Four years and five months ago, I walked into the YMCA in the worst shape of my life determined to make a change.
Having grown up a swimmer and desirous of keeping the largest possible portion of my body from public view, I slipped stealthily into the swimming pool. That first day I huffed, puffed and splashed a paltry eight laps before retreating to my bed for a recovery nap.
Despite my disappointing debut, I returned to the pool again and again hoping for some kind of miracle. A few months into my seemingly glacial physical overhaul, I noticed a sign advertising the Kinzua Country Tango Adventure Race.
I had never heard of an adventure race or any race like this one. In the Tango, relay teams and solo racers run 13.1 miles, bike 20 miles, swim 2.2 miles, orienteer at least 6 miles, run another 4.5 miles and canoe or kayak 8.5 miles.
That is over 54 miles of racing in one day. A relay team could get the job done. But a solo racer running, biking, swimming, navigating and paddling all that distance?
“Wow,” I thought to myself, “if I could ever do that, I would be an athlete.”
I grinned widely enjoying the thought of crossing a finish line wonderfully and instantly transformed. Then the corners of my mouth turned down at the sheer improbability of it all. Sure I had been on sports teams in school, but I was never what anyone would call a star player or even a kid with potential.
Despite how insane it sounded that a woman who could not run, could only swim a ragged half of a mile and had no record of athletic achievement could complete the Tango, the dream of it grew in my mind like a seedling watered with Miracle-Gro.
Impossible or not, I wanted desperately to at last claim the title of athlete. Perhaps I would never be a race winner, but completing the Tango Adventure Race would give me the chance to define myself for myself. Finishing the Tango would allow me to draw new perimeters around what was possible in my life.
Thus, the obsession began with a five-year training plan. The road to Tango-worthiness has been paved with sweat, muscle aches and injuries as well as triumphs, growing confidence and an expanding circle of incredible friends. I have raced in the Tango twice on relay teams, learned to run and orienteer, taken my first bicycle rides clipped in and developed an irresistible impulse for movement.
Four years hence – thanks to the help of more folks than I can mention here and a personal stubborn streak the size of Texas – I will be completing the 2010 Tango Adventure Race SOLO on August 7th…a year ahead of schedule.
With five weeks remaining until the big dance, I am entertaining three race day scenarios. In the first and best option, I cross the finish buoys before dark. In the second scenario, moonlight will shine on my kayak as I complete the race. In the third, the sun will rise to find me paddling across the finish line a newly-minted athlete.
There are no other options.
Some people live to compete. I am living to complete.
For me, the joy of racing is in the doing. It is about reveling in every muscle stretch and strain that takes you that next mile, yard or foot of the route. It is about finishing what you start and loving each moment that gets you there. It is not about triumphing over others, but defeating old notions about yourself. It is about the celebration of what is possible when we reject previous limitations and put our minds and bodies wholly to a task.
Trophies and ribbons are great, but the rapture of movement and athleticism are my goals for this Tango day.
Whether your dream is to complete or compete in any race, why not begin your adventure now? There is still time to join in the dance.
Not ready to go solo just yet? Put together a relay team or sign up at the YMCA to be drafted by others looking to fill out their Tango rosters.
Need more time to prepare?
Why not get an insider’s view of the action by volunteering as race day support? Or just show up to watch hundreds of incredible athletes taking on themselves and the course.