The trip to bring my dad to his childhood home in Cuba began with my plan to race and write about the Havana Triathlon. Everything about the trip was made possible because a friend told me about the race and I saw it as way to get our American family to the place of my dad’s birth and to relive a time I had only heard about, with my dad.

Although the race was mostly an excuse to go to Cuba, I trained for it and visualized every step of the swim, bike and run. I especially thought about racing toward the finish and seeing my entire family – – husband, sons, father, stepmother, brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew – – cheering me on. And, of course, celebrating with Havana Club rum drinks afterward.

It wasn’t meant to be and, if anything were to go wrong on this trip, I’m thankful it was the race. A lot of good came from it, as you will see.

I’m going to change the layout of the rundown for the purposes of telling the whole story leading up to the race. I’m sure you won’t mind…

Wednesday, February 22 – Arrive in Cuba!

We landed safely in Havana, Cuba! Of course I was most worried about my bike which I packed up and put on a plane for the first time ever! I have always used a shipping company to transport my bike with tender loving care but, for some reason (because I live in America), they did not offer this service in Cuba.

Packing up my sweet ride in my dining room, prior to leaving.

In case anyone else has this bright idea, it cost $100 to put the monstrosity on the plane and $200 Euro to get it back to America. Will this bike ever stop costing me money?

Despite my worry, my bike rolled into the Havana airport baggage claim area unharmed, as did several others, to equally anxious athletes!

The bigger problem was trying to fit it and all our luggage into this “taxi.” Somehow, we did it!

Friday, February 24 – Day Before Race Day!

When I woke up on Friday morning and headed straight for the bathroom I suddenly saw the room tilt and shift so severely, I had to grab onto the sink to keep from falling over. It wasn’t even close to the dizziness you get by standing up too fast and no, I was not hungover either. It scared me and I took a second to focus. Two more smaller dizzy spells happened that morning, but not as bad as the first. I brushed it off as being on the plane coupled with the congestion I had for several weeks. This is what we call “foreshadowing.”

Since we only had one mode of transportation for our entire group, we all went to the race site for my packet pick-up, practice swim and ride. It was so great having everyone with me (although I’m sure they didn’t think so after three hours) but I usually do it alone and I loved that my kids got a sort of “behind the scenes” look. Although, all they really cared about were the coconuts.

If you remember from my previous post, we were doing the swim in oversized channels, dredged in the 19060s for sport fishing. The channels were lined with boats (all of them upright, thank god!) but the water looked pretty gross in one channel in particular so I was praying the swim was in a different one. And yes, I realize just because garbage and debris was only in that one channel didn’t mean the others were any less disgusting.

You see that garbage floating in the channel behind us, right?

After several attempts to find the practice swim site, I noticed someone in a swimsuit walking like she had a purpose so I followed her and finally found it!

I strapped on my goggles, had a quick chat with two other Americans who were just exiting the water and was told only that “it smells pretty bad in the final stretch here but overall, it’s fine.” And with that, I dove in.

I swam a little way and, not wanting to hold up the family too long, exited, toweled off and gathered my stuff for packet pick-up. At least we knew where that was!

Once again, I was saved by my dad translating for me. Almost no one at registration spoke English and I had to sign my life away to race. I was given my three bags – – one for the bike transition, one for the run and one for after the race – – and told to go to “medical.” What?

Yep. I had to have my temperature taken and was asked a myriad of questions concerning my health. There was a little confusion when the woman asked “is she is student?” and my dad replied “no, she’s a writer,” and, because she looked utterly confused, he said “writer” in four different ways in Spanish before just saying “yes, she’s a student.” I guess they don’t consider “writing” a job in Cuba!

We headed off to find transition, which was just being set up, and were able to get in and out without much fanfare. I also found out the finish line would be at the American Embassy! How perfect.

See those two bags on the front of my bike? The white one had all my bike gear and the yellow had my running shoes, bib number and belt and my pink TrailRunner hat that I wear at most races. The yellow bag would be brought to the run transition which was near the finish at the embassy. At this point, I was just hoping it would be there when I needed it. Little did I know, I would never see it again.

Saturday, February 25 – Race Day!

When I laid down at 9:30pm on Friday night, I had the same dizziness. I told my husband about it but we both figured it was the cold I had been battling for so long and residual head congestion from the flight.

When I woke up at 5am on race morning I immediately knew something was really wrong. I felt sick to my stomach and, when I tried to sit up the whole room moved in a way I hadn’t seen since taking drugs in college, only this wasn’t fun it was terrifying.

