Friday, July 25, 2014

Transplant Games - Part 3

Day 3: 20K Cycle
I woke Sunday morning early and exhausted. It was another anxious night where I didn't sleep well. The cycle competition was to be held on roughly the same course as the previous day's 5K run. According to the online schedule the first of two cycle events - the 5K time trial - was supposed to start at 9:00, my 20K race would be up when that had concluded.
Photo Courtesy of Mari Fridenmaker

Before I had left Oregon, I arranged a bike rental through some amazing and fabulous folks at Tri on the Run in Houston. These fine folks were, without a doubt, my personal MVPs of Day 3. Booking through them was not only easy but the guy helping me had me in stitches; our conversation went something like this
ToTR: What size bike do you need?
Me: I have no clue, I'm pretty much a clueless idiot that rides 90% of the time on an indoor resistance bike
ToTR: Don't worry, we can help you, how tall are you?
Me: I'm 5 foot 2 .... and a HALF! That half is very important to short people
ToTR: Then that would mean you will be 5'3" in Texas. You know everything is bigger in Texas right?
I knew I had to get to the cycle event early so that the ToTR folks could fit me and ensure I had the right pedals for my shoes, but I also didn't want to get there too early because of the 5K race. As such I decided I'd take the shuttle bus this morning (and not walk in the extreme heat and humidity). I caught the first bus of the day at 7:00 a.m. For a mile's distance - it sure took a long time to get to the starting line via bus. I was at the park at 7:45 and easily found the registration tent and the ToTR tent.

Inside a TGA shuttle bus
Photo courtesy Team Liberty

This is where things got confusing and slightly reminiscent of the trouble with registration at the 5K run race the day before. Although the website stated the 5K cycle would begin at 9:00, the folks running the cycle events were adamant the event was starting at 8:00. I was so grateful I was not participating in the 5K race because there was a lot of confusion and anger flying around that hot muggy park that morning.

I felt especially terrible for the ToTR staff. I understand people were in stress mode just prior to the start but they were unnecessarily taking it out on these folks that were trying to get people set up and troubleshoot gear issues. It was hot and every single one of them was aggressively sweating - they were working HARD! I had brought along some chocolate covered hazelnuts from Oregon and pulled them out of my bag for the ToTR team - hoping they hadn't melted too badly yet.

They put me on a beautiful bike and added the right pedals for my shoes. Unfortunately on my practice lap, it was obvious this was just too much bike for me, not everything is bigger in Texas. I had to come back to the tent and exchange it for a smaller ride. Luckily for me the 8:00 5K had just ended and there were some smaller bikes just returned that fit me much much better.

My awesome ride - thanks to Tri on the Run
Because of the confusion over the 8:00 vs 9:00 am start time - the organizers released a second heat for the 5K time trial. There were so many angry cyclists over this and once again I was just happy my event was a ways off still. After the second 5K, they had the one mile kids race. Oh my goodness - it was just the greatest thing ever! Seriously, if the TGA eliminated all the adult events and just kept the kid's events - I would still want to come and watch. Seeing these children compete is enough to melt a Grinch heart.

Photo Courtesy of Mari Fridenmaker
After the kid event - the 20K cyclists lined up at the start - which was the finish line of the 5K. A significant group of very serious looking men edged up to the front of the starting line. It appeared that they all brought their bikes from home and didn't rent. They were all wearing 'all the right gear' unlike me - I was donning my kid's helmet, a running top and some long (but not padded) UA shorts. But I did have my slick bike shoes - those are very important for my indoor spin classes!
Fast cyclists ahead of me at the start of the 20K
I was still not comfortable on my fancy bike but I figured 20K is long enough for me to find comfort with it along the way. The organizers gave us some direction instructions that I only partially understood - mainly that the course would be three giant loops (slightly larger than the 5K loop we ran the day before) and under no circumstance was drafting allowed on this course. This was important because the race director said it at least three times. I laughed every time - doubtful I would be in a position to draft off anyone.

Starting line selfie
The gun (or was it an air horn? I don't remember now) was signaled and we were off. The first few hundred yards I was solely focused on riding a straight line and getting my foot clipped into my pedal. This is not anything I have to worry about on a resistance bike and it was enough of a distraction to get me through the group start.

