from the Times Picayune
June 12, 2010
Interview by Eric Trihardboy
New Orleans: In an unprecedented move, the Dirty Mama's (a subsidiary of Fitbird Fitness, a local triathlon training center) propelled themselves to a "Team Best" finish at the Norco Spillway Adventure Race in New Orleans this past weekend and racked up 187 points as they began to build up points to compete in the New Orleans Series Championship in November. The group of three women, two appearing to be thirty-something and one who is reportedly forty, but easily passes for her mid twenties, showed no fear of getting down and dirty, just as their name implied. Although they said it was their first time, rumor has it they they were bluffing, as their performance definitely said otherwise.
Bernard Thibodaux, a local fisherman, described his experience watching the Dirty Mama's compete. "Mawn, id be unbleevble. I never did saw such a ting. De tall one wid her hair up in de tail of de pony. Well she dun just kept at de paddlin, all de day long, in dat der hot sun. I saw dem go de wrong way down dat river. I fo tru tought dey be done. But dere dey came back ~ bout n ar lader. Rosie like a baked yam dey were, but dey was still a paddlin."
With a combined total of six children between them, dirt and grime has never been a fear for the Dirty Mama's. The scary part was taking on the dirt and grime with no children anywhere in the near vicinity to claim responsibility for it. I asked for their names, but they refused to give them, stating it was part of their "stealth" factor. The true identities of the teammates are undetermined as of yet, but the names they referred to each other as were "Coug", "Canada", and "Here". It was obvious where "Canada" came from, as one member obviously appeared to be an illegal immigrant from above the United States border. The "Coug" as they called her, was tight lipped about the origins of her nickname, but one can only assume it has to do with her feisty and tenacious racing skills. It took a bit of convincing to learn the story behind "Here". It seems that the name developed halfway through this adventure race as part of a search chant that the lead rider, Canada, developed to make sure the other team riders were staying within the 50 foot requirement, and had not been lost by her Cat 2 speeds. She said, "I would call out 'Dirty', the middle rider would call out 'Mama's', and then the third rider would call out 'Here' to let us know that we were all together. Because of some mechanical issues with her bike, 'Here' was always the rider in the rear and the name stuck with her."
I stopped a local volunteer who helped out with both of the mystery challenges to see what her thoughts were on the Dirty Mama's. "Ha! They was so funny! There was one of em that was hangin off the front of the canoe like she was swimming! They were going all crazy in circles and stuff in the water and couldn't go straight for long without bumping into somebody's canoe-boat. But they did all right I suppose. I seen worse today." She put some beer bottles up to her ears and acted like she was listening intently as she said, "now for the other mystery the little one was like grape jelly standing between two slices of square white wonder bread that had peanut butter spread on em. She and the top piece of bread was listening real close to the bottom bread so they wouldn't fall off the board they was balanced on. They was a good team, just like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich."
I checked out their outfits. The teams were decked out in matching racing attire, with blue teal tanks with their Dirty Mama's logo on the front, and the Fitbird Fitness logo on the back. They all wore matching black shorts, although when asked about their choice in race attire, they looked at each other and rolled their eyes. With a bit of prodding it was discovered that Canada had left her thick padded biking shorts hanging in her bathroom in Baton Rouge and didn't discover this fact until after one small daiquiri (at this reference Canada rolls her eyes), two Italian beers, one Florentine pizza, and the realization that there were only two minutes left before the local sponsoring bike shop closed its doors for the night. As luck would have it Coug was an expert speed racer (as had been established on the way back from her last triathlon where she was rewarded with a rather large speeding ticket), and was able to get them to the bike store before the doors were locked so a new pair of bike shorts could be purchased.
The women were asked details about their pre-race preparation, their hotel accommodations, and their nutrition plans. They described their nutrition as having started on the ride up. They chose to begin with a concoction of a variety of fruit, such as strawberries and coconuts, mixed them with sugar, and then combined it with a secret high-octane fuel which they would not divulge. There seemed to be a bit of discrepancy between the teammates in the recommended quantity of their nutrition intake. Two preferred to start off with about 64 ounces of liquid, while Canada held back and went for a more restricted 6 oz child-size amount of the energy drink. Within about 2 hours of starting their liquid nutrition they then supplemented with chocolate chip cookies, stating that the combination of simple carbs and grains seems to give them an advantage over their competition. After finishing the cookies, they said they immediately moved into heavy carbo-loading, each choosing their own version of a brick-oven pizza, and supplementing again this time with beer, butter, and bread. Yeast and hops seem to be an important part of their diets when I looked at their two day menu in its entirety. The one obvious commonality between their nutrition plans was that none appear to enjoy having any color in the form of vegetables with their pre-race meals.
