Parents Cheering from Different Time Zones

Karen and Sheryl together during a family Christmas gathering

The following guest posts come from my mom, Zach’s dad, and Zach’s mom and provide the perspective of parents cheering on their kids doing an Ironman from afar.  I hope you enjoy reading about their experiences!

Sheryl Damron – Emily’s Mom

When I first heard that Emily and Zach were going to train and commit to doing a full Ironman, I thought, “Good thing they are doing it together because training for an Ironman is a lifestyle!! Glad they are in it together!!”

I was not nervous in the weeks leading up to the Ironman. I did spend the prior weekend with Emily at the Skirt Sports retreat. Emily and Zach were both confident and feeling fit and ready for the Ironman, so I was too! But I can’t say I wasn’t nervous once the race started…

Sheryl and Emily at the Skirt Sports Retreat

I woke up at 5:00 AM PST in order to start following Emily on the Irontracker App from the beginning. It is amazing how intriguing staring at a little icon of Emily moving along triangular shaped lines indicating her progress in the swim was that morning. I kept switching between the screens of the app showing her time and the icon “swimming.” After about 20 minutes, I thought this is crazy staring at app…but continued the obsession all day. I started following Zach as soon as he began his swim as well…he had a small green icon with ZH in it whereas Emily had downloaded a photo icon to watch.

After staring at the app and searching Facebook for photos of Emily posted by friends showing her swim transition and start of the bike, I decided I better do something…so I started reading the Sunday newspaper. I caught myself reading a section and staring at the app…I finally decided to make breakfast. The whole time I was preparing pancakes and sausage, I was receiving notices that rang on my phone with updates. It took a while to complete that task because I had to keep checking the ding. This crazy behavior continued the entire day as I completed my weekend chores of grocery shopping and laundry. I did manage to go out and do a short run but must confess, I checked the tracker app several times while exercising. Being so linked to my phone is not my usual style but I found it was my only connection to Emily and Zach. And, I just had to know how they were doing and what was going on while they were on course. Early on, Karen and I started messaging as a way to stay informed. Thank goodness for Sasha who was gracious enough to answer my text messages. She even checked the medical tent when I noticed Zach was “paused” for an extended period of time and became worried. I confidently relayed the messages to Karen to calm her nerves as well.

When I saw Zach’s number come up on my phone, I was surprised and answered with, “Are you done already?” he disappointedly said “No, I bonked.” We chatted for a moment and I thanked him so much for letting me know so I didn’t worry. I asked him if he called his mom expecting him to say yes and he said no…I said you better call her because we have been messaging all morning and she will be worried. At first, I was so grateful and appreciative that he even thought of me during this tough time and called, and then I was sad for him because I know he trained and prepared for this day so hard and was dedicated to finishing. I started thinking about how his body felt and wondered if he was OK to get back to the hotel. He assured me he was better and would go there to rest and refuel.

I read a post on Facebook from one of Emily’s followers about seeing the finish live…I frantically turned on my laptop and scrabbled around trying to find the proper site. I got the live feed moments before she crossed the finish line. I happened to receive a notice on my phone that said, “Emily Harvey has finished the Ironman”…and then I saw her cross the line and hear the announcer say, “You are an Ironman!” which brought tears to my eyes. It wasn’t until a bit later that we all realized she finished with seconds to spare!

Advice for cheering from afar …go and watch in person! But even that isn’t great because you can’t be everywhere. I wish I would have known in the beginning that the tracker app is just an approximation of what is going on in real time. It certainly helped calm my nerves being able to text someone who was actually on site. Sasha was kind to answer all my “worried/curious mom” texts throughout the day. She even sent me videos and pictures showing Emily smiling. I also sent out a couple Facebook messages asking if anyone had seen Emily and to please post a photo. Several of Emily’s friends out on the course obliged my request! So, if you can’t be there, try to have the contact information of someone on site you can text and find out the real story.

When Emily was born with a “bump on her leg” and we later learned her foot needed to be amputated, I never in my wildest dreams thought she would be an Ironman. At a young age she was nicknamed the Energizer Bunny for her positive attitude and the fact that she never gave up…it just goes to show you the power of labels!

Bob Harvey – Zach’s Dad

I write from the perspective of a father. One who asks the best of his children and still worries about them as if they were totally, his responsibility—that is what fathers do. They rejoice in their kid’s success and anguish in their pain. With that thought in mind bear with me as I express the feelings presented to me during the roller-coaster ride of the past several months. My thoughts:

Initially, when I first heard of the goal to do the Ironman, I thought–OK, so you’re going to do a really outrageous Ironman thing. I thought the best and wished you the best, but had serious reservations. Had I expressed those doubts, I know it would not have made a difference. As it turns out I became the quiet cheerleader and witness to your success. You did that Ironman thing with characteristic style.

So, on the day of the event I got into the “follow us, if you can” part of it. Believe me, from the challenges of following you both on the Ironman tracking application, and fighting with our super slow internet, hearing our four devices, each of which were beeping and carrying on as if we were at a tech fair convention, we went nuts here. It was insufficient to simply “follow” along. We wanted so badly to be there with you—to cheer you on—tell people “those are our kids, we love them so much and we are so proud of them.”

