When our son, Dario, asked us if he could participate in a triathlon, his first ever, at the age of 11, we knew he was ready and wholeheartedly supported him. His thirst to compete had begun one year earlier when he’d discovered that his schoolmate was doing just that to raise money for Foodbank. Dario had wanted to join him then, but as the event was just around the corner, he’d settled on running alongside his friend and his father during the “run” portion of the race, which left him itching to compete with them in a full triathlon.
A year later, as the season approached, instead of fundraising on their own, Dario and his buddy partnered up and together set a lofty goal of $10,000. The venture exemplified the idea of “think global, act local.” Leading up to the triathlon, the boys meandered about Foodbank’s Table of Life luncheon, introducing themselves to potential donors with the savvy of a talent agent and the charm of a prince. Halfway through the event, the duo addressed the crowd on stage, by turns poised, factual, to the point, and funny. The event was a successful fundraiser for Foodbank and a tremendous learning experience for the young philanthropists.
Our family greeted the day of the triathlon with enthusiasm and apprehension, not least because the de Albergaria pack’s usual Sunday begins several hours past the rooster’s first crow, not at the break of dawn. Dario’s twin sister, Gisella, was sporting an ankle injury from soccer and begrudgingly hobbled to the car, where she joined the soon-to-be-triathlete and his new bike, two caffeine-infused parents, and her sleepy 7-year-old sister. It wasn’t until we were at the course that we discovered Dario’s helmet had been left behind. Luckily for us we were able to purchase the forgotten gear at a tent presumably installed for novice athletes or absent-minded parents like us.
In the minutes preceding the race, I felt proud of my son’s serenity, commitment, and focus. He’d completed the very demanding East Beach Junior Guards program a couple months’ prior, which gave him an edge in the water and on his feet, but I knew he was daunted by the fact that he had not been on a bicycle for two years. “Buy me a bike!” he’d exclaimed, as though it were some obvious cure to a malady. And so we did, just weeks before the event … a city bike. (Note to Parents: Listen to your son when he insists on a racing bike for a triathlon.) My husband and I are what Dario describes as “nonathletic.”
And it meant that our untrained son would take on the bike course solo, in an unfamiliar town, along unfamiliar streets, which, we later discovered, were partially open to traffic. But let us bask in the joy of what proved to be a flawless swim. The adroit trio took on the 0.5K glide in perfect syncopation, shedding their fins like a reptile its skin, as they emerged from the water, transitioning from tide to sand to asphalt in what seemed like one fluid motion. Heavy on our feet and breathless, my husband, Bernardo, and I stumbled through a maze of people toward the bike area, where we cheered the boys, but soon lost sight of my son’s friend and his father.
As Dario struggled to remove his wet suit (Second Note: Practice before the tri the laborious task of peeling off a wet suit), I felt a surge in the pit of my stomach when I realized that not only had we left his shirt at the beach with his sisters (who refused to be a part of their parents’ frenzy) but Bernardo had disappeared. In desperation, I ran across that godforsaken sand to retrieve the shirt. When I returned, I noticed that Dario’s demeanor had changed — one by one he’d witnessed nearly all the athletes he had so effortlessly passed during the swim, mount their bikes and grip the course. With trembling hands, I attached his number to his shirt and sent him on his way, knowing that this leg of the race was terrifying to him: Without training or a chaperone, sheer determination was the only currency he had to complete the 15K course, which he did, glassy-eyed on much of the exposed course, isolated from everyone.
He made up valuable time on his lightning feet, finishing the triathlon third in his division while raising nearly $13,000 for Foodbank with his friend. The experience was at the same time thrilling, laborious, rewarding, and exhausting. The venture left me oscillating between honor and shame as I pondered the question of whether I had become a fraudulent artist before a canvas of good when the media was clamoring to feature the boys’ inspiring story. Gratefully, a tiny article forwarded by a lovely woman from the nonprofit enabled me to keep my cynicism at bay and allowed me to wholeheartedly embrace our family’s experience (as well as my husband’s mid-crisis disappearance, which had made me less than happy, let us say).
It turns out that Bernardo had left us in order to purchase a helmet for a stranger who had also left his behind. The author wrote the editorial for his local paper to thank the person who had enabled his 2-year-old son to see his father cross the finish line. After the race, the stranger had left his name and number on Dario’s bike so he could repay the “Good Samaritan” in the story. Bernardo did contact him, but only to ask that he pay it forward. This small side-story is the one that speaks to me today, the one that prompts me to breathe. It is the one that gives me the gratitude of a monk for how fortunate I am to have such a wonderful family and bountiful life. Thank you, dear “village,” for allowing us to pay it forward by supporting our son’s endeavor for Foodbank.
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