May 27, 2018 was more than just the date of EventPower’s Mighty North Fork Triathlon for me. It represented a highly emotional convergence of my past, present and future life. I was a participant in this race for the first time on a relay team (Bib# 438), walking the 3.5 mile run course. Although my destination was the finish line, it was the journey that has inspired me to write.
I thought I was done with triathlons; my past
My late life partner, Steve Tarpinian, created EventPower. Steve’s vision helped to lay the groundwork for the sport of triathlon on Long Island. In 1999, he created the Mighty Nork Fork Triathlon in Southold, on the North Fork of Long Island. For many years, I was by his side, behind the scenes, helping him in whatever way I could while he created his triathlon team (TTT) and his coaching and event company. This would include everything from directing traffic on the race courses, designing and ordering team clothing or helping him handle and organize general back office functions for his growing company. Although I had my own career, I was still immersed in Steve’s world for many years.
Michael, a student athlete Steve had once coached, participated in the event this year for the first time in many years. Michael contributed Chapter 3 to Slipped Away, Steve’s memoir. Mike, Michael’s father, passed away in February this year. Mike was a great friend and support for me when Steve passed away in 2015. We graduated high school in 1971 but went our separate ways after that. Mike and I reconnected our friendship through Steve at a triathlon back in the 1990s. Mike and his family lived around the block from Steve and me.
A new-found passion; my present
After Steve passed, I felt the need to inspire conversation about mental health issues and suicide in an effort to reduce the stigmas. I was drawn to help veterans’ organizations that provide unique outlets for veterans suffering from PTSD and depression. Project9line uses the arts and Airborne Tri Team (ATT) uses endurance sports. Both organizations are the beneficiaries of all the proceeds for the two books I have published, Slipped Away and A Mouse in the House, a children’s book written by Steve in 2012.
Several of the ATT members were participating in the Mighty North Fork Triathlon this year and were sporting their team’s racing gear that I helped to design. On the back of their shirts, they have included Steve’s TTT logo as Steve was an inspiration to Ron, the founder of ATT.
Where I am headed; my future
Both of my relay partners live in my new community, Peconic Landing in Greenport. Neither had ever participated in a triathlon or knew much about them. Louisa, the swimmer and Robert, the biker were great team members and I was so inspired by their willingness and excitement to participate in the event. Our team name was PL-220 which represents our combined ages. I am sixty-four, so you can do the math to figure out the approximate ages of my team mates.
Race day; the convergence
Having a sleepless night before the race, getting out of bed at 4:30am and Michael getting ready for the event that morning in his TTT gear (Michael, his Mom and Michael’s girlfriend stayed at my house on the weekend) brought me back to when I used to accompany Steve to the events. Hearing the howling wind and seeing the dark skies that morning did not set a good tone for me, but I persevered just as Steve and I had always done on race morning, even when the elements were not cooperating.
Arriving at the race site and seeing all the familiar faces of the loyal staff members that worked for Steve for many years brought me to tears and I was flooded with so many fond memories of times I worked at this event over the years as a staff person.
The weather conditions were really deteriorating. The skies were ominous, ready to open up with a flooding rain and the strong wind was churning up white caps on the swim course. The fact that the air temperature was only in the 60’s did not help. Fearless Louisa entered the water with the rest of the athletes and she pushed through the 500-meter swim admirably and handed over the racing chip to Robert in the transition area. Robert headed out on to course with his bike to complete the seven miles. While waiting for Robert to return, I was able to cheer the Airborne Tri Team members as they headed out on the course and returned to cross the finish line. Luckily, the rain pretty much held off while Robert was biking.
When Robert returned, the rain had started with a vengeance. He passed the chip to me and I headed out on the course. The first part of the run course was on the sand. As I slogged through it, I felt like icy pellets of rain were hitting my face. I was miserable and had another tearful meltdown. But, I kept telling myself I have survived cancer, lost two people very close to me to suicide and have a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. I’ve been through far worse than walking in this cold rain; I’ve got this!
After an hour of loneliness in dismal weather walking on the course, I finally finished. Along the way I saw some of the inspirational quote signs Steve had created (the new owners of EventPower have done much to preserve Steve’s legacy and what he created). Another crying meltdown, but it warmed my heart to see these signs. As I entered the transition area and headed to cross the finish line, several of the EventPower staff and friends and staff from Peconic Landing were there, cheering me on to finish.
I was the last finisher of the race, but, I was able to experience firsthand something I had always done when I was a staff person. Steve instituted a tradition for all his events that called for staff members to cheer in the final finisher. He felt that every participant mattered, whether it was the first or last athlete to finish the event. For the first time, I was able to be on the recipient end of this wonderful tradition Steve created and it felt great. Once again, I was reduced to tears, but they were tears of thanks and happiness.
I am in a good place now in my life and I am optimistic about my future. The day after the race, I saw Robert proudly wearing his Mighty North Fork T-shirt and finisher medal. I am thrilled I was able to introduce someone from my future life to something from my past life and it resulted in having a positive impact on them! I think Steve would be pleased.