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Triathlon may be an individual sport, but it’s unquestionably a team effort. Fans will never forget the iconic moment of the 2008 Ironman World Championship, when pro Rebekah Keat spotted fellow competitor Chrissie Wellington standing helplessly on the side of the road with a flat tire. Keat tossed her a spare CO2 cartridge, preventing what surely would have been a DNF for Wellington. Keat’s act of sportsmanship helped Wellington not only get back in the race, but eventually reclaim the lead and win by over 15 minutes.
Whether it’s a coach, fellow athlete, volunteer, or complete stranger, a race is often made memorable by the support and encouragement of others just when you need it most.
We asked athletes to share memories of the nicest thing someone has done for them in a race. Their stories show that no matter who your competition is on race day, you can always count on the kindness of others to help you go the extra mile.
Kindness in transition
Somehow, I forgot to bring all my nutrition race morning at Ironman Arizona 70.3. Fortunately, the guy next to me in transition split all his stuff in half and told me he’d make up for it at the aid stations.
-Zachary Josie, Utah
Keeping a fellow racer afloat
It was Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2018 and the swim was delayed due to fog and you could barely make out the first buoy. It was pretty much a mass start as they had to rush all swimmers in due to the delay. It was mayhem. People were swimming sideways, thrashing and kicking. I got kicked hard in the jaw, and then a second time, I got my goggles kicked off! So, now I’m at the second buoy with no goggles! Fortunately, a kind gent from the Brooklyn Tri Club stopped and talked me down from the panic. Thankfully, the goggle straps kept the goggles on my bun (It pays to have long thick Greek hair!)
That guy stayed with me until I got situated, then told me to shake it off and go. He stuck with me a bit to make sure all was well. I haven’t seen him since, but I will always remember his kindness!
-Sarah Zaglifa, Alaska
A helping hand
At Ironman Canada 2015, there was a freakish freakish winter storm—in the middle of July! I pulled over to an aid station to use the bathroom during the race, and my hands were so cold that I couldn’t get my front zipper down.
Lucky for me, a volunteer zipped me down, and when I came back out of the bathroom, she zipped me right back up. If that wasn’t enough, she could see that my hands were so cold, I couldn’t get my hands into my pocket to reach for my nutrition. Once again, she came to the rescue by digging into my wet sweaty pocket, squeezed some gels into my mouth, and then set them up on my bike so I could get them easier.
I probably would’ve had to drop out if she had not helped me.
-Chris Hughes, Washington
The start of something great
I met one of my best girlfriends doing a triathlon in San Diego! We started chatting before the start, when she complimented my toenail polish, and we talked about how we both wear ear plugs for the swim. We instantly hit it off, and she dropped off her number at my transition area at some point. After the race, my husband and I went out to celebrate with her. We have done so many races and trips together ever since!
-CJ Jenson, Texas
A much-needed pit stop
I was racing 2012 Age Group Nationals in Vermont, but I was also working at the race expo all weekend long. Unfortunately, my initial flight out to Vermont was delayed, I stayed up all night, worked the expo for two days straight, and survived only on Diet Coke.
Well, needless to say, when the race started, I was exhausted and my gut wasn’t happy. I actually had to pull over to someone’s house on the bike course and ask if I could use their restroom! They, of course, were hesitant, but when I told them the only other option was pooping in their yard, they welcomed me inside with open arms and toilet paper. Embarrassing? Yes! Memorable? You bet!
–Jaclyn Applegate, California
Stepping in to help a stranger
I was doing Ironman Arizona 70.3 as a relay with a friend of mine. I was doing the swim and bike leg, while she was going to do the run. After the race started, she had a family medical emergency and had to leave the race immediately. I was out on the bike and had no idea. When I came into transition, I was met by the race director, who told me what had happened. She then introduced me to a woman who had been spectating, who said she would run for the relay team so we could finish and not DNF! I had never met either of these women before, and they immediately just jumped in and offered their help.
I’ll always remember the kindness of everyone involved. (And, my friend’s family emergency turned out just fine. It was an awesome day.)
–Jenny Pence, New Mexico
It takes a team
I was doing Ironman Washington 70.3 when I got a puncture at mile five. Unfortunately, because it was cold and rainy, I couldn’t undo the bolt for my thru-axle (I will always and forever now check that it’s only tight enough for me to loosen when it comes back from the shop).
There wasn’t anyone around except for a super nice older couple who’d been out cheering for a friend. He couldn’t undo the bolt either, but he did go to his house to see if he had a longer wrench while she let me use her phone multiple times to call the race emergency cell number.
Finally, 65 minutes later, the cop on the motorbike arrived with the last rider, plus two vans of bike techs who got the wheel off and got me going in like two minutes. I’ll never be behind the motorbike for the first rider, but I guess it’s slightly cool to be in front of the last motorbike!
That couple were absolute gems, kept me entertained with tales of their own adventures, and told me they would drive me back to the start if I decided to bail. I didn’t bail and remained positive throughout the race thanks to their support.
–Sandra Harvie, Washington
A fan club like none other
When I attempted my first Ironman, I had knee issues leading up to the race and my longest run had only been 13 miles. A friend came with me as my sherpa and my coach was there, too. They were just briefly introduced a few days before the race and, as I trotted down the red carpet at the finish, I happened to look over and saw them both shouting with absolute glee, hugging each other—all because I finished!
–Jeff Lipschultz, Texas
A pro assist
I was doing my first Ironman and I had a flat tire within the first kilometer of the bike. Photo evidence reviewed afterwards showed it was flat as I went out of transition, so it likely flatted overnight in transition. What a total newbie error not to have caught that before the race!
Anyways, a spectator ran over to me as I prepped to change it and coached me through it. Clearly, they were really experienced and figured it could help keep me calm. I knew how to do it, but it was still so nice of her, as were her words of encouragement to not let it get me down or change my race plan. The friendly spectator/cheerleader was also a former pro cyclist that I recognized, so when I asked if her name was Paolina Allan, and she confirmed, we also had a nice “Hey, nice to meet you” hug that was a bonus positive to my first Ironman experience!
–Jody Faught, Ontario, Canada
The right words
I’ve been racing triathlons for decades and have never had a flat during a race, that is, until this year’s Ironman Oregon 70.3. At mile 18, I heard that familiar and unwelcome “pop and hiss” sound. Immediately, I hit the first stage of grief: anger. I was so mad that it happened. Of course, anger was followed by denial and frustration as I fumbled for my spare tube and tools to get to work on changing it. Dozens of people rode by shouting “You have everything you need?” (with no real intention of slowing down). But, in my agitated state, one woman did slow down as she rode by me and kindly said, “I’m praying for you.”
I have no idea what happened, but I was instantly calmed down and filled with a deep sense of love and gratitude. It was, oddly enough, exactly what I needed to hear at that moment and completely changed my mindset. I accepted what happened, calmly changed my flat, and resumed the race feeling lighter and happier. Did that woman really exist? I’ll never know, but she provided way more than a spare tube. She gave me kindness.
–Matt Ernst, Kansas