It was apparent that these women were very protective of their bikes and their gear. Although only one of the three bikes appeared to be worth any money, all were treated with the same respect as they were loaded into the van for transport. Coug reported that the clientele at the hotel was a bit rough around the edges and their was a fear amongst the group that the bikes might be stolen for drug money if they were left unsupervised. It was decided that one member would stay with the gear, while the other two checked into the pay-by-the-hour motel. The team unanimously left Coug to protect their brood on her own, alone in the mini-van, while the local derelicts eyed her lasciviously. It was obvious that the hotel's clientele was all about the "pick-up" as the only comment made about the quality of the bikes passing through the lobby was that "that bike sure looks pretty." The reference was not directed towards the more expensive mountain bike in the group, but towards the blue Schwinn that was worth about $125. It was followed with a "and you sure do have a purty mouth" which was directed at one Dirty Mama pushing the bike, not the actual owner of the bike who never seems to get pick-up comments. [Okay, the part about the purty mouth is not really true, but it makes for better story telling]. Although the people loitering about the hotel were rather scary, the Dirty Mama's were relieved to find that once they made it to their room nothing was bolted to the floor and the linens seemed adequately clean. It took quite awhile to get the television working, but once it was plugged in it turned on right away.
The women described their pre-race ritual for me in detail. Canada was reported to have some personal "issues" that required soaking in a sitz bath and "hands-on" special care. Reportedly, there was a rendition of "Rubber Ducky" that was performed from behind a closed bathroom door during this private time even though she was repeatedly asked to stop singing by Coug. She required additional private time in the bathroom, for what exactly no one seemed to know, but it is felt that it must directly affect her race performance, as extended bathroom time, I was told, was fairly normal for Canada before a race.
The women proceeded to set up, and re-set up, their new matching
Once the gear was set up to specification, they said that they settled into filing and painting their toe nails a matching Fitbird blue teal. It was described as a team bonding exercise, designed to channel the spirits of adventurers who had come before them and to give homage to The Great Fitbird, founder of the little Fitbird flock, and to honor all that she stood for ~ Train, Race, Inspire.
As bedtime approached, Canada, the elected team captain, said she recited lines from Pretty Woman to get her team into the "zone". She acted out a bit of her repertoire for me.
Shop assistant: Hello, can I help you?
Vivian: I was in here yesterday, you wouldn't wait on me.
Shop assistant: Oh.
Vivian: You people work on commission, right?
Shop assistant: Yeah.
Vivian: Big mistake. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now.
I told her I wasn't exactly sure how this helped her team. She replied, "Fifty bucks, Grandpa. For seventy-five, the wife can watch." Again I told her I didn't get the relevance, but she just laughed heartily and gave no further explanation. She moved on with the conversation and said that the rest of the evening was uneventful, short of a rather brief snoring distraction by the Coug in the middle of the night which resulted in a punch to the head and a little berating the following morning. Otherwise, all were reported to sleep soundly.
I asked the "Mama's" to take me through their race day, from start to finish. "There was just this sense of excitement when we woke up. We all knew that once we put on our jerseys it was 'game on'," said Coug. "Canada had her biked loaded in the car and was through with her breakfast in the hotel dining room before the rest of us even made it down. She was focused, ready to race." What Coug didn't mention was that Canada had been out of commission for the past six weeks due to medical complications after a surgery (ok, three surgeries). It was the unspoken topic, the elephant in the room, the one subject no one had the courage to voice. Could she do it? She hadn't been able to even sit on her bike seat for more than a few seconds. She had run the block once. She was barely able to tolerate a trip to Target. No one wanted to propose the obvious choice of sitting it out. The average athlete would know when to throw in the towel. But the one thing everyone knew was this... she was no average athlete. She was a machine.
After loading up the rest of the gear, it was off to the Norco Spillway. It was decided that Here would be the lead navigator. That however was stripped from her quickly when she failed to direct the team from the hotel parking lot to the race start without a handful of missed turns. The navigator role was quickly passed on to Canada as it was felt that her trek through the Canadian boundary waters and over the border illegally, but successfully, should qualify her well for this role.
