It was the greatest nightmare of any athlete: suffering an injury minutes before the event they had trained the better part of a year for. Having just run up to her mother at the boundary of the first transition area (T1) while securing her gear, IronKids competitor Eim Espina took a bad step and came crashing down hard on her left knee.
The cry of pain that Eim gave out brought race marshals, on-site medics. Her mother, who had been standing outside the T1 boundary, rushed to her daughter’s side. The tears that flowed from the triathlete belied her pain and, to a lesser degree, the possibility that she might not be fit to compete. Within a few minutes, the tears had gone, and the shock of the initial pain had been replaced by a dull, constant one that reared its head whenever Eim put weight on it.
Only the day before, Eim had been joking and laughing with her friends Xeemon and Xisco Cuyos; the three of them were IronKids veterans, and had been looking forward to and training for the race for the better part of a year. To watch the three of them tease each other had been a joy as through the shenanigans, their common passion for the sport of triathlon shown through. To various degrees, all three children hoped to surpass their (and each others’) previous times and, at the same time, meet new people through the competition.
It is common knowledge that the greatest skill a triathlete can acquire is the ability to keep moving forward, regardless of how much their body would love for them to stop, or how much easier it would be for them to just succumb to the discomfort and take a rest mid-race. Indeed, the success of any triathlete, even without an injury, comes from a combination of physical training and an ability to ignore the voice inside telling them to give up.
The majority of people will never know the sheer force of will and determination that it takes to get through a triathlon, and even fewer still know what it’s like to experience one with an injury. On August 1, 2015, Eim Espina, all of 11 years of age, chose to ignore the voice, and went for it.
Though she struggled somewhat through the swim portion, Eim made it to her bike and set out to cycle 9km through the pain from her left knee. As fate would have it, Eim’s idol, 12-year-old Nyka Archival, had noticed Eim’s difficulty and made the decision to slow down and keep pace with the younger girl. From the bike portion, to the transition to the run, Nyka encouraged Eim, helping her to find the strength to keep moving forward and, ultimately, with clasped hands held high, the two crossed the finish line together.
Following the race, PlayPH asked Eim if, given the injury, there was any point that she thought she wouldn’t be able to complete the race. True to form, Eim flashed her brightest smile and said that it was pretty much the only thing on her mind the entire time, but she wasn’t going to let that stop her from accomplishing her goal of finishing the race.
Watching Eim laugh, cheer and celebrate with Nyka, their friends, family and teammates, it was clear that the two had gone through a transformative experience, and had crossed the finish line as more than children. It was the kind of experience that triathlon legends are made of, and precisely the kind of tale from which lifelong friendships are secured. From that point on, they were no longer idol and admirer. From then on, they were comrades.
Well done, Eim and Nyka. Well done.