To a Triathlete, Dying Young

Barbara Warren competed in the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Hawaii 13 times, finishing in the top 5 of her age group eight times, and winning her age group in 2003.   She also competed in a seven-day race across the Sahara Desert, and finished a triple Ironman in France that included a 7.2-mile swim, 336-mile bike ride and 78.6-mile run.. She and her twin sister rode in the  Race Across America bike event,  covering 2,983 miles in less than 10 days.  Barbara died last week  after crashing her bike during a the 34-mile cycling section of a Triathlon. As a result of the crash she was paralyzed from the neck down, and communicated to her family to remove the ventilator by blinking. She was 65.

You crashed your bike, it’s been years now.  My husband handed me the article, with the comment “she is marvelous.”  I am thinking about you, still.

You were competing in a triathlon. You must have been going very fast, to crash so hard you broke your neck.  Maybe forty or even fifty miles per hour.  Who witnessed the crash, I wonder, and did they suspect its mortality?

I imagine them kneeling in the gravelly dirt next to you, sweat streaked, the adrenaline of the competition slowly alchemizing to worry, then fear, at your shallow breaths, your stillness.

And what did it feel like to you, flying through the air for those brief seconds?  Did you have time to regret anything? Was there any intimation this short trip would be your last?  Did you  feel fear for your physical self? I do not imagine that you did. I imagine your face, the  eyes still squinted with the focus of the race and the smile that is always there when you are doing what you love.

And how did you feel when you woke and your head cleared to find the new world order, one in which your body, that machine that has transported you so many miles through water, road, trail, sand, had become your prison?  Did you feel anguish, despair, panic?  Or were you held in comfort by  the calm clear eyes of your sister, always so near?

She asked you, should we, and you nodded and blinked. She knew then, had known already, how could she not, this woman who is the twin of not just your body but your heart and soul as well. She knew but asked you again, driven not by doubt or fear but simple, yearning love.  She asked again and again you nodded, again you blinked, and she lay next to you and held your hand  escorting you as far as she was able, then let you go.

I went out for my run later that same day, pausing high in the headlands to look out at the shimmering ocean.  It was a warm day, the hawks flying low . I could hear the rabbits in the  brush scurrying from that crucifix shadow cruising past.   A biker pauses with me, resting  after the long climb, already smiling at the thought of the rest of his ride, the reward, a long, screaming downhill ride that will, for a moment, make him feel like the hawk on its effortless glide, will make him feel as you must have in those last sweaty minutes of a life well-lived and ridden to the very limits of joy.


© Copyright Sandra Stephens (nee Sandra Miller)

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