With little time to spare upon arriving at the race start, tires were pumped, Camelbacks and water bottles filled, and the team was given their map and passport. It was then that the Dirty Mama's really showed their skills, by sneaking up on the other teams and asking for map reading advice and thus gaining a technical advantage over the younger, less experienced female teams who were not as equipped to "work" the transition area. "It's all about working your assets, " said Canada. "You have to know where you strengths are. I can get information." She smirked.
I took time to ask Here where she thought her strengths and weaknesses were during the race. "I definitely took the lead role with the trail running. I think by keeping a good pace we were all able to stay together and pull each other along. We'd take turns with the passport to help Canada limit her run time when we could. We are a good team." Then her smile turned serious for a moment. "The canoeing. Well, that's an area that I may have to work on. I got fired. But I was a good water bottle girl, and that's important too you know. I will do better next time. And anyway, I enjoyed being able to sit back and watch the sun shimmer off of Coug's bronzed and rippling arms while she paddled me around." She laughed.
I asked Coug to tell me about her race. She described having a strong run and bike, but faltering on the canoe leg. "We got side-tracked. I don't know what happened." She gazed off into the distance as she thought about it. "The sun. It was just so hot. We missed a turn. It set us back like an hour. My arms were just so tired. So tired." She sighed. "I didn't bring my camelback because I didn't think I'd need it. It was supposed to be a short trip. Just a few miles. We didn't even bring a gel. I was so dehydrated and over-heated after we missed our turn I started to lose my focus. But we stuck it out. We didn't give up. We retraced our steps, found the missing checkpoint, and completed the task. I'm proud of us for that." She told me about her favorite part of the race. "It had to be the mountain biking on the trails. I felt so free, so childlike. I haven't been that blissfully happy in a long time. It was pure joy riding the narrow hills and bridges, and doing it with my teammates made it even better." She smiled again.
|Captain and Navigator|
|Canada and the Coug|
I walked over to interview Canada at the end of the race. She was sitting on the floorboard of the mini-van with a towel wrapped around her waist and a box of wet wipes open next to her. "Tell me about your race," I asked. She looked up with a sparkle in her eye and said it was the happiest she had been in a long time. "I felt good on the run at first. I wasn't hurting and I was surprised my endurance was good. I was a little slower than I would normally be, but my team hung with me and we stayed together. But as good as the run felt, I was very anxious and afraid to sit on the bike. I didn't know what to expect. I hadn't been able to tolerate sitting on a bike seat for more than a few minutes up until today. Once I got on and started pedaling, it hurt, but I was able to block out the pain. And then I just rode. I was so happy to just be able to ride. I have missed the freedom I experience on my bike." She looked down at her box of wet wipes. "It was worth any pain I may have in the morning."
It was apparent that the women had a number of laughs throughout the race, as they all had tired but silly grins on their faces when I met up with them afterwards to talk about it. Coug remarked on her race highlights. "It was the little things that brought me the most joy. The yard gnomes on one of the trails made me smile as I rode by; crossing the first body of water that was knee deep, and then falling into it waist deep ~ I didn't think we would have to do that and for some reason I thought that was hysterical; listening to Canada say 'looking good' to every canoe that passed us up. It made me smile that she couldn't think of another line besides that; and then when we mooched ice cold Busch beers off of some old toothless Cajun men at Checkpoint 18, well that just ended a long day in a great way." Here agreed with the highlights and added that although she loved seeing the garden gnomes, "the torn posters of Indiana Jones and the Johnny Depp cut-out from Alice in Wonderland hanging from the trees creeped me out. And then at the end there was a sad little pile of shattered garden gnomes that were under a tree. That kind of bummed me out." Then Canada remembered something. "There were these black and red gigantoid cricket creatures everywhere! In the swamp, on the levee, I'm talking everywhere! Any time our canoe veered into the branches near the marsh there would be like a thousand lined up ready to jump on us. And I was in the rear of the canoe, so when Coug got tired, she'd paddle just hard enough to get the front of the canoe out of the branches and then I would get attacked with the infestation. It was horrible!"
|Mysterious Swamp Creature|
|Scenery on the Run|
|Bonnet Carre Spillway|
Mechanical issues were the greatest challenge for Here. The first mishap occurred early into the first leg of mountain biking when her bike spun on some loose sand and her rear derauiller broke, sending her cable line in a tangled mess into her spokes. That left her stuck, luckily in her small chain ring, for the rest of the race. She feared that she had also lost her rear brake and thus had to adjust to the intense downhill speeds of her teammates so that she would not hit a tree head on, or slam on her front brake and catapult herself off of a cliff. She did well controlling the bike for the majority of the race, but as fatigue set in and the technical aspects of trail riding became more apparent, she had two crashes that left her ego battered but her ability to persevere intact.
