Sunday, January 27, 2008

A comment from Mike Reilly, The Voice of Ironman

I am new to blogging and don't always realize when comments have been made to my posts. I just read a comment I received in December from the voice of Ironman himself - Mike Reilly! He commented that he read my report from Lake Placid last year when I worked the finish line with him. His comment was positive. How very cool is that?
Mike, thank you! I will be competing at Lake Placid this year and did Kona in 2007. I hope at Lake Placid, I get to hear you say, "Stacy, You. Are. An.Ironman!".

Here is the part of my report that describes working as a volunteer at the finish with Mike Reilly at Lake Placid in July of 2007:

"My bike taking shift was over at 3pm and I went up to the finish with Gina to see about the details of this new possible volunteer job. Helen, who basically runs the finish line, said they didn’t need help with the escort of the pro women, but if I knew how to work a computer, they needed a couple people to – get this – go up in the platform overlooking the finish line with Mike Reilly and work the computer so he can call the finisher’s names! Yeah, no shit I will do that! Holy Crap, I couldn’t believe it. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. It was around 330pm at this time and I would be up there with Mike Reilly around 530.

I wanted to hang out and I was right there at the finish line and Belinda Granger was finishing soon (the women's winner). While waiting around, I met three people, two you may have heard of. One was another volunteer, Seth, who was very helpful and a really cool dude. The second person was Greg Welch. Yes, that Greg Welch. I had emailed him a couple months ago, as we both had the same heart condition. He was typing on a Blackberry, but I wanted to take a moment to meet him. I went over and introduced myself. We chatted about V-Tach and my Kona slot and then I let him be. He was waiting to interview Belinda for the on-line race coverage. What an incredibly nice, down to earth guy he is.

The last person I met I had seen talking to Greg and hanging out at the finish for about 20 minutes before I met her. I was trying to be cool and not stare. It was right before Belinda came in and she had walked over and was now standing right next to me. Who was it? Freaking Paula Newby-Fraser! Christ! I was thinking I better introduce myself before it was too late and I lost my nerve. I calmly turned to her, put out my hand and said, “Hey Paula, great to meet you. My name is Stacy Taylor.” We chatted briefly and she was nice and told me congratulations on my lottery slot and wished me luck.

I had just met the Queen of Kona who won it eight times, the only woman to break 9 hours in an Ironman and who is arguably the best female athlete – ever. God, I love Ironman! For those who don’t realize how cool this is, it would be the equivalent of a roadie meeting Lance Armstrong or Eddie Myrxx, a baseball player to meet Babe Ruth or Willie Mays, a swimmer to meet (who was the guy that won all the medals at the Olympics – oh yeah, Mark Spitz), a golfer to meet Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus ok, you get the idea.

I went back to my team at bike taking and told them the news. They were excited and asked how the heck I got a job like that. I was in the right place at the right time, I said. I also headed back up to the Z tent to tell them and to get a couple things from my back pack. Damn, I was excited! On my way back I got to see Annie staring her run. I screamed “Annie!! You go girl!” She looked really strong, and actually ended with about a 4 hour 20 minute marathon. She was flying!

When I got back to the finish, I retrieved a volunteer finisher wrist band and T-shirt as security was pretty tight. I was waiting for my shift to start in the platform when Dave Cascio came across the line. Most of the people who cross the line at Ironman need someone to lean on for a while. Dave was no exception. A bigger volunteer guy took his left side and I was on the right. Dave said, “Stacy, hey Stacy”. He was a bit out of it, I must admit. We walked him to the food at the finish and I asked him if he wanted cookies, bananas or pizza. Dave said he wanted three cookies and water. If you know Dave, he is usually a pretty serious guy and takes his training and racing seriously. But to hear him say, “I want three cookies” like a little kid was great!

Within about 5-10 minutes of finishing, Dave was coming around and starting to analyze his race. He said he got a drafting penalty after a peloton passed him. Dave had major surgery on his left knee and had been rehabilitating for months, but he said his knee felt ok. As it turns out, he would have finished 2nd in his 45-49 age group without the drafting penalty. Bummer. Only when I knew he was ok, I left and went back to the finish.

It was time to go help Mike Reilly call Ironman finisher’s names. I climbed up the scaffolding with Sasha, the other volunteer. We had to jump right in, as people were constantly finishing. We didn’t even have time to introduce ourselves for about 10 or 15 minutes, it was so busy. My first job was to point to the last finisher’s name on the screen of one laptop so that Mike could read it off. This was easy when there were only one, two or three people finishing. However, it got very difficult to track when there were 4, 5, 6, and 7 crossing at the same time. There was additional information such as where they are from, if this is their first Ironman, their age and job. When he had the time, he would call out some of that information as well.

