In this journey toward finding myself again, I decided to volunteer for the Pole Pedal Paddle. I had only heard rumors of this amazing race here in Bend, Oregon; I had yet to experience it first hand. And I really needed to surround myself by people who put me in a state of awe.
And so, at 9 AM I found myself standing in the chilly wind at Riverbend Park in the heart of Bend, with a couple dozen other volunteers, awaiting instructions.
The Pole Pedal Paddle begins at the top of Mt Bachelor, where race participants head down the mountain in waves. At the bottom, they switch to Nordic or skate skis and ski an 8K course to their bikes. The ride through the mountain roads of the Mt Bachelor area to the bike-to-run transition, where they run their hearts out over 5 miles to the boat launch. Paddling up stream and then down stream and then back up stream, they hop from their boats and sprint 1/4-mile to the finish, where all of Bend and the spectators are waiting with applause at the Les Schwab amphitheater.
Bend was born to be host to a plethora of incredible endurance athletes. The heart and soul of what makes Bend, Oregon a cool town to live in is the people. The people here live fitness. And that was not a typo. The fact that a race has existed for 37 years that includes alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, road cycling, running, and kayaking in one single event might say enough about how cool Bend is. But the Pole Pedal Paddle (locally known as the PPP) is just the tip of the ice berg.
Today as I policing the boat launch area, keeping spectators out and support members cleared after their duties, I had the pleasure of witnessing a few reasons that I have always chosen to compete as an endurance athlete. And I’d like to share a few of these stories with you.
At the beginning of the event, I spotted my doctor standing by the elite boats. I wasn’t sure if I should say hi or not, but I erred on the side of friendliness and I am sure glad I did. She was supporting her husband, who was competing in the elite division, and from what she could tell at that point, was doing very well. I saw him go by in the top 7.
I watched an elite woman come through, running through the rows of boats to hers, which was situated close to the water. Her two daughters, both less than 12 years old, greeted her with such efficiency and professionalism, we were all blown away. The absolute smoothest transition from run to kayak – the team of mom & 2 daughters. They ran into the water with the kayak, knee deep in their jeans, without hesitation or complaint, sent her off, and then ran to the next exciting transition area.
Any female athlete who fears having children will end her endurance career, needed to witness that.
Later in the day two men came running down the sidewalk, which was odd because most runners came running through the boat aisles. The guy in front was yelling things like, “We’re running in front of some boats,” and, “We’re turning left now”. He was a guide for challenged athletes. He was leading a blind runner. They both reached their kayak and their kayaker, and tagged off. The blind runner stayed, and the kayaker wheeled his wheelchair down to the water, across the grass and over the sandy hill to the boat launch. The guide was there helping to situate him in the kayak.
When the guide came running back up the hill, obviously filled with as much adrenaline as the rest of them, I offered a high five to him and told him how awesome that was.
I tried coaching a female kayaker who was clearly filled with fear and trepidation into the water. She was suited up in a very top-notch white water kayak. At that point – near the end – I had seen it all. I had seen the long, sleek, 10-lb kevlar skulls; I had seen clunky, heavy, dented metal canoes. I had seen a family of four cram into a 2-person canoe. I watched a man lie down on his surf board and paddle with his arms. But I had yet to witness someone frozen by fear. This was the last leg of the race. All that was left was sprint to the finish. Anyone could cross 1/4 mile on cobblestones. Yet she froze.
After some consoling and encouragement from her boyfriend and myself, we sent her off on her way. She asked, “If I get halfway, I’m allowed to…” and I interrupted and said, “When you get halfway, you’re going to realize how much fun you’re having”. And off she went.
Sadly, she had returned five minutes later, defeated. I pulled in her boat and helped her out, which I really did not want to do. I had seen blind people compete, mothers of beautiful daughters, people on wheelchairs, bickering couples, encouraging friends, dads with an army of supporters. But I had yet to see someone quit.
And frankly, that broke my heart. She did not quit because of exhaustion or injury or ailment. She quit because of fear.
Volunteering at the Pole Pedal Paddle today sparked something in me. It was the combination of everything. The organization of the entire event, the wonderful treatment of the volunteers, the long-running history, the high-spirited participants, the costumes, the enthusiasm. And of course the views and the smells of Bend, Oregon.
I need to find my Katyness. I need to keep that spark alive beyond day three of a new goal. I need to accept myself for where I am right now, and remind myself that I have been here before, and the best way out is by putting my head down and just going.
Next year, I plan to participate in the Pole Pedal Paddle. I either need to learn to downhill ski or I need to find a partner.. I think I forgot to mention that you could do this race as an individual, a pair, or a team. And when you do it as a pair or a team, it just doesn’t matter who does what – as long as you get to the finish line!