My strategy for the three loops would be to ride the first turn steady - get my bearings and keep my heart rate up. No hard pushing until I figured out the declines/inclines and turns of the course. I wanted to hit a negative split, but then wondered if cyclists aim for this like runners do?
20K Cycle - Photo courtesy of  Donate Life Louisiana 
Over the first few miles I steadily and easily passed a number of people, which gave me a burst of confidence. What's more is this bike made it feel so easy. When we hit the first decline I considered shifting gears but realized quickly the ups and downs on this course were so very minimal that although I probably could get some benefit from changing gears, the change in elevation was so quick and minor that it really wasn't even necessary. Let's just say Houston doesn't have the hills I'm used to back home.

As I neared the two mile mark, I saw the peloten of men all decked out in their gear and high end bikes. They looked intense and aggressive and I was so glad I was back a mile in my happy little world doing my own thing dodging pot holes.  Right behind the group of men I saw a familiar face - a new friend Mari from Team Georgia. I let out a ringing "YOU GO GIRL" and a fist pump - which nearly made me lose my balance on my touchy ride. I had met Mari on the bus the previous day to the swim event and got to know her poolside. She's an amazing athlete and cornea recipient. She was doing the Virtual Tri as well and won gold in the 500 Freestyle swim the day before. She looked so strong on the course - very focused but also with a giant smile on her face. She was enjoying herself and kicking butt!

Mari - All smiles for good reason - 2 Golds!
Photo Courtesy of Mari Fridenmaker
As I hit the second half of the bike loop I was able to see how far out in front I was becoming and I revised my goal of enjoying an easy first loop to just start pushing myself. By mile three I wasn't experiencing any fatigue and I felt comfortable on my bike. I gave myself permission to recover and coast on the very few and short downhills and on corners, but made a pact with myself not to coast any other time. Feet always moving - no excuses - no exceptions.

It wasn't long before I crossed over the starting line and began my second lap. I was feeling good and had passed even more cyclists. Again I saw the peloten approaching but this time Mari was in front of them. Again I screamed for my new friend - she was killing this course! The second loop went quickly and I was able to negotiate it easier as I knew what was coming and where the challenges were located. Near the turnaround point on the course I saw one of the fast male cyclists sitting on the curb looking frustrated with a volunteer sitting next to him. The course had claimed its first victim.

The final loop was slightly confusing because I could no longer tell who I was chasing and who was chasing me - the competitors were all along the course so I decided to treat every single person in front of me like a competitor that needed to be passed. Even though it was hot as Hades, being on the bike was refreshing. It didn't feel as painfully hot as it did during the run - I assume because I was making my own headwind. It was nice and I was genuinely enjoying myself.
Final push on the course for me
As I pulled into the final turn and prepared to sprint across the finish line I eyed my family - they had just made it in time to see my finish. I also heard the awesome folks from ToTR screaming for me "GO KIDNEY LADY!!!" that was so awesome! Once again I crossed the finish line and once again I forgot to turn off my Garmin - see this really is a problem for me. Once I did stop my Garmin the time read 43:52 - I was hoping to come in under 50 minutes so I was thrilled with this time. My official time was 43:46 and I was the third woman (across all categories) to finish the course. And although I bombed my negative split goal for the run, I totally nailed it in the cycle:

PlaceNameBib No    Gender/Age    LapsTime     Pace     Distance             Total Time
1Nicole Andergard    85     F/39    3     16.5mph     12.000             43:43.6
Lap 114:51.9     16.2mph       4.000             14:51.9
Lap 214:35.2     16.5mph       4.000             29:27.1
Lap 314:16.5     16.8mph       4.000              43:43.6

Because the finish line senser was super touchy - we were not allowed to walk past it once we finished the course, doing so would have erased our time so I stayed put near the water station. My family was on the other side so it took a while to get them over on my side so we could talk.

Unfortunately my daughter wasn't feeling well. Most likely a combination of her peanut desensitization therapy and the extreme heat had her feeling nauseous and in pain. My poor little girl. We decided that the hubs would take her back to the hotel while Anna stayed with me for the awards ceremony.

As we waited we met more amazing new friends and heard more touching and heart-breaking stories. I was happy Anna was with me to get this experience with me. Since our transplant I've been very involved with the Donate Life NW team and have developed great relationships with other recipients and organ donors. Anna hasn't had this same exposure and I really wanted her to build some relationships of her own. We were both happy to engage and meet new people - even if it meant doing so in extreme heat.

Mari won gold for both the 5K and the 20K in the organ recipient category!! I received a gold medal for my living donor category. My first gold of the games - what an honor, what a beautiful day! I was a hot sweaty stinky mess but I was grateful and I was happy.

