Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Race Within: My favorite photos from two years at Ultraman (1 of 2)

I am not a photographer by any means. But I did try to snap enough images to offer a fair visual representation of Ultraman to go along with my words. Here are some that I took that didn't get into the final product. Each one represents a moment where I learned something about the race. 

This is Consuela Lively at the swim transition during the 2012 race. She's just found out that her husband Trung is having trouble in the water. In most cases, Consuela would have been on his crew, but that year she was shadowing Jane as part of the requirements to prepare for Ultraman Florida. Steve King offers encouragement as he gets updates from the support crew boat. It was one of the first photos I took, and I was so unprepared for the moment that I had to snap it with my phone camera. It was obviously a tough moment for her, and I didn't feel comfortable photographing it. It was the first time on the project that I felt like an intruder into something deeply personal for these people. It was hardly the last. But over time I came to understand that they knew what I was doing and were more than happy to let me. Sharing their triumphs and tragedies so equally with me gave me a lot of respect for all of them. 

Ingrid Hillhouse at the swim transition in 2012. As she departed on her bike, she turned back to Steve King and shouted "There can be no toxicity with gratitude!" She hadn't had the easiest day in the water, and it was as much a personal affirmation for the ride ahead as it was recognition of Steve's help. That's when I knew that phrase would be a prominent note in the book.

Steve King at the race volunteers' house in 2013. This is the Wednesday before the race. All the paperwork on the table might make you wonder if he's doing taxes for a company or studying for a corporate litigation case. He's just that dedicate to the athletes. 

Lucy Ryan and Ingrid Hillhouse at Lava Java in 2013. Ingrid came to crew for Lucy this time. They'd crewed and raced together in several ultra events before. The Ultraman family members bump into each other all the time at events around the world. 

Gary Wang, who holds the record for most Ultraman finishes now, and Jane Bockus. This is Jane's usual attire for race week. If anyone who doesn't know her comes asking, just tell them to find the lady with the visor and the clipboard. 

Tony Horton and Sheryl Cobb in Hawaii, 2013. Despite their professional differences, they did find a way to get along on a personal level. 

Amber Monforte at registration in 2013. I just thought this was a great shot of her. Despite all the troubles of the previous year, she was happy to be in Hawaii. It was a completely different mood with her, and even though she wasn't as "in it to win it" as in the past, you could tell even before she started that it was going to be another unique and special race.

Miro Kregar and Alexandre Ribeiro in Hawaii, 2013. This is at race registration. This and the following photograph really illustrate the relationship they have. I'd never seen two rivals get along so well. It doesn't show at all here, but Miro really wanted the win this year. Not because he wanted to beat Alex so much, rather just for the win itself. 

Lucy Ryan at the end of day 1 in 2013. It was the first time in her life she didn't make a cutoff in an ultra race, and she was beyond upset about this one. More than the photo of Consuela, I was uncomfortable taking this one. But after she had shared so much with me in Canada, I felt like she'd be okay with this one, and she was. 

Ryan Weibel showing just what it takes to be a crew member in an ultra race. Sometimes you just have to be a little crazy. He was a lot of fun with a super sense of humor. He kept Amber's spirits up throughout the whole race for two years-- and sometimes that's more important than food and water. 

Alexander limping a bit with his pulled muscle in 2013. Miro is already way out in the lead. It was a haunting sensation to see Alex like this, struggling on alone with nothing but endless road in sight. It's the same for many of the athletes during the day 3 run, but given Alex's history of performances on the course, he really epitomized the trial of solitude that the race becomes on this day. 

Here is maybe my favorite photo from 2013. I was just in the right place at the right time with camera ready to catch it. Christian Isakson really hit the wall hard and started vomiting fluids all over the place. He'd been doing it all weekend, but on this one there was a sense that he was really coming apart. He was beginning to slip away a bit. He began retreating into his lower brain a bit,  and wasn't as responsive to his crew. It's very difficult to support a guy like that, because he's just not as communicative. I think Christian's case is unique in that, however, because the less he talked to his crew, the more he engaged in an inner dialogue with God. Usually the athlete depends on the crew for spiritual support. But Christian is possessed of such strong faith and sense of spirituality that really all the crew could do was offer him some encouragement and nutrition. For a person like him, the only mechanism for reaching the finish line was his belief in a higher power. So the more he hurt, the more it became a test of that faith, and the more he was compelled to keep going to be worthy of his God. The only other athlete I've known who has that kind of "make it hurt more" relationship with pain is David Goggins, and faith wasn't part of the equation for him. It was part of what made both men so compelling. 

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