Carrying The Fallen

Let me start this by saying that no one from WTC contacted me about writing this article. There was no secret press release attempting to turn this into a new story. No one is trying to spin the tragedy of what happened in New York into anything other than tragedy. This is simply the story of one man doing his part to honor a fellow athlete. It’s a story I heard almost entirely by coincidence. But once I heard it, I felt compelled to share it.

Those of you who know Andrew Messick probably know him as the CEO of WTC. You may have found out via our forum that he’s also an active and avid triathlete, having raced Eagleman 70.3 earlier this year, and then Boulder 70.3 later in the summer to get a taste of what he was going to ask of athletes who signed up for WTC’s newest event, the Ironman in Lake Tahoe. This past Sunday, Messick completed the first Ironman Tremblant in 11:43:36. He signed up mid-week after a last minute decision to do the race; I guess there are some fringe benefits to being CEO.

I emailed a congratulatory message to Andrew after the race, and he replied, briefly, that he had forgot how much Ironman hurt, but that, “it was, in a weird way, nice to be reminded” of that fact. He told me that it was a long story that prompted his decision to race and left it at that. I figured he thought a lot like I did when I decided to race Ironman Canada in 2007 on Friday before the race; I figured he was just that little bit kind of crazy that it seems all Ironman athletes are. He’s the CEO. He can enter whenever he wants. Maybe he just wanted to do an Ironman. I can understand that. It’s not normal. But it’s who we are.

I didn’t think any more on the matter, other than thinking it was a positive sign that Messick was out there doing WTC events and experiencing what it was like first-hand. And then I ran into Tim Johnson, who directs the majority of the swim courses for WTC in North America. I happened to pass by Tim, who I know well, walking down the street in Penticton (he’s here for Ironman Canada) as I was headed home, and we got talking about the recent Ironman US Championships in New York. We talked about the suspended registration, the challenges with the logistics, and WTC’s decision to suspend registration for 2013. I told Tim that I had emailed Andrew with some suggestions for improvements after the race, and that he’d been receptive to my feedback. Somehow, that segued into a discussion about how Andrew had ended up racing Ironman in Tremblant.

Tim had been at the finish when Andrew crossed the line and commented that he seemed in pretty rough shape. Tim told me about how Andrew admitted that he was probably woefully unprepared for the race, having not ridden over 100 miles in six months (and he lives in Florida!) and having not run a marathon since 2006. He was that guy - the guy we love to make fun of on the forum for showing up not having done the necessary training. Of course, with a sub-12 finish, we can’t really make fun of him too much.

As Andrew sat shivering underneath one of those mylar finisher’s blanket and, it seemed, regretting his decision to an Ironman (another feeling I can empathize with, even when it goes well), Tim asked him why he’d decided to race if he really hadn’t prepared. I think it was generally well received that Messick was even doing 70.3’s; I certainly don’t think there was any expectation that Messick should do an Ironman. So it certainly didn’t seem as if he was responding to some sort of popular pressure. So why do it?

Andrew’s response was simple. And powerful. And, I think, remarkable. He lifted up his own bib - #2033 - and revealed another bib underneath his own. It was also bib #2033. And it also belonged to an Andrew. Only it wasn’t a bib from Ironman Tremblant. It was a bib from the Ironman US Championships in New York. And the Andrew it belonged to was Andrew Naylor, the police officer from Hong Kong who died during the swim eight days prior. Andrew Messick had raced for Andrew Naylor, and his wife, and his daughters, and his friends. He raced for a fellow athlete. And he carried his bib number 140.6 miles to honor him and to put that bib across the line to the phrase many of us have come to relish hearing, “Andrew, You. Are. An. Ironman.” And they were.

Before I wrote this, I asked Andrew if he objected to my telling this story. His response was that he’d rather that no one knew than anyone be accused of exploiting Andrew Naylor’s death. And I hope that no one perceives either this article or Andrew’s actions in that way. After giving me permission to write this story, he said something that really resonated with me (for a variety of reasons), and which I think sums up quite eloquently why I felt the need to share this. “If our lives can end so suddenly and so arbitrarily, then we need to take our chances when we can. You cannot wait for the perfect day to arrive because it might not.”

Thank you Andrew. Thank you.