Professional athlete and 3-time Ironman champion

Around the World in 8 Days


It’s been 8 days since I left home. Technically, 7, as it seems I may have lost a day in translation, but I’ll get back to that in a minute. I left home last Wednesday, bound for Panama City for the inaugural Panama 70.3. My flight left Boston at an un-Holy hour.

It’s been 8 days since I left home. Technically, 7, as it seems I may have lost a day in translation, but I’ll get back to that in a minute. I left home last Wednesday, bound for Panama City for the inaugural Panama 70.3. My flight left Boston at an un-Holy hour. Who knew planes took off that early? But travel was easy peazy and I arrived in Panama just after noon time. I was met by race volunteers, who escorted me thru luggage claim, customs, etc. Before I knew it, I was on a shuttle bound for the hotel. First thing I noticed? It was hot. And there was a lot of traffic! We got to the hotel, and I got settled, got the bike together and reached out to my friend Jacqui Gordon, who had been "in country" for a while. I figured she might have the lay of the land by now. "Hey, Jacqui, it’s Dede." "Oh, Dede. I’ve just returned from the craziest bike ride of my life." "Did you ride on the causeway? How do we get over there?" "NO! I rode here! Out from the hotel. I needed to find a bike shop!" Judging by the traffic I’d seen driving to the hotel, I could understand the distress in her voice. We agreed to meet downstairs to try to find a ride to the 50m outdoor pool, some 20 minutes away. We asked for a taxi. "$28. One way." "But the people at the bike shop said $5 max," Jacqui protested. "That is for yellow cab. Not safe." Well, crap. Now what? Just then, some guys were unloading their car; bikes, duffel bags. Clearly triathletes. "We’re going to the pool in just 15 minutes," he said, having overheard our negotiation with the cab stand. "We can drive you." Deciding that it technically wasn’t hitchhiking because they were athletes, and realizing that spending $60 on a swim wasn’t such a smart idea, we decided to abandon mom’s #2 rule: Don’t take rides from strangers. (I assume #1 would be don’t talk to strangers, but we’d blown that one, too). Turns out, this group of 4 guys couldn’t have been nicer. They escorted us to the pool, swam and ran with us, and escorted us back to the hotel. Day 1; success. Day 2 brought more adventure. At the bike shop (Tri Store Panama, Jacqui had found Guy, who agreed to have someone pick her (now us) up at the hotel at 6 AM the next day so that we could ride the course. We made our way to the causeway and started out with a large group; maybe 8-10 riders. We rode back and forth on the Causeway where Sunday’s run would take place. By the time we returned to the top of the causeway, the other riders peeled off and we were a group of 3; me, Jacqui and Guy. …and of course, our car and motor bike escort. Now; the real adventure was to begin. As soon as we left the safety of the causeway, we were climbing a bridge. Not just your ordinary bridge, but the Bridge of the Americas which connects North and South America. Pretty cool, but no time for geography appreciation, as crossing the Bridge of the Americas at roughly 7:15 AM was sort of like trying to cross the George Washington Bridge during rush hour. On a bicycle. All I could think to myself was "If my mother saw me doing this….she’d have actually preferred I talk to and take rides from strangers!" The ride continued in this manner for about 90’; biking thru crazy traffic, with the relative safety of Guy and his team of escorts. We were honked at incessantly. Guy explained, "Everyone honks in Panama. Sometimes it’s just to say hello. Other times, it’s to tell you that you are a jack wagon (He didn’t say jack wagon, but it is my goal to fit the word jack wagon into every blog I write. Aim high, I say.), and some mean "you are beautiful." Just then, a truck with a group of guys in the back came by and they honked (and gestured……and I think one might have proposed). "That must be the "you are beautiful honk", I speculated. Not a second later, another truck barreled by with what was distinctly a "Screw you and get out of the road" honk. I was so pleased to have learned a foreign language while I was in Panama. Not quite the language I’d anticipated….but a language nevertheless! After tackling the course, Jacqui and I were feeling pretty bold, so we decided that we’d "risk our lives" by investing in the $5 yellow cab to the swimming pool. We climbed into the back of a cab with Vlatimir. His English was only slightly worse than my Spanish, but somehow, we managed to arrange for him to drive us to the pool, and then come back and get us at 1PM when we were done. Can’t decide if he was persuaded by the 2 blondes sitting in the back of his cab, or by the $2 tip. I suppose it doesn’t matter, because Vlatimir was right there when we finished our swim. All 350 lbs of him. Vlatimir was a huge dude who could, if he so desired, drive Jacqui and I to his house and decide to keep us as pets and there wasn’t a darn thing we could do about it. But in the end, he was just a big teddy bear who was thrilled with his $2 and amused by my attempts to speak Spanish. Day 2; success. Day 3 was much of the same. Crazy confusion, trying to figure out how to get to the causeway so we could train, how to get home, etc etc. What we learned in our first few days in Panama is that Panama is a dense and traffic filled city; sub optimal for training, even in the final days before the race when there’s not much training to be done. But the people were so wonderful; so friendly, so helpful, so willing to do anything to get you out of a pickle. Sure, the city tested our resourcefulness, but the people were so kind and so wonderful. I will remember that most from my trip to Panama. Day 4 – Light training. BREAKFAST BUFFET, which I had missed the prior 2 days because of training, which, on the 3rd day, when I finally got to indulge, learned was extraordinary! Then off to the race site for Pro Panel and Pro Meeting. I hadn’t been asked to a pro panel in a while. Let’s be honest…..there’s not much for me to talk about. It’d seem awkward, "So Dede. You’ve raced like crap for the better part of 18 months. Care to elaborate?" "Um…..not really." "OK, next question then….." So to have been invited made me feel…..welcomed back to the Ironman community. So I was happy to sit in the 95 degree heat to answer questions. Happy as a clam. I didn’t even care that the reason I was there was to talk about my crash and how much it sucked. I was BACK! After the pro panel, we went to the pro meeting. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why there were SO many people and SO much media at the pro meeting. I leaned over and said to a fellow pro, "Do you sort of feel like an animal at the zoo?" All the media seemed focused over my right shoulder. I causally glanced over it and saw Chris Lieto sitting behind me. I was psyched he was getting so much attention. You see, after the race, Chris took a group of 30 or so athletes into the rain forest, to a remote village to help build houses with an organization called More than Sport. What a really cool and thoughtful thing to do and I was glad he was getting some positive attention for it. But then it occurred to me though…it was a LOT of attention for a few houses. So I glanced again over my right shoulder and I saw this:

