The finish line

by Heather Kendrick

“HEATHER KENDRICK. CONWAY, ARKANSAS,” I heard the loud voice say over the megaphone as I closed my eyes and used my last bit of energy to sprint through the finish line.

I threw my arms in the air and screamed, running straight into a huge group of my friends and family where I burst into tears sobbing, “I can’t even believe it! I’m just so happy! I did it!”

I opened my eyes…and this time, it wasn’t a dream.

About two hours earlier I was trying everything I could not to look at the water, but all I could do was stare at it. After not being able to sleep the night before and having a crazy-hectic morning trying to get all our gear in the right transition areas, I suddenly found myself still and quiet. I was standing in a crowd of people — 307 was “tattooed” on my arms and legs with a Sharpie marker — about to get into a massively deep lake to swim an incredibly long distance. How did this happen?  

I had about 10 seconds to actually reflect on that before the line started moving and the big picture of the lake really came into view. People were already swimming because the Beginner Division (where I was) was lined up last, so some triathletes had already started their swim. I was mesmerized watching them out there. Their heads looked like little pins on a map. Even though the course went in a straight line, they were scattered all over the place. And it sure didn’t look like they were going anywhere fast.  

As we moved closer my heart was in my throat and so was my stomach. Forcing myself to believe it, I told my friends behind me, “WE’VE GOT THIS!” and surreally listened to the race official say, “No. 307…GO!” Somehow, my feet made their way toward the water.

I hadn’t taken five strokes in the lake before I knew this was going to be bad — very, very bad. The water was extremely choppy, so it was really hard for me to get a breath without getting a mouth full of water. And then there were people . . . EVERYWHERE. I knew I was slow, even for the beginner division, so as soon as I got in, I tried to move over to the side to get out of the “lane” so to speak, but it did not help one bit. People were completely trampling me for the first five minutes. They were on every side, on top of me, grabbing my arms, my legs, my sides — one person even hit me in the head! And I could not catch my breath. It was everything I could do to stay calm.  

Before the race and throughout my training, I was determined to keep all negative thoughts OUT, but one crept in right here. I remember thinking, “this is just plain stupid for me to be out here — dangerous and stupid. I might die today.” But I knew two things: (1) I was out in the open water without too many options and (2) I had worked too hard to give up without a fight. So I kept on fighting. I dug deep and worked hard to catch my breath. I kept coughing out the water and trying to fight off the people. I closed my eyes and begged my spirit to stay calm. Just like in my training, I recited my verses over and over:

“Fear not for I have REDEEMED you. I have summoned you by name — YOU ARE MINE. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And when you pass through the rivers, they will NOT sweep over you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. You are PRECIOUS and HONORED in my sight, and I LOVE YOU. Do not be afraid, for I AM WITH YOU.” — Isaiah 43:1-5

I eventually made it to the first buoy. I deeply exhaled and verbally thanked God. I made the turn and saw the current change. I felt it pulling me and had to remind myself that I was indeed moving, even though it felt like I was treading water. I kept saying my verses, reminding myself to stay calm.  

“Just keep swimming . . . just keep swimming.”  

Slowly I made it to the second buoy and made the last turn to come in. At this point my breathing was steadier and I was slightly calmer. The crowd was starting to thin out, and I had some space. People were still bumping me, but I was gaining confidence and I could see the shore in front of me. By this time, there were only a few of us left in the water. Several swimmers around me were struggling and had to seek help from the rescue team. 

“Almost there,” they said to us. I thanked them for being there. I prayed for the others and for my friends who were out of the water and on their bikes. I thanked God for allowing me to make it this far and asked Him to get me to the end. I focused on each stroke. And then before I knew it my feet were on the exit ramp. Solid ground never felt so good. I screamed at the top of my tired lungs, “YES! I MADE IT!” and took off running for the bikes.

When I came around the corner out of the water, I heard someone say “Go Heather!” and I was so shocked to see my husband and kids! I will never forget the sight of both my little ones in pajamas and bed heads because they left Conway so early to surprise me! They talked to me as I put on my shoes in the transition and waved as I rode off on the bike. I felt great at this point! I knew the hardest part was over. If I could survive that swim, I could do anything!

The bike portion of the triathlon seemed longer than I thought it would. Thirteen miles of open road gave me a lot of time to think. I tried to push hard on the bike. I was able to initially pass quite a few people, and then I found myself either alone or with two men who managed to hang with me (or maybe I was hanging with them!) most of the way. We would go back and forth — I would pass them on the hills and they would p
ass me on the flatter portions of the road. When I was tempted to coast or back off the pace, I thought about my people in my classes at the fitness center and how hard they “push” when I ask them to, and that made me go harder. I thought about the amazing cyclists in the Tour de France. I thought about my family waiting at the end. I thought about all my friends competing ahead of me and how they would be so excited when I finished. And before I knew it, 13 miles were done. I pulled into the transition area and hopped off the bike, cheering and yelling.

The run transition was much shorter. I took a quick drink of Gatorade, traded my bike helmet for my visor and took off. I took the run a little bit slow. It was HOT, and I knew I needed to save my strength. I told myself if I still felt good, I could speed up at the end. The first two miles of the course were on the highway, blazing hot, concrete highway. And it was a steady incline leading up to a hill. I tried my hardest to settle into a steady pace as other people around me stopped to walk. I was determined to keep running.  When I got tired, I remembered all the people who were praying for me. I used their strength to keep going. At mile two we turned into a neighborhood where residents had their sprinklers spraying into the streets, and that was awesome! With one mile to go, I started to acknowledge it in my head — I was going to do this thing! I sped up a little bit, but not too much. 

At half a mile left, I passed the back side of the finish and saw all my training buddies and teammates waiting. I couldn’t help but yell out, “I’m on my way!” and speed up a little bit more. Two more corners and I found myself climbing the last hill with a spring in my step . . . almost done!  I made that last turn and saw the finish line less than 100 yards away, and that’s when I started sprinting. My mind couldn’t keep up with my heart pounding and my legs racing to that finish.  


Training for and doing the triathlon was the hardest thing I have ever done, but race day was one of the best days of my life. The group of friends that I trained with and experienced it with is so special to me, and I am so thankful for them. I learned so much about myself through this process. I taught important lessons to my kids. I am very proud. A really great thing happens when you chase your dreams — sometimes, you catch them.