Zach & Bob at the end of the Grand Fondo in Virginia in 2017

Along the way we just had to know more, so pulled up the Google Maps Pro and tried to visualize what you were seeing and where you were going to go next. Would you have a moment to look at the pretty greenway and maybe feel a cool breeze near the lake? I wished and prayed those good thoughts to and for you. Then there was silence from the Zach’s tracker. It went in fits and spurts and then Karen’s cell phone rang—she uses a train whistle tone—pretty cool, but then I saw the call was from Zach. I said, “Hi Zach”. Are you still going? My duh. He answered—“if I was still going I wouldn’t be calling you”, “I bonked”. Now I have seen Zach fall down too many times in my life (a skateboard thing) to be concerned about a little bonking. He proceeded to tell me about his overheating and pulling out of the run at a little over 10 miles. I was relieved and impressed that he made a wise decision to care for himself. This left me to focus on our dear Emily.

Oh, Emily! We had heard about the bike shifter problem and not knowing the difficult terrain (Google Maps Pro does not show terrain, at least I haven’t figured out how to do that) so I assumed it was fairly flat—I had no idea “Em.” was having to walk her bike up the steep hills, ride like hell down them, and do her best on the level parts. Had I known these things I would have been more concerned about her readiness for the run than I already was. She had said the run was the hardest part for her—this we knew—but something else we knew is that Emily DOES NOT GIVE IN to adversity—she thrives on it. We did not have the exact information on Emily’s cut-off time and were spared the “nail-biting” part of that. When you do the math—48 seconds left in a race that takes 61200 seconds to complete, factors to 0.999221568627 of the total time spent to become an Ironman. Relish the thought that you both left it all out there.

The rest of the epic story of Emily’s finish and the loving support she has received from Zach, her Mom, her many friends, colleagues, and family just add richness to all of our lives. This human story—the one about taking on a difficult task and conquering it–is what keeps us all going. For that, Emily and Zach, I am ever grateful. You both have my heartfelt respect and I couldn’t be more proud of you.

Karen – Zach’s Mom

So….everyone settled?…Don’t think that will be possible from this amazing event and incredible happenings!!! We have “chatted” about the feelings and thoughts that we experienced before, during and after this IM, and we really were so similar in our thoughts…..

When I heard you had both signed up for the Ironman Boulder, I had no immediate understanding of the enormous commitment to training that it would take….and felt that you both were in such great condition, already competing on a fairly regular basis….and thought it might be an “epic event” that the two of you would just have fun doing together…..As the months passed, trainers involved, and total dedication…I started seeing this was way beyond what I had imagined. I was, and continue to be, in awe of your drive and commitment.

I was not nervous leading up to the event, but did wonder how you managed the time spent with work, home, friends, etc……Those things in themselves take so much of people’s time that it was almost beyond my comprehension to know how you got all this things accomplished….and all of them with great success.

Zach and Karen during his Grand Fondo Ride in Virginia in 2017

We had gotten all the Ironman Boulder information, apps on devices, and set aside all day Sunday, June 10th. to be home and “monitor” the race….it was great fun as we began to watch: BIB numbers, start times, trying to figure out what all the tracking meant. Bob was able to even get Google maps so that we could follow the route with seeing what Boulder was actually like along the route….we were back and forth with information sharing and excitement.

As we were tracking, we saw the timespans between places where tracking would occur, so we keep our computers/phones at volume to hear the “dings” of updates. During this time, Katie, Aunt Glenda, Sheryl, and I started group chatting and that seems to take quite a bit of time!….I had to laugh, because Glenda’s little dog thought that each time the “ding” of the tracker happened on her phone, that someone was at the door, and he went into a barking and running fit to get Glenda to answer the door….we had a good laugh about that throughout the race.

Bob and I intermittently worked on replacing the passenger side window on the jeep while we tracked the race. When we didn’t get a tracking on Zach’s run at 8.6 miles, we tried not to get into “imagining why”, but tried to believe the “fine print”, that the tracker just may not have been able to pick up his BIB number. It was pretty nerve-racking, though, but also immediately went into thinking something may have happened to Emily since we had known about the bike gears not working. We wondered if he had to stop and help her. Tried not to get overboard in over-thinking it, and just kept sharing chats among ourselves for clues.

When Zach called, Bob answered my cellphone, and our first impulsive thought was “how in the world does he have enough energy to call us”….and again wondered if he had news about Emily’s bike ride. When he told us the situation about the heat and how he had “bonked”…that word made us both think he had “wrecked”….but after hearing about the near heat exhaustion…..we understood that term. We were both so proud of Zach for recognizing his health and ability to make that call…that there was no disappointment on our part at all….We truly were just so proud of both of you that the win was on the day you signed up! I did understand his “anger” that he’d missed a place on the route, but he knew the reason and pulled his disappointment together to continue on….I think that was heroic in itself. We were assured from him that he was going to get hydrated, cooled down, and continued his support and excitement for Emily’s race…..he was “selfless” even at his time of needing to call it.

We continued following Emily….but now with Zach in on the chats and tracking…..which really helped. It was just incredible as we kept thinking “can she actually still be going”?……”is Emily still GOING”???……And, as we told Zach….next time, please do this on Eastern Time…..we were pacing the floor and nervous talking til 1:30 a.m……And when we actually saw that she crossed that finish line with 48 seconds to go….we were almost speechless and in disbelief that it could be THAT CLOSE to the deadline….”it was a miracle”!! after ALMOST 17 hours!!……It took us some time to settle our hearts and minds to even think about going to sleep!….I think we had a movie that we paused a dozen times!!!!

Advice for moms that cheer their kids on from afar??……Have lots of really good snacks for the day, when “mindless eating” and “pacing” take over!!…Don’t panic if the Apps don’t work as you think they should…it doesn’t always mean that the worst has happened…….Keep your prayer beads close by!!!



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