…..ah yes. The Lance effect. Since I am no Lance Armstrong, I was able to leave the pro meeting, and scurry back to the hotel (again "hitchhiking" with a new friend). Off to bed early. One sleep left. I felt reasonably calm on race morning. Pre-race went without incident and before I knew it, we were diving into the Panama Canal. We knew it would be a current assisted swim and it did not disappoint. While I fell short of pulling out the towrope and skis, our lead swim group, full of the usual suspects, did turn in some swim PRs. We’ll call them "unofficial" as the current assisted swims can’t really be considered "real" swim times.

Thru transition, pretty smooth, though I did nearly careen into a set of racks during my mount. ….yep….a little rusty. For the early stages of the bike, I sat in 3rd position with 1st in sight just ahead of me. I felt strong. Once we got back out on the main highway after a hilly out and back section, I heard a rubbing noise. ….the kind of noise you never like to hear. Like a creaking noise when you’ve just sat gently in an antique chair. Or a dripping noise inside your house at the start of a rain storm…….just one of those noises that makes you say "Sh*t". I tried to ignore it, but the rub started to become a squeak; as in brake pad rubbing on carbon wheel. I made the ultimate decision to stop, try to adjust my brake and resume. I figured the 20-30" it cost me might ultimately save me in the long run if I could get the brake off. It seemed to work for a few minutes, but during the next hilly section, when I applied any type of torque on the bars, the squeak started again. I stopped one other time with the same success I’d had the first time.

Slowly, the lead group moved away and I was back in no man’s land. My wattage output had been fine, but I was frustrated with the brake. Was it slowing my progress? Or was it just me?? I tried to become one with the rubbing noise, but it make me angry for most the rest of the ride. Pissed by the time I’d entered T2, I left my Garmin sitting on the ground. At that point, I figured I’d run whatever pace came out. The opening miles felt a little rough, but as I ran, I started to feel better and better. Got passed by a few girls, but felt strong and steady. Not quite a run PR, but for 90+ degree temps with 98% humidity, it was not entirely as bad as I might have expected.

