• Joelle Gordon

Runnning with Feathers

It was 7 years ago when I did my 1st Triathlon. I raced TriAc in Atlantic City. With this sport came a lot of joy and became what I like to know as my “lifestyle sport”, meaning I race at least one race a year to keep myself motivated and active. This summer was no different in the regards to being active, but the summer of 2021 had new challenges for sure.

In December of 2020, I unexpectedly lost one of my biggest cheerleaders and best friends, my mom. The loss of a parent is one that is so different than any other loss, I was blessed to have mother with unconditional acceptance and love. She had always been so very kind in her interactions with others, in ways not even I knew till after her passing.

My mom was also an amputee. She was very willing to share this with others but also tended to wear pants so many people never really knew. After her amputation, she learned to bike and eventually got back to swimming, a sport she loved so much. However she always seemed to feel a little funny on her feet and had fears of curbs and inclines would give her a little trouble. Nevertheless, her strength, determination and drive was something I admired and hoped to embody.

In the last 8 months, I have witnessed her is sending me feathers as I navigate life and its struggles. Feathers are sacred gifts from the Divine, a show of force from the heavens that they are listening to your prayers, your wishes and your desires. It’s a symbol of acknowledgment, that someone or something in the spirit world is looking out for you, keeping you safe and empowering you to whatever path you set upon. If you see a feather, your angel is near and they are reminding you that, with them, you are safe. Her message was very clear.

From my first race, I have been blessed to have a very supportive family in regards to racing and had them on the sidelines for most of my events to cheer. My young kids grew up waking up early to be part of the excitement and, they would race the "kids races" whenever they were offered. As they grew, so did their goals. This year both my teenagers raced TriAC alongside me and my husband, Brian. My 13-year old competed in a relay with his buddies and my 15-year old raced on his own.

Competeing the same race for years, race mornings become a little easier to navigate. This year we volunteered the day before in bike transition( this is an open field with bike racks where people put their bikes - this is the center part of the triathlon). We knew the lay of the land REALLY WELL and were able to meet a lot of athletes. In the morning we set up all our gear for the other two parts of the triathlon and were off to the water for the 1st part or “leg” of the race. We were starting our swim in groups of five, so my family of four and my training partner were able to start together (Awesome right?). During the swim I stayed close my 15-year old because the swim isn't the strongest part of his race. We got close to the last bouy in the water and I took off to finish the swim and get to my bike (After all I wanted to support him, not let him beat me LOL). My bike ride was smooth and fast as we took to the Atlantic City Expressway and I quickly got into a groove.

Switching from the bike leg of the race to the run was seemless. I felt comfortable and knew wth course well. This is a time in my race I like to cheer for people that look like they could use the encouragement and thank all the police and volunteers I can find. You see, I long ago gave up the expectations that I was going to place high enough to win a medal and go to the podium…… I have been to the podium- great feeling but not my goal any more. Remember what I said? I do this as a lifestyle sport.

We ran up to the Atlantic City boardwalk and this is when things got fun. The athletes began to make the final push to get to the finish line, which included some sand running. As we got about a mile from the finish line, I watched as a fellow athlete fell on the course. This wasn't just your average athlete, he is was an amputee. With my mom in mind, I decided that I would stay with him and his trainer as he worked his way to the finish line.

This dedicated racer insisted on running on his own as we tried to help him gauge the higher boards on the boardwalk, pace himself, and try to brace him if we could. I can’t count the number of falls he took as we tried to help him navigate the terrain, that included the boardwalk and hills up and down around a building called "The Funhouse" to get to the sand finish. During our acsent up the hill the atlete's prostetic gave out. I later learned it had already been repaired once during the run. The athlete was determined to finish so we quickly moved to under his shoulders to brace his weight and keep him moving.

As we helped navigate this final stretch of the course, not just carrying myself but also helping this fellow athlete, I was more aware of every step. With these very steps I noticed that our path was covered in feathers( Thank you Mom). The crowd cheered as we came to sight on the edge of the sand. It was in these moments when the magic happened. As the athlete saw the finish line, his first instinct was to navigate the final distance by crawling. This is a true testament to the dedication and strength of this athlete, but we had been his wings this far in this last mile, so once again his trainer and I helped this amazing man to his feet for the final push. The last moments of this race were nothing short of amazing. To be part of this athlete's voyage to the finish line was an honor I can not explain and will forever be one I remember and forever treasure.

This year my race was a reminder to be present and that sometimes things are so much bigger than me. This past year has definitly had its struggles, from a broken wrist, to losing my mom, along with other loved ones. I've helped family pick up the pieces of these losses while dealing with the grief and depression myself. All these moments have made me stronger and who I am today. This athlete showed such strength, determination and mirrored my life this year. It reminded me not to give up but also in those moments of struggle. I humbly share with you, that this athlete later called me his "angel" that day. I think we both know it was my mom that was the true angel that got us all to the finish line with feather at our feet.

Heres a few of my favorite shots -

Kids from 6 years ago / As I wrote this I saw feathers falling from the sky

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