She who finishes the race

In a little more than 7 hours, five of my best friends will be competing in a triathlon, and I will be there to cheer them on (Official Title: Towel Girl).

It's the Danskin Women's Triathlon Series, an eight-city event that emphasizes fun, sisterhood and morale-building over times, ketosis, and Buns of Steel. Tomorrow is the official kick-off of this year's series, at Walt Disney World resort. A mini-sprint tri, this race consists of a 400 yard swim in the Seven Seas Lagoon, a 9-mile bike ride through the property and behind Animal Kingdom, and a two-mile run through the Magic Kingdom, past Cinderella's Castle and down Main Street USA.

Since the Series began in 1990, over 140,000 women have "tri"ed it. Last year I watched my friends stick their toes in the tri water at this same race. As a spectator, I learned much about the character of the event -- a humbling glimpse at how powerful women are when they decide to support each other.

Watching at the finish line as woman after woman completed her own mini-sprint journey in perseverance, I think I learned something by watching them learn about themselves. The Series' slogan is "The woman who starts the race is not the same woman who finishes the race." They might be amazed to learn that this holds true even for Towel Girls.

Never have I seen a mass of women (1,200 in tomorrow's race) behave so much like each other's mothers, best friends, and lifelines. There were a thousand little acts of generosity and compassion that would each merit an essay of their own: sharing water, shouting encouragement, slowing down to help someone who was struggling, and most of all, Team Survivor, a group of cancer survivors who complete the race together, hands raised and clasped together in victory. Dry eye at the finish line? Good luck.

Instead of standing in line at race registration all day today, Towel Girls have the privilege of being out in the world, catching glimpses of the future of our gender.

There was a little girl (9 or 10) on my nephew's soccer team. She was playing her heart out, not shying away from any 50/50 balls, even when the other 50 was a big boy with a big foot. Unfortunately he didn't back down either, and she took a full, close range soccer ball rocket in the mouth. I can tell you, this hurts even worse than it looks.

The little girl's father is the team's coach, and he rushed on to the field and carried her off. I thought that she must be crying, but as he gently dropped her onto the bench, I could see that a battle for resolve and composure was raging behind some tears. Some mothers came over, fussing with icebags. Her coach/father backed away and loitered a minute, then said, "Well, honey, you just let me know when you're ready to go back in, okay?"

"I'm ready now, Dad," she said in all seriousness. Then she shot him a winning grin and hopped up off the bench, just in case he didn't believe her. He stared at her, completely without words. Humbling, isn't it Dad, the awesome power of your little girl, who knows exactly what she's made of?

I'll be reminded of her tomorrow, as each of those women crosses the finish line. I won't have any words for it, either, other than the overwrought hip-hop twang of "you go, girl."

But you know, that's what I'll be thinking.

And when my friends cross the finish line, I am entirely likely to shout it instead.


Danskin Women's Triathlon Series
The eight-city Danskin Women's Triathlon Series is the largest and longest-running multi-sport Series in the world. Since its launch in 1990, the Series has played a major role in the growth of the sport of triathlon by providing more than 140,000 women with the opportunity to "tri" a triathlon, many for the first time, in a supportive environment where the emphasis is on accomplishment, fun and camaraderie.

Danskin is proud to support The Breast Cancer Research Foundation as the Official Charity of the Series. On behalf of the participants, Danskin will again donate 10% of all entry fees received throughout the 2005 season. A minimum of 85 cents of each dollar donated to BCRF goes directly to research and public awareness programs. BCRF continues to receive the highest ratings from Charity Navigator, four stars, and the American Institute of Philanthropy, an "A."

For more information about the Foundation and its work, please visit www.bcrfcure.org.

In its 11th year, Danskin Team Survivor provides a fitness opportunity for women cancer survivors to train and participate in their first triathlon in a supportive environment. Women in all stages of treatment, recovery, and survivorship are welcome. Training programs specifically for women cancer survivors are offered in various cities across the country.

Walking Teams available too!

For more information on Danskin Team Survivor training programs and events, visit us at www.teamsurvivor.org , call 800/452-9526 or e-mail cathy@teamsurvivor.org.

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