by Amber McAdoo
I am 25 years old, and grew up in the small town of Conneaut, Ohio. I joined the Air Force at the age of 18, and just recently separated from service as a SSgt after 6 years on active duty. I was stationed in Germany for three years, got deployed to the middle east, and then moved to Florida. Florida became my absolute God-send and in the summer of 2010, after two years of living in Florida, I met my boyfriend who actually introduced me to the sport of Triathlon. Before I knew it, participating in triathlons became a true passion of mine and it practically saved my life during a bad state of depression I was unfortunately experiencing at the time.
I have only been participating in triathlons for two and a half (2 1/2) years now. In 2010 I met my current boyfriend at a charity race who introduced me to the sport, and once told me about it, needless to say I have loved it ever since. So late in 2011 (after only competing in 4 or 5 Sprint distance Triathlons), I decided that I would make it my goal to do the Half Ironman in Panama City Beach, Florida. This was close to where I lived and it is known as the Gulf Coast Triathlon. I knew this would be a new challenge both physically and mentally because I had never competed in a long distance triathlon such as the Half Ironman. It was a bit intimidating for me, but I felt I could do it. It might not seem like a huge goal to some, but it meant a lot to me because I have always admired those who had done Half and Full distance Ironman events. But this time I was so excited that I was going to get to do it myself! But after I registered and began to train, I dealt with some huge struggles in my life, and with only a couple months before the race.
With only a couple months before the race, I was facing illness with the flu, and then had a loss of my newly unborn child, which then catapulted me into a depression. But through it all, there was still a bit of light left in me, as my goal was to complete the Half Ironman as I originally intended to. I remember when feeling at my lowest point from the loss and deep depression that followed, I was starting to believe that I was not going to be able to enter this race. I felt both my mind and my body were suffering simultaneously, and it was very difficult to get out and train. I almost convinced myself that there was no way I could do this huge race when I was not prepared mentally or physically. This of course broke my heart at the thought of possibly giving up the race and losing that too. But through the pain of losing my unborn child, and my goal of completing the Half Ironman, I needed to find a way to reconnect. Crossing the finish line was always there lingering in my thoughts and always in my mind. I thought, -“If I can get manage to get through all of this and find a way to achieve my goal, then I can do anything I set my mind to”.
Every single time that sadness came over me, I would tell myself that I needed to just embrace the painful situation I was dealing with, become stronger because of it, and go out and do something productive to help me through the motions. And I did just that! I got up and needed to start moving again. I wouldn’t allow my pain and sadness to overtake my life like it was doing, so I would just go out every day in the weeks before the race, and push myself to swim, bike, or run as I felt it was giving me the strength I needed to get up off of the floor.
Only a couple weeks before my Half Ironman race, I made the decision that I WOULD then go ahead and complete this race as I originally planned. I knew that if I was strong enough to participate and cross that finish line then I would be strong enough to overcome the pain I was experiencing at that moment in my life. The Half Ironman did not just signify another race, but signified hope that all would be ok if I just took one day at a time and focused. I remember the morning of the race, only seconds to the start, standing tall at the edge of the sand. I looked out to the open water with tears in my eyes, thinking to myself that I made it to that day and to the starting line. That within itself was enough to make me happy!
I finished my Half Ironman in 6 hours and 29 minutes (with a goal of 6:30), and it was an experience that I will never forget. During the swim, I just thanked God over and over that I was there because it was exciting. Every second in that salt water, surrounded by other people, just felt so real, and humbling. The bike portion was also great and I was enjoying myself. Although it was a little windy that day, just being surrounded by other athletes and feeling their excitement as well as my own, was very comforting and made for a gratifying 56 mile ride. Once I started the run, I could hear people cheering, there was music at the rest stations, and all of the volunteers were just so amazing and encouraging. Once I approached the finish line while running the last few steps, I was surrounded by people cheering, and it was the most amazing feeling to know that I was only a few feet from the finish line. It was as if nothing else in the world mattered, because in that moment, I was at peace, and more importantly at peace with myself. Once I crossed the finish line, my boyfriend was waiting for me, and I jumped into his arms and just cried. I cried because for the first time in months, I was overwhelmed with a sense of joy I didn’t felt before. Although I had lost a part of me not long before the race, once I finished that race, I felt as if I gained a part of me back, along with a new sense of hope and accomplishment.
Now my focus has shifted to a much bigger and challenging event in attempting to finish a full Ironman in November 2013. This will be my first Ironman and I feel inspired wanting to do something positive for others. What better way to get motivated to sign up for the Ironman Triathlon and find a way to help people and/or animals during the process. Therefore, I have decided to raise money for four (4) non-profit organizations while attempting to finish the 2013 Ironman in Florida. I have chosen the four (4) non-profit organizations that I feel connected with the most, are personal to me, very close to my heart, and that I would feel proud to help support. The first organization is called The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge, which I have a true love for nature and animals. This organization is local to me, and cares for our wildlife when they are hurt or in need. The next organization is called The Woman’s Care Center, who is close to my home town in Ohio. They provide support for woman who are pregnant or who have lost their child. I also had a family member who was supported by this organization years ago, and they truly blessed her. The next organization is called The Pet Fund, who provides funds for families who will lose their pet to illness or being hurt unless funds are also provided for them to save their pet. I have seen first-hand the tragic effects of a family losing their pet due to insufficient funds. I love animals and know that our pets can be a part of the family, so we need to help save them when possible. The last organization is called The Barr Foundation, who assist amputees with prosthetic rehabilitation and help individuals with insufficient funds to get the prosthetics they need. It is personal to me because not long ago, I had had a terrible infection on my foot from a cut I received while swimming in the bayou. It took months to heal, and I was told that amputation was possible. My eyes were open that day to just how hard it would be to lose my foot, and I began to have a greater respect for those that have to deal with that kind of loss.
Completing the Half Ironman blessed me by renewing the hope that I once lost, only months before the race. Therefore, I want to help and bless others the same way by sending a message of hope. Raising money for these organizations fullfils that void and brings me satisfaction in doing so. Participating in this Ironman will definitely not be easy. It is the longest and most challenging Triathlon distance, consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike, then ending with a 26.2 mile run (full marathon). And you must finish within just 17 hours! This is totally new to me, therefore, I am aware it will take every ounce of effort out of me, and I will be dedicating every day this 2013 year to train and prepare for it. I plan to eat well, swim, cycle, run, and raise money for the non-profit organizations I have chosen above. It will be a challenge, but one that I will embrace with all of my heart, every breath that I have, and every step that I take. I want people to know that there is ALWAYS hope, and that you have to believe. Even through your worst seasons of pain or whatever loss you may experience in your life, you CAN overcome it and turn your pain into a blessing!