Wednesday, April 24, 2013

525,600 Minutes: in Inches, in Miles, in Laughter...

Our SUV window driving up to Canada- one big Ironfamily
I have been on a hiatus from updating this blog for several months- not necessarily intentionally, but because circumstances have really left me mostly speechless for some time. I had intended to write my race report for Ironman Canada right after returning from the trip, but as is usually the case, one thing leads to another and there tends to be a delay before I get around to it. Before I found the time to update about the race, my priorities and thoughts took a dramatic shift.

On raceday at Ironman Canada, my teammates and I got ready together, started the race together and cheered for eachother through the day- and all day we were asking our coaches and fellow teammates- "Where's Mari?"  Mari had driven up with us, prepared with us the night before, but we had not seen her on race morning. Our coaches assured us she was fine, and we were to assume she was getting ready elsewhere- likely with one of the coaches.

The day after finishing IM Canada, we found out that Mari had been unable to race with us, because late the night before the race, she got word that her father had passed away. She few home early Sunday morning before the race to be with her family, and had insisted that our coaches not tell the rest of us what had happened until after our race was over. That was classic Mari- she wanted to protect us and make sure we would have the best day possible. We were heartbroken for her.

Biking with Mari on PCH on her birthday (September 15th)
A number of weeks later, being the hero and the fighter that she was, she decided that since she did not get to race IM Canada, which she had been training for for 10 months, that she would find a way to enter IM Arizona in November. That meant several more months of training, but I know she wanted to finish what she started and "officially" become an Ironman. Our teammate Raul- who had finished Canada, decided to sign up with her so she wouldn't have to train for it alone. Over the next few months we all pitched in now and then to do workouts with Mari, to help motivate her and keep her company out there swimming biking and running.

Mari pausing at the halfway point of her ride on October 13
On the morning of October 13, Mari went out with several of our teammates for a Saturday training ride. She planned to bike from Santa Monica, up PCH through Malibu, come back, and then do the loop again. After her first loop, our teammate Carlos was there as Mari was about to set out on the road again and took this picture which he posted on Facebook. She was having a great day and looked great on the bike.

Mari biked back up PCH, but never made it back to Santa Monica. Even writing this months later, it is hard to believe. On her way back, riding on PCH alone at that point, she somehow tipped over into the roadway and was struck by an oncoming bus. There was likely nothing the driver could have done to avoid it, and there were several road hazards that contributed to her fall- gaps in the pavement, cars parked on the shoulder. What we do know is that she was gone instantly, that she likely didn't see it coming, and that it happened so quickly that she wouldn't have known what was happening. No fear, no suffering, just gone- in an instant.

There is so much that I am not going to go into here- about the accident, how we all found out, the weeks and months that have followed. Her family and friends, as well as myself and my other teammates who were close to her have tried our best to support each other in remembering Mari during this excruciatingly difficult time.
I still don't know what it all means- the fact that she was taken from us exactly 7 weeks to the day after her father passed away, the fact that if she hadn't found out about her father's passing until the next day, that she would have raced Canada, and wouldn't have been out there riding on PCH that day in October. I don't know what it means that the night before the accident I was talking to someone about training and how we often would ride on PCH, and that person's response was "oh that's dangerous". I remember thinking and saying that sure it was a little dangerous but we did it all the time, and my teammate was going to be riding there in the morning. I don't know what it means that I had almost gone riding with Mari that morning, but I had decided to sleep in for the first time in several months instead. I suppose some things are never meant to be understood. All I know is she will always be missed.

People tend to exaggerate the positive things about a person after they have passed away, but I am not exaggerating at all when I say that Mari was one of the greatest people I have ever met. She was encouraging, sweet, and caring, she was a fighter, she was real. she was smart, mischievous, and so very silly at times. I miss being silly with her.  She was beautiful, she told me when I met her a few years ago that she was 23 years old- and I believed her, even though she was joking and in reality at that time I think she was 33. She totally pulled it off- she was one of those women who gets more beautiful with time.

There is so much to say about Mari, about her smile and her determination, about her life and her family and her friends, but I don't need to put all of that here. I need to instead carry her with me, and remember her every day, because she is still with us. She is still with me when I remember her. I know she is there when I jump in the ocean and get tossed by a wave, when I'm descending a hill on my bike and tap on my breaks, or when it's so very windy. I know she's there when I have car trouble, when I'm fixing things in the middle of the night. I know she is there when I'm running, reminding me to stay on my intervals. She is there when I dye my hair too dark and I look like, as she would say, "Latina Holly", and she's there when I go on a blind date to laugh at me and remind me that they could always be worse. She reminds me every day that "if you're not scaring yourself you're doing it wrong," don't take yourself too seriously, be silly, go "all in", and live in the now.

The year leading up to October 13, 2012 was arguably one of the best years of my life to date, and a large part of that time included Mari. Through the miles we trained together, the places we traveled, the cocktails we drank, the cookies we ate, the races we ran, fundraisers, parties, jobs, conversations, lattes, karaoke, jokes, sun, rain, wind, waves, and all the rest, we made the most of every moment.

It may be more than a little cheesy, but I heard the song from RENT yesterday that goes: "five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, how do you measure, measure a year- In daylights, in sunsets, in mid-nights and cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter...?" Now, the themes and subjects of that play are different from the circumstances I'm relating to, but that song reminded me of the time I got to spend with Mari, and all the miles, sunsets, mid-nights, coffees and laughs we shared along the way. I feel fortunate that I was one of the people that got to spend time with her in her last year here with us.

I miss my friend. I lament that the world has lost one of it's best people.
Last year, Mari sent this message to our friend Marvin after his uncle passed away. As tragic as the loss was for him, she was able to offer this piece of advice, which I am sure she would offer to each of us now that she is gone:

Of course I feel and will always feel the sadness and the loss. I will remember though, that she would want us to be happy and to not dwell on the loss, and to have a good time. When I go to visit her memorial on PCH I always try to go with peace and happiness in my heart. When I think of her I will always remember how she made me feel and the good times we had. I am going to take her advice and choose to celebrate her life and remember her and rejoice in the fact that I was lucky enough to know her while she was here.

Mari's memorial on PCH- I like to go up there and add some color now and then.

Raul finishing Ironman AZ with a sign saying "in loving memory of Marisela"
Life is so short- sometimes even shorter than we tend to expect. I will continue to take advantage of every opportunity that I have to live every day to its fullest- living to celebrate Mari's memory, and to wring every last drop out of life and spend time with the people that matter.

On the way to Ironman AZ, we drew our carpool family on the back window- Mari was with us. I remember our friend Louis said at one point that he knew she was up there doing great at "Ironman Heaven". I like to think that is the case.


  1. Thank you for sharing this beautiful post Holly!! It touched my heart in more ways than one. I know she loved you dearly as well. <3 and Hugs! BTW, she was 36... she had you fooled even to this day =P