Défi de L'Île de Montréal
128 km on inline skates
At first I thought I would do this Défi in a team of 4 skaters including Rod, like last year. I was hoping to improve my time by 45 minutes. Then a dilemma arose, my son Vincent was to have a Tae Kwan Do competition on the same day. Should I be the father or the man? Should I go watch him, or do the Défi? But when I talked to him about it, he answered, "Go to the Défi, I'll tell you everything that happened!"
I understood, Tae Kwan Do means to him what skating means to me, a passion, and neither of us wanted to deprive the other. Then, Rod told me his decision not to skate with me and Dany. He just wasn't as strong as he was last year. I spent a while wondering how I would do it... Maybe I'd skate solo, just to find out what I was made of. But then, just a week before the Défi when we were skating at the Canal de Soulanges, Allison told me she envisioned a lead pack... with me in it.
My training was good, probably perfect, apart from a nagging doubt due to a pain that cripples me when I skate too long or too often -- diagnosis, Morton's Neuroma! I skated with the Roller-Montréal gang all season. One week before the Défi: last practice at Canal de Soulanges, a fine day, not too warm, windy. After that 70 km of good hard skating, once again my left foot is hurting bad! Will I be able to complete the Défi?
All that week leading up to the Défi I was out of town for my work. Long hours, intense, constant travelling, my schedule so jam-packed I was borrowing from sleep just to get everything done. Not much time to think about the Défi and get myself ready. That Wednesday I did a little jogging, 7 km or so, just to keep my muscles awake and the cardio in shape. Friday came and I was finally back home, and when at last I finished getting ready I looked at the clock -- midnight! Hurry off to bed! 4 quick hours of sleep... I was about to sleep right through until Rod asked if I was up yet! I hadn't heard the alarm go off! I got up and fixed Rod and me a good breakfast Simon-style. Went by to pick up Martine Charbonneau. Headed off for Verdun.
19 seconds before the start! I'm facing down the path, I take up position with Allison, Martine, Said, Charles and Ralph. I feel strong, is it just from being so excited?
And we're off. There are 6 of us skating in the lead pack. We're rolling along, but slipping too! The lines of paint are slippery as ice because of the rain, and so are the manhole covers. We start changing the lead every 30 seconds. I pull for up to 40, 50 seconds and feel as if I could go even faster... but it's slippery and wouldn't be smart. Following along in his car, in the Senneville section Mr Fortier tells us we're going 26 kph.
Then we're in Section 3 and when I look behind Ralph isn't there anymore, he's dropped out! Sometimes the puddles are so deep are skates are completely submerged. It's crazy and funny at the same time, as if we were kids playing in the water.
Then Martine's knee starts bothering her, and she gets a bit fed up with my singing and whistling. Hee-hee! Wisely she drops out so as not to compromise her fencing competition which is just a week away.
And so the 4 of us carry on, Allison, Charles, Said and me. Allison and Charles get too cold and we slow down so they can get extra clothes from the support car. After going slower for several minutes I realise I'm getting cold, so I take off in order to skate alone at my own pace. It feels good and I warm up, but suddenly in a puddle my skate drops into a crack and down I go... I get up, not too much damage, a few scrapes -- saved by the water which made me just slide, so on I go.
When Allison, Charles and Said caught up about 30 minutes later I was glad about what I'd done, for even rolling alone I hadn't worn myself out. I had tested my physical reserves and my state of mind. After that I worked hard for the pack through the desert of Notre-Dame -- wind, gusts, rain in our faces. Once again we switched to 30-second changes in the lead. I knew what state each one of us was in, for this part was tough as hell. Charles demonstrated the depth of his strength and technical prowess, pulling us long and often, often for 60 seconds, while I shared the work by taking 50-60 second pulls too. Allison did everything she could to end her suffering as quickly as possible. She never complained, but you could read on her face how relentlessly determined she was to get through it. (After the Défi I saw her heels, all bloody -- what she put with to finish! Oh lala! Last year it was me who had that problem.)
We reach the Jacques-Cartier bridge... AAAAAhhhhhh! I tell myself, pretty soon it's gonna be over.
Once in the Old Port we all feel a boost, and start speeding up along de la Commune. On Wellington I start wondering who has the stuff to make a breakaway. Only Charles will be up to a sprint, I figure. We get to the last section of bike-path, Charles is in front but then moves behind me, and I wait for the moment when I'll jump out and start sprinting. There he is, just as I expected -- I push to try to do the same, my legs, my ankles are stiff, I'm not loose enough anymore to double-push, I give everything I've got but Charles slips ahead... Soon I'm a few lengths behind him.
To my great surprise I finish 2nd, tired but not totally exhausted. But I've been shivering from the moment I stopped -- hypothermia setting in. Rod comes running up with a big smile, congratulates me with such enthusiasm I feel my emotions welling up, pride, achievement, courage and tenacity all mixed in with the euphoria of the result. But when I get inside the Auditorium I have difficulty thinking, I can't unlace my skates, my fingers won't do what I tell them. Rod's there and I ask him to help because I can't do it. He has to force the buckle because I bent it when I fell, then he unlaces my skates and I climb up to the dressing-room on the second floor and start warming my hands under the dryers. I know I have to get my clothes off so I can dry, but I can't coordinate my fingers enough to pull down the zipper of my skinsuit. I go out of the dressing-room and ask some kids to help me, but they can't do it either, it's stuck. I can barely talk, I'm shivering so hard my teeth chatter. I ask a lady nearby who understands my gestures more than my words, but she can't do it either. Okay! We'll do what we have to. I grab the material on either side of the zipper and rip the thing open. Finally, warm dry clothes... Charles, Said and me take turns with the towel, helping each other warm up, doing things like sitting on the radiator while both of the dryers are blowing out hot air.
I believe that the difficult conditions of that day actually worked to my advantage. The cold and the water numbed my feet, anaesthetizing the nerve that gives me trouble -- that Morton's Neuroma. What's more, my body seems happier with cold than with heat -- I had a heat-stroke in May doing a 20 km footrace.
Summing up, after a full year of skating with my friends in Roller-Montréal, I've picked up speedskating technique, I've developed strength and endurance, and these elements help me in my daily life, proofs of my determination and perseverance. Most important is the pleasure of practising this sport with the amazing people I meet along the way, and the genuine friendships that develop. In return, I try to share what I've learned with all of those who join us, whether they're there out of passion or pleasure, for speed or recreation.
If you see my train going by, hop on board and we'll have fun!
P.S.: Vincent had 8 matches and carried off 8 victories, Gold Medal in his category. Keep it up, son, you can do anything! It was one of the proudest and most joyful days I've ever lived.
Thanks Rod for your wise comments all through the season, and for your deep commitment to Roller-Montréal and the Défi. I really appreciated seeing the results up on the site so quickly.
Thanks Martine for your encouragement; it had a big effect on me. And keep on pulling!
Thanks to the organizers and the volunteers! See you next year!
Bravo to everyone who took part!