As Susan Lacke discovered, romantic gestures in a two-triathlete relationship are far from conventional.
“Honey, you only need to remember one very important thing about this weekend.”
Neil reached across the center console of the car and squeezed my knee.
“If you cry at any point, I’m just going to pretend like I don’t know you.”
I swatted his hand away, offended, and slouched down in my seat. Neil chuckled to himself, pleased with his attempt to lighten the mood.
A few months ago, I signed both of us up for a triathlon training camp with our friend, Hillary. For as long as we’ve known her, she’s invited us to join her in Tucson for training. Neil has always been happy to go, but I always had an excuse as to why I couldn’t – I had other commitments, it didn’t fit into my race schedule. Truthfully, I was too scared to admit I was…well, too scared.
You see, Neil is a triathlete – a very fast one. Though I love the sport, I’m more inclined to awkwardly bumble through the swim-bike-run. Luckily, I usually finish before the awards ceremony, where I can settle into the triathlon role where I excel: the proud (albeit sweaty) girlfriend, snapping photos and woo-hooing as Neil takes his spot on the podium.
He is the fast one, I am the slow one. The yin to the yang. It’s always worked for us.
But in a training camp environment, our differences would be accentuated greatly. Before camp even started, I knew how things would go: on group rides, Neil would shoot right out of the gate and set the pace for the fast riders, while I brought up the caboose at a speed that would make geriatric drivers impatient.
Truth be told, I wondered if I had made the right decision in signing up for the camp. Would Neil would be embarrassed by his association with the slowest person there? Would he be ashamed of me? I kept this fear to myself, instead donning a fake smile and a weak woohoo! whenever he talked about how much fun our time in Tucson would be and how glad he was that I was coming to training camp this year. Because that’s what the proud (albeit sweaty) girlfriend does.
But as we pulled in to the parking lot of our camp hotel, he made that joke about pretending to not know me. He thought he was lightening the mood, but I read an entirely different message: Don’t embarrass me.
It was during the very first ride of the camp where my prediction came true. Neil disappeared ahead of me within the first minute of the ride, and one by one, my fellow campers faded into the horizon as well. Soon, I was by myself.
Several hours into the ride, I was out of water and feeling the effects. I sent a text message to the camp SAG wagon, asking where they were so I could refill. Their answer: five miles up the canyon, with the rest of the group. They had been wondering what was taking me so long.
I sighed dismally. Of course.
The SAG told me to stay put, that aid was on the way. Shortly after that text message, Neil blazed past me on his bike with a smile and a wave. He didn’t stop, even though I was standing there, obviously hindered, on the side of the road. As he disappeared down the road, I felt my cheeks get red.
Was he so mortified by his slow girlfriend he wouldn’t even stop to help her?
I took out my phone again and sent a furious text message to Neil’s phone, my fingers blurring in a frenetic, angry cloud as I typed how mad I was. I was in the middle of the desert and I had no water, and how dare he just keep going in my hour of need, and I know I am slow but YOU ARE SUCH A JERKFACE, NEIL.
I hit “send” with a plucky punch. Surely he would finish his ride and feel horrible about letting his embarrassment get in the way of helping the woman he loves.
Immediately, my phone buzzed with a reply:
“Look across the street, asshat.”
I looked up. There was Neil, shaking his head and laughing. He had a bottle of water in one hand and a Coca-Cola in the other. When the SAG wagon told him that I was out of water, he sped down the canyon. For me. His proud (albeit sweaty) girlfriend.
Before camp started, Neil told me not to cry. Though at the time I thought he was serious, I now understand it really was a joke. If he had meant it, he wouldn’t have rushed to bring me a can of cola after 45 miles of riding false flats. Such a romantic gesture is on par with diamonds and red roses.
He is the fast one, I am the slow one. The yin to the yang.
And it’s always worked for us.