My Journey to Tri California

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By: Samantha Sales

The San Francisco Triathlon at Treasure Island was the first triathlon I had ever seen. Three years ago my brother, Darrell, announced to the family that he would one day complete an Iron Man, and the Sprint Distance at Treasure Island would be his first test. A year after that I started training for the same triathlon with my sister?in?law, Shawna. Two months before the race I found out I would have to have eye surgery that would require me to be face down for over a month – dreams of completing that race went out the window. I persuaded my doctor to let me “watch” (I actually couldn’t see anything because of the surgery) Shawna compete in the race, and I was forever changed.


When I found out that I couldn’t complete Shawna said to me, “If you have the patience to be face down for a month then I have the will do a triathlon”! My brother coached her along the way and she would update me on her progress. One day, like all of the others, I was lying on my massage table (the only furniture that allows a person to literally sleep face down) when Darrell and Shawna walked into the house with a surprise. When I leaned my head just the right way, and held an object at just the right distance from my face, I could make out what it was, so when Darrell handed me what felt like a shirt, I put it in focus and found that it read “Eye Can Tri for Sami”. They had made several shirts for our family to wear to the race, including Shawna, so that I could cross the finish line, too.

On race day, among other things, I was stoked to be let out into the open air. I had to bring adaptive equipment to the race to keep my face down as much as possible, but my mom and cousin would frequently shout, “HERE SHE COMES” and I would pick my head up and cheer. It was probably in the opposite direction of where she was racing, but hey, I tried! During Shawna’s bike portion of the race one of the announcers noticed a group of us wearing the shirts Darrell and Shawna had made. I couldn’t see the man at all, but through a shaky voice and tearing eyes, I started telling him our story. He found Shawna’s profile, which mentioned the same story, and said we could stand at the finish chute to see her come in! The last minute she was racing the announcer told our story to the race attendees and shouted out when she crossed the finish line so that I knew she was there.




The next moment I was surrounded by the warm arms, and sweaty face, of Shawna. “We did it”, shesaid through sobs. “When I was on the run I wanted to stop, but I kept thinking of your strength and it made me keep going”.

This moment changed my life.



So many times we say we can’t do something, but it’s mostly a mental game. Being face down for a month to be alone with nothing but your thoughts will really test your mental strength—and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. “Watching” Shawna complete her first triathlon was one of the best days of my life. I could hardly see anything,  but that allowed me to enjoy, and feel all the other emotions of race day. What I felt was inspiring and I told myself that one day I would complete a triathlon.

Five months ago I was twiddling my thumbs on Facebook searching for an internship that would complete my degree in Recreation, Parks, and Tourism at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, when I received an invitation to join the Tri California family. I immediately looked on their website to see what races they offered and was frozen with emotion when I read “The San Francisco Triathlon at Treasure Island” on their race series. I thought back to the time when I stood at the finish line and waited for Shawna to complete “our” race. I wanted to be apart of a company that made people
feel the way I felt. To inspire them to do more and to be
more than they think they can be.

Before I left for my interview I dug through my drawer and found my “Eye Can Tri for Sami” shirt and tossed it into my bag. When asked why I wanted to work for this company, I pulled out my shirt, told my story, and fought back tears when I said, “I want to inspire everyday people to try something out of their comfort zone". I walked out of the interview knowing that this was exactly where I was supposed to be.

During the weekend at Treasure Island I experienced what it takes to produce that race and I didn’t mind doing any of it. If our race affects another person like it affected my family, and me it was all worth it. If we encouraged one person to sign up for a 5K or their first triathlon it was worth it. If we motivated Sprint Distance athletes to challenge themselves to an Olympic Distance course it was worth it.

I have no doubts that one day I will be the athlete and I will complete a triathlon, however, for now, I will be the cheerleader. Whether you catch me on swim dock, aid stations, VIP  food tent, or loading barricades, I’ll be there with a good attitude—sometimes annoyingly  happy. And even if it hasn’t been your best race, or if you don’t finish, I’ll still be there  telling you that you did a great job. Because you did! You’re doing something that most  people are scared to do and you inspire people like me everyday.

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