The other job was to type the finishers numbers into another laptop that displayed their name and information about how many and which races they have completed before. There were some people who were completing their seventh, eight and ninth Lake Placid finishes.

I had probably been up there for about half an hour when I turned around to see who had just climbed up. You won’t freaking believe it – it was Paula! Holy shit – again! I was cool and kept working. It was after about 10 minutes I had the chance and I turned around calmly, waved and said “Hey Paula”. She waved back and said hi. She was up there for a long time and we didn’t have a chance to talk. I still can’t believe I was there with Paula and Mike Reilly. What an absolute privilege.

Around 10 or 1030pm, someone I didn't recognize climbed up into the scaffolding. She had braided pigtails and seemed to be looking for someone down below. I didn't know who she was until she was gone and Ollie told me it was Belinda Granger. I didn't recognize her with out sunglasses and her hair pulled back! My gosh, another crazy moment!

The finishers come in packs many times. There will be no one for 30 or 40 seconds, but sometimes it’s a flood gate. As the night goes on, it gets busier and busier. I saw Annie finish and I yelled for her, she finished with a kick ass time. I knew it was getting close to the time when Alisa would finish and I gave both Mike and Tom (Mike’s backup) Alisa’s bib number of 1999 so that they would make sure to say, “Alisa, You Are an Ironman”. When I saw her name pop up on the screen I went nuts. “Here she comes, Alisa! Bib 1999!” She may not have heard it, but we all did. She looked so happy has she finished and I was yelling her name and she looked up and waved. She looked tired, but very happy as well. We are all so proud of her and Annie.

They say the magic hour of Ironman finish is from 11-midnight, but in my opinion it is the entire time. However, there are some really inspirational finishes nearer to the end. There are two that stick in my mind. One thing to note is that when the clock ticks closer to the end of an hour (like 13 hours, 14 hours) it gets really exciting. As the minutes wind down, Mike will announce, “10 minutes to go under 14 hours, 5 minutes to go under 14 hours, if you can hear my voice you are close enough to break 14 hours”. Gives you goose bumps. At Placid, the crowd first gets to see the finishers on the other side of the oval. From that point, they have about 40 seconds to make it to the finish. So, if there is less than a minute, you see people actually “sprint” to the finish.

While I was teary eyed a few times when some people finished, the first time I openly cried was the woman who came in just under 16 hours. She entered the oval with less than a minute left. The crowd went crazy, Mike was encouraging her that she could make it and she sprinted to the finish. I am trying to find her exact time and her name. That was so awesome. This woman had been racing her ass off since 7am, it was now 11pm and she was sprinting to the finish. If that doesn’t get to you, you are doing/watching the wrong sport!

The next time I cried, it was a gusher and came right at the end. It was around 1150pm, 10 minutes to midnight, 10 minutes for those left on the run course to become an Ironman! Mike was down at the finish, and a guy on a bike rode up to him really fast to tell him something. Mike then announced that there was a runner on the course that had a chance to finish by midnight. His race number was 2258 and his name was Tom.

At Placid, you can hear the finish from quite a distance away. Mike knew this and announced, “Tom, you have 10 minutes to finish. I know you can hear us, you can do it”. The crowd went crazy cheering for him. The minutes were ticking by….no Tom but we kept cheering and Mike kept talking to him. Now it was less than five minutes…. time was quickly running out.

It must have been with about 4 minutes left that the crowd started chanting, “Tom, Tom, Tom, Tom…..” God, it was awesome. We keep looking at the far side of the finish oval. We keep cheering and hoping and praying he will make it. The crowd is near a frenzy when some spotters on the far side start waving to us to let us know Tom is coming, he is right there! And then we see him. Holy crap, talk about insane. We are going crazy. There is Tom and he is moving it!

Tom has been out there for 17 hours and he is running as as fast as he possibly can. He is coming around the far side of the oval - less than two minutes left to the 17 hour time limit now. Tom is coming around the last turn! Pandemonium is the rule here. He runs the last few yards and makes it across the finish line and Mike says with so much emotion and excitement, “Tom, You.Are.An.Ironman!!!!!

Simply the most inspiring moment I have ever witnessed in my life. Ollie and I were hugging and crying at the platform (I think even Tom in the platform got a bit teary eyed). I have told this story a few times now, have cried twice and am teary eyed again while writing this. What a blubbering baby! I can only imagine what I will feel like after my first Ironman at Kona. WOW!"


pcsolotto said...

Nice blog. Thats all.

Jenna said...

Great commentary. Thanks for posting it!