There were no words, no sounds, but the rustling of the lava rock pebbles beneath our feet as we, walked out under the black lit sky... 5 a.m. Lit by a single street light in the middle of the rubble; silhouetted figures, I amongst them, waited to be taken to OUR arena. As the bus pulled up and we boarded there were only sounds of foot steps ascending into the shuttle. Soon the small whispers and whisks of handshakes between unfamiliar comrades and competitors each with one word on their mind... KONA.
To most this name is nothing more than a town. To others, home; to few... a hopeful meridian, a legend.
Then, the sun winks and peaks from behind the horizon of dirt and black rock as hundreds and hundreds begin to fill T1 (transition 1), checking our chariots to see if they've lasted the night, as well as scoping those to our right and those to our left. A zing of excitement and realization find its way up my spine; "It's here, I'm here..." The feeling is indescribable as I make my way to body marking... 1... stamp 2... stamp 7... stamp 1... stamp.
"I am athlete 1271." Crossing through body marking I look out into the Pacific, the water calm like glass on its flat. I step onto the soft sand like a powder being rubbed onto my feet as if a right of passage and allowance to set foot on this arena. I stand on the edge as the warm water grazes my feet, soaking the sound of the subtle waves... there are no athletes in my mind, just me and my savior. "God, YOU have brought me to these shores and kept me safe during my trials. I ask that You watch over me during this race and give me the strength to pass through and press on. Be with my competitors, keep us all safe and let Your glory shine through and guide our paths. Lord be with us this day, Amen."
6:50 a.m. - 10 minutes until the gun as ~1500 triathletes begin to wade into the water... mass start. Treading water, 30 seconds, "We're here, this is it, are you ready?" As I ask my friend, 10 seconds, the water still calm as treading athletes wait in anticipation 4...3...2..., no one really knowing when the sound of the gun will surprise us with its... "BANG!" Suddenly the stillness breaks as a wave of preparation, training, struggle, fatigue and pain, surge into ONE big rush in the form of "white water" and energy, the journey begins... for the next 8 hrs 30 mins 00 secs the world does not matter, this is our world, THIS is OUR WORLD!
SWIM: Cutting through the water, ankles clashing, wrists smacking, bodies colliding, 1500 struggling to find their opening as one leads the way. All I could think was to set my pace, and pray that God continues to give me the strength as my vision, my hands, go from water, to sky as if in prayer. My ribs were clenching, still in pain from 10 days past, when God held me in His provision. Griming through asking God to heal me as I past the water through my side and raise my hands back to the sky. I can see the beach; I'm almost there, careful, don't gun it yet, 2 more legs to go, it's not the end... just the beginning.
T1, BIKE: There it is as my breathing slowly begins to subside, the view of my bike becomes more clear, gear up, and run it to the mounting line. As soon as I clip in, I am met with a hill, a baby compared to it's family to come along a 56 mile stretch. We pass through lava rocks and onto the road, like soldiers in their fighter jets... such an amazing site to see! A trail of athletes leading to the same destination... T2. Hill after hill descending with speed and force, jamming my legs to reach speeds between 30 & 50 mph, "What a rush!" All you hear is the roaring of the wind zipping by your ears and the whirring of your bike underneath you, with sounds of an engine, legs become pistons; only to build in hopes of some momentum for the rise back towards the clouds as we ascend, and the repetition continues... strength of mentality is the test. Every hill hides a possible anticipation of the end, only to be met by 10 more hills in the distance. Conversations of encouragement between us is all we can do to keep each other going as the sun begins to heat the ground and beat upon our backs, we are frozen in an aerodynamic arch trying to hold a steady pace. "How are you feeling?" "Just waiting for this hill to end!" "About 4 more miles to climb, keep going! Keep moving those legs!" As the banter flings between bikes, 20 seconds to pass your opponent, 20 seconds to encourage your friend.
There a right turn back into the lava rocks... 56 miles at an end... 57.2 down. Last leg... survival, run or ruin.
T2, RUN: Dismounting my bike on legs shaking with fatigue, I slam down half a gatorade and power bar, last attempt to rehydrate before the run begins. "You will be running in a 96 degree sun with no hope for shade!" The echo of the run directors words chimed in my head. He was right! This was ABSOLUTELY the MOST DIFFICULT run I have EVER done in MY LIFE!!! As if the course was set to make me drop to my knees! "God give me strength, help me to press on." "My Lord, my Strength!" Were the few phrases being muttered between breaths as I ran through the sun stricken course. 6 miles in, then lava rocks begin to emerge and surround our path there is nothing but black rocks of death absorbing the heat around us causing us to run in the furnace of Kona. 9 miles in, some call it "Hells Kitchen, cause that is where people cook." Others call it "Death Row," self explanatory. A wasteland pulled from a movie, one dirt road with nothing but rocks and sand to your right, and trotting athletes being pounded by heat and sun to your left. Vomiting, crying, staggering, wincing in pain, 4 miles to go. "AAAUGH!!! SSHHHhhhhh... oot" holding back, trying to convert my curse, a cramp in my left calf, "4 miles left, JUST 4 LEFT!!!" As my lip begins to quiver, while I compress my muscle trying to stagger, not willing to stop! Rehydration, 1/2 a mile, "CRAAAUGH! RRrrrr!" I begin to hit my legs in disappointment as if trying to restart a dying engine. For you runners out there, you know, once you cramp it will continue til the end. Rehydrate, 15 steps or an attempted jog, and the demon squeezes again! This is my routine for the next 2 miles. "I have to KEEP GOING! My Lord, my strength!" 2 miles left, jogging is no longer a task, but a prayer, walking is my only form of transportation at this point. After seeing those behind me begin to pass, tears being to trot down my face in disappointment with my performance... "You can do it, come on!" Are the voices in the distance as I hear those who were behind begin to cross the finish... emotions take over and pain both inner and outer begin to emerge. The final sprint, 100 yards left, I CAN NOT walk! I muster up the prayers and throw pain out of my mind muscle deterioration is certain, but glory is within reach and is untouchable once grasped. I begin a sprint, pain has other plans. There is no sound out of my mouth other than the grinding of my teeth as the complete locking of my right and left calve muscles, quadriceps and hamstrings are the only feeling in my body... PAIN is the only words in my head! "Steve Chellappa from Honolulu, Hawaii! YOU DID IT!" Tears and sweat are falling down my cheeks as I cry with all the emotions of the struggles before, training, money, cramps, crashes, and blood. Disappointment with my time and performance. But the knowledge that my Lord has carried me through and brought me out of the fire! Is what revives my joy!
I hear my name being called and I see my family holding signs, I give them each a hug with tear filled eyes embracing them and thanking God for their support...
The path to IRONMAN is now in front with the water from my hands, the tread from my bike, and footprints of my steps; I was triathlete 1271... NOW I am a triathlete striving by the grace, mercy, strength and the provision of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To detonate the words from my mouth, "I AM AN IRONMAN!"
"Don't you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified." - 1 Corinthians 9:24
This verse I ended up just opening to, the morning before my race during my devotional time. Is that God or what!?!
Special thanks to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for His absolute love for me, to my parents, sisters, cousins, family, and best friend Luc for their love, support, and encouragement, and to my swim buddy, client, and friend Natalie for going through the struggles with me and my buddy Maka for encouraging me from the beginning until race day, with out all of you I would have been defeated a long time ago!