The website stated that the Virtual Tri results and medals would be given at the conclusion of the Cycle events and I was anxious to learn how I placed. Figuring I earned a gold (cycle) and a silver (swim) I was hopeful I would be a medal contender but I still hadn't seen any results posted from the 5K so I didn't know how I did in my category yet. Unfortunately the folks running the Cycle event didn't have any information on the Virtual Tri and sent us away.

A quick stop to shower and charge our phones (seriously - does the extreme heat drain iPhone batteries??) and I was on the hunt for food. I was leaving so early in the mornings that I was missing the hotel breakfast so at this point all I had consumed was an energy bar and some Shot Blocks. I needed real food.

We found a great little bistro with live music and settled in for Sunday brunch. I love brunch - especially brunch with alcohol. My post-race celebration tradition of enjoying a bubbly drink continued in Houston.

Sparkling Mojito with brunch - yummm!
After brunch (which really was lunch if you looked at the clock) we made our way to the Resolution room. I was on a hunt to find my 5K Run race results. No luck -the Resolution room was closed and the folks in the registration room suggested we would find the results at the TGA Expo next door. So we headed over to explore the expo and hunt for race results (they were also not yet posted online as we thought they would). We had fun pin trading and visiting the booths at the expo. Anna and I added our kidney transplant to the wall of transplants and once again I felt humbled and small. We spent some good time here just talking and exploring - but alas no 5K Run results were to be found anywhere.

Anna and I at the TGA Expo

Anna signing the Houston flag

Wall of transplantation

Anna & I added our transplant - Nov 9 2007

That evening we bailed on attending the Donor Tribute Ceremony. I was operating on no sleep and feeling extreme overexposure to sunshine. My daughter was also dying to swim in the hotel pool and I wanted to give her some fun time too. It was an early night and I got my first real honest sleep since arriving in Houston. I had one more day of competition ahead of me, but it would be my longest day yet. I needed some serious shut eye.

Little girl happy to finally get in some pool time

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Transplant Games - Part 2

Team NW Swimmers
I knew the first day of competition at The Transplant Games of America would be hectic - but I expected to fit it all into my first day blog recap. But alas - I'm long-winded. Shocker.

Day 2: 5K Run/500 Yard Swim/Opening Ceremonies
I already wrote about my hot, sweaty, muggy morning 5K here. To pick up where I left off, my posse made it's way back to the hotel room for a quick change, bite to eat and to repack my running bag with swim gear. The TGA folks set up a practice swim from 10:00-12:00 and considering I had never ever once raced in a swim competition or been in a timed pool race before, I thought I should head on over and test the waters so to speak. Of the three events I would be competing in for the Virtual Triathlon (run, swim, bike) - I was most anxious about the swim.

I boarded the complimentary buses provided by TGA and once again left my family to rest in the air-conditioned hotel. The swim competition didn't start until noon and my race was the final event of the afternoon, so we knew they didn't need to be at the pool all day. Once again I met some new friends on the bus to Rice University where the swimming and track events were to be hosted. And once again - I learned that the relationships, not the competition, are the important takeaways from these games.

Stunning Rice University Pool
Photo courtesy of Cheryl Wray |
The bus driver took us on a somewhat scenic trip of the University when she missed our exit. Because of this, I hit the pool deck with about 15 minutes left in the practice time. My main goal was to stand on one of those starting platforms and practice my entrance to the water. I got in line and talked to some folks about technique and how to best attempt a dive. I was terrified. The platform didn't appear to be all that high but once I stepped onto it, I was scared. Then to make matters more intense, a couple with some serious camera equipment asked if they could film me. Lol - I said "you do realize you will be recording my first ever dive off a starting platform right?" The cameraman laughed and I said, "No I'm dead serious. But knock yourself out if you want to record this - it might make some good blooper reel footage."

There I stood on this white platform at the edge of a beautiful collegiate pool, a place I never imagined myself standing. I tried to calm my nerves. I adjusted my goggles and I dove into the inviting water. Obviously my technique sucked because not only did my goggles come off my eyes - they split apart. I swam to the end of the pool and pulled myself out onto the hot pool deck. The camera guy made eye contact with me as I lined myself back up for another go around. He gave me a sort of "better luck next time" nod and I laughed. I attempted a second dive and this time I kept my goggles from splitting but they still came down on my face, pulled by the impact from the water. Just as I was pulling out of the water again we were alerted that practice time was over and for those that were racing the 200 yard medley to prepare for competition.

