THE FINISH LINE

When I tell people I compete in triathlons, I almost always get the same reaction — their eyes widen, their heads shake back and forth, they get a look of disbelief on their face and they almost always say, “What…triathlons? You’re crazy!” It’s a pretty common reaction, and one I completely understand. In fact, this past Saturday morning as I prepared to compete in my 3rd and final race of the season, I asked myself that very question.

It was 6 a.m., and the sun was still 45 minutes from making an appearance. My husband and I racked our bikes, staged our gear for efficient transitions, grabbed our swim caps and goggles and made our way down to the lakefront which, because of the early start time, was engulfed in total darkness. We could barely make out the outlines of the other racers, many of whom were relying on the lights from their GPS watches to avoid stepping on rocks or small debris from the trees. My husband and I waited as long as we could before entering the water to warm-up, but because the sun was still minutes away from breaking through the clouds, warm-up was more like a moonlight swim.

Pre-race picture! Check out the darkness behind me!
Pre-race picture! Check out the darkness behind me!

Now I’m a “glass half full” kind of gal, so I couldn’t help but giggle at the absurdity of the situation. “What an adventure,” I thought. However, my internal optimism was quieted when I thought to myself: “What in the world am I doing here?”

So, why do I do it? I mean, I spend enough time and money on endurance racing so I better have a good answer, right? Well, I do have an answer — I love the journey and am captivated by the “The Process” (as Alabama head coach Nick Saban would say) of what it takes to get to the finish line.

Finishing the race.
Finishing the race.

Think about it. At some point, every athlete who joined me Saturday morning made the decision to sign up for this race. They set their goals and then spent months training to reach that goal, and along the way they had to overcome mental blocks, injuries and other outside elements — bugs, snow, heat, rain, cramps and fatigue, you name it, we’ve all trained through it!

And the training, well that’s the easy part! Because regardless of how physically and mentally prepared you are on race morning, anything can (and often does happen). I’ve dealt with a dropped chain and bugs flying into my helmet. I’ve seen elite athletes, who could run circles around me, sitting on the side of the road with leg cramps. Men and women who’ve spent thousands of dollars on fancy high-tech bikes pulled over on the side of the road with a parts failure or a flat just a few miles into the ride. I watched a girl sob uncontrollably on mile 24 of The New York City marathon, as the physical pain tried to break her mental strength. But you know what, she pushed on!

Every time I pass someone whose race “journey” is interrupted, I think about what it takes to correct, refocus and move forward. What’s their motivation? Because it’s different for everyone.

This past summer, I competed in three triathlons, and each time I had a different motivation. One weekend, I swam with a woman whose head was shaved indicating her fight against cancer. The next race, I was determined to beat my husband’s best time (still haven’t accomplish that one), and this past Saturday my motivation was an 11-year-old named Alyssa. Alyssa and I went back and forth during the bike and swim, encouraging each other with a “great job” or a “you’re kicking butt” as we exchanged the lead spot. And just when I thought I had her beat, she blew past me with a half mile remaining in the run and ended up beating me. Yeah, yeah, I know I got beat by an 11-year-old….but hey, maybe I was her motivation too!

So as I get ready for my first College football game of the season, I can’t help by thing of the journey that lies ahead for all teams. They all start the season with the same expectations — to get to the finish line. And just like triathlons, you never know what the challenges the “journey” will bring. Because at some point, each and every player will have to ask themselves the question: “What is my motivation?”

With Alyssa after the race!
With Alyssa after the race!

Back To School!

This time of the year I always think back to summer as a kid. Long days with no bedtime. Bathing suits, bicycles and my dad’s grill. Nothing to do but wake up and play!
And while there was nothing like the freedom I felt during those few months, there was something equally as exciting as the impending school year. I mean, come on, who doesn’t get excited about reconnecting with old friends, meeting new ones and anxiously anticipating the challenges a new year will bring.

As much as I longed for “just…one…more…day” of an alarm-clock free morning, the excitement I felt in the “pit of my stomach” when the ringing woke me on the first day of school is something I’ll never forget.

Well, guess what? That still happens to me today! Ever since I hung up my NASCAR firesuit on May 31, 2014, my work focus has been College sports, and therefore my adult summers have mirrored those of my youth. Why? Well, because I have most of the summer off.

In fact, the morning after Coach K and his squad cut down the nets in Indianapolis, I flew home, and my name officially changed from Shannon to Mommy. Yup, I drove home and waiting outside (literally) were my two beautiful, wonderful and extremely extroverted 5-year-old identical twin boys, Liam and Brady. They ran to my car screaming, “Mommy is home from work!” Behind them stood my equally wonderful, but a lot less energetic husband, who had just spent the past eight months playing the role of “Mister Mom” and the last 30 days as close to a single parent as he would like to get. You see, while covering Kentucky’s Pursuit of Perfection will always be a career highlight for me, it required that I spent most of March with the team instead of my family — but hey, I got major mommy brownie points for my pre-Final Four Facetime conversation with my kids and the Wildcat!

Final Four!
Final Four!

So this summer was all about the kiddos. I drove them back and forth to camp, sat on the sidelines during Lacrosse, swimming and diving practices, and with the exception of the few days I spent in New York City covering the NBA draft, I had dinner at home with my family almost every night and spent every day trying to reinforce the “magic” my boys still believe exists around every corner (more on THAT in a later entry).

And while my family is, and always will be, my number 1 priority, I also love my job. Which brings me back to the whole “first day of school thing.” When the month of September nears, I start to get that same sensation I did when I was a kid and the first day of school was right around the corner. Excitement. And if there were a “first day of school” for ESPN College Football broadcasters, it would no doubt be our 2-day pre-season seminar, which takes place about two weeks before the season kicks off.

ESPN gathers its College Football staff (producers, directors and on-air team) for our pre-season seminar. The first time I attended, my head was on a swivel! As a football fan, and someone who respects all the play-by-play, analyst and reporters who cover the sport, I was in professional heaven. Over the years, I’ve become friends with and have worked with many of the men and women in the room; however, I still can’t help but turn my head from side to side just to see who’s in the room and think to myself “Damn this is cool.”

College Football Seminar  (Day 2)
College Football Seminar
(Day 2)

And so it begins again — balancing my life as mommy and wife with that of an ESPN reporter for the 2015-2016 College sports season (football directly into basketball). Suitcases. Airports. Alarm clocks. Summer is over for all of us, but you know what? I can’t wait!

First day of Kindergarten for the boys!
First day of Kindergarten for the boys!