Conquering the Outback: 2009 ITU World Championships

            The 2009 ITU Triathlon World Championships brought me to beautiful Gold Coast, Australia.  I arrived on Wednesday September 9th at the crack of dawn at the Brisbane airport.  Guide Matt West and I rented a car and of course like any typical American I proceeded to get in on the right side of the car.  Matt asked, “are you gonna drive?”  That wasn’t the first time that I tried getting in on what was now the driver’s side.  England and Australia haven’t followed suit with the rest of the world on the roads.  They still prefer the left side.  I am sure this creates massive #’s of car accidents amongst tourists but that’s the way it is and Matt had to focus like a hawk on the road.  We took the car and headed straight to the beach city of Surfer’s Paradise.  With a name like this it was sure to be a tattered up town with shacks lining the roads.  To our amazement, it was a tourist wonderland.  Hotels everywhere and a beach two blocks from our hotel with sand softer and more pure than any sand I had ever encountered.  The hotel we were staying at was only 3 weeks old and when I heard that we had two one bedroom apartments for only$200/night I almost pooped my pants.  My longtime friend Elizabeth Bowne from LA that fell madly in love with an Aussie and moved to Perth had found this deal and would be hanging with us for our time in Surfer’s Paradise.              We knew we needed to fight off the sleep demons in our head and stay awake the entire day on Wednesday.  What a better way to do this than to go swim 2,100m in the beating sun?  I don’t know if this was the perfect jet lag solution but it definitely showed me I had dead legs.  We got out of the pool and about passed out on the pavement.  Matt went directly back to the hotel and slept 15hrs until the next morning.  I however was not going to give into the sleep demons.  I stayed up, put together the Burley Beast and then headed to the strip to get some food.  I decided to be real adventurous and go with Subway. To be honest, it was the only sign that I recognized or could read.  I learned another fact about Australia as I paid for my foot long sub.  Food in Australia is only for the rich.  The cost of the foot long sub?  A whopping $14.  Whatever happened to the $5 deal that I thought was worldwide?  From there I proceeded to purchase a Gatorade (20oz) for $4.  It was then that I realized where all of the Feed the Children food should go. 

            Thursday was a busy day for race prep.  Team USA had mandatory packet pick up and there was a Para Triathlon briefing that we looked everywhere for but the ability or lack thereof to communicate with others via mobile/internet began posing a major problem. My friend from Seattle Tanner arrived on Thursday as well and the three of us trolled around like the three stooges.  Matt and Tanner connected instantly.  You would have thought they were lifelong buddies.  Elizabeth Bowen also joined us and later in the evening we headed out to the Parade of Nations.  The Parade of Nations is similar to the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games on a micro scale.  I saw other Americans I knew from past teams including two of my favorites from the LA area Rosalind and Lamar who happened to be staying in our hotel.  I also met a Brit named Stewie who somehow squeezed onto the American team and a very fun female from Wisconsin named Heidi.  The main entertainment for the event came from two Aussie’s dressed up like military officers prancing around with small whips and one feather hanging from their bum.  They acted as if they were directing traffic but in reality they were more comedy than anything else.  I jumped into the street and we snapped pictures with the male general and then he proceeded to whip me on my bum.  We then headed over to the female general to snap a pic with her.  She said, “Make it snappy.  I’m General Gala, Quack Quack.”  I could not help myself but to burst out laughing.  General Gala and her counterpart then became the focus of our entertainment and they did a good job until it was time to begin walking the parade route.  By 8pm the parade was not over and we were absolutely famished.  We headed back to the hotel and found a nice reasonable $40 spaghetti dinner across the street.  At that price I got my money’s worth and literally licked my plate.  Bedtime followed closely after dinner. 

            Friday was the day before the race and was pretty calm.  As I walked around the hotel randomly asking people for a bike pump I met a 16yr old Aussie girl that was in the same position as me but needed a bit more help.  She was alone at her first World Championships and didn’t exactly know what to do.  We decided to take her under our wings and include her in our little family.  She was so grateful that we could help her and even left little chocolates and a small bike pump at our door.  She didn’t need to get any gifts but I won’t ever reject some good chocolate.  Later that night we had arranged a pasta dinner in our apartment with Rosalind, Lamar, Aussie friend Audrey, and a few more.  By the time we had figured out the weird oven and stove setup of the apartment it was nearly 7pm but the struggles were worth it because dinner was scrumptious.  Matt and I were in the first wave of the day and needed to hit the sack early.  The others that would form “Aaron’s Entourage” stayed up later and proceeded to make signs saying “Go Aaron” and some with more vulgar language that I will refrain from using in this story due to the potential of small children reading. 

            After a long night of getting up to go the bathroom nearly every 30minutes, I woke up with the intent of winning a World Championship.  It was of course a “Great day to be a Spartan” and it was time to represent the US proud.  In order to do this most effectively, three things needed to be done.  First, I needed a big smiley face on my calf.  Second, I needed to load up on fake tattoos from RehabCare and Tri Bike Transport.  Thirdly, I needed to eat my peanut butter oatmeal drink my special juice.  When these things were complete I was ready to go.  Matt and I checked ourselves into the Para Triathlon transition and ran through our transition plan one more time before walking to the beach.  Aaron’s Entourage, including friend Kim Heys who had flew from Sydney to join the cheering section, were ready with whistles, poppers and signs.  I told them they needed to be as obnoxious and loud as possible.  They did a great job of doing just that. 