Photo courtesy of

I found some of my fellow Team NW folks on the opposite end of the pool. They weren't competing today, but would be tomorrow and I asked them if it would be ok for me to not use the starting platform and instead dive in from the side of the pool. Silly I know, but I didn't want to start off losing my goggles. It was also at this time that we found a new team member. A fellow swimmer, Matt,  from northern Washington was poolside. Somehow we never connected before heading to Texas, but we were all excited to have another team member and provided him details to our team dinner that evening and asked him to join us at the Opening Ceremonies that night. Matt went on to win Gold in the 200 yard medley that afternoon. Team NW's first gold of the games!
Matt won gold!!!
After a long wait and the 200 medley medal ceremony, swimmers were notified that the 500 yard freestyle swim was about to begin. I checked out my heat placement: Heat 3, lane 6. Then I went to watch the first two heats and calm my nerves.

My family had arrived by now but I didn't want to sit with them as I was terrified. I confirmed with the officials that I could indeed start off the side of the pool and not on the block. That gave me some ease. The first heat was all kids, so it went on for a while. 500 yards is a long swim - it's a REALLY long swim for children. As each child finished their race I wanted to scoop them out of the water and hug them. Especially the ones that couldn't finish. Obviously there are no living donors that are under the age of 18, so I knew that every single child in the pool that day had survived an organ transplant. I was rooting for every single one of them and was so proud of each of them that day. I promised myself I wouldn't get weepy. I knew the Opening Ceremonies would be full of tears and I wanted to stay strong during the competition.

Miya French, age 9, from Novato - liver recipient

Photo courtesy of  Second Chance at Life, Louisville, KY
Photo courtesy of

The second heat lined up on the starting blocks and I saw that both men and women were ready to swim. This surprised me, I didn't realize we'd be swimming with men. This made my nerves jump once again. And then I saw one of the girls I rode on the bus with in lane 3. She might have been the only person there that day more terrified than I was. We were talking about how worried we would be to be the only person left swimming and how we wished we were each going to be in the same heat to keep each other company. Her husband was at the end of the pool giving her a lap count and I could tell his pride for her was beaming before she even entered the water.

My goal was to stay in the shade until may race because it was so hot that day but I didn't -I had to go root for my new friend, she needed all the support I could offer and I knew exactly how she was feeling. We had 20 laps to swim for that race and somewhere around lap 14 she started to struggle. Soon enough she was the only one left in the pool but she kept at it. She didn't quit, just like Nemo and Dori - she kept swimming. When she hit the end of the pool for her final turn her husband leaned down and kissed her. I about started crying again, but somehow I held it together. I was so proud of her when she finished. I wanted to run over and hug her, but my heat was up and my fellow swimmers were donning their swim caps, adjusting their goggles and preparing to take their mark.

A woman that I had been talking to since the first heat asked who was counting laps for me. I didn't realize we had to provide our own counters and must have looked terrified. She said not to worry, that she didn't swim until the next heat and that she would be honored to count laps for me. And then I cried. I didn't want to, but here was a selfless woman who should have been preparing for her own race next, and instead she wanted to count laps for me. Again I was reminded what these games were all about. She was a burst of confidence sent to me exactly when I needed it most.

None of these swimmers are me :-)
Photo courtesy of donatelifelouisiana
I stood off to the side of my platform while everyone else climbed up - the race started and I was in the water. I was keenly aware of how fast the men were swimming in the low numbered lanes but I tried to ignore them and instead focus on me. It was all about the breathing - and my newest cheerleader at the end of the pool counting my laps. There were a few times where I was overwhelmed by all the splashing and excitement but with some focus I was able to calm myself and continue. I finished in 11 minutes, which was faster than the 15 minutes I was trying to beat in my head. Although not a fast time by regular standards, I thought it was good for my first pool race. Of course there was no way to tell how I would fare until all the heats were through.

My husband, daughter, BFF and I went to find some food and some shade and just relax for the rest of the afternoon. We heard the bell for the final lap of the final heat and made our way back to the pool deck to hear the results. One man was still swimming. He was the only one in the pool and a crowd had gathered around him to provide him strength and motivation. By the time he finished his final lap - everyone was surrounding him and cheering and clapping for him. And again I was in tears. I can't express in words how unified these athletes are - it isn't harsh competition, it is about supporting one another and encouraging everyone. This initial day of competition was unlike what I expected - but it was better. So much better.

