Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I got up at 4:30 AM to get down to the Woman's Triathlon being held at the Disney Wilderness Lodge. Blogger, Sultana Fatima Ali told me about the event. I arrived at the magic kingdom and had to take a bus over to the Wilderness lodge. It was still dark out when I got off the bus. Bright theater lights with bugs swarming around them lit up the finish line area. I kept following the line of women who all were walking in the same direction. I found myself at a "marking area" where volunteers wrote the runners number on arms and then another number on racers legs. I considered doing a sketch here but the action was so frantic and varied that I decided to move on. I needed some anchor to help me calm down and start composing a scene. I started drawing near where all the bikes were stored. I was disappointing when I couldn't enter the area where the bikes were stored. The first sketch of the crowds milling about as the sky grew lighter was fine but I decided not to post it. The funny thing is that I drew so many people holding water bottles by a strap and now a few days later I have the same water bottle sitting beside me as I type. This is an indication that this event was for me a life changing experience. Sultana spotted me sketching and leaned down to give me hug. As quickly as she appeared she disappeared into the crowd milling all around me. I noted her number which was 893.
After finishing my first sketch I walked down to the beach where the race was to start. A huge crowd of about 2000 women were gathered, all adjusting their swim caps and anxiously waiting. The women would go into the water in 12 different waves, or groups. Sultana was going to start with the 9th wave and she had a yellow cap. Each wave of women wore a different colored swim cap. The Star Spangled Banner played and the crowd fell silent. I decided I needed to finish this sketch before the start of the 9th wave. My line work became more fluid and experimental because of all the energy in the crowd. I worked fast and furious. When the 9th wave got onto the water, I was still applying water color washes to the sketch. I stopped and walked to the waters edge to see the start. I bumped into a spectator and we turned to each other. I suddenly realized it was Travis Blaze a former Disney Animator. He was watching his girlfriend, Sarah Purser, who was also going to start in the 9th wave. He laughed and said, "What are the chances?" While we waited, he said, "We should do a triathlon someday." I said, "If your game, I'll start training." I was half joking. Travis explained that the numbers on the woman's legs were their ages. From that moment on I was much more curious about the numbers written on legs. I went back to finish my sketch and then I would watch Sultana as she got out of the water. I finished fast and jogged over to the place where the contestants were exiting the water. I stood right next to the photographer. I waited until there were no longer any yellow caps. She was too fast, she must have gotten out of the water before I finished my sketch.
I next went to where the women dismounted their bikes. The crowd of spectators was pressed up against the barricade so I had to stand on my camping chair to look over their heads. Women kept falling off their bikes at this transition point since some wanted to keep riding past the sign and others stopped early. One woman got her foot caught in the pedals and she crashed right into the metal barricade in front of me. One woman rode in on a tiny child's mountain bike. She explained to friends that she had gotten a flat and a little boy lent her his bike. Finally I saw Sultana cruising in on her bike. I shouted out her name and yelled waving my arms, but she was so focused on the transition that I don't think she heard me.
When the Bike dismount sketch was finished I went to the finish line. I once again stood on my chair to look over the crowd. Runner 893 which is the number right after Sultana's ran in at 9:55. Bubbles were billowing up from a bubble machine. Large groups of spectators would cheer as runners they knew ran for the finish line. It was exhilarating. I waited to see Sultana finish. This time I was too distracted to sketch. There was so much love and energy in the crowd of spectators. I just soaked it in.
The race was held on the day before Mother's Day. A woman ran across the finish line with her 10 year old son sprinting beside her. Betty Vernon ran in with her 3 children and she held her youngest daughter in her arms. Family's were cheering and supporting one another. This was the most amazing Mother Day celebration! I felt elated! When ever a runner would come in with a really strong sprint I had to cheer! I waited almost to the end when women were walking to the finish line. I realized that once again I had missed Sultana. She was just to fast to keep up with as a sketching spectator. I glanced over my shoulder as I got on the bus, 4 women strolled across the finish line arm in arm wearing Hawaiian leis and wide brim hats. The leis reminded me of my step mom, and I remembered that my mother, Elvira, had died on mothers day when I was 10 years old. I felt sad for a moment, but then joyful that life keeps striding on in wild celebration.

P.S. I spoke with Sultana after the event by phone. She finished with a time of 1:40:35 and was 27th in her division. She went into the race hoping to finish in less than 2 hours, so this was an undreamed of success and victory. She told me that when she was biking she saw a woman with one leg passing other racers on the course. This inspired her to push past her minor frustrations and pain. She said that the transition to running was the hardest part of the event. She had to talk to her legs convincing them that they had seen much worse while training. They came to an agreement and pushed on. Only 2 women passed her as she ran.
I am now jogging every day and I hope to experience a triathlon myself. If I experienced such a glorious adrenaline rush as a spectator, then it must be even more rewarding as a contestant. My favorite quote from the day's events was, "The irony of commitment is it is deeply liberating" -Anne Morris. I am now committed to treating my body with more respect rather than just using it a a vehicle to get my hands to the next sketch location. Stride by stride I try to grow.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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