Report - Rod Willmot



Sunday, October 22: Still pleasantly tired, but well rested after 14 hours of glorious sleep, I write this with a feeling of tremendous satisfaction, pleasure in a day of the most intense experience possible, and gratitude for the work of race organizer Robert Fortier and his many volunteers. Huge thanks to all of you!

I don't have the results yet, but as soon as I receive them from Robert I'll post them, count on it. I'll also put up photos and other skaters' personal reports whenever they come in, so do come back to this site over the coming days and weeks to check for updates.

As all of you know who participated yesterday, this year's event was the stuff of legend, as a few minutes of rain after dawn transformed the course into a combination of Beauty and the Beast. Lovely smooth roads became slippery as ice, while leaf-strewn bike-paths, normally so refreshing to skate on, became a treacherous, slimey goo that slowed everyone down, caused numerous falls, and basically wore us out as if we were skating twice the distance. Wow, we skated through THAT!?! Yet amidst the frustration and exhaustion there was plenty of laughter, and no matter how ugly things were beneath our wheels, we couldn't help loving this crazy adventure we were on. And, ironically, when it was safe to look up from the path we discovered that the colors and the scenery were even prettier than last time.

Was this the toughest Défi so far? Beyond question, yes. Two strong veterans of the course, Rolf Christiansen and Raymond Bélisle, had to dig deep down this time, yet finished proudly. (My little group moved well when it moved, but took several lengthy breaks, allowing me to see quite a few skaters again and again.) Nevertheless, other skaters improved their performance over previous years, and I know a few first-timers (first time at the Défi, that is) who did very well indeed. This is the nature of long-distance racing. Each person's skate is a story of its own, uniquely memorable, equally deserving of honor.

In my case, the story of Défi 2000 was the presence of 7 American skaters whose journey I helped arrange via the Internet. (I had the great pleasure of meeting them at last on the night before the race, when we all had pasta at Pacini's before retreating to our motel.) Veterans of Athens-to-Atlanta, they agreed unanimously that despite being 10K shorter the Défi is the harder race. I am proud and pleased as hell to report that they all had a great time here, and before we parted they swore they would urge their countrymen to join us in the future. (An 8th American, Andrew from New York, came up on his own; I don't know yet whether he made it to the finish.)

One of the Americans, the amazing Laurel Geske of Wisconsin, came in 2nd after our own Robert Mitchell. (Charles Beaudoin came in together with Laurel.) The little group I led in took a wee bit longer, but skated just as hard, perhaps in some ways harder. Together from start to finish, the team-that-started-late consisted of Blossom from New York, Blake from North Carolina, Kevin from Boston, and a fellow Québécois named Michel. (Michel faded back from us as we left the Old Port, and finished a little later.) Unaccustomed to long-distance skating, Kevin was betrayed by ill-fitting skates that didn't support where it mattered and quickly started to mangle his shins. By the end of Section 2, I really believed he would have to withdraw. Pale and obviously in great pain, he almost looked ready for an ambulance. Yet somehow he pulled himself together, and stuck with us gamely without a murmur of complaint. As he drafted close behind me through the final 15K, I found that knowing what he was suffering affected my own experience profoundly. This one for me wasn't about making a good time, it was about new friends and teamwork. Of course we had lots of laughs out there, too! But Kevin's bravery and relentless determination in the face of adversity seems to me the essence of what each of us faces when we undertake a challenge like the Défi. We all worked hard. We all hurt like hell, yet kept on going. We all endured a whole lot of pain, yet had moments of wonder and triumph that no one can know who hasn't been there. Whether you came in first or last, hey, you've got bragging rights!

Rod Willmot