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She had already resolved to do a triathlon. Watching her dad train one day in the water, she thought, “I can do this, too.”


The running and biking came easily for her. Swimming was the trouble. She watched her dad swim in the pool — unwilling to get in with him because she didn’t feel qualified — but studying his technique. He gave her a swimming video he had used. She registered for the Boulder Sunset sprint triathlon on Aug. 31, 2013.


Standing on the beach before the start in her borrowed wetsuit, Molly kept looking for her dad in the crowd. He’d had brain surgery earlier that month; she didn’t know if he would be up for coming to watch. Then she spotted him, his body too weak to come out on the sand, so she went over to him. “Ever worn a wetsuit before?” he asked.


“No.”


“Don’t.”


But, ever stubborn, she did. Only to shed it halfway through the swim.


When she saw him at the finish, he asked where her wetsuit was. “In the water,” she said. They both laughed.


She had her life back, running, competing in triathlons, but she was losing her dad. The following spring, Vince’s condition worsened rapidly. By May he had landed in the hospital. Molly and her family kept vigil at his bedside.


Vince died May 31. Gone at 51.


Two weeks later, on Father’s Day no less, Molly did her first half IRONMAN. It was difficult, so much harder than the sprint triathlon almost nine months earlier. At times she wanted to quit, but she kept thinking of her dad and talked to him throughout. She finished with relief.


That gave her the idea to do a full IRONMAN in his honor. The previous summer Vince had registered for the first IRONMAN in Colorado — more hopefully than realistically. Molly called the race organizers and asked if she could do the race in his place, kind of hoping they would say no, because the distances intimidated her. They said yes.


Vince died May 31. Gone at 51. Two weeks later, on Father’s Day no less, Molly did her first half IRONMAN. At times she wanted to quit, but she kept thinking of her dad and talked to him throughout. She finished with relief.


She had only two months to train, which proved difficult because grief drained her, but at the same time she found an emotional outlet in exercise. She swam daily, gradually increasing her distance. She worked in rides and runs amidst her schedule as a nursing assistant.


Aug. 3, 2014, less than a year after her first sprint triathlon, she waited for the IRONMAN start at the Boulder Reservoir, very nervous. She had never swum that far — 2.4 miles. This time, she did not wear a wetsuit.


She felt her dad with her in the water. The swim had been his hardest event, too. But he had triumphed so many times. That buoyed her for more than 100 minutes. Finally out of the water, she thought, “I’ve got this.”


For eight and a half hours on the bike and almost seven more on the run, the doubts came in waves, “Why am I doing this?


“That’s right, for Dad. Give me strength. Help push me through this.”


Seventeen hours and two minutes after dashing into the water — two minutes beyond the time limit — Molly crossed the finish line. Her twin brother and stepmom welcomed her. She started crying. Her body was broken. Yet her spirit, exhilarated.


She felt the thrill of finishing and understood. This is what he had felt, this same thrill, the many times he pushed back death. And now it was hers to experience.


Molly registered to do IRONMAN Boulder again this summer. Now that she can run and ride and swim again, she’s determined to keep going. “My dad will always live on in me,” she says. “I can always share the love of the sport with him.”


 


JOHN ROSENGREN is the author of eight books. His most recent, “The Fight of Their Lives,” was released in paperback this spring. Visit www.johnrosengren.net.


34 USA TRIATHLON SPRING 2015

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