Ahhhhh Memphis in May. Triathlon weekend. One of my very favorite race weekends. Although I feel this story is getting worn out - I still want to share it again. You see, this is where my triathlon story begins. My first triathlon. 1999. 19 years old. My father excitedly signed me up. I rode on his old bike - and didn’t get in the aerobars at all. At that time there were over a thousand racers - and most of them passed me. And - most of them encouraged me on. The finish stretch of that race is across a grassy levee that overlooks the swim course, then down a little hill to cross the finish line - and I was SO proud to make it to that line! And - the after party… Live music. Memphis BBQ (of course). Beer trucks. Elvis. People everywhere - swapping race stories, tales of past races and those planned for the future - all ages and abilities. Suddenly a roar arose from the crowd - there was the final finisher, crossing the levee - escorted by Elvis himself, complete with a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Everyone stopped to cheer as they crossed that finish line. I was inspired - I decided I liked this triathlon stuff. Maybe if I worked at it, I could even get a little faster.
I have done the Memphis in May triathlon every year since then, except for two. In 2007 my father, my husband, our good friend Jimmy Crossett and I all went to do Ironman Lanzarote, which fell the same weekend as Memphis. And in 2011 I was about 8 1/2 months pregnant - I’m pretty sure the race management was relieved I decided not to race. The Memphis in May Triathlon has been a big part of our lives. Jeff and I even used the DJ from the race (appropriately named Elvis - I kid you not), at our wedding party.
The race itself has seen some ups and downs. It changed locations from Millington, TN (just outside Memphis), to Tunica, Mississippi for a few years. Then, for a number of reasons, it ended up back in Millington. While the number of competitors has decreased, the quality of the competition certainly has not - and the race continues to draw amazingly talented athletes from the region. Driving home on Sunday after the race, I pondered what exactly it is that makes Memphis in May so unique . . . so here are the top 5 reasons why I would recommend coming to race . . .
1. Elvis. I mean - it is Memphis you know.
I can remember when I first started racing, I was in University up in Canada at the time, and managed to convince a group of my friends to come down and do the race. The guys all grew out their ‘Elvis chops’ - then had the race Elvis judge who had the best. Funny story - one guy was so proud that he painstakingly shaved his chops into Elvis’s logo - unfortunately he ended up with TLC (vs TCB). Now, in a funny twist of fate, my husband has been the ‘Elvis’ for a couple years - and my pre-race anxiety only involves him remembering all the words to the National Anthem . . .
2. The Amateur Challenge
It is no secret that I like to race a lot. So, it is right down my alley that this race offers the opportunity to race a sprint distance on Saturday, followed by the Olympic Distance on Sunday - take the combined time from the two, and split a prize of $5,000 between the top 10 males and top 10 females. And - the competition is pretty serious.
Every year the race pays tribute to a different country, and designs a t-shirt accordingly. They are always unique, good quality, and are some of my favorite, most worn race shirts. This year was Columbia.
4. The Awards
For the award winners of the Olympic Distance race on Sunday, the prize is a glass pyramid with the design from the country of the year in the center. To receive one of those has always been an honor - and they are the lone trophies that my father proudly keeps on display in his office at work.
5. Post-race Celebration
The race has continued the tradition of live music, BBQ, and beer. We jokingly say that we first set up our ‘race transition’ but equally important is our ‘post-race transition’ of blanket and chairs in the shade near the band and food (and some years that has even been set up before the race transition . . . ). Over the years I have come to know more and more of the racers, and enjoy catching up with them afterwards - swapping race stories, tales of past races, and those planned for the future. And - we all stop to cheer as Elvis runs in across that levee with the final finisher.
I can’t tell you that the swim is in pristine waters - because it’s not. The roads are rough in places, and tend to flood if it rains too much. It can be hot and humid. The run is deceptively challenging. But the race is very well directed, the volunteers are fabulous, and it has a true family, grass-roots feel to it. It certainly has character, and continues to be one of my very favorite races that I make a point to do every year.
So - the races this year had some added challenges for me. However, I was able to complete both days, and I gave it the best I had. I enjoyed seeing my friends out on the course - and of course Elvis and my kids cheering me on always makes my heart happy. There were some faces missing this year that I closely associate with Memphis in May . . . my father was racing Chattanooga 70.3 with Gwin Anderson, Tami Winston, and Jimmy Crossett. I always think about Shane Long, Jack Dawson, and my dear friend Ron Turney (Ron - you would have beat me handily on both swims this weekend).
My sister Robyn and her husband Fred were missing as well. And, I always, always think of my Canadian friends who for many, many years loaded up, drove through the night, and spent the weekend with my family. On the flip side - it was really cool to know so many people racing - and share words (or nods, or just thumb’s up) of encouragement along the way. As I crossed that levee on Sunday, I took a moment to take it all in. The crowds, the finish, the memories - and I was just so incredibly happy to be right where I was, in that moment, back where my triathlon story began.
If you are perchance interested in hearing more about my ‘challenges’ since returning home from Japan, and those that arose during the weekend’s races . . . I debated long and hard about recording them. However, the ‘rest of the story’ (seems my favorite phrase these days - anyone remember Paul Harvey news? I always listened to that with my dad when he drove me to school as a kid . . . but I digress) is available. You will have to go to my website -
www.kirsten-sass.com and scroll down - it will be just below the Memphis in May post and is titled -
“A Series of Misfortunate Events - May The Light Shine”.
Read at your own risk . . .