It was such precious one-on-one time together and I enjoyed having her company. She helped me get all my drinks mixed up and laid out for my race. We even met up with a friend to pick oranges and limes in her sister’s backyard.
The evening before my race we went to packet pick-up where I was informed that my race entry had been protested and I would not be allowed to compete in the national championships. This news came entirely unexpected and I was devastated to say the least. It was a horrific experience that I would not wish on anyone the night before a major competition. Although Annalie and I were both in tears, Annalie handled it better than I did and kept giving me hugs and encouragement, along with many others who were there for me that evening. The sweetest part of the evening came after I was eventually told that I could participate in the 50 kilometer race but only as an out-of-country athlete in the international competition, not the US National Championships. I made some frustrated comment about how it would be worthless for me to do the race, knowing that I would be out of the competition for national championship place, team selection, and prize money. Annalie whispered in my ear, “You’ll get $66 if you do the race”. I looked at her puzzled and she said, “That is all the money I have”. It made my heart melt to feel her love and generosity in that moment.
The traumatic issues surrounding my race entry aside, Annalie and I both showed up on race morning ready to take on the 50K. The race was 40 loops on a 1.25km course and there was one “personal aid” station along the course where you can have someone hand you drinks, gels, or anything else needed to get you through the multi-hour race. Being the aid person is quite a job to manage, and I was very uncertain how Annalie would handle it. I assumed I would come by around 20 kilometers into the race and find her reading a book, but she stepped up and managed the task like you wouldn’t believe! I had given her a list of what to hand me each lap and she stuck to it, and although there were several times that she missed me go by and would get off a lap or two, she stayed as engaged and focused as a child could. She even started writing me notes that said “Go mama!” and other encouraging phrases and taping them to my bottles before she handed them to me. She was the cutest aid crew that I have ever had and it offered me so much encouragement to see her out there working hard, cheering, and doing her best to take care of me.
On my last lap around I told her to come to the finish line, but there was no one available to take her over. She missed seeing me finish. I crossed the line in 4 hours 46 minutes and 52 seconds as the second-fastest female athlete, but I knew I was not taking second place as it had been announced during the race that despite my efforts since being notified the night prior, I was not entered in the national championship. It was an odd mix of emotions, the physical pain and exhaustion of completing a 50 kilometer race (on injured hamstrings nonetheless), the joy and excitement of making it to the finish line, and the emotional hurt of watching someone else take the glory of the second-place finish in the race that I was denied the chance to compete in.
I only had a few minutes to recover and collect myself though, because I had to go find my daughter who was still waiting patiently at the aid table. She helped me gather my things and load them up in the rental car while she told me stories about everything that had happened during my race and how excited she was to be there for me. It was the biggest blessing to have her along and I am so grateful that we had this time and experience together!