Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Life of a Triathlete's Entourage

I recently became a member of an entourage. I'm not quite sure how it happened, but I can pinpoint when the cortege formed: August 25, 2013. That was the day of the Chicago Triathlon, a major sporting event that draws thousands of athletes from all over the country. My roommate, Amanda, was competing in the Olympic distance, so a few friends and I decided to make her some signs and go watch her run the race. But what began as an easygoing idea soon transformed into a deliberate plan. 

It started with the sign making. It took an entire afternoon of research; dozens of colorful pens; thoughtful consideration of wording and spacing; and fastidious penmanship and decoration. It seemed odd to spend so much time on something as trivial as signs, but, for some reasons, it was important that they be perfect and that Amanda not see them before the race. 

When race day arrived, my friends Meredith and Laurel and I (along with Amanda's parents) woke up super early, grabbed coffee to go and headed down to the start line. The next five hours were a whirlwind of cheering, sitting, jumping, walking, standing, waiting, yelling, clapping, picture snapping and following. It became a purposeful coordination moving from transition point to transition point, looking for the optimal viewing location to make sure we saw her and she saw us.



It was when Amanda finished and we found ourselves consistently walking about four feet behind her that we dubbed ourselves her unofficial entourage. And yet we seemed to take the new title pretty seriously. We were holding her gear, offering to help with things, looking up times on our phones, inquiring if she was ok or of she needed anything. We were her loyal crew.

Then, at Amanda's celebration dinner, the entourage got it's next job. She had agreed to take a friend's bib for a triathlon in Lake Geneva in a couple weeks, and said it would mean a lot if we all came up and watched. Who were we to say no?

So, this weekend, I helped Amanda put her bike on her car and load up her gear, and then we picked up our friend Laurel on the way up to Lake Geneva. My first job, help with navigation. Sounds simple enough, right? Not when there's tons of traffic and no alternate route (pissing the driver off) and all of us are hungry, making us a little more irritable and anxious. (We eventually stopped for some food, which seemed to brighten all our spirits.) And after getting through the parking lot of cars, we were finally able to relax and enjoy the scenery of rolling green hills, farms and towering trees. 

As we neared the hotel, we decided to stop off to pick up some libations for the evening, since we would most likely just be relaxing in the room so Amanda could get to bed early (she had to get up at 3:45 the next morning). Laurel and I, not being from Wisconsin, told Amanda to pull into the Shopko thinking it would surely sell liquor...boy, were we wrong. We walked in the doors to find an outdated, badly lit department store, and no grocery section. Laurel and I were surprised, we were sure it was a supermarket; but Amanda knew full well what it was and kept that knowledge to herself thinking we had to know what we were getting into. The adventure continued as we proceeded to change our course of direction about three times from the Walmart, to the Walgreens and finally to the Piggly Wiggly, where we were finally rewarded. 

We got the hotel, where Meredith was waiting. Amanda's parents arrived shortly after that. As I predicted, the evening was spent sitting in the hotel talking, snacking and drinking. But we weren't opposed to this, since there isn't much to do in Delavan, WI. 

The next morning, Amanda headed out early to get her bike set up and check in. We followed shortly after, making our way to the starting line to make sure we had prime viewing spots. It was a chilly morning, lots of fog hung over the water, but the athletes were ready to go. Luckily, Amanda was only doing a sprint distance this time, much shorter than Olympic. 

Once again, we made sure we saw her at every point that we could: going into the water, coming out of the water, wheeling her bike out of transition, pedaling ferociously back to the drop off, and sprinting to the finish line.




We were there again to hold her gear, watch as she stretched and refueled on free breakfast--spectators had to pay--and hear all about her experience on the course, which usually includes some crazy story (this time she was hit by a truck and landed in a front yard). 

After packing up all our stuff at the hotel, we quickly ran back to Piggly Wiggly (had to stock up on New Glarus beer, since you can only get it in Wisconsin) and then we had a quick lunch at a local bar and grill before heading back to Chicago. 

I would have liked to spend some more time in Lake Geneva, exploring the area, going shopping, etc. Unfortunately, our lives cannot completely stop for these events and other responsibilities get in the way. However, it sounds as if we may try and make more of an effort to dedicated ourselves completely to watching Amanda compete in triathlons. Next October, she plans to do a half Iron Man in North Carolina, and we have agreed to go along for the ride. (In this case, though, she's trying to convince us to run the race as a relay, which may or may not happen.) She also wants to do Lake Geneva again next year and make it a full weekend event.

I'll admit, our entourage status is pretty modest compared to others. I've heard of people who act like a pit crew for athletes, repairing bikes, taping injuries and giving massages. At least Amanda can handle most of that herself, and has never asked too much of us. After all, we are first and foremost her friends, and more than anything, she loves our support. 

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