Sweat from the Heart: By Coach Bree
I volunteered to lifeguard at the Kemah Triathlon on Sunday, April 27th. And it was an awesome adventure!
So much of an adventure that at one point, after our kayak flipped for what was probably the tenth time, I said laughingly to my partner, “I HAVE to blog this!”
I own two kayaks. I kayak support our team swims (on a near weekly basis) at Boerne Lake. I have kayaked in very windy and choppy conditions in Boerne Lake. I thought, how hard can it be? So I signed up to be in a kayak, lifeguarding the swim portion of the race.
I told our team I would wear my lime green wig so that way they could spot me among the other Lifeguards/kayakers during the race! So I showed up to my shift rocking a lime green wig!
It was then I learned we would be in a tandem kayak (this was a first). We quickly partnered up and my partner was a guy named Derek. We hit it off right away, so I knew we would have fun.
A quick rundown on the swim course: Sprint and Olympic racers, two different courses. The Olympic racers jumped off a boat (1 mile from shore) and swam straight back, and the Sprinters swam a triangle from shore to shore. We didn’t get a briefing on what to do, but having been a Lifeguard at a recent full Ironman, I felt confident that my partner and I would successfully figure it out.
The Olympic racers would begin jumping off the boat at 6:48am. It was 6:15am and we still hadn’t been released to the water. Guess what our assignment was? Bouy #1, which was 1 mile away from shore. By the time we got into the water, we had just under 13 minutes to make it to our position (pedaling against the waves). I was in the front, getting splashed by the waves, Derek was behind me getting splashed by my oars. It was hilarious! We paddled as fast as we could! To make it fun, we turned it into a competition. We made it our goal to pass the other kayakers in front of us. And we won! 😉
We made it! Not even a moment to relax, the first group of racers jump off! It’s go time!
We had to continually back pedal just to stay to the left of the buoy. The waves were intense! We quickly learned this was going to be a challenging job. Despite the large swells, we were successfully maneuvering the kayak to help racers. We threw out the rescue tube for racers to hold onto, we cheered, we gave pep talks, we had fun! Once the everyone passed buoy #1, I told Derek we should head back and check on the Sprinters. As we made our way over, I heard, “Coach Bree! I feel great!” I look over and see it’s an Alamo 180 athlete! What a joy! It was his first triathlon, and first ocean swim. He was swimming beautifully and didn’t need our assistance! And he noticed me because of my lime green wig!
Joy turns into slight panic. I could see in the distance that there were no kayaks on the Sprint course. As we passed kayakers, we asked them to join us and help out. As we approached the last turn buoy on the Sprint course, there were racers holding onto other racers that were holding onto the buoy. Sometimes it was three or four deep of racers holding onto each other. To the racers, Derek and I were like God coming to save them. Their eyes lit up, arms began reaching out, and they began moving towards our kayak. I told Derek, “we are the only kayak so be prepared to tip!” We threw out rescue tubes, but it wasn’t enough. With numerous racers grabbing nearly every inch of the kayak, we flipped. I lost my visor and lime green wig. I didn’t care. Seconds later, a racer swims up to me giving me my lime green wig. I laughed! We turned over the kayak, and let people hold on. Derek and I grabbed our whistles and began blowing for help. It was like Rose on Titanic (but the water was a nice 74 degrees 😉 ) We stayed out of our kayak, treaded water to hold it in place, and turned it into a “rest station”. Racers held on, rested, and when they were ready, took off.
After everyone passed, we tried getting back on. I get on first, but as Derek attempts to get on, we tip. So we try again, and again, we tip over. Next, he gets on first, and as I attempt to get on, we tip. All we can do is laugh. It’s hysterical! A volunteer in a single kayak comes over to help us. He holds our kayak steady so we can get on. On the third attempt, we get on! As we turn back to thank him, he tipped! Oh the hilarity!
As we pedal back to shore, large swells kept tipping us over. By the tenth time flipping, we became pros at getting back on! It wasn’t until we got back to shore and couldn’t lift the kayak, that we realized it was full of water. The plug at the end was open, so water was getting inside, thus causing it to be unbalanced. We believe it was due to racers grabbing onto the front of the kayak, and accidentally loosening the plug.
What an awesome, exhausting, and fun experience! I learned that day how supportive racers are to one another. Many times we would know to offer assistance because another racer waved letting us know someone else needed help. We can’t read every sign, but we can read that one loud and clear! And the chain of racers at the buoy, they were all helping each other! It was beautiful.
And here’s the picture of Derek and I having successfully navigated about 2.5 miles of the ocean! To all the Kemah racers who braved the rough, ocean swim– you rock!
I must add: this race was awesome! Our athletes loved it and we will be back next year! Next year, I’m racing it! And I will thank a Lifeguard!