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The Lowdown
By Jeff Matlow

I’ve been a triathlete for most of my adult life. And though I’d like to say that I am grateful every day for what I’ve been able to accomplish, the reality is that I too often take it all for granted.

That was the thought going through my mind on the second loop of the bike course during the 2013 Rose Bowl Mini-Sprint Triathlon.

Due to injury, this year’s Rose Bowl Triathlon was my first race in awhile. I was nervous at the starting line because, well, that’s just how I am. Even now, with 21 years of triathlon racing under my belt, including multiple Ironmans and other assorted long-distance shenanigans, my anxieties still boil before the starting gun goes off. But once I’m racing, once the sound of that starting gun fades into the past, I get in my zone, and I’m at ease. Anxiety is the disease; the starting gun is my cure.

Over the years I’ve learned that I can lessen my anxiety before the start of a race by just thinking back on all of my training. Racing, I remind myself, is a celebration of the hard work I spent getting myself into shape. Unfortunately, since I hadn’t trained an iota for this race, that coping method didn’t work out so well.

So with no other proverbial tools in my proverbial toolshed, instead of thinking about how prepared I was for the race, I began pondering my own personal multisport history and the decades-long journey that got me to that starting line. You see, my introduction to triathlon started exactly 21 years earlier, when I toed the exact same line in exactly the same place at exactly the same event. It was the 1992 Rose Bowl Triathlon that was my first introduction to the sport. At that time I was simply an adventurous runner willing to try something new. That day — that race — marked the beginning of a new era in my life. I embarked on a new journey — one marked by commitment, pride, camaraderie and competition. And then, in the blink of an eye, I am 21 years older in the same place doing the same thing.

So here I am, on the bike course of the 2013 Rose Bowl Triathlon. I’m an experienced racer breezing along at a rapid clip, tucked into my aerobars, pushing to the redline, zipping past people as quickly as I could knock them off. I was feeling pretty darn good, all things considered. Then I saw the crash.

The girl was down on the ground, lying next to her bike, not moving. The race director and medical personnel were attending to her. She looked about 21 years old. ‘She looks dead,’ I immediately said to myself.

I was stunned. The first time I had done this race she was probably just being born. The second time I did the race, she seemingly had just died. My legs stopped moving and I coasted to the side of the road. I was in shock. I started wondering who she was and imagining the future she’d lost. I thought of all the things she would never experience, all the races she would never run. I thought of how everything was going well for her and then, in the blink of an eye, it all went so horribly wrong. I got scared it could happen to me.

After a few minutes of my mind swirling, I soon realized I had two choices: stop, quit and get lost in the fear, or put my head down and keep moving forward. There was nothing I could do for her — she was in good hands — and I’d later find out that she ended up ok. So I began to pedal on, albeit much more cautiously.

Not long thereafter, I passed Lawrence Fong cruising along in his wheelchair. Lawrence was an accomplished triathlete and coach. Then one night, in an unexplained occurrence, his brain randomly started bleeding, he fell into a coma and awoke 30 days later as a paraplegic. (The details of the story can be found here: One second he was fine and, in the blink of an eye, his world flipped upside down.

I’m the type of fellow who likes to search for meaning in actions. But there’s not a lot of searching needed in order to have the symbolism of these events smack me in the face. Life is fragile and nothing is definite. We are the lucky ones. We are the fortunate ones, who have the health, happiness and fortitude to get us to the starting line. The ones who have the courage — despite our circumstances, despite our tragedies or anxieties — to stand at the crossroads of our greatest fears and our greatest desires, and face the starting gun.

Right after I crossed the finish line, I picked up my 6-month-old daughter and hugged her with all the gratitude in my heart. I didn’t take anything for granted. Maybe in another 21 years she too will be out here with us, competing in this race, participating in this great sport and, like her father, getting her life enriched by all the multisport lifestyle has to offer. And it will all happen in the blink of an eye.


Jeff Matlow is grateful that the girl who crashed ended up ok. Email or visit


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