by Shameka Pollard
I don't even know where to begin. Somehow, I unknowingly embarked on a journey to my very first Half Ironman. It all started in September 2015 with the longest and most terrifying 300 yard pool swim at a reverse sprint triathlon. It took me 22:35 to swim 300 yards in a pool. That swim wiped me out physically and emotionally. I was a wreck the week leading to the swim, the day of the swim and even after. I was so happy I survived, but what I wanted more than anything was to arrive to race day without being terrified. I wanted to enjoy the race experience and just have the normal race day butterflies that come along with being excited and ready to race.
So began my journey to Augusta. It all started with our Fleet Feet coach, Shahin, "predicting" that I would finish a Half Ironman and it would be Augusta. I had just barely survived a 300 yard pool swim, and I thought he lost his mind. How would I ever swim 1.2 miles in a river?!?!
In May 2016, I went to watch a large group of my teammates race the Chattanooga Half Ironman. It was a great experience, but extremely overwhelming. That swim start scared me. I couldn't imagine voluntarily jumping into a river. I then traveled to Raleigh to watch Ken Moore complete the Raleigh Half Ironman. At that point, it was a little less scary and not as overwhelming. Finally, I traveled to Augusta in September of 2016 to watch Katelin Huey and Melinda Spiva race "my race." It was scary. It seemed very difficult, but I officially decided I was going to make Augusta my first 70.3 in 2017.
I remember registering for the race like it was yesterday. Sherry Dutkosky and her husband, Tom, were with me when I entered all of my information and hit the submit button. I was happy, but completely terrified. I wanted so badly to do this, but I honestly did not know how I was going to make it happen.
At this point, it was December 2016. I was completely terrified of open water. I was just getting to a point where I was feeling better about swimming in a pool. With this in mind, I knew I had my training partners and the training program for support and guidance. Heck, I even had support just to register for the race.
I went to work leaning on my support system. Shahin and Cheryl were kind enough to make the Augusta Half Ironman the Fleet Feet Fall/Late Season goal race. That meant I would have a training group training with me for this race and potentially people racing the actual race with me. FYI: It's so much more fun racing with friends. I also secured two Sherpas (Mary Jane Pitts and Kelly Pike) and some great spectators. I knew I would need all of the help I could get.
I laid out a plan for my year. It consisted of goals and races to prepare for Augusta. The goals were to become a more confident swimmer and a stronger cyclist. I wanted to arrive to race day happy, healthy, excited and ready to race.
This year I was able to accomplish some amazing things: I finished two Olympic distance triathlons; I swam 3 organized open water 1 mile swim events thanks to Dills Gap Racing; I was able to become comfortable swimming in open water without my wetsuit; I increased my confidence in races by finding what worked for me; and I fell in love with my bike. I owe all of these accomplishments to so many wonderful people I am so lucky to know and train with. They have helped me in so many ways. I could never thank them enough for the love and support they have shown me. I don't know how I was so lucky.
In getting to this race, I have realized how lucky I am. I had so many people help me along the way. They trained with me, offered me tips, listened to me whine, supported me at races and reminded me of why I was doing this.
Anything really is possible if you believe in yourself and have support. Having this team of amazing training buddies and supporters is unbelievable. I just don't know how people complete 100% of their training and racing alone. Every little thing about being included in a group makes a huge difference. Seriously, how cool is it to race with friends?! It's so much fun cheering on fellow teammates on the course. I can't imagine racing any other way.
Speaking of support, Cheryl Hadian, who is the co-owner of Fleet Feet is just amazing. She does so much to make this group feel like a family. She does everything from taking pictures, setting up water stops for training runs, carting around our equipment, organizing social events and cooking her famous pancakes.
While we are talking about support, I am going to try to mention some folks who have been absolutely instrumental in my training year. I would not have been able to do this without them. The great thing about this group is there are so many people that I'm worried I will skip someone. If I miss you, please know that I'm only a few days out from my Half Ironman and I'm still a little foggy. First of all, I have to thank JD Sitgreaves and Renee Black. I could write an entire book about how much these two have helped me get more comfortable with my swim and feel more confident on race day. I have to thank Mary Jane Pitts and Bill Morgan. They have run and biked with me, as well as listened to me whine. Kelly Pike was kind enough to be my Sherpa at Chattanooga Waterfront this summer. Without her, I don't think I would've survived that race. Mary Jane, Bill and Kelly were kind enough to travel to Augusta before the race with me. They even volunteered with me and helped me to stay on track for race day. I also have to thank Becky Marambio for running with me. She has stuck by me all year. She would wake up early on Thursday morning's to run whatever distance I needed. She also lended an ear and offered advice/encouragement. I also have to thank Henry Marambio. He always keeps things real.... entertaining. When I was first trying to increase my consistency with biking, he would bike with me. He also swam with me and helped me learn to deal with irritating swimmers. I think he really enjoyed that part of my training. I know I have forgotten to list some people. I'm just going to stick with the statement that I'm still a little foggy. I just know the support system I have has helped me turn my dream into a reality.
I thought chasing this dream would be as ridiculous as trying to catch a unicorn. I thought It would be absolutely impossible. It turns out anything is possible if you dream big, work hard and are lucky enough to have the unbelievable support and guidance of such amazing people.
Thanks to these people, my dream became a reality in Augusta, GA on Sunday, September 24, 2017. I finished my very first Half Ironman and actually enjoyed it. I can't believe I'm saying this, but the swim was amazing (insert jaw drop). The bike was so much fun. The run was hot, but I was so excited about the swim, the bike and the overall experience that I was not going to let an uncomfortable run get between me and my finish line.
I crossed that finish line with a smile on my face. I was there, I have seen my finisher's video, I have the medal and I have witnesses who saw me fitness. The funny thing is I feel like it was all a dream. I can't believe I was able to do this. I definitely didn't do this alone, but I'm still in disbelief. I haven't removed my 70.3 wristband yet. I look at it everyday and think: "I really did that. I'm not dreaming!"
I have come a long way since 2015. I am grateful for my struggles because they make me really and truly appreciate my victories. No matter how scary your dreams seem just go after them. I love looking back and thinking: "I can't believe I did that."