Through my involvement in triathlons, I became aware of an organization called Team Red, White & Blue. I know a couple of people who race for them and became interested in them myself. Team RWB’s mission from their web site (www.teamrwb.org) :
Team Red, White & Blue’s (Team RWB) vision is to transform the way wounded veterans are reintegrated into society when they return from combat and exit their position.
While much has improved since the post-Vietnam era, some polarization between veterans and our society still exists today. Strong relationships between wounded veterans and their fellow Americans are critical to veterans’ reintegration into civilian life as well as our nation’s success. That’s why Team RWB’s mission is to enrich the lives of wounded veterans and their families. Team RWB works toward this mission by focusing on three key areas:
1. Personal connectivity between Veterans with invisible wounds and citizens in the community where they now live
- Community-building events that bring Veterans together with citizens
- Formation of friendships and natural individual relationships
2. Reintegration through physical fitness
- Physical: rebuild the body, give structure to life and bolster self-esteem
- Psychological: help to process experiences from Iraq/Afghanistan
- Social: connect with people to run, bike, workout and be active
3. Galvanization of esprit de corps and team membership
- Bringing back the feeling from the military of pride and being part of a unit
I decided a while back that I wanted to race for Team RWB in 2012 and raise money for their cause. I ordered a tri kit in the fall so that I could race all year as a Team RWB athlete. And then early in the year, I was asked to step up and do something more.
One of the ladies I know who is in the Army and is in charge of the triathlon portion of Team RWB asked if myself and a fellow local triathlete would be interested in helping to put on a triathlon camp for about 20 veterans. Not really knowing all that we were getting into, we said yes.
We met with the coach who would be in charge of the training. He happens to be the coach of at least two professional female triathletes, one of which is his wife. We discussed the vision for the camp and then set out to put everything in motion. This past weekend, it all came to fruition.
As soon as I left work Thursday afternoon, I headed to the airport to pick up one of the athletes. We went back to Jack & Adams (J&A), the local bike shop that was supporting the camp, and got him started on putting his bike together. Several athletes had arrived earlier and were either putting their bikes together or getting set up and fitted on brand new bikes that they would be able to take home with them. Bikes, shoes, helmets, wetsuits, etc. – if they didn’t come to the camp with it, they would be leaving with it.
When it was time for dinner we headed over to the park where the Texas Beef Council would be providing dinner. More athletes arrived as did the two pro triathletes who would be joining us for the camp – Jessica Jacobs and Jessica Meyers. The Beef Council grilled steaks for those who eat meat (not me) and we all introduced ourselves. Some athletes would be in home stays and went home with their host, while a few who registered last minute headed off for their hotel.
Friday morning we all met back at J&A. Derick took the athletes and a few volunteers over to a large field and went over some running drills. Then it was time to run. Those who wanted to could do a 2-mile time trial while the rest could just run for 30 minutes. I chose the latter as I didn’t really feel like punishing myself so early in the morning. Let me just say that some of the athletes are really fast, including the athlete who stayed with us.
Once back at J&A, those that still needed to get fit on bikes did that and lunch was delivered. Everyone just hung out, ate lunch and got to know each other better.
The two pros offered a ride for those that wanted to ride with them while the rest of the folks headed next door to the pitch-n-putt for a “closest to pin contest”. I thought I’d go out with the pros, but had my road bike instead of my tri bike and quickly realized that their version of a conversational pace and mine were two totally different things.
After the pitch-n-putt contest, it was time for a bike skills clinic. Everyone took their bike back to the same field we were at in the morning. Derick had everyone practice getting going with one foot clipped in to get a feel for how to start with some motion. Then he had us come back with the opposite foot clipped in. Let me just say that when you’ve ridden for over 5 years and always keep the same foot clipped in, it’s a little hard to do it with the other foot. Many people hit the ground, including myself.
He had us see who could go the slowest without falling over, had us do some bumping drills, had the athletes try to pick up bottles from the ground, etc. It was a very good clinic for first timers.
After the bikes skills clinic it was time to pack up and head north for some swimming. A lesson was given in how to get the wetsuit on (there really is an art to it and the zipper does go in the back). We were split into 3 groups – those with no open water experience, the really fast group and the rest of us. Jessica Jacobs was assigned to “the rest of us”. She went over some tips on breathing and sighting and then people were free to swim the loop.
After the swim, folks were on their own for the evening. I also had one of the volunteers staying with us, so we went home and ordered pizza. We were tired.
Saturday morning we met down south for a bike session. Derick went over a quick lesson on how to set up your transition area and how to think when you are packing for a triathlon. Then it was time to head out on the road. Remember, some of these guys had not been on a bike since they were little and we were getting ready to head out in a 2-up pace line on the shoulder of a fairly busy road.
Derick asked me to lead up front with him and asked another volunteer to bring up the rear and make sure no one got lost or fell off the group. We went really slow (like 12-14 mph), but the guys did amazing. I told Derick that day 2 of getting my clipless pedals there would have been no way I would have been out doing that.
After we finished the first loop we could go back out in smaller groups and do more of our speed. I stayed with some guys going out, but I am familiar with the area and did my own thing on the way back in. Once we were all through, it was time for lunch.
After lunch was another swim session. This was interesting as the athletes worked on a beach start scenario with dolphin dives into the water. Most of the triathlons I do have in-water starts, so that was something even I have not really done. After everyone tried it once, we broke back into groups. The group I was in worked on drafting. We were paired up and drafted off each other for the full loop, rotating who was in the lead and who followed.
After the swim, those who wanted to could run a couple of short laps around the quarry where we were swimming. Then it was time to shower and have a nutrition clinic. I thought I drank a lot of water, but after hearing how much Derick recommended and tracking my intake for a couple of days – yikes! I have some drinking to do.
Then it was time to head to dinner and a roundtable discussion with the pros. We were joined by Kelly Williamson and Patrick Evoe. How often do you have the chance to spend the evening with 4 pro triathletes? Awesome.
Sunday’s session was just a “long run”. We had about 2 hours of time, so people could do an out and back for up to an hour if they wanted. I did a 5 miler. The faster folks did around 10. Then it was time to break the bikes down and pack them up. I have to admit, I got a little teary eyed thinking about the weekend being over.
There were 14 athletes in attendance, each with their own unique story. Some shared a lot of their story and others were more reserved, but you could tell the camp meant a lot to each and every one of them. It just confirmed my decision to race as a Team RWB athlete this year leading up to IMAZ.
While the camp is over, the mission of Team RWB is not. If you believe in what they are doing and wish to support my fundraising efforts, please feel free to make a donation at:
Please know that the money you donate is going to the cause. They are not paying for my race entry or any part of my travels this year. I bought the triathlon uniform myself because I wanted to. I want to give back this year and this is my way. My first race in the Team RWB kit was Lonestar 70.3 where someone snapped this picture of me.
If you don’t wish to donate at this time, at least try and say thanks next time you see someone in the military or someone who is a veteran. You have no idea what their story is, but I can guarantee that they will appreciate a kind word.