            By 6:30am Matt and I were in the water warming up and saying our traditional prayer.  The officials called us back to the start line where 50 other ParaTriathletes awaited the start gun.  The swim was a rectangular shaped point to point swim, ending near the transition area close to a mile away.  Over the loudspeaker the starter announced, “Athletes take your marks.”  Then “BANG” the gun went off to start the race.  Matt and I bolted out near the front but there were a few other quick swimmers right with us.  As we rounded the first buoy, both Matt and I were violently jerked backwards.   This had never happened before but our tether had wrapped around the rope anchoring the buoy to the ocean floor.  I realized this was the case very quickly and ripped off the tether and Matt did the same.  We were now tetherless and the sun was in my eyes with every breath.  I tried to keep Matt, or the person that I thought was Matt within a few feet of me but this became very challenging with the sun.  Matt did a great job of letting me know he was there.   Two other swimmers were still right with us though and we clawed our way into the lead with about 500m to go.  Then as we rounded the last buoy I lost Matt and just kept swimming.  Matt was swimming the correct way and I was creating my own swim course.  Before I went too astray Matt yelled at me to come towards him and I sprinted the rest of the swim in with him.  We exited the water first in a time of 20:00.  By the time we completed the long run to transition area we were at 22min.  We had really practiced our transition in the last few days and we were very focused on hitting them to a T.  Unfortunately, with the long run to get to the road our transition times didn’t look so quick on the stat sheet.  We mounted the tandem and then coordinated putting our feet into our shoes.  Aaron’s Entourage could be heard halfway across the city. 

            The 40K bike course consisted of two loops, a lot of round abouts and tight narrow roads.  We got onto the bike in first and were joined by a lead motorcyclist who I think underestimated the speeds that the Burley could top out at.  We wanted a bike split well under an hour so we put our heads down and leaned aggressively into each turn.  At the turn around we had a minute or two on the next competitor who was a BK from Spain.  Matt kept updating me on our position as I kept telling myself to pump harder.  The good thing about this course was that it was spectator friendly and passed by the crowd many times.  This gave us more opportunities to hear the loud whistles and hoots from Aaron’s Entourage.  Those that know me are well aware that I feed off emotion and suck in the energy of the crown and selfishly use it to propel myself.  Each time we passed the crowd I got the rush of energy.  As we headed out on our second loop I started to loosen up more and felt our power transfer to increased speed.  We whipped around the roundabouts scraping our pedal on one but remaining upright.  At the turn around Matt looked for the next Para competitor but we were in the clear.  Again I fed off the crowd coming into transition and we got our feet out of our pedals before dismounting the bike and running the ¼ mile from the road to transition.  Our bike split was a 58:30 and there was still a chance of breaking 2hrs with a 36 flat 10K.  The run was also a two loop course but even more fan friendly than the bike.  It weaved in and around the race venue before doing an out and back along the Gold Coast Hwy.  The crowd definitely got me through the first 1.5miles with the bells, whistles and yelling.  As we went out on the out and back I started losing steam.  I knew that I had the win and just wanted to keep my composure in order to embrace the moment when the finish came around.  As we came around for the first lap we were right at around 18:50 for 5K.  Matt told me that we were on the jumbo tron so I made sure to wave to the crowd with excessive vigor.  I don’t know if it was all the energy I used getting the crowd involved or not but I was definitely feeling the legs crumbling by the 8K mark.  By this time, I had the race in the bag and I decided to enjoy it as much as possible.  It was at that point that Matt mentioned there were some small children cheering on the side of the road.  We stopped and gave all the kids high fives.  Twenty seconds didn’t mean anything at that point but enjoying the moment meant everything.  A few minutes later we made the left hand turn towards the home stretch and then the final right hand turn onto the blue carpet.  I pumped my fists to the crowd and joined hands with Matt as we broke the tape across the finish line.  We were the first athletes to cross the line for the entire day so it was really special.  All the officials from ITU came over and congratulated us and then we headed straight to the stands where there were rows of Aaron’s Entourage waiting with cameras and video recorders.  Tanner, Kim and Elizabeth probably had used as much energy yelling and shaking signs as we had racing.  They were amazing and so was Matt West with whom which none of this would be possible without. 

            It was a great start for Team USA and I was so excited when fellow teammate and BK JP came across second in the ParaTriathlon race.  The USA may not be a powerhouse in the overall sport of triathlon but we are sure making a big name for ourselves in the ParaTriathlon world.  Hopefully we can continue this once the sport becomes an official Paralympic sport in the near future. 

            Well, that’s it for the race report but to hear about the post race festivities and other adventures that took place downunder make sure to check out Day to Day with Aaron as well as Aaron Scheidies TV.  You may find these stories even more entertaining and amusing.