The SoCal wildfires claimed another victim this past weekend--the San Diego Triathlon Challenge. The half-Iron distance race was canceled mainly due to the poor air quality that has lingered in the San Diego area since the recent fires burned throughout the county. The race organizers were also hesitant to use city facilities, including police and emergency personnel, so soon after they were pushed to their limit while fighting the fires.
The SDTC is the main fundraiser for the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which benefits physically challenged athletes with equipment, coaching and race expenses. While volunteering for it last year I was struck with how much the idea of supporting the cause was interwoven into the fabric of the race. The challenged athletes competing were continuous sources of inspiration for fans, race volunteers and athletes.
Often, races will support a cause or organization, but these beneficiaries sometimes seem secondary to the competition. Unlike walks for breast cancer or the March of Dimes, most long-distance races tend to be focused on the actual race rather than the people it's trying to help. The SDTC was as much about supporting the Challenged Athletes Foundation as it was about providing a great venue for a half-Ironman.
The organization itself experienced a significant setback about a month ago when a fire burned a good amount of race-day equipment at the CAF warehouse and offices. It was a huge blow to the race organizers, but with the help of willing volunteers and donors, they were set to hold the 2007 edition. Until the wildfires.
Canceled races mean dashed hopes and unfulfilled seasons for many. They also hurt the goals of fundraising organizations that rely heavily on being present in people’s minds when they think about where to donate time and money. Here’s hoping 2008 will be a great bounce-back year for the Challenged Athletes Foundation and the many remarkable athletes it benefits.
The title of this blog is a term often used, in numerous incarnations, throughout the sports world to describe the will, determination and hard work that athletes conjure during their pursuits. We talk about fires in our heart, the heat of the moment and so on and so forth. This past weekend, the term took on new meaning for me.
Currently, the fires raging across Southern California have momentarily displaced over half a million people and will undoubtedly leave hundredsperhaps thousandspermanently without their home or possessions. One of the fires, the Witch Fire, began near the junction of route 78 and 79 around noon on Sunday, the 21st. Around nine o'clock that morning, my girlfriend Emmy and I were driving that same road, returning from a camping trip with the Tri Club of San Diego in Borrego Springs.
The trip included a 60-mile bike ride from the campground to the Salton Sea and back. It would be the longest single ride I'd ever done. Along with my co-workers Toby and Michelle, we started the ride in the early morning with the desert heat at around 80 degrees. The Santa Ana winds were just picking up.
Three hours later I was a mess. I was riding alone (I couldn't keep up with Toby, who's endurance gene needs to be bottled and sold. Michelle and Emmy, I would find out later, had given up 10 miles after the turnaround at the Salton Sea and been picked up by a SAG wagon.). I was bereft of fluids and down to my last pina colada Clif Shot Blok. The temperature was above 100 degrees, the windstailwinds on the way down to the Seabecame vicious headwinds on the (mostly uphill) return trip. The struggle to maintain 11 mph on the flats became the fight to hit 10, then 9. On uphills I began to get excited if I could hit 7 mph.
If it wasn't for Brian Long, Tri Club president, and Active co-worker Arch Fuston driving around filling up water bottles with ice water and Gatorade, I might have stopped, sat down and waited to get picked up. Instead, I took what I could and continued on, slowly, but determined. Something was fueling my fire.
I finally made it to the meeting spot, laid down on the grass for half an hour, then joined up with Toby to roll the final three miles back to camp. We were offered a ride back, but I refused. Again, I had to finish.
Now, as fires rage across San Diego County and footage of destroyed homes is on every TV station, I look back at the weekend and realize how silly my ordeal was. The winds that stymied me, the heat and low humidity that kept me gasping for water; they were gearing up for a more devastating performance.
With ash and smoke filling the air, it's incredibly difficult to exercise outdoors. In an area known as a hub for endurance athletes, this changes the landscape. Runners and cyclists are gone from the streets. Teams have canceled practices and games. And while the fires will eventually go out and fields will grow back, many consumed homes contained bikes, running shoes, baseball gloves and basketball hoops. Hundreds of active people are going to find that getting back in the game is going to be a lot harder than we can imagine. My prayers go out to them.