Last July our daughter, Gretchen, did the final step in the process of putting herself and her husband, Dave, in the queue for adopting an infant while we were staying on Vashon Island, Washington. That step was the completion of a 20-page colored booklet complete with photographs that told their life stories to prospective birth mothers looking for parents to adopt their babies. It had been a long, difficult road for the two of them for several years as they availed themselves of all the options for Gretchen to become pregnant, including in vitro fertilization and even implanting an embryo donated by dear friends, but none of them were successful, so they finally decided to see if they could adopt an infant.
The completion of the booklet was only one step in a long, complicated process to be considered as adoptive parents. As Dave said upon finalizing this last hurdle, “I feel like I have just completed another post-graduate degree program.” Prior to that they had met many times with the adoption agency, filled out a multitude of forms, attended workshops, had home inspection visits and much, much more. It’s a daunting process. My wife Johna and I, who had an easy time getting pregnant, wonder if we would have been allowed to be parents if we had to undergo the same scrutiny. Now all they had to do was wait and hope a birth mother would read their booklet and choose them to be the parents of her baby. But waiting is not Gretchen’s strong suit. She is an athlete who thrives on being active. She’s run many races, up to the 50-kilometer distance, and done three 70.2-mile half-ironman races combining swimming, biking and running. What was she to do with all the anxiety and the waiting? Prior to this, several of her training partners had urged her to try doing the full 140.6 mile Ironman, Gretchen had resisted, and thought it was a crazy thing to do. But that was before the adoption process. So she relented and signed up for an Ironman race in Whistler, British Columbia the following July. That gave her a place to focus her anxiety and energy while she and Dave waited to hear if a birth mother, who had decided for some reason to give her infant up for adoption, would choose them to be the baby’s parents.
A triathlon training regimen is not for the faint of heart. Beginning in January 2015, Gretchen alternated her weekly training between the three events—swimming, biking and running. On weekdays she would rise at 4:30 am to swim at the Tacoma YMCA, and then do a run or bike ride before going to Sheridan School where she teaches 3rd grade. On weekends she did her serious training. On Saturdays she did a long bike ride of up to 7 hours (usually 70-80 miles, up to a maximum of 115 miles) followed by a run of 45 to 60 minutes. On Sunday she did her long run, maxing out at 21 miles, followed later in the day by an hour bike ride. Once the training was finished, she was ready to compete in her first Ironman event.
Below is the account of the race she posted on Facebook just after she finished the race for her friends and supporters.
“Thanks guys for all the kudos and encouragement! You made me feel like a million bucks! Ok. Here’s the abridged version of my first Ironman: The swim was warfare with a mass start with 2,000 neoprened warriors on the same path. It took at least 20 minutes to break free. While swimming we hit about 48 degrees and the rain began. Not a sprinkle. Not a “northwest drizzle”. The bike segment was a frigid, dangerous mess. I feared the descents. My teeth chattered for at least 40 miles, and my feet were shaking in the pedals from the cold and the rain. I took my coat off at mile 90 so I could do the climbing, which came as a great relief. At this point the rain had subsided. 112 miles and over 5,000 feet of elevation change later I was feeling strong and ready to get off the bike. The running weather was great! Dave was trailing me on his bike and weaving in and out while encouraging me, as he has for all my pursuits.
I even accepted a hug from a spectator with a sign reading “FREE HUGS.” Never saw that one coming! She really did give me a boost. I took it one 5k at a time on a gorgeous wooded path that meandered by Green Lake, a blue green, glacially fed lake. It was a 2-loop course and I anxiously awaited my chance to follow the arrow that said, “Finish” instead of “2nd lap”. I tried to pick it up as I heard the announcer with his famous line. Then it was my turn, “Gretchen Van Dyke. YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”. One of the darling volunteers personally escorted me in, took care of me and directed me out where David Miller and my parents were waiting for me. This immediately brought me to tears. I had wanted to cry about 10 times that day already. You picture that moment for a long, long time. Months. And a bit later I puked in the bushes and called it a day. I was hoping to finish in less than 13 hours and came in at 11:58, breaking the 12-hour barrier. I rode out every emotion I had in one half of a day. I am beyond thankful to so many of you for the miles you’ve put in alongside me and the support you have given me.”
As Gretchen said the weather in the morning was dreadful, including the first part of the bike ride. It was 48 degrees Fahrenheit and raining when the swim started. Not a typical Northwest drizzle, but a full-fledged rain. This occurred even though the Northwest had been in a drought and heat wave for much of the summer and most of the athletes were prepared for heat, not cold and rain. As Gretchen said, the bike was particularly hazardous, with most of the riders shivering and shaking as they rode, even risking potential hypothermia. Several of the professional riders quit rather than ride in those conditions, but Gretchen persevered and pedaled on valiantly.
The swim before the run in Alta Lake was quite a sight to behold with the multitude of bobbing heads treading water waiting for the starting cannon to boom and echo through the valley. Then they were off, swimming a two lap rectangular course around four large orange buoys, and then to the beach and the transition area to hop on their bikes. The transition from swim to bike is quite a sight to see as the volunteer “strippers” pull off wet suits as the athletes lie on the ground, and then bound up quickly to a large white tent to change into their biking clothes. Then it’s off onto the roads for 112 miles of very hilly riding. Gretchen completed the bike leg in 6:37 (less then the seven hours she hoped for) and then took off for the 26.2-mile marathon, which is her strongest event. Fortunately the rain abated about halfway through the bike ride and the sun came out in the afternoon for the run. We got to see her several times on the out and back course, and she looked very strong, passing as many as 100 other athletes on her way to a 4:00 hour marathon time to enter the ranks of Ironman. As she run through the finish chute the announcer loudly proclaimed her to be an Ironman, as he did for all the athletes before and after her as they crossed the finish line. What an accomplishment, and we are so glad we got to experience it with her and Dave.
Several weeks before the Ironman event Gretchen and Dave got word that a 29-year-old woman had chosen them to be the adoptive parents of her unborn daughter. The baby is due in late August and now Gretchen and Dave’s life will change forever, and they could not be happier to welcome this new life into their family. Who knows, maybe another triathlete in the making?