September 24th, 2016 by Kaitlyn Patterson
–By Elaine Sheikh, Team OAM NOW triathlete
Wow. I don’t fully have words to describe my experience at ITU World Championships in Cozumel, Mexico. However, it is one of those experiences in life that I will never forget and will always cherish! For those who don’t know my story, last season (2015) was a really rough year for me. The second week in January I suffered a severe injury and was unable to run until the last week in April. Although personal injury attorneys in Long Island helped to get right treatment, it took a while to get back to running. Therefore, I was unable to participate in any early season races and I felt I had lost a lot of training time. I was worried about the rest of my season that year. With the expert coaching of Mark Olson, I pulled off 4th in my age group at Age Group Nationals in both the sprint and the Olympic distance races! It truly is a testament to what having a great coach and a plan can do! That race qualified me to race in the ITU World Championships this year. Again, thanks to great coaching, I was able to stay uninjured for this season (a first for me, I have never gone a season without an injury!).
Coming into Mexico, I felt strong, but I have always suffered from a lack of self-confidence. The first race I competed in was the sprint distance on Thursday. It was draft legal, which puts people like me, a non-swimmer/strong cyclist at a distinct disadvantage. I swam well, but had a mishap mounting the bike which cost me precious time as the pack rode away. I worked as hard as I could on the bike, but a lone ranger is no match for a pack! I completely disintegrated on the run. It was hot and humid and my gut exploded. It was a repeat of my 2016 Age-Group Nationals Olympic race. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t swallow, doubled over in pain and could barely shuffle through the 5K run to collapse in pain at the finish. I was so disappointed and scared going into Sunday’s race. A friend gave me the advice “don’t forget to have fun! I always find that if I crack a smile I race that much better.” After that, I was determined to have fun!
On race day that rang even more true. Coming out of the water after a harrowing swim against the ocean current and an accident that almost ended my race there in the water, I looked at my watch and my heart sank. I knew then that I was likely SEVEN minutes behind the race. In an Olympic distance race, that is a HUGE deficit. I mean, my race is just over two hours. Seven minutes is good proportion of that time. I ran out of the water and I heard a friend from Michigan State yell out encouragement. I was crying a little bit as I ran the quarter mile to transition. I grabbed my race number, sunglasses, and helmet and charge out onto the course with my bike. The first two miles I was choking and coughing sea water and at one point I was coughing so hard that I was afraid I was going to make myself vomit. I got down some Infinit and that helped. Then I put my head down and pedaled. I realized that I felt good. I was able to talk to competitors as they passed or I passed them. And I remembered that this race was about having fun! I remembered my 2015 season and how uncertain everything had been for me. I didn’t work that hard to come to Cozumel and a) not finish the race or b) not relish the experience and enjoy every moment.
Before I knew it I was rounding the corner to come back into the Fonatur Marina and hit the cobblestones that signaled I needed to get my shoes off and prep for the dismount. I came through T2 and hit the run course. It was hot again! Instead of focusing on the heat, I focused on something Age Group National Champion Todd Buckingham, my friend and travel buddy, had told me. Every time I wanted to think of my discomfort or the heat, I told myself, “You’re doing AMAZING. You’re here, you’re rocking this, and you can’t help it if you get passed, but you are going to pass every single girl you can.”
One by one, I passed girls from different countries bearing the “20” tattoo on their left calf. I was hurting, but when I grabbed my U.S. flag 400 meters from the finish line, nothing else mattered. I heard my mom in the bleachers calling out my name as I hit the blue carpet and I was beaming from ear to ear with the flag held high. I finished in sixth place in my age group! It was so much better than I could have imagined after my terrible swim! Most importantly though, I finished with a heart full of joy and a smile on my face. I’m so incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to race in Cozumel against some stiff competition. If you ever qualify for Worlds, it is definitely something you should consider participating in. As for me, I have one more race until a much-deserved off season. I’ll be under the radar in training for a few months, but there are some awesome new challenges for me to undertake next year!
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