Hot date in the pond

Susan Flanagan
Published on August 19, 2014

Last Sunday, God answered my prayers. The water in Healy’s Pond was over 20 C and the surface was as smooth as pumpkin pie.

It was so smooth, in fact, that God decided to add a dollop of thick cream in the form of dense fog. He went a bit overboard on the cream, however, so that when it came time for the gun to begin the 30th annual St. John’s Triathlon, organizers had to delay the start.


Because from shore, no one would be able to see swimmers cross the pond. Not a good situation for safety-conscious organizers like Christiane Martin, who climbed in the back of a truck, took up her megaphone, Billy Graham-style, and announced that we would start racing as soon as we could see the big orange inflated turn-around buoy 300 metres offshore.

“There’s no way it’s going to lift,” I said as one of the support boats disappeared from sight about 20 metres offshore.

I’m not good for delayed starts. I get nervous. I wanted to either jump in the pond immediately and get the swim over with, or hear Christiane announce that we would run an extra five or 10 kilometres before the bike ride to replace the swim. To be honest, the second seemed a better option to someone like me who worries about creepy things that might grab my leg and pull me down into the depths of Healy’s Pond.

All 160 racers, some nervous, some relaxed, puttering  about Sunshine Camp waiting for the air to clear, chatted with onlookers and teammates. Newbie racers like Ryan Peach waited alongside veterans like Gerry Donovan, who has competed in every St. John’s Triathlon since its inauguration in 1984.

The scene on the beach was a bit surreal — 136 swimmers, most sporting black, full-length, neoprene wetsuits which not only keep you warm but also make you bob right back up to the surface when someone swims over your head, kicking you in the chops as a parting high five.

We puttered for about 30 minutes, nervously watching the fog, until Rob Gamberg shouted that someone had caught sight of the far buoy.

Christiane and Rob then counted the black-suited lemmings as we marched across the beach and plunged into the water. Luckily for us we had a bit more stored energy than the average lemming and all made it across the pond and back out of the water before we met an untimely, lemming-like demise.

The Olympic-distance triathletes went first, beginning their two-lap, 1,500-metre swim. By the time us sprinters started our 750-metre swim 15 minutes later, the first batch of “Olympians” were just coming back to the beach for their second round.

I was only a couple of hundred metres offshore when I came up for a breath to my left. In the sea of black-suited arms, legs and goggles, I saw something that was more comforting than the final exit buoys; more extraordinary than a hundred-foot eel; more beautiful than a pond lily. It was my husband’s face, mere inches from my own. It can’t be, I thought. Out of more than 100 swimmers all clambering over each other in the mist, what were the odds that the only person I come face to face with would be my soul mate?

I decided to skip my right-side breath and come up again on the left for a better look-see. Yep, there he was again, eyeing me through his Italian goggles — ever so handsome in his baby blue swim cap. Gee, maybe I could give him a quick peck on the cheek in this mass of rubberized humans flailing in the middle of the pond.

I might have managed it if someone hadn’t been swimming across my lower back when I came up for a third time to my left and saw my man one final time. Then, as quickly as he had come, he was gone. That was OK. Seeing him charged my batteries and I powered on, face down into the unknown, limbs motoring.

With memories of our quick date still swimming in my head I rounded the second buoy and headed home. Emerging happily onto the rocks, I found my sandals and jogged up to transition, some 400 metres through the trees, all the while trying to wrestle my arms out of my wetsuit.

I took my time in transition, powdering my feet, eating a banana, donning my new bright yellow tri jacket so I’d be visible on the highway. I even applied lip balm. Didn’t want to chafe my delicate lips whilst out cycling on the highway.

As it happened, I had no worries as it was the least windy ride I have ever done on the Outer Ring. I thought about the first time I did an open-water triathlon in Paradise. I got out of the water so chilled my fingers couldn’t properly grip the handlebars as I pedalled out to Fowler’s Road on the frigid arterial.

I forgot about the discomfort momentarily, however, when I saw my husband pedalling back towards Donovans on the opposite side of the highway. He waved. I unclutched one numb hand from the bike bars and blew him a kiss. Triathlons, even freezing ones, are very romantic.

I didn’t see my husband this time on my ride around Windsor Lake and back on the highway to Thorburn Road, but I also didn’t have frozen fingers when I wiggled my feet out of cycling cleats and informed my legs that their stint of going around in circles was over and they should prepare for running.

On my bike-to-run transition I could have saved time if I had run barefoot like Emily McIlroy, age-group (under 19) female winner of the Olympic Tri. But like my lips, my feet are delicate and need a bit of cushioning before they hit the pavement. I thus took over a minute switching over to my running shoes.

Bennett’s Road is a familiar run and I knew my Athletics NorthEast running club mates were manning the table at the Old Broad Cove Road turnaround.

I scouted for my man as I ran, but I didn’t see him until he crossed the finish line. It was maybe an hour after I came in, but remember he had to swim, bike and run double the distance I did (1.5 k swim, 46 k bike and 10 k run). Sweaty and smiling, he gave me a kiss and asked me if I had seen the thumbs up he had given me back in the pond.

“No,” I answered.

“Oh,” he said. “I thought that’s why you hit me.”

Apparently as he made his way off, leaving me in his bubbles, I whacked him twice on the butt and lower legs. He said he hoped I wasn’t trying to signal him that I was in distress because he was in “the zone” and figured if I needed help the boats would take care of me. So much for the romantic interlude.

Still, if you’d like to arrange a neoprene meeting with your spouse in a pond, you both have time to sign up for the Body Quest Paradise Triathlon Aug. 24 or the Carbonear Sprint Triathlon Aug. 31.

For a pond date in Gander or St. John’s, you’ll have to wait till next summer.

Susan Flanagan can be reached at

Bell Island feedback

John Gauci writes: “There is a waiting room at the beach on Bell Island that is about 30 feet from where the ferry docks. It has both his and hers washrooms. Also has seats to relax (in) while waiting for the ferry. Very clean. Been there since day one. … Well, I’m 67 years old. It’s been there as long as I can remember. — Ex-Bell Islander born and bred.”

Theresa Woodward writes: “I am a descendant of W.H. Bartlett, my grandfather on my mother’s side was William’s grandson, who lived in Hybla, Ont., where my mother was born. My mother later married my father (Al Woodward) who was a professional wrestler (Alexander the Great). My mother inherited the artistic hand of W.H. Bartlett and was a renowned artist, with some of her pieces of china in the Beijing Museum. She was a teacher of fine art in B.C. until her passing in 2012. I have found the info about the china dispersement very interesting. If you would like to know more about the Bartletts and their history, I would love to share it. Not too many people have ever heard of the Bartlett china in circulation anymore. I have a set and even some preserved true drawings (sketches).”

Music feedback

Old Time Ears writes: “The trait about Elton John that impressed me was what Randy Bachman mentioned on ‘Vinyl Tap’ (CBC, Radio One). He says that the poet/lyrics writer Bernie Taupin would send volumes of possible lyrics to Elton. He would not use them all but the ones he did he could compose music for them without changing a word or even syllable, which he noted is very difficult for a songwriter. … Randy also said that Janis Joplin had such a powerful and skilled voice that she could cover for errors of the musicians. Usually it is the other way around. He noted that the original release of either ‘Piece of My Heart’ or ‘Cry Baby’ the backup band is all over the place — out of key and tune (I would not notice anyway). Finally, with current hits — when I heard Duffy’s ‘Warrick Avenue,’ I thought it was a ’60s cover (Dusty Springfield?) Great. I thought. Shows how much I know — still like it, though.”