I stood beside Guide Susanne on the magnificent blue carpet, surveying the vast Yokohama Harbor all around us. Thousands of spectators, photographers, officials, coaches and athletes lined the barricades to my left. I couldn’t believe we were actually here. As they announced my name and resume over the loudspeaker, my squirrel brain started to unravel. “What if I start coughing in the swim? What if we get a flat tire? Will it be hot on the run?” All the doubts bubbled up through my nervous stomach, as the past two weeks of bronchitis left me feeling rather depleted and less fit going into this race.
We lowered ourselves into the water. “Beat the Japanese and Canadians. That’s ALL you came here to do Dixon,” I said to myself. Don’t worry about [my teammate] Liz. She’s not the objective here.” I came all the way to Japan to play defense. Liz had beaten me in my automatic Rio qualifier two months prior. She secured her spot to Rio that day. At this point, for me, it was a waiting game to see how the rankings and points ended up on June 30th to see if I would be named to the team. Going to Japan was strategic to ensure that the athletes from Japan and Canada would not surpass me in the points standings, so I fully intended to finish in the top 2 to make sure that didn’t happen. Even if I had to race slightly sick.
And we were off. Susanne and I went out hard. Maybe too hard. According to the data, at about 1:15/100 yards hard. For those of you who aren’t swimmers, that’s an all out sprint for most everyone. My asthma and injured lungs immediately put a stop to that. I started panicking and choking in the water. I tapped Susanne’s shoulder to slow down. At that moment, I noticed bubbles in front of me, and Susanne let out a ‘whoop!” to get me to go faster. I dug deep and gave it all I had to maintain the pace, but after 200 meters, I was cooked. I almost stopped completely. “You idiot. You just lost the entire race right there!” my squirrel brain said to me. “She’s [Liz] a better swimmer than you. Now you’ll never catch her feet again. Smooth move loser!” (yeah, I’m a little tough on myself). I was deflated and defeated. So I went into cruising mode to catch my breath.
About a minute later, we were at the first buoy. Suddenly I felt better, and like I could go harder. So I did. Then the next buoy came up, and I was feeling stronger. Within five minutes, my hands touched the carpeted ramp leading out of the swim, and I saw Liz only a short 25 yards ahead of me! I was shocked. Apparently it wasn’t a terrible swim after all. With renewed spirits, I said to myself, “Now let’s go bike the shit out of this tough course. I can beat her on the bike and pray hard on the run.”
We had a smooth, fast transition onto the bike, and blasted out of the beautiful park on a mission to hunt the leaders down. Within a half mile, we blew past them, along with the Japanese men’s team who had started a full 30 seconds before the women’s wave. We were on fire! Susanne shifted, climbed, leaned the bike around turns. The world was a blur and people were screaming our names along the course. I even managed a smile. Within the 20km course, we managed to build a two minute lead. A cushion I was desperately going to need on my USA Teammate, as her run was much stronger than mine. I thanked God for allowing me to grow up as an equestrian, enabling my legs to be powerful on the bike to go as fast as possible.
We ran out of transition like I was on fire. I was both scared and excited. Susanne was the voice of calm and reason, “Slow down. Easy girl. Take it back a huge notch. Don’t gas yourself. Hold steady and you’ve got this. No more than 7 minute pace the first mile. We don’t need a repeat of Florida (the race I lost to my teammate where I blew up on the run).” We settled behind two Japanese men running a comfortable 7:05. It actually felt slow and comfortable. For the first lap. On lap two, they slowed down to 7:20 and I knew I couldn’t afford to hang at that pace, as Liz was already making up time on me. “We’ve got to go” I said to Susanne. And off we went.
At the start of the third lap, I realized that Liz had made up nearly a minute, as we passed each other shoulder to shoulder in opposite directions on one out and back section of the course. I started to panic and hyperventilate, triggering my asthma. “Susanne, I need help!” I panicked. “What do you need?” “I need you to talk to me. Anything. I’m freaking out!” “Do you want me to sing to you?” “NO! No singing. Talk!” “Ok, I’ll tell you a story. Remember when Scott [Susanne’s husband] had his heart attack? Well, there he was, laying in the ICU in a coma, and I screamed at him to FIGHT! BREATHE Dammit! I NEED you! Your kids need you! God wants you on this earth! And he fought! And he lived! Now Amy, I want you to BREATHE! God is giving you wings on your feet! This is your destiny! You are going to win this race and go to the Paralympics. People are lifting you up and carrying you to the finish line on their backs with love. You can do this! BREATHE!” It was working. My heart rate came down and I forced a smile. After all, I wasn’t dying of a heart attack! I was just running a race. So, I ran.
At the final mile, we caught up to my teammate from another category who was an exceptional runner. Susanne cheered her on, and she gave us encouragement as well. Susanne continued her cheerleading. “Look at that girl! She has excellent form! Match it! Use those arms; match her cadence! Fast Feet!” We rounded the final turn to the finish chute. I gasped, “Where are they? Is she back there? Is she catching me?” I asked because I thought I was about to collapse. “No! She’s WAY back there. You’re fine. Just RUN!”
The famous blue carpet stretched out before us. Photographers and fans lined the barricades. The finish line tape stretched out before us. 200 meters, 100 meters, I started to weave, drunk with lactic acid building up all over my body. I was maxed out. “Susanne screamed, “Think about that moment and grab the tape! You’ve won! I’m so proud of you!” With every ounce of will, I sprinted, grabbing the tape. Then I collapsed to the ground, emotionally and physically exhausted. “Get UP! You’re ruining the pictures!” I laughed, and hugged Susanne tightly. “THANK YOU! God bless you Susanne. Bless you.”
Standing on the podium, hearing the national anthem played for me after nearly giving up 4 minutes into my race was just surreal. I certainly never imagined this. It proved to me once and for all, and the main thing I LOVE about triathlon as a sport that has three distinct phases. NEVER give up. Never EVER EVER give up. You may just win Gold.
Thank you to Xterra Wetsuits for keeping me fast in the water, Signature Cycles for keeping my bike riding super fast, and green and Tonic for the nutrition to get healthy when I’m traveling all over the world for Team USA. The final team announcement will be on July 8th and I hope to be on it. You can help support my race season here www.amydixon.wpengine.com/donate.