Titanium Spine Award

Something I learned today: Don't open a gel pack just before a fast downhill if you can only commit to one of them.

And here's another: Sooner or later, I may have a race that makes me want to cry and throw things. And when I do, I want to handle it like Noah.

Noah is eight. It's his birthday. And on his birthday, he rode the bike leg for a triathlon team in a Midwest Kids Triathlon Series event. His younger sister ran the mile. A friend of theirs did the swim. Noah had never done an organized race.

As a volunteer, I was posted at the horseshoe turn of the bike course, ticking off lap numbers next to riders' names. The kids were staggered by age. Elites did four 1.5-mile bike laps, older kids three, younger kids two.

Noah was in the last pack of riders making his first lap. He motored up the hill steadily and with aggressive power into the turn. He was completely into his ride; his face was the picture of focus. As the cyclists from his group made their second lap, I started to wonder where he was.

I found out later. He'd mistakenly headed into transition instead of starting his second lap (and, I might point out, no volunteer stopped him or was there yelling "Finish all your laps!" the way they do for adults' events). He'd gotten off the bike, then realized the problem. It dawned on him that he'd done something wrong by coming across the chip mat. He was devastated. All he could think was that he had messed up, that he had let down the team when they were doing well. What do you do when you are eight, standing in transition, bearing up under the mounting senses of panic and failure?

Noah got back on his bike. And rode his second lap.

With a look of utter misery on his sunburned face, knowing the race was gone, Noah rode his second lap just as hard as the first one.

The team was last in their division — even harder, they were fourth. Their chip times were a mess, with an insanely long first transition, however that managed to happen. And when the race was finished and Noah went home, after he'd let out his frustration and heartsickness, he asked for one thing.

He asked his dad to take him on a three-mile bike ride. He knew he could do it. He wanted to go do it. So his dad took him.

Crazy stuff happens in races: seasoned triathletes run or swim the wrong direction, lose where they put their bikes, fall down, you name it. When I make a race mistake, I want to be the kind of racer that Noah was today.

Indomitable toughness. No excuses. The job gets done.

Well done, Noah. Happy birthday.