I admit it. When I first moved up to the area, I stayed away from Lake Placid and the surrounding area on Ironman weekend. Although I had never experienced the event, the mere thought of thousands of people in town, along with road closures and other "inconveniences," was enough to keep me far away. I have since changed my perspective. Ironman is more than just a race.
I look back to Ironman in Lake Placid in 2009, and I admit, it was only because as editor of the Lake Placid News I felt that it was my duty to see first-hand what all the hoopla was about.
I had a VIP pass to see the start at the beach house along Mirror Lake - and the race started on Sunday, and at a time that I am normally sleeping. I could see a steady flow of people making their way to the lake, and thought to myself "Hey, this looks like it's a pretty big deal."
Ricky James makes his way up “Mill Hill” as fans and supporters yell words of encouragement to help him along this part of the course. It was one of the most inspirational moments I have ever witnessed.
Photo/Richard Rosentreter/Lake Placid News
As the race was about to begin, music blasted to inspire the athletes, about 2,500 of them, bright colored swimming caps bobbing along the shore. The announcer led the crowd that littered the shoreline as far as the eye could see. Then it happened: more than 5,000 arms and legs flailing and splashing away as the Ironman was under way.
I could not take my eyes off that mass of swimmers making their way around Mirror Lake. Then came the frenzy of the crowd as athletes finished the swim, exited the water and volunteers helped them shed their swim gear. Family and friends held signs and yelled frantic words of support when they spotted their loved one. I was tired and hungry and was woke up at an unusual time for the day, but I could not leave. I had no one I was rooting for, no ties to the race. But I was captured by the moment.
Eventually, the swim portion slowed down and I headed back to my apartment on Sentinel Road. It was relatively quiet, until I heard more yelling and clapping. I soon realized that the bike portion of the course was nearby, as athletes were zipping down Mill Pond Drive to state Route 73. I made my way to Lisa G's and again was amazed at not only the athletes, but all the people clapping and cheering as each wave of bikes swooshed past.
Again, I was caught in the moment of Ironman Lake Placid. There was an announcer at the corner who knew just about every racer's name and gave words of encouragement as they passed his station. There was definitely an air of excitement and I still did not know why I was feeling inspired, I can only swim a short distance, don't bike all that much and never go running.
When I returned to my apartment, I thought most that of the excitement had passed, but still wondered why Main Street and the stretch of Sentinel Road close to the intersection of state Route 86 was closed and I could not drive out of my parking lot. I would soon learn the reason.
As I relaxed in my apartment, I heard a few claps. Then moments later, some more. About a half an hour later, more, and the size of the crowd on Mill Hill increased. The clapping and yelling got louder. I looked out my window and the wave of runners had begun - so I went outside and pulled up a lawn chair to watch the action.
A large crowd congregated atop the hill at the Sunoco station and cheers came for each runner. Again, I wondered how the announcer was able to call out each athlete's name. (Yeah, I later learned the number each athlete wore was a giveaway). I watched as athletes in every shape and size, man and woman, ran past. Some looked like they could run forever, others were visibly tired. I noticed each runner's demeanor and thought about the race itself. Wow - I could NEVER do that!
Each runner going up the hill was treated to their own personal rooting session. "You can do it!" "Looking good!" and "Good job!" were constant sounds. I found myself clapping along with the steady flow of fans streaming along the sidewalks. Wave after wave, runners came up and down the roadway, and the urge to cheer them on grew. And so it went as minutes turned to hours.
Then it began to get dark and I thought that the best was over and made my way to retire for the evening. When I shut off the lights around 10:30 p.m., I could not sleep. There was STILL cheering and the sound of cowbells. I looked out my window, and watched an athlete jog or walk by every few minutes. These were the last of the lot - giving it their all to finish the race. There I was, past my work-week bedtime, and I was out in the road clapping for athletes in a sport I had never knew existed until this event in Lake Placid.
It took me another Ironman race or two to realize that THIS is what it's all about for an athlete. To push on and finish.
This year brought an especially poignant moment when athlete Ricky made his way up Mill Hill. James is a 23-year-old paraplegic from Oceanside, Calif. and a former motocross star who suffered a spinal injury during a crash in a competition when he was 16 years old.
As he was going up the hill, it was apparent that he was slowing down, as the hill is quite a challenge for even the most die-hard triathlete. James was not giving up, and the crowd was behind him. I felt my eyes water as the crowd lined his path and yelled encouragement. "Go Ricky! Go Ricky! Go Ricky!" was chanted loudly. James began to pick up speed with each chant.
He made it up that hill. It was one of the most inspirational moments I have ever witnessed. Ironman is more than just a race.
Now, after watching a bunch of Ironman races in Lake Placid, I have gained a greater sense of what Ironman is all about.
Sure I get aggravated when Ironman athletes in training break the rules and ride two or three abreast or ride in the road. But I keep in mind, as an ATV rider, that some of my fellow riders break the rules and go off the trails. There are bad apples in every bunch.
Sure I am a little inconvenienced by the crowds and road closures. But it is only for one special event.
And a special event indeed - but not just from the athletic angle. From the community angle as well.
Each year I see the dedication of the volunteers, who not only live in the area, but travel here to be a part of the event. I see how many rescue personnel are on duty - and this year there seemed to be more rescue calls during the race. Hats off to all the rescue squad members who aid athletes on race day. I see law enforcement personnel, and not just the Lake Placid Police Department, but State Police on duty ensuring everyone's safety. (There are several stories in this issue of the LPN outlining Ironman volunteers.)
I now appreciate Ironman in Lake Placid for a variety of reasons. It is more than just a race. It is a testament of human will, and it pulls people together for a common cause. There were both young and old volunteering along the course, many handing out water or sports drinks to the athletes as they biked or ran past one of the volunteer areas.
Ironman is truly an amazing event on several levels.
Next year, again, I will not leave town for Ironman. I will be along the race route cheering - not for anyone in particular, but for all the athletes. And for those who make a regular exodus from the area to escape and have never experienced Ironman, remember: Ironman is more than just a race.