Me and my littlest fan waiting for results

Unlike during the 5K earlier that day - the medal ceremony was held immediately following the event. I was awarded a silver medal for my 500 freestyle and to be honest, I'm still in shock over that little feat. The gold medal went to the woman swimming in the lane next to me, having her swim figurative circles around me really did push me though and I was happy to have witnessed her race. She was a 26-year liver recipient. So inspiring!
My first podium - SILVER!!!
We headed back to the hotel with just about an hours time to shower, change and meet the team for our group dinner. The entire day was rush rush rush! After our team dinner, we all walked a mile (in the blazing Houston heat) to the BBVA Compass soccer stadium for the Opening Ceremonies.

Opening Ceremonies
The athletes congregated outside (in the heat and sun) to march into the stadium by state. It felt like an eternity until the "Ns" came around but it was really cool marching into the stadium and being announced like we were Olympians. After we did our march through the stadium, our team was escorted to our seats while Blake, Dolores and I - Team NW's living donors, were sent back outside so we could march in a second time as part of the Living Donor congregation. It was very cool and will be a memory I hold close to my heart for a long long time to come. 

Laura honoring her father
Jennifer, Marie & Laura staying cool
before the Opening Ceremonies
Unfortunately the soccer stadium had no roof and was thus not air-conditioned. I have never been so hot in all my life. I stood at one point to use the restroom and my pants, soaked in sweat, nearly fell off me. It was miserably hot but I didn't want to miss an minute of the ceremonies. If you are so inclined, the Opening Ceremonies were recorded, you can view them here.

Team Texas marching in.
Photo courtesy of

There was much hoopla around the ceremony, Scott MacIntyre from American Idol, himself an organ recipient, performed. A balloon space shuttle was erected and of course there was the lighting of the cauldron and fireworks to end out the night. It was a great way to kick off the games!

Balloon Space Shuttle -
doesn't look like a space shuttle to me....
Heading into the stadium representing Team NW!

But it was a very long day, especially after having been outdoors in extreme heat for 90% of the day. So following the opening ceremonies, I crashed, hard. The Cycle event and third event of my Virtual Triathlon was happening early the next morning and I needed rest.

The second day of swimming occurred while I was Cycling, but Team NW stole the show on Day 2 - although I wasn't there to witness it, I was so amazingly proud of them! Here are some pictures of all the victories they came home with that day.
Bronze for Laura!

Another Gold for Matt!
Gold for our relay team!
Jennifer won gold after gold after gold!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Transplant Games of America - Part 1

I'm having a difficult time trying to put my TGA experience into words this morning. It was a long but short week in Houston filled with so many events, experiences and memories. It wasn't a normal athletic event. My physical boundaries were pushed in ways I had never experienced before thanks to the extreme heat and intense schedule. But more than the competition, it was an opportunity to meet and talk and become part of a larger community. It was a humbling week in Houston.

Must pack our Team NW shirts honoring our friend Kurt
Must also pack lots of shoes - not a wedge or stiletto among them!

Day 1 - Travel Day
Perhaps one of the most exciting things about this trip was that my BFF and kidney recipient, Anna joined my family for the trip. She drove down from Seattle on Thursday night and we all flew to Houston together on Friday. I was so excited to share this week with her. She wasn't going to be competing due to her Lupus, but she was coming to attend the special events and to cheer me on and that was important to me.

Mimosa & Bloody Mary at PDX
Houston-bound Ya'll!
Our flights were good but once we landed in Houston, everything started to fall apart:
  1. Our rental car reservation disappeared. No car so we had to take a taxi to the hotel.
  2. The baggage carousel at the airport broke before our luggage came out. As such we had to wait for an hour to retrieve it.
  3. Upon check in at the hotel, we were told "According to our system, you checked in yesterday" - the girl at the desk was fixing to send us to our room and actually said "If someone is in there, come back down" - No way - we got a different room. Oh and our reservation was supposed to be until Wednesday but they also had us checking out on Monday.
  4. With all these delays, we made it to TGA registration with minutes to spare before closing for the day. We picked up our credentials for the week and swag and made my way next door to get my race bib for the 5K that started at 8:00 a.m. the next morning. Unfortunately, they didn't have me registered. Now this is comical because originally I was ONLY registered for the 5K and a track event or two. I went to the "Resolution" room and hung out there for 45 minutes while they tried to get me registered. I was told to report to the 5K race at 6:00 a.m. to pick up my bib. Let's just keep in mind that I was still on Pacific time so that 6:00 a.m. hour was going to feel like 4:00 a.m. Sigh - Houston was not showing me any Southern hospitality on our first day.
I was frustrated but with all the hurdles we encountered in about a 90 minute window, I don't think I was being unreasonable. We were all starving and the girl needed to take her peanut (we hadn't given her one in the morning because of the flight - so the evening dosage/therapy was a MUST).

