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Thursday, July 8, 2004 01:36 pm

Grace about town 7-8-04

In the swim of things

Note to editor and everybody else: You may think I'm suddenly only writing about My New Boyfriend (MNB), but I promise that this isn't really true -- except for this week. So if you're one of those people who is annoyed by talk of love and all that mushy stuff (and I was right there with you a short time ago), please know that next week it's back to all seriousness and somber, non-love-related writing.

MNB participated in the Harbor Lights Triathlon in Waukegan last weekend, and I went along to see what it was all about. My only previous experience with any crazy exertion spectacles was watching my friend Jerri run in the Los Angeles Marathon. At the end, Jerri said she'd never run another marathon again. As a matter of fact, she said she wasn't going to do any running at all -- unless somebody was chasing her.

She ran in the Los Angeles Marathon the very next year. Somewhere after the 20th mile, I saw her totally pumped and having a great time. I fleetingly thought, "Hmm, maybe I should try that someday." But then I said, "Nah, not gonna happen." I confess that I enjoy jogging, even though I worry that my knees will suddenly self-destruct. But I'm not pushing myself. I run for the fun of it.

But MNB, he's another matter entirely (I still haven't found his tragic flaw, except that he's a hardcore morning person, which is pretty darn tragic). The Harbor Lights was his very first triathlon, and when it was over, I asked him whether he'd ever want to enter another triathlon. "I can't wait!" he said. Hmm.

MNB runs and cycles a lot but hadn't been doing a tremendous amount of swimming. Plus, the first event in the triathlon involved plunging into the icy waters of Lake Michigan. Sixty-one degrees -- mighty cold. MNB, who had bought a wetsuit on the day before the triathlon, had never dived into icy waters in a wetsuit. He said that when he hit the water, he couldn't breathe.

Breathing is a key portion of a triathlon -- of most activities, for that matter.

I stood on the beach, watching wave after wave of people hurl themselves into the water like so many lemmings. I said to the woman next to me, "I'm glad it's them and not me." She concurred. We strolled down the shore, waiting for them to emerge. Finally MNB made it out and jogged over to the transition area.

This is where you peel off your wetsuit, jam your feet into your cycling shoes, pick up your bike and pedal off. MNB made pretty good time on his very first triathlon, except for the transitioning. The more experienced triathletes were fast; MNB lagged behind.

He wasn't as slow as one guy, though. I watched, fascinated, as this chunky fellow methodically peeled off his wetsuit, neatly folded it, and put it in a bag, then spent a huge amount of time changing out of his swimming suit and into running shorts. He struggled mightily to disrobe with a towel around his waist, and I decided that my job was to make sure no decency laws were broken. Would the towel fall, or wouldn't it? Finally he made it out of the transition area, modesty intact.

Next, 13.2 miles of cycling. I sat near the transition area as the triathletes cycled because they rode off to the highway and I figured I wouldn't be able to see them.

Somewhere in the crowd of spectators was Geoff Bland of Springfield, owner of the Corkscrew Wine Emporium. He was there to cheer on his lover, Brigitte Cutler, a triathlon fanatic. Brigitte began competing in triathlons four years ago and does about six a year. Geoff does biathlons with her (they ran in the Hillsboro Biathlon just last Sunday), but he's often her one-man cheering section for the tri events.

Brigitte said he's amazingly supportive -- during Harbor Lights, when Brigitte began cycling, Geoff jumped on his own bike and waited for her at an overpass to cheer her on. She said it was a fun surprise to see him pop up in unexpected places.

I told Brigitte that it took MNB five minutes to do one transition, and she hooted, "What did he do, lie down and take a nap?" "He'd never done it before," I explained. "Next time he'll be faster."

MNB made up for lost time in the cycling and running. The most enjoyable part for me was watching runner after runner cross the finish line. And there was MNB! I felt so proud of him as he sprinted across the line.

We lolled on the grass as the winners were announced during the postevent picnic. I was amazed that the oldest age category was 65-69. Gee whiz, if somebody pushing 70 could do it, what's to stop me?

I have a couple of years to contemplate being a contender. Right now, I'm eager to start my training to compete with Geoff for Most Supportive Triathlon Cheerleader.

To see Grace's latest video click here.

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