I stumbled to the bathroom and tried to look at my face in the mirror and I just couldn’t focus. Stubborn and stupid as I am, I very slowly dressed (by sitting on the floor) in my race kit and visor and then, exhausted and scared shitless, I woke up my husband, crying and asking him to help me. Begging really.

He woke up and walked me down the stairs to where my brother was waiting. My brother had wanted to come with me to take some pictures and see the race start and, when I saw him, I started crying more because I wanted so badly to have that experience with him.

I sat in one of the outdoor chairs basically just trying not to vomit and panicking about what was wrong, how I could possibly race and, if I didn’t how I would write the article I had promised. Since my husband knows me so well he immediately shut it down and told me to just focus on feeling good and to forget the race and article.

I tried to eat.

I tried to take Dramamine.

Jesús showed up to drive me and I cried again.

My wave went off at 7:08 and by 6:30 (I was supposed to leave at 6:00) I finally gave in and had my husband walk me back upstairs.

I was devastated.

And then I was freaking out about my bike in transition!

I sent my husband and my dad with my passport and my race bracelet to the start of the race and told them to beg the officials to give them my bike. I knew how serious it was to hand over a very expensive bike, in a different country, to anyone one but the athlete but I couldn’t barely pick my head up at that point and I was desperate.

Of course our fearless leader Jesús drove them and after a lot of talking, passport, bike and personal photographing they were allowed to take my bike and bag.

My husband took the saddest picture ever of my lone bike in the transition area.

One is the loneliest number.

Monday – Tuesday, February 27 and 28th – Slow Recovery

I was very dizzy and nauseous for the rest of the day on Saturday (but still headed out to Havana after sleeping for a few hours) and had to literally hang onto my husband as we walked to keep from falling over. As proof of my desperation, I actually drank a soda to help my stomach and headache because I definitely could not have coffee. I haven’t had a can of coke in probably 20 years. I was not happy about it, but it worked.

My husband gets THIS excited whenever I eat or drink something I usually wouldn’t. It’s hilarious.

For whatever reason, my stepmom brought ear drops so I started putting them in three times a day and, after about 24 hours, it seemed to help. Day by day the world started righting itself, I could walk without assistance and I was only really seeing the room shift when I laid down at night and woke up in the morning.

My husband felt so sorry for me the day of the race that he promised to run with me as soon as I felt better. I cannot tell you how happy that made me! He has run with me exactly once and it was when we were dating. The only problem was I had to leave my running shoes in the other transition area. Once again, my stepmom to the rescue! She had brought two pair of running shoes (no, she doesn’t run unfortunately) and lent me her Sauconys. They felt like pillows and I was never so happy to be running!

And I had someone to take my pictures! #DreamComeTrue

I also got to bike down the famous Malecón and finally get to ride by the American Embassy. It was only 20 minutes but it’s a 20 minute bike ride I will never forget.

Riding by the American Embassy! No words.

Thursday, March 2 – Diagnosis 

By the time I came home, I had almost no symptoms. I still had the congestion, which I now knew was probably a raging sinus infection since it had been going on since before Hawaii. I didn’t go to the doctor because 9 times out of 10 they tell me the cold has to “run it’s course” and send me away with nothing.

I went to my doctor on Thursday afternoon to tell him the whole story. He seems to think that swimming had nothing to do with the vertigo and that, yes I have a raging sinus infection and it attacked the little endings inside my ear (medical term) that tell my brain which way is up, down, sideways, etc. and that it was just horrible timing. I find that very hard to believe but he insisted that unless I went deep diving, it would not have caused the vertigo and the ear drops had a placebo effect and didn’t actually do anything.

I’m going to test that theory in the pool and see what happens. #LifeguardWarning

Regardless of luck or water logged induced vertigo, I’m glad it’s gone and I’m finally on antibiotics treating the infection.

Friday, March 3 – Race Results

While we were still in Cuba, one of the women my brother works with emailed him to congratulate me. She said she had looked up my race results and saw I won my age group. I dismissed it thinking she probably just Googled my name with triathlon and various results popped up, one of which had me winning my age group.

Then my brother emailed me this:

Apparently I won my age group by a wide margin and I think that finish time is close to a PR. Maybe I did race it? The Cubans will never know…

And, because I know you’re worried, I’m still writing the article for USATriathlon as they think the story is even more compelling.

All that worry for nothing.


[Tweet “The #HavanaTriathlon was a beautiful distaster for this #American #athelte”]


Have you ever had vertigo?

Nurses – please weigh in with your thoughts. I have never experienced vertigo in my life and I truly hope to never again.

Have you ever been listed in results for a race you DNS?