First of all, Mont Tremblant knows how to put on an Ironman. Let this be a hint for Madison, Wisconsin, and other Ironman venues...you need to open the weekend with a live rock concert and fireworks. Mont Tremblant did. And it was amazing.
Second, the people of Mont Tremblant truly understand customer service. We were so impressed. Yes, it's a resort village and must have good customer service to keep drawing the crowds, but almost everyone we interacted with, from housekeeping in the hotel to servers at restaurants to the falconer who took us on a hike, was warm, kind, helpful, and friendly. This speaks well not only of the workers but of their management. Thank you, Mont Tremblant and Canada, for making our trip so pleasant!
Third, almost everyone in Mont Tremblant spoke English, even though French is the official language. What a gift to a whole province that most of its people are bilingual! Culturally and practically, this makes Quebec accessible and fun to visit for we mono-lingual Americans. After a while, we started making up a patois of French and English phrases just for fun, but I really, truly wish I spoke French now.
Fourth, we thoroughly enjoyed spending this time with George's sister, Angela, and her husband, Mike. Spending time with them is easy and relaxing and comfortable. They clearly love Nick and Jack, and they understand and appreciate Jack's quirks. How I wish we all lived closer together. Every time I make toast du mort*, I'll think of them and giggle!
Fifth, people who do Ironman races are both crazy and amazing. Athletes included a pair of identical twins, several married couples, a blind woman, a 74-year-old man, several people with lower-body paralysis (imagine doing an entire 140.6 miles using only your arms for propulsion!), a woman who had lost over 100 pounds, and the list goes on. We watched athletes cross the finish missing swaths of skin to road rash from bike wrecks, and a guy with his arm in a sling finished the race. I'm still trying to figure out how he did the swim.
[To see a 12-minute, professional video of the race, click HERE.]
Sixth, Ironman events offer extreme displays of sportsmanship. Racers help each other along the way with words of encouragement, a spare salt tablet, a CO2 cartridges to fill flat tires. Many people who finish earlier in the day come back near midnight to cheer on the last people to cross the line. We stayed up and witnessed an amazing sight. Mike Reilly, known as the Voice of Ironman, called out the final finisher's name and said, "You are an Ironman!" as he'd done for every other finisher that day.
Then, Reilly got word that another runner was just a few minutes out, and even though it was past the deadline for officially finishing, Reilly asked everyone wait for that athlete. A group of about twenty spectators joined the athlete for his last quarter mile and ran him across the finish line while Mike shouted words of encouragement. Mike congratulated him and got the entire crowd to shout, "You are an Ironman!"
So what if it wasn't an official finish? That man went 140.6 miles in one day, swim-bike-run. Of course he's an Ironman. And Mike Reilly was as enthusiastic and excited for him as he'd been for the first place winner of the whole race.
That's what Ironman is about: gutting it out and doing your best. Out of nine attempts at Ironman races, George didn't finish three. But he always came back and tried again. As crazy as all these athletes are, I've got nothing but respect for them, taking on such a huge challenge, pushing themselves as hard as they can.
At the T2 area, while retrieving George's bike, I saw an athlete in a wheelchair roll into the tent. He knew he'd not made the cut-off and wouldn't be allowed to start the run, but he was surrounded by people cheering him on. Now, I imagine his disappointment was acute in the moment, but seriously? All of us watching were inspired. How can we gripe about our petty challenges when this man, using just his arms for propulsion, just tried to do something most able-bodied individuals can't do?
He'll be back. And he'll finish. I just know it.
George's finish was 18 minutes faster than last year's finish in Madison, Wisconsin, at 13:57. He set a personal record for the swim...1:11, four minutes faster than ever before. Not bad for a 50-year-old, eh?
He's already talking about signing up to do Wisconsin again next year, possibly with several of his crazy friends. And I'll be there to cheer him on, carry his bike pump, and retrieve his sticky, sweaty bike. I'll gladly be his Iron Sherpa...again.
George Raihala, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!