We've done this particular race for nine years now.
You can plan all year. Do all the right things. Buy all the right gear. Test and retest your processes. You can bring in the best team and outfit them with all the right equipment. You can plan every last detail to perfection. You can do all of these things and yet, it can all be taken away from you with gentle shift of air from the north.
Last week took its toll on me. Me and my team have been working extremely hard in prepping for and executing world class events all spring. One of our highlights is to produce the Escape the Cape Triathlon every June. Clearly, the event is modeled after the world famous, one and only, Escape from Alcatraz. Our Escape starts with a 12-foot leap off the front of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry.
There are hundreds of moving parts for this event and all of them must go nearly perfect in order to safely get 2,000 athletes to shore. We plan and plan and plan and plan and plan some more. We have contingencies for almost any scenario that can arise... almost any.
Escape the Cape takes place in Lower Township, NJ. Basically, we're at the bottom of the state. Down here in Cape May County, we've never had to plan for "fire season." It's just not in our DNA as a community. Yes, we are aware forest fires do happen, but nothing to the extent of affecting our daily way of life. We're hurricane people if you catch my drift.
All of that changed last week. The thick smoke from the fires of Eastern Canada plunged the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states into an apocalyptic red haze and our very way of life was drastically interrupted. As Monday turned into Tuesday, I began to think, "What if this doesn't go away, or worse?" Air Quality websites became my new passion as I did my best to think positively. MLB games were being cancelled due to poor air quality. This isn't happening, right? I went to bed hoping the Gods would blow this smoke away from here.
Thursday morning was a very different story. I woke up very early that morning and immediately went to airnow.gov and typed in "Lower Township, NJ." What I saw next made me sick: HAZARADOUS. STAY INDOORS. It was at this moment that I allowed the demons in my head, or as Dr. Mitch Greene, author of Courage Over Confidence simply put, Mind Chatter, got the best of me. A personal nuclear meltdown ensued for the next 30-45 minutes of epic proportions. As usual, my wife was calm, cool, and collected. "Don't go there right now. This race is 4 days away, a lot can happen. Control this morning, then this afternoon. Get out in front of your athletes and be honest, but remember time is on our side."
Effectively, Jamie had figuratively slapped some sense into me and helped me focus on the now. I did exactly as she suggested. I informed my team of what we were going to do and how we would do it. I consulted with advisors. I put out a video each day and we had a canned response for all inquiries made via email and social. I spent time creating a new race format that altered the race so athletes would not have to spend as much time on site or on the course. We did what we would want done if we were racing.
Here's what we did not do. We did not avoid the situation. We did not pretend like everything was ok. We did not throw our hands up. We did not shy away from the questions of athletes. We accepted our situation and were prepared to do what it takes to move forward. Luckily, the winds began to shift, and each day progressively got better. By Saturday afternoon, we were in the green for air quality. Now, all we have to do is get 2,000 athletes to shore safely.
It's hard to imagine the other side of this proverbial coin. At 46.3 years old, I find myself constantly analyzing my life and the events that unfold for me and around me and I realize more than ever that a simple change in airflow can have a dramatic impact on us and change the trajectory of our lives. It's scary to imagine, but it's also true in ways that should inspire you to live a grand, full life. Admit it, we're lucky. You're lucky. Start thinking of yourself this way. View the other side of the coin. Don't think, "Why me," think "Of course, why not me!"
What did I learn? I learned, or relearned, that my wife is, and will always be, my rock. She's amazing like that. When I fall, she picks me back up. I learned athletes truly believe I have their back in every situation, of which I do. You don't earn that trust overnight; you earn it by doing the work on their behalf and walking the walk. I learned like athletes, emergency management and county officials, and various dignitaries defer to me on crucial matters, "It's your event, we trust you." This too is something that must be earned, and you get zero chances to break that trust. I learned, or relearned yet again, that my team is willing to do what it takes to provide an exceptional experience. They always do.
Yes, this past weekend was full of emotions, situations, and judgement calls and we pulled through and offered our finest Escape the Cape. Why wouldn't we? It only took us 10 years.
By the way, there is no such thing as luck, there's blind faith in your own ability and that things will work out. You just have to lean into that belief.