After the race I stood back and watched these women bond with the other racers over hot food and cold beer. It was clear that they were all strangers to each other but yet shared a kindred spirit through their race experiences. There were a lot of smiles and laughter as they shared their race stories and supported each other's efforts. When the meal ended I watched the Dirty Mama's walk their bikes to the water's edge and without hesitation gently remove the cakes of mud from their bike frames, and then wash the grime and salt off of themselves before packing up to leave.
I followed up with a conference call to see how the rest of the trip home went and what they talked about. The consensus was how happy they were to have participated in the race and what an incredible outlet it was for those with an adventuresome spirit. Canada was hurting once the ride home began, but she said that between pain pills, a Strawberry 'Porkcake' ice pack, and a cold Busch beer she was going to be just fine. In her words, "I didn't fall asleep on the way home. I had too much adrenalin." According to her teammates, this was huge as she was reported to usually fall asleep quickly once buckled into the shotgun seat. She continued talking. "I needed this race. This pulled me out of my darkness and into the sunshine." Then Coug interjected, "If ever there was any doubt about Canada's ability to overcome obstacles and persevere, there is no doubt anymore. She continues to amaze those around her with her ability to not only complete what she sets out to do, but to lead other's while she does it. Hail to you O Canada."
'Here' says she needs a better nickname. No one asked her about it, but until a more fitting name is bestowed upon her it will have to do. After the race she beat herself up over her canoeing impairment, but finally came to terms with the fact that her teammates were not putting pressure on her, she was putting pressure on herself. Canada laughs, "she learned that she is an integral part of the team and responsible for one third of the laughs. She is the team planner and organizer and motivator. She holds her own in all the events. She is also quite a good driver and willing to take one for the team and step down when needed."
Coug agreed with the strong team dynamics. "We have a great mix of skills and personalities. I couldn't ask to be a part of a better team. My goal was to have at least three belly-laughs before the weekend was over, and I have had way more than that. I am so happy." She paused after speaking for a moment. "I do have to say that there was only one thing I would change if I could. Okay, two things. The first being that I had to witness Canada literally chew her big toenail off in the front seat of my vehicle. That was just gross. There is no way around it. And it didn't help that she left the remains in my van. The other issue was her leaving her used Strawberry 'Porkcake' ice pack in the van for my kids to get hold of the next day. That's just not right. I don't even want to tell you where Strawberry 'Porkcake' has been and what she has seen...".
I asked what, if anything, they had learned from their first adventure race. They easily obliged me and listed out their lessons learned:
1. Camelbacks are worth their value. Overall, the best investment as far as gear goes.
2. It is not necessary to run with your camelback on. It is however necessary to put at least one camelback in your canoe, along with some form of nutrition.
3. When applying sunscreen, do not forget to apply it to your face. It is also highly recommended that you put a second coat on your thighs where your biking shorts end.
4. Correct navigating is an art form. Learn to read a map prior to racing.
5. Bushwhacking may be scary, but if done correctly it can save a lot of time.
6. Wear tennis shoes that fit. If you don't your foot may end up looking like this:
7. Do not trust that groups of people moving in the same direction are going the right way, or that they are going the way that you need to go...
8. Biking gloves are highly recommended.
9. Yellow tickets are to be turned in for something special. The trick is to finish in time to find out exactly what that special is...
10. It is critical that you can laugh at your own mistakes, and those made by members of your team.
11. Pumping the race director, volunteers, or past participants for information prior to a race may give you a slight advantage in knowing what to expect.
12. It is important to listen for the start of the race, otherwise you may be left standing at your mini-van while everyone else is running for checkpoint number one.
And the most important thing they told me was to be prepared to learn things about your teammates that you might not care to know, such as that they like to chew their toenails and are able to start to pee on themselves before they get into a body of water to speed the elimination process; or that they are dyslexic and sometimes read maps backwards thus sending you on a wild goose chase for a checkpoint marker; or that when really exhausted and sleeping on their back, they just may gently snore a bit.
And then as I went to hang up, I heard three big belly laughs on the other end of the phone-line...