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He’s Got Spirit, How ‘Bout You?

kid holding race sign

Cheerful spectators are the best thing EVER. Credit: Robert Couse-Baker

I’m a huge fan of cheerleading. Not the sport, specifically (although I know how hard I had to work just to nail a back handspring, so I have mad respect for those competitive cheer teams), but the idea of cheering someone on. I do it a lot in races—if I see someone struggling, I tell them if water is just around the bend or encourage them to just keep moving forward. And I’ve been fortunate in races where I’ve had a hard time—someone has always said a kind word or otherwise cheered me on.

In the Leadman Tri (What, you thought I was done talking about it? Ha! Hardly!) I had a lot of time (like, seven hours) in my own head. There were plenty of spectators out, but only in specific parts of the bike and run course. And that meant the folks who were in the less populated areas really stood out.

There was one guy in particular, standing on a median in the middle of the bike course on a section where we passed him on both sides of the road, who I wish I could find and thank. He cheered loudly from the very beginning, but what stood out was the fact that he was still there at the end, and he was just as enthusiastic for those of us near the back of the pack as he had been for the pros. He’d taken off his shirt—it was pretty darn hot by then—and was sweating just about as much as we were, but he was still ringing his cowbell and screaming encouragement as we rode by.

But that’s not the only reason he stands out in my mind. He made a point to comment on specific things people were doing well, which was much needed by the end of the four-hour ride, let me tell you. I mean, after that long on the bike, I was pretty much feeling like I couldn’t do anything properly, but as I passed by him the last time, he yelled, “Your form looks great! Stay strong!” That was just what I needed to hear at that point, and I have no doubt it helped me focus on the positive for a few more miles.

That’s not to say the folks at the aid stations weren’t amazing, too—their wigs and costumes and giant smiles were a truly welcome addition to the Gatorade. But it was that specific feedback from that one dude that’s freeze-framed in my mind.

Do you react better to specific compliments and encouragement like this when you’re busting your butt? Or do you tend to block out the outside noise? —Kristen

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