In the end, I was a bit off even the "solid" day I’d hoped for. I was frustrated because I didn’t feel the effort reflected my true potential. The mechanical caused some issue; certainly in the time I stood on the side of the road trying to fix it, but also in the unknown; how much does a brake rub hinder forward progress? We’ll never know. What I do know is that I fought to the finish, salvaged a medium run and while a 10th place finish is not a source of pride and joy, crossing the finish line was. It’d been a long 6 months, full of uncertainty about my ability to race again, the extent of my injuries, the impact they’d have on my ability to race again… many unknowns. So crossing the finish line, even with a slightly less than average day was incredibly meaningful. Not much time to dwell on the race. By 6:30 the next morning, I was on the move again. Bags packed and to the airport. BOS → DFW. Easy. Seamless. Arrived DFW, procured rental car. Found pool. Swim. I had a choice of pools in close proximity to the airport and chose an LA Fitness. It seemed just nice enough to have the potential for towel service. I hadn’t packed a towel in my carry on, so my pool choice was motivated. In the end, I chose poorly. While the pool was super convenient for travel purposes, it came up short in the towel service department. Though there were paper towels….so that’s how we rolled. Long layovers in Dallas are perfect for me. My aunt and uncle live in Dallas, along with 3 of their 4 girls, so we were able to coordinate and I had dinner with my family before heading back to the airport. We had some giggles and it was fun to see them all! Back to the airport, I settled into my seat for the 15+ hour journey DFW → BNE. I had been dreading the trip, as 15 hours is a long time to sit still. But I watched Moneyball, I watched a documentary on Mt. Everest. I watched Iron Lady and I slept. More than I have ever slept "in chair" before. I arrived in Brisbane feeling pretty refreshed after 20+ hours of travel. That was…until I got quarantined.

Turns out, Panama is a yellow fever country. I had just been to Panama and I didn’t get a yellow fever vaccination. Suddenly, the walls of the tiny office where they were questioning me started to close in. Were they going to make me live there for 6 days? Turns out, I just had to fill in mountains of paperwork with a woman, who, while incredibly nice, was also incredibly….not as smart. Only a grand total of 45’ wasted….um, I mean.....saving the world from yellow fever. I am to wear bug spray to keep from getting bit, not for my sake, but for the sake of the mosquito population. If I have the fever, they don’t want the mosquitos here to get it. I am also to let them know immediately, if I drop dead in the next 6 days. Quarantine served. So I move on to rental car. Some easy paperwork and I was off to the parking lot in search of slot 22. Which didn’t exist. I walked in circles in the parking lot for 10’. Maybe I hadn’t slept as much on the plane as I thought. Finally found it, fit luggage in it (do not underestimate the miracle in that!) and plugged in the GPS only to find out that it was in French. So I fidgeted with the GPS for a good 10’ trying to get it back into English. No easy task when all the menus were in French. Back to the ticket counter…..and starting to get irritated. New GPS procured. Back to the rental car. And finally….on the road. I made it to Noosa and what a gorgeous place. I am staying with dear friends Luke and Amanda who have made me feel right at home. I am hopeless with my sense of direction here and so far, have had one 45’ run which turned into 75’, leaving me to feel like Hansel and Gretel, lost in the woods. Am completely enamored with the outdoor 50m pool and have enjoyed some swim squad workouts with Siri Lindley and her team of athletes here. In short, I think I’m gonna love it here. I am missing home and my DaveyG and Riley the Wonderdog, but am happy with my decision to come here to get ready for Ironman Melbourne (aka, March’s version of Kona….have you SEEN the start list?) Many thanks to my sponsors; Saucony, Kestrel, TYR, The University Club of Boston, Shimano, Fuel Belt, INfinit Nutrition, Cobb Cycling, Vineyard Vines, Oakley and Compu Trainer for your support thru this really tough 6 months. 2012 is off and running!

Persistence. Determination. Love. The Journey!

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