As we were walking back to our hotel I saw some of my Team NW teammates and ran over to say hello. During this time my husband, daughter and BFF got their first "pin attack" as we came to call it. During the week of TGA, teams bring little pins to display and trade with other teams. It's a fun tradition and some people take it VERY seriously. Team NW had 10 members but only three of us decided we wanted to trade pins, so we each were going to have 20 to trade. That means our pins were HIGHLY coveted and in strong demand. We had to wait until our team manager arrived on Saturday though to get our pins so we went into Friday without anything to barter or trade. While I was chatting with my teammates, my crew had their first 'pin attack'. A woman approached them, looked at their credentials and demanded a Team NW pin. OMG. First off Scott and Anna had no idea what she was even asking for - Anna started digging in her purse for a writing pin. Luckily I had already told my daughter about the pin trading so she was able to tell the woman we didn't have ours yet. The woman was very disappointed and asked them what hotel we were staying in.....yes people are very serious about pin trading.

My favorite two pins: Team NW and 5K

Day 2 - 5K Run/500 M Swim/Opening Ceremonies
I didn't sleep well that night. First off I was still on West Coast time so forcing myself to bed at 11:00 was only 9:00 and even though I was exhausted from flying my body wasn't ready for sleep. Then I did what I always do before a big race in a new town, I woke every hour or so. When my body woke me at 5:30 (3:30 PT), I got out of bed. I had set out my race clothes and gear the night before so I got dressed and ready and headed out the door, leaving my family to get a little more shut eye. The race didn't start for hours and I didn't need them to babysit me while I got myself registered.

By the time I was showered, dressed and hydrated it was only 6:00. The shuttle buses didn't start running until 7:00 so I decided to walk the mile to the starting line. When I emerged from the crisp air conditioned hotel I felt as if I was walking into a sauna. Even at the early hour the heat and the humidity was uncomfortable. I was grateful though for the mile walk to get my body acclimated before I started racing.

So here is the thing about Houston on Saturday. It is creepy - like zombie apocalypse creepy. There were no cars, no people - empty!  I didn't stop to use one single crosswalk in the 11 or 12 blocks to the starting line. The only people I encountered were transients and a two person drug hand-off about a block in front of me. It was eerie.  I spotted a Starbucks and was thrilled to put some caffeine in my body but oh look - Starbucks doesn't open until 7:00 a.m. on the weekends. That pissed me off - in the Pacific NW, our coffee shops are open at 4:00. A few blocks later I found a McDonald's so I ordered a latte - they hadn't turned on their espresso machines so I had to settle for a regular iced coffee.

I arrived at the 5K start around 6:30. It took me maybe five minutes to get registered. Thanks to the super kind man in the TGA "Resolution" room the night before, my registration form was all filled in and printed out and my number, shirt and 5K pin (remember those important pins) were waiting for me. I knew I didn't need to arrive so darn early. I looked around - it was just me, a few volunteers in the tent area and some folks setting up the inflated finish line.

I decided to hydrate some more. It was already 85 degrees and my leisurely walk had me sweating. I sat down on a bench near the finish line and this is where my TGA experience really started.

Up until this point everything had either been a series of unfortunate events, or me stressing out about said events. But here I sat with an hour and a half to my race and nothing to do. Other runners started filling the park, not many at this hour but a dozen or so. I started talking to people - as I tend to always do - and the real spirit of the TGA hit me like a brick in the face.

I made some new friends that morning. First I met couple from Louisiana. They were a donor family, their son had died in a car crash at 18 and they donated his organs. They were there to walk in his honor and to meet - FOR THE FIRST TIME - a woman that received his heart. My eyes are just welling up writing this. They were so kind and grateful that the games would give them an opportunity to celebrate their son's life and to meet the life that continues today because of him. They were wonderful.

