“I'm still overwhelmed with emotion after yesterday's race. Not only was it the most challenging race I've done taking 6:17 nonstop to complete but it was so amazing. The support I got from so many people was wonderful. People calling out my number and telling me I'm doing great, hang in there, one guy called me a hero, I got high-fives by many. Even though I was in last place from the start, I felt like a winner. It was so nice of the support crew to stay in the heat until I reached them to give me water and to cheer me on. And then when I got the police escort with the lights on and him driving beside me was very cool. As I approached the finish line, everyone that was around came in to greet and congratulate me with hugs and handshakes. It was so moving. I must've cried for about an hour afterwards. Of course, I want to thank you again for always being there for me with support and encouragement. I may not be the typical racer but I will continue to give 100% and never give up.”
As an athlete who has accumulated many awards and rankings throughout my running and multisport careers, I often hear people say I am “inspiring.” I am always a little uncomfortable with that word, because medals and trophies don't make someone inspiring and for me, most days training is enjoyable. I don’t have to force myself out the door. While I wouldn’t say it always comes easy, running is natural for me. I find inspiration from the runners and athletes who keep on pushing when the going gets tough. Yaniv is one of those athletes.
After setting and achieving a goal of running a half marathon in 2011, Yaniv set his sights on completing a half iron distance triathlon (1.2 mile swim, 54-mile bike, 13.1 mile run) in 2012. Unfortunately, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Yaniv had signed up for the DC Triathlon as a warm-up for the new National Harbor 70.3 Ironman triathlon and began training in earnest in early 2012 before finding out that not one, but both of these races were cancelled for various reasons. Not to be deterred, and already well into his training, Yaniv decided to substitute the Blackwater Duathlon for these longer distance races.
The Blackwater Duathlon was designated the USAT National Championship and was thus the qualifier for the International Triathlon Union (ITU) Long Course World Duathlon Championships. This means that anyone who wanted to qualify for Team USA and the opportunity to compete at the World Championships in Zofingen, Switzerland needed to come complete the 10K run/70K bike/10K run course in Cambridge, Maryland- the same location for Eagleman 70.3, where “the conditions are both demanding and challenging; heat, winds…and no shade.”
Because it is a national qualifier, the majority of athletes racing at Blackwater are serious competitors: they come to Cambridge with high tech gear, time goals and their game faces. These focused competitors can often be overheard worrying about finishing high enough in their age group and under an ambitious goal time. It’s easy to forget that we’re all so lucky to be out there able to race.
Yaniv’s only worry was finishing before the time cut-off for the course. Because of the design of the course (out and back on the runs and a double out and back on the bike), I was able to see Yaniv at several points along the course. From the first time I saw him, he wasn’t just at the back of the pack, he WAS the back of the pack. I shouted encouragement each time I saw him, hoping that he would keep his goal- finishing within the time limits- in sight and not get frustrated as he fell behind the other racers. I kept thinking of a saying I had seen on a friend’s Facebook page: DLF>DNF>DNS. Dead Last Finish is greater than Did Not Finish is greater than Did Not Start. I hoped Yaniv would realize that just by being out on that course, he had already won.
Based on when I had seen Yaniv along the race course, I calculated he’d be off the bike, into transition and off on the second run 30 minutes before the 12:00 cut-off for the second run. Like clockwork, Yaniv rounded the corner and pulled into transition right at 11:30. Plenty of time to spare, but as we watched the race officials calculating how long it would take him to return from the second 10K run, and it became clear he’d be out on the run course by himself for at least part of the time, I worried that they’d dismantle the finish and “close up shop” before he returned.
I should have known better than to worry- the Blackwater Duathlon was put on by TriColumbia, an organization founded and headed by Robert Vigorito who embodies the spirit of multisport. “Vigo,” as he’s known, can be found connecting with every athlete on race day, congratulating as many racers as he can in person, and taking a special interest in personal stories. Throughout the day, he reminded all finishers that “finishing is winning.” The race crew left up the water stops, finish line, and timing mats and race volunteers stayed out on the course and at the finish to make sure Yaniv had a proper welcome when he finished.
Yaniv sent a message to the race director thanking the organization for supporting even the last finisher, and this was the response:
As the race director, you are the reason we do races. There is nothing more satisfying then for our team to help people accomplish a goal. I read your email to the team and there was not a dry eye. Congratulations on a fabulous race--you are a winner!!! I took this picture with my phone--but thought you would enjoy it. Keep training safe and best of luck in your future races!
For me, THIS is what inspiration is made of.