Millie is smattered and smacked in the sea like lacey lingerie in a heavy load of denim. The salty water stings her lips and prickles her thighs. She emerges, heaving and dripping, and splatters forward in the direction of the arrows. Peels off the silicon swim cap, grasps her goggles, and runs with her gaze on the ground to avoid sharp rocks. The asphalt path to transition is long and steep but gives her time to reorient. The crowd is thin; most spectators have moved to the next cheering zone, but here is Dennis flashing his camera! And Taylor and Ryan in matching t-shirts emblazoned with “Go Mommy!” and a picture of the four of them in their old backyard, a more carefree time. Millie manages a merry yelp, an “Ah! You’re here!” There’s no time to answer her husband’s unfinished question, “How was…” but she bends towards the children and kisses their ruddy cheeks.
The Trek SL6, on loan from her brother, sways on the rack in transition. In the shallow tub of water next to her gear, Millie rubs her toes to remove sand and grit. Dries her feet with a raggedy hand towel, plies on socks and pre-opened biking cleats. Helmet. Bib number. Walk-runs her bike to the gate and mounts at the white line painted on the road. Two minutes, 34 seconds. No time for Dennis to herd the kids to this section, but oh, seeing them, so unexpected, a gigantic lift.
Riders sprinkle the road, though the leaders and second-tier are far ahead, out of view. To be expected; Millie’d never been a strong swimmer. Her aspiration is to finish. Now on the bike, she soars, legs pumping, pumping. The whizz of disc wheels. She sets her sights on the nearest three bikers, all men in fancy tri-suits. She passes the first two before Mac’s training kicks in. “On your left,” she shouts to the next rider. And the next. Dennis had scoffed and raised eyebrows when she mentioned the word “triathlon.” Said it wouldn’t be fair if her training cut into family time, though since their move she’d had plenty of kid time. No-friends-in-this-godforsaken-place-time. She hadn’t bothered telling him where and when. His presence today – the kids’ t-shirts – his way of expressing pride, asking forgiveness.
For 40 kilometers on the bike, and then 10 on the run, she repeats her mantra: “You go, girl.” In her head, she hears Mac praising their good genes and remembers that Mom was a track star in her day. The field of female competitors is sparse. She is faint with exhaustion but plotting improvements for her next race. With 300 meters to go, Millie surges forward with her final ounces of strength. The announcer calls her name and adds, “this lady came out of nowhere to take third place in the women.” Millie whoops. She drips tears and sweat and bottled water poured over her head. Her husband and kids gather around, squealing like seal pups.
Julie Zuckerman hails from Connecticut but moved to Israel 22 years ago, where she lives with her husband and four children. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Riggwelter Press, Salt Hill, Sick Lit, Crab Orchard Review, SFWP Quarterly, Sixfold, descant, The MacGuffin, The Dalhousie Review, and American Athenaeum, among others. Twitter: @jbzuckerman
Image: Anne Duaban