Another couple I met was from Team SoCal - Jim and Keri. I talked to them for a long while and saw them at every single event I competed in after that. They were AWESOME! And they gave me my first pin, even though I didn't have one to trade them back at that moment. I promised to find them at the swim competition that afternoon and return the favor.

Before I knew it - that hour and a half had dissipated as I talked to dozens of amazing people and heard their transplant stories. This was what these games were really about. I had forgotten all my travel frustration from the day before, I had even stopped paying attention to how darn hot and humid it was outside. I just engaged and talked to people. It was wonderful.

Around 7:45, I made my way over to the starting line. The sun was in full force and the humidity continued to rise. I felt like I was breathing in steam and wondered how I was going to be able to run in these conditions. I've raced in 100 degree heat but never with such high humidity. I was thankful this was only a 5K and not a half marathon. The starting line was packed -this event was open to not only organ donors and recipients but also to family members, donor families and the community.

Starting line selfie
I lined up near the front of the pack - which I rarely do but I also knew that most people were setting out to walk this and I didn't want to get stuck behind them. The 5K was the first event in the Virtual Triathlon that I was competing in - followed by the 500M Swim and the 20K Cycle. I'm a novice to swim and cycle so I knew I had to do my best in the run in order to do well overall.

At 8:00, the organizers announced that we would be starting late. Urg - the temp was rising and I was trying to find shade standing behind random tall people. This was not how I wanted my first event to go. I continued talking to people at the starting line and met even more cool people! I quickly surmised that several of these people were lined up at the start because they were fast, I was ok with that - told myself to run my own race. I didn't want to pass out during my first event. About 20 minutes past the scheduled start time, the gun was off and we were running. The course was this long loop - not a standard out and back. We actually ran over the finish line early on and past the starting line at the end of the course. As I was coming back after the first turn I got my first view of all the people behind us. It was a biiiiiiig crowd.

I'm not going to lie. Running in this kind of heat and humidity - on little sleep - sucked. It really sucked. I had a goal of running 8:30 minute miles because I know I can easily sustain that speed for a 5K. I wanted to do well but I also knew I had another event his afternoon so I was trying to pace myself for future events. I met my 8:30 goal for the first mile but then fizzled and ran a positive split race running slower each additional mile. Not my intended goal but it was hot and the final mile was brutal as I lost the cooling headwind and the sun was beating down on my face. It was rough.

The cool thing about running an oval course like we did is that I got to see my Team NW folks twice on the course. I was the only one running from my team, but fellow kidney donor Blake speed-walked/raced it (and did great) and the others walked together. It was cool travelling so far away and seeing familiar faces on the course. Also near the finish I saw my own personal cheering section- cowbells ringing - and I was happy to see my hubby, daughter and BFF.

My time wasn't anywhere near a personal record for me, but my husband told me I was easily within the top 10 women that finished so I knew that I had a chance at medaling since I was hoping those women that finished before me were not in the living donor category. My husband told me I ran it in 26 minutes (and some odd seconds) according to the race clock at the finish line. My Garmin clocked 27:30 but I forgot to shut it down after crossing the timing pad (as I've been known to do a time or two, lol).

I grabbed some water, got my finisher's medal and found my family. As I was hydrating a little girl approached me and asked if she could give me a beautiful beaded bracelet that she made for the runners. It was so sweet and reminded me again that my race time wasn't what was important this week, it was the experience. What a sweet child.
Finisher medal, bib and bracelet 

What I didn't know at the time was that although I was officially registered and I had a bib with a timing chip -the timing chip was never activated. When the results were published the following day it appeared that I hadn't even run the event. I was actually pretty devastated because this was THE event I came for originally. Luckily for me, the race organizers were quick to admit their fault in not having active timing chips for a number of participants and allowed me to enter my Garmin data for an official time. I'm so THANKFUL they allowed this, most races would never do this and I'm blessed they did. I think my Garmin time was slow because I didn't shut it down right away (got water first) but at least it put me in the ballpark and I am grateful.

I met my Team NW walking teammates at the end of their course and walked them into the finish. Two of them are swimmers and as I had finished my run, I was already focusing on my next race of the day - the 500M swim. So I peppered Laura and Jennifer with questions. We took some group photos and headed back to the hotel to shower, change, eat and get ready for the swim event that started in a few hours. This was going to be a very long day.

I had intended to have this post be about the first day of competition but it's too long already. I'll come back and write about the swim and Opening Ceremonies in my next post. Stay tuned!