I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the third triathlon Olympic Trials race this weekend in Des Moines, Iowa and what a phenomenal two races it was (men and women)!
My colleagues at USAT were kind enough to get me an all access credential which allowed me access to everywhere (thanks Linda at USAT!). My main role was as the personal coach for Sarah Haskins. Sarah asked me to be her coach in early May and I of course accepted with great honor. It has been an absolute blessing working with Sarah as she is the most kind and modest person I have ever met. To boot, she is a phenomenal athlete both physically and mentally. So, six weeks ago we set out on the journey to get her the third spot on the team and fulfill her childhood dream of going to the Olympics.
We had a brief stop at the World Championships along the way in which she took home the silver medal for the U.S. Her best result at a World Championship had been 10th so this 2nd place was huge for her! With that bit of confidence and some smart training thrown in by her coach, we were able to peak her just right for the third trials this weekend.
The race day conditions were amazing. High 70s, low humidity and many spectators, including about 50 from Sarah and her husband Nate's family. The swim was a non-wetsuit, two loop course. The bike was a technical eight loop course and the run was a four loop course. I planted myself on the first big hill on the bike so I couldn't see the swim (it was a split transition area race). Once she passed by me, I ran to my next station to give her some race strategies and encouragement. After the third lap of the bike, I moved to the next strategic location of the bike course, the hill, to get better positioning for her. Nate and I were on the radio's constantly discussing what the pack was doing and what strategy we would choose but in the end, a pack of 10 girls stayed together nicely almost the entire course.
It wasn't until the last lap on the last hill before going into T2 that Sarah made her break past the group. Nobody responded to her attack and she went into T2 with a 3 second lead (just as planned!). She came out of T2 very fast (as we have been working on in training) and maintained her great pace for the 4 laps. Each time I saw her, she looked smooth, relaxed and focused. Almost looking like she was not working hard. In the end, she accomplished what she needed to and took the second U.S. finishing spot and sixth overall which soundly established her position on the 2008 Olympic Team.
After the race, I met her at the finish line, gave her a big hug and told her how proud of her I was. I then witnessed the craze of reporters rushing to her for stories. After that calmed down a bit, we walked to the hospitality tent to grab some nutrition, she sat in the ice bath, got a massage and then we walked over to drug testing. This next part was truly an overwhelming experience. As we walked out of drug testing, we were told that her family was waiting for her in the VIP grandstands. Now, she had told me how many people had come to watch her but I don't think I truly appreciated the quantity of family members ranging from babies to grandparents that made the trip to watch their Sarah achieve her dream. As we walked up the stairs to the VIP area, I was caught with tears in my eyes (and even as I write this sentence) as I witnessed the standing ovation of love Sarah received from her family members. "Wow!" is the only word that came to mind.
After she signed autographs for about an hour, we watched the finish of the mens race then went down to the awards and the USAT photo shoot with all of the Olympic Team members and the alternates. I thought all of the excitement was over until I was told that we were going to the Haskins family party. Now, I grew up in an Italian family and was used to the close bond and the frequent family get togethers but as we pulled into this particular hotel parking lot with the Haskins RV parked in the middle and the mass of family surrounding it, I knew this would be different and exciting!
The celebration party was unbelievable! Sarah's dad, Brian, led the festivities by standing on top of his RV with a bullhorn sounding the siren and introducing some members of the family. We later followed that by engaging in great social time and of course the champagne toast given by Sarah's husband Nate. I witnessed firsthand the love and support that Sarah has grown up with and now understand why she is such a genuinely nice and caring person. Great job to Mom and Dad Haskins! Especially Mom for passing on the endurance genes to Sarah!
I am so incredibly proud of Sarah and her efforts. If you ever meet her, you will realize what a great person she is and is almost never without a smile from ear to ear (even after particularly grueling training sessions!).
Sarah is enjoying some much needed downtime with her family now and will return back home in a few days. It is only 8 weeks from today until the womens Olympic Triathlon so we will hit the ground running (literally) when she gets back in hopes of getting her on the podium in Beijing!
Thanks for reading and I will post some photos of the weekend in the next blog.