The Vineland Aquabike Race now owned by Ironman Corporation snakes across California’s Napa Valley with beautiful scenery covering a distance of 2.4 miles of swimming in the Russian River and 112 miles featuring gentle rollers as athletes cycle through the famous wine country and quaint towns.
It’s considered to be perfect to the level of challenge by seasoned Aquabikers and triathletes alike who are used to racing across the hottest, hilliest terrains on the planet.
In 2012 I decided to complete in the Vineman Full Distance Aquabike.
Bike. Swim. Done.
I was not your average athlete; in fact I was not your average anything. I dabbled in my first swim lesson at my local YMCA – Terrified of Water just 9 months before The Vineland Aquabike Race.
I knew I had high levels of stamina, but this was another matter altogether because most of the entrants were super fit swimmers and cyclists in their prime.
I was in my mid-forties and little competitive experience.
However, the one thing I possessed was a burning belief that I could, and would, complete the race. I didn’t have any self-limiting beliefs.
It was a cool morning at 4:30am in Napa Valley when I entered the transition area wearing yoga pants, a bright green jacket and orange flip-flops, inviting cheers from my husband and children. Yet, the air was cool and the Russian River was warm. The transition area along the riverbank looked like a horror film – steam rising from the river as the sun was rising over the horizon.
The race started and no surprise to me, I was soon lagging behind seasoned swimmers.
I had a very strange way of swimming that meant I barely rotated my hips with each stroke and moved forward looking more like a sleeping snail than a seasoned swimmer.
Half way through the bike stage, I remarkably took the lead in my age group and 10th overall.
Rather than stopping for the traditional Special Needs (nutrition is placed in athlete’s special needs bags and placed out on the course) break that most endurance athletes took part in, I took a fraction of the time the others took and just kept going while eating a Payday candy bar straight out of a wrapper as I cycled to give my legs and mind much needed energy.
By the 90-mile mark, I had built up a substantial lead among athletes in my age group.
It was an impressive performance but I was inevitably going to relinquish this lead when I needed to stop for a nutrition break.
Only I never needed to do so.
I was driven by the belief that I could rest for as long as I wanted once the race was over.
I did the unexpected in finishing my first full distance Aquabike.
I did the truly remarkable in not just winning my age group, but gathering a staggering 10-minute arrival after the overall winner.
I decided what was possible for me. Not my family, my friends or even society as a whole, I set the parameters in my life and I set my own beliefs about what I could achieve.
My friends and training pals realized what was possible and started to believe that if I could do it, so could they.
They didn’t suddenly increase their stamina overnight, but they did increase their belief in what was possible.
I was a confident athlete, even after 20+ consecutive failures I had experienced in life.
Two years later, I pedaled to the Michigan Masters Time Trial Championship. I made the national Aquabike ranking as 1st in Michigan, 2nd in the Midwest and 13th in the nation.
The unthinkable happened. I was on a training route I had cycled many times when pick-up truck passed me as I was going downhill at 25 mph. The driver of the truck took a sharp right and turned right in front of me.
I felt like a Superhero flying in the air. Until my face planted on the cement. I looked like something out of a horror film. I thought my back right were fractured. I thought my beloved racing bike was shattered.
My husband asked me. My friends asked me. My training pals asked me. “Loretta, how did you get back on the bike? I mean, how did you continue to swim and bike and earn the ranking as an Aquabiker?”
“How did you learn to swim after struggling so long in the water?”
“How did you overcome your fears?”
I am a believer. If missed the many opportunities to learn from other swimmers and cyclists, how could I fail? I can think and believe any way I want to.
And guess what?
So can you.
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