She’s got long blond hair and a pretty face. Her nails are always polished, you’ll never see her without make-up and her favorite shoes are pumps. In her Ryanair-outfit she’s the classic image of an airhostess. A very cheerful airhostess, because she always smiles. And she never keeps her mouth shut. This is my Finnish friend Anna.
I had to think of her when I read about the Australian Mirinda Carfrae, who won the triathlon world championships, the ironman of Hawaii, last weekend. Carfrae swam 3,8k, rode 180k and ran a bit more than 42k in nine hours and fifty five seconds.
I can hardly express how much I admire that result. I am an athlete myself, but I can’t imagine pushing my body to the limit for nine hours straight. I can’t imagine swimming for one hour, let alone running a marathon, after riding my bike.
My friend Anna did it. She competed in the ironman in Nice, this summer. The talkative blondie, who doesn’t look like an athlete at all.
When she told me she would take part, I was speechless. I rode my bike with her a couple of times and I know that, well, she doesn’t ride very fast. She doesn’t have the talent nor the body for that. But Anna thought she was ready, after competing in a quarter and a half triathlon.
I was not the only one with doubts. Once Anna was in the line to pick up her start number, she just got ignored – because the other competitors and the organisation didn’t believe she was really going to take part.
Anna completed the swimming in 1,5 hours. After riding her bike for 120k, it started to pour with rain. The parcours was going downhill by then, mainly over narrow winding roads. Anna constantly saw other competitors giving up. And crashing. At a hilltop, volunteers put foil under her suit to make sure she got a bit of isolation. Shaking of cold, Anna kept repeating to herself the cheers of friends she carried with her on a note: “If you can dream, you can also do this.”
After seven hours and twenty minutes Anna finished the bike ride. In the meantime she got such a stomach ache she could only lie in the fetal position. Once the pain finally lessened, she decided to start the marathon. I felt like Forrest Gump, she said afterwards, I ran to the finish in one straight line. In five hours and twenty minutes.
And so Anna passed the line in fourteen and a half hours. The moment I heard she made it, my heart filled with admiration. Anna didn’t suffer less than Mirinda Carfrae. Actually she suffered five and a half hour more.
I didn’t want to stop when it hurt, I didn’t want to stop when I was tired, I wanted to stop when I was done, Anna decided before the race. Why? Because she would try to do the impossible.
Since Anna became an ironman, she radiates joy even more than ever. Everything is easy now, she says. Every difficulty seems tiny compared to what she did in Nice. Anna did something no one – not even herself – thought she would ever be capable of doing.
And this is what I think so much more admirable than seeing a talented professional winning the world title: Anna didn’t compete to win. She competed to beat herself.
Published in Dutch, in newspaper Trouw, 13th of October 2014