For the fourth year in a row, I had the privilege of helping to coordinate the Team Red, White and Blue Triathlon Camp. This has been an amazing experience in the past, and this year it was no different. The difference this year for me, however, is that I was also asked to step into an assistant coaching role. I did the normal planning and organizing of a lot of things prior to camp, but we asked another one of our volunteers to coordinate the rest of the volunteers, and once camp started, I was in the role of coach.
Thursday morning I headed over to the hotel where we would do registration and check-in. Luckily, some other volunteers were in town early as well and in no time we were ready for the athletes. And it was a good thing because a large number of then arrived between noon and 2:00 pm. As they arrived, they received their bags with all of their goodies, their nametags, and if they were receiving equipment, they got that as well. Those that were getting bikes got fitted so that they would be ready to go for the skills clinic Friday morning.
One of our awesome volunteers offered to grill hamburgers for us, so when the burgers were ready we ate dinner and the athletes had time to start socializing and getting to know one another. They had already been talking to each other through a private Facebook group set up for the camp, so it was fun to get to see everyone in person.
After dinner we had a more “formal” gathering where everyone introduced themselves and shared a little something. As always, there were some amazing individuals present. Then everyone was off to get settled (or do some more socializing in the lobby) and get ready for Friday.
Friday morning first thing was a leadership session. This is part of all of the athletic camps that Team RWB has, and is a part of what makes RWB such a successful VOLUNTEER organization. Since I have been involved in coordinating the activities of camp in the past, I had never sat in on a session, but this year as an assistant coach, I was asked to be one of the small group facilitators. Because of that, I needed to be at all of the sessions. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it at first, but in the end, I’m glad I did it. I really got to know the athletes in my group and it was interesting to hear the different perspectives on leadership from military veterans vs civilians.
As soon as we finished the first session, we headed out to the lake to begin the bike skills clinic. This is always a fun session. Some people are very comfortable on the bike and have been through some of the drills before, but some are brand knew on the bike and only learned how to clip in and out of the pedals yesterday. Luckily, the skills session is always on grass so that when (notice I didn’t say “if”) people fall, it won’t hurt so bad. Most people fall at some point or another. Trying to pick up bottles from the ground, trying to ride as slow as you can, and other skills challenge your sense of balance and down you go. But it works. More about that later.
After the bike skills clinic, it was time to get in the water. I’m such a weenie in cold water that even with a wetsuit, I wasn’t sure I wanted to get in. But, I suited up just in case anyone in my group needed help. Derick (the head coach) and I were assigned to the beginner group. Most of the people in our group had little or no experience with open water swimming and we were there to help get them comfortable in the water. There were some challenges our group faced, but we worked through them and I’m proud of our group.
Then it was time for some much needed food and a lecture on training and nutrition. The run clinic was next. Lots of info on form and several skills to put that form into practice.
Finally it was time to head back to the hotel for a quick, and I do mean quick, shower and then head to dinner. Lots of hungry athletes eat lots of pasta and bread!
Saturday morning started with another leadership session. Actually, we combined two sessions because the weather was taunting us and we didn’t want to get caught on our bike ride in the rain. Fortunately, the whole plan worked out and after the leadership session was over, it was time to ride from the hotel to the lake. Yes, on public roads with lots of traffic. Remember me saying that some of the folks had never been clipped into a bike before? Well, that skills clinic gave them the confidence they needed to do the ride. I’m proud to say that everyone made it just fine.
Once we got to the lake, we regrouped and then separated into smaller groups for additional riding. Stronger, faster, more confident riders went out for a longer loop, while the newer riders did a shorter loop.
When everyone made it back to the lake, there was a transition clinic (with an actual transition set up) and then lunch again. Fuel is important for training, right?
We had a special guest come in to go over some functional fitness and show us some exercises that are beneficial to triathletes and then it was time to swim again. After the swim, it was time to shower and head for dinner.
Saturday night’s dinner is a special one. I can’t really get into the details, because if you don’t experience it, you don’t truly understand, but it’s a great time of connection for the athletes and can be very emotional. But let me tell you, this is where the relationships are formed. And despite the fact that it’s a triathlon camp, the relationships are really the important thing. The fact that these veterans learn that they aren’t the only ones going through some of the experiences they go through is comforting and they now have many new friends to talk to. It’s such an amazing transformation to watch.
Sunday is the culmination of the camp. Sunday morning is a race for the athletes where they get to put everything they learned together and complete a triathlon. We set the parking lot up as a transition area, they get body marked and get race numbers, there is an athlete meeting……everything just like on race morning.
The weather was iffy this morning and was really foggy, so the call was made to shorten the swim to keep everyone safe. Since the water was a little rough, Derick and I got our wetsuits on. We wanted to swim with our group. There were multiple people in kayaks and on SUP boards and a couple more volunteers in the water to help ensure everyone stayed safe in the water.
The race got started in waves just like races. It was awesome to see the excitement. Athletes started swimming and in their own time finished the swim. The support of the volunteers on land and of fellow athletes is so wonderful to see.
As the athletes exited the swim, they went into transition and then headed out on the bike. It didn’t take too long before the first one was heading back into transition and out on the run.
We had an official finish line set up and everything. Athletes came through and got high-fives and congrats. For some, this was the first triathlon they had ever done. As in races, some athletes are faster and some are slower, but the difference at this camp, and in general with RWB, is that no athlete is left behind. There was a volunteer/coach in the water until the last athlete was out. There was a volunteer on the bike riding with the last cyclist until they were safely in. And there was more than just one fellow athlete willing to run in with the last runner. Just pure awesomeness.
After the race, there was more food, discussion on the race, etc. We were blessed this year in that one of our volunteers is the owner of a local bike shop. He helped out tremendously with bike issues during the weekend and at this point did a bike maintenance clinic, including how to change a flat tire. It’s something every cyclist needs to know how to do, but unfortunately, most do not learn how until they experience their first flat. After packing bikes to ship back home we transported the athletes to yoga.
This is another one of my favorite parts of camp, since I get to teach yoga to the athletes. I’m a little biased, but it’s a great way to end camp. Stretching them out and giving them some quiet time to relax and unwind.
After showering, it was time for our final dinner. This one can get emotional as well since it’s almost time to say goodbye. Friendships have been made and the bonds have been formed. No one wants to leave. But all good things must come to an end and we know that we will see some of them at next year’s camp – as volunteers!
‘Til next time!!!!
photo credits to Scott Strance at scottstrancephotography.com