The Honor of Finishing Last

Jan Spalding Race & Train 0 Comments

“In triathlon you don’t need to be good at any one thing or even good at all three, just survive the swim, pedal your bike and be able to cover some distance on your feet.” 

By PETE COLAN, Owner Spin Zone Cycling

        In the last few years I’ve become a self-appointed “last place finisher” for many of the local triathlons to make sure the last swimmer makes it to shore on their own power, then to release bike and run course volunteers as the last athlete passes. In the process, I’ve met some amazing people.

        There was a man who finished several triathlons in no big hurry; he was happy to be out there. At one triathlon, passing the last water station manned by a group of Cub Scouts, he encouraged them all to finish the race with him, which they did joking and laughing all the way in. It was truly a heartwarming experience. I came to know this man well, finishing several triathlons with him, and learned some of his secrets. He was 87 years old.

         At another race was a woman who travelled all the way from Indianapolis to complete the race that another man couldn’t. That man suffered a heart attack the year before in the same race and died on the course. Surviving a stroke herself, she was the one who administered CPR until the ambulance arrived. She wanted to finish the race in his honor.

         A few years ago there was a very young lady overcoming her paralyzing fear of being on a bike on public roads, because the year before she had been on her bike and struck by a car in a hit-and-run. It was an emotional finish for her; she had conquered her fear and moved on.

        In many races I run alongside someone on a weight loss and fitness journey. They are overcoming significant personal obstacles in their life just to be on that journey, unintimidated by the slim bodies in skinsuits or the expensive superbikes that slice through the air. Perhaps later, but for now the old Schwinn will do just fine.

         Triathlon brings together all the generations like no other sport. There is no real dominance in any age group and awards are routinely given from pre-teen to 70+. Mom, dad, son and daughter all participate together. It hardly seems like a competitive sport; on the contrary everyone cheers for everyone else. It’s not a team sport, but we train together like a team. In triathlon you don’t need to be good at any one thing or even good at all three, just survive the swim, pedal your bike, and be able cover some distance on your feet.

        If one of those really isn’t your “thing”, sign up with someone else as a “team.” I recall a race some years ago; a man who signed up a team only wanted to bike and did not have a runner or a swimmer. Just before the start of the race he enlisted me as the runner and another race volunteer as the swimmer. Together we pulled off second place and made new friendships.

        We can’t understand all the reasons people take up an individual sport like triathlon, but many are not there to win a medal made of metal, but instead the medal of accomplishment.

        We applaud all of you who have the courage to begin, the perseverance to perform at your best and the strength to succeed at finishing the race. We will always be there at the finish line to welcome you across.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *