The Backyard Triathlon by Shawn Carmody
My early memories of Uncle Tom are first and foremost as an autoharp wielding member of the Carmody sing along trio. Uncle Tom along with Uncle Dave and my Dad Joe would drink and sing the night away much to the delight of all during family get togethers which were much more common back when I was 9. We would get together for any reason. "Hey the Bruins are in the playoffs lets get together" or , "Hey, It’s a Saturday…Let’s get together". Every time, without fail, no matter what the event, one of the uncles would break into song. Within seconds, you would hear the harmony coming from another part of the house. Then the third part would chime in and out would come the guitars and Uncle Tom’s autoharp. The rest of the family would sing along with the songs that were to become family standards like "Grandmas Lye Soap", "Eddy Coochy Catchy", "Intergalactic Laxative", as well as a foray into other late 60’s and early 70’s folk tunes.
As certain as there was going to be singing at a family get together there would also be a point where Uncle Tom would excuse himself from the group. He’d leave for an hour or so to go for a jog which always seemed a little curious to me being only 9. For why would somebody go for a run at a family reunion? The only use for running in the world of a 9 year old is to avoid getting hit by a dodge ball or to get to first base after hitting a grounder. When asked why he did it, he said that he wanted to be in the best shape of his life when he hits 40. This again to me was as clear as mud. Then he said he was training to run the Boston Marathon. This I understood because I remember getting a day off of school to cheer on Uncle Dave when he ran a marathon the year before.
One day when the get together was at our house, I asked if I could tag along one of his training jogs. He asked where I thought we should run. Biting off more than I could chew I mentioned Bow Lake. This would be a three mile up and down hill battle. Uncle Tom was no gazelle by any means, but the man could run forever without stopping. I made it a little over half way when I begged to stop. He would run ahead then run back and encourage me to start again, which I would. Then I’d cramp up again. It was then that I decided to follow in his footsteps and wait until I turned 40 to get into the best shape of my life. I also remember that my Uncle Tom had a cool green sports car with white stripes running from the hood to the trunk, but that’s beside the point.
What I remember most of my early dealings with Uncle Tom is The North Shore Triathlon. Uncle Tom had recruited the family to help out with a triathlon he had organized in Lynn, Mass. Going to Lynn was always a point of excitement for me. Having grown up in Northwood, NH, as small a town as it gets, Lynn seemed like a huge metropolis to me with its crowded streets and endless pavement. It was also the place where my extended family lived and where my dad spent his youth. So along with family visits, my dad would take me on walks around his old hangouts and tell me stories of BB gun fights, wiffleball games, and near drownings at Sluice Pond. It would make me feel like a part of history when ever I would visit. So when I was told that we were going to Lynn to help Uncle Tom with his Triathlon, I couldn’t wait.
We arrived at my Uncle Tom’s the night before the race. He lived in the biggest house I had ever seen. Coming from our mobile home in NH and going to my uncle’s 3 story house in Lynn was like visiting a mansion. There was plenty of room to run around and all sorts of cool things to look at and play with. His house was full. Most of my family was there as well as many people I did not know. These people turned out to be competitors for the race. They came in from all over and apparently they had spent all their money on gas and the entrance fee so they couldn’t afford lodging. So Uncle Tom let them stay at the house. Aunty Terry was in the kitchen preparing a pre-race meal so the athletes could carbo load. (Whatever that meant)…All I knew was that it was spaghetti and it was both plentiful and delicious. All of the excitement of the next day’s race didn’t, however, keep the family from singing. Uncle Dave belts out the first line to some obscure French song in the living room. My dad comes out of the bathroom singing the harmony and Uncle Tom comes out of the kitchen sing the bass and off we go. The sing along portions of our get-togethers were magnetic. We would all come together and sing the songs we knew and hum and la la la through the ones we didn’t know. The la la la choruses increased exponentially with the amount of alcohol consumed. But I digress…
After the sing along my parents and I bunked down in my cousin Josh’s room which happens to be on the second floor next to the street. Being used to sleeping in the complete darkness and quietness of the country, I remember not having an easy time going to sleep. Both the streetlights and city noises blaring through the window would keep me up. We had to keep the windows open because it was the middle of summer and I recall having a hard time relaxing. Once I finally got to sleep, I was startled awake by a blaring siren. I forgot to mention that this house was only a block from a fire station. I eventually got to sleep only to be awoken once again at three in the morning to get ready for the race. I walked downstairs and tripped over a sleeping bag containing a triathlete only to land on another one sleeping in the hallway. The whole first floor was covered. Soon Aunty Terry would serve up breakfast and with little confusion we were out the door.
We arrived on the corner of Sluice Pond a few minutes later. This was the starting point for the swimming portion of the race which would be followed by biking and running. The parking lot was loaded with bikes and people in various styles of dress. We walked inside the main building to see what we could do to help out. Aunty Terry handed us all orange t-shirts with a triathlon logo on the front and said to put them on. She then gave my parents and other family members our jobs for the event. Most had to do with timekeeping. My job was to call out the numbers of the competitors as they exited the water so that someone with a clipboard could write the time down for the swim. A pretty lo-tech method compared to the way they do it now a days with microchips and such, but it worked just fine. The race began and after the last swimmer entered the water, Uncle Tom transformed from event organizer to competitor. I was a little disappointed when a woman came in first in the swim portion, because I had to live with the fact that my Uncle Tom got beat by a girl. But Uncle Tom never seemed to want to win a race. He was more of the "how far can I push myself" kind of guy. One of those who if one told him he couldn’t run a hundred miles would run two hundred and say, "You were right I couldn’t run a hundred miles." After the swimmers came out of the water the fun began. There was yelling, screaming, and nudity. Swimmers stripped down and changed on the run towards a bike that they couldn’t find. The chaos was settled down by quick thinking members of the family and off they went for a bike ride. The bike course ended at some high school football field. So we packed up and drove to the field. As the racers came in on their bikes, I would once again call out their numbers but this time my 9 year old instincts started taking over… I got bored.
I somehow convinced an adult to take over the job so I could go play. I ended up finding my second cousins Keith and Kenny. They decided we should play a game of rundown, or pickle as they call it in my neck of the woods. Pickle is a game where you have 3 people and two bases. The bases are about 30 feet apart and one person stands on each base and the third guy is the runner. The guys on the bases throw a ball back and forth trying to tag the runner. The runner’s job is to run from one base to another without getting tagged. Once the runner gets tagged, he takes the place of the person who did the tagging and so on. This was a great idea. So we went looking for something we could use for bases. We couldn’t find anything so we decided that we would use the runner’s glove as one base and one of the goalposts on the football field as the other base. We played for an hour and I was having a blast, up until the moment I got knocked out. It was my turn to guard the goalpost. Keith had been eluding the tag for quite some time so I was anxious to tag him and get my turn as a runner. Kenny tossed me the ball just as Keith was passing me. So ball in glove, I swung around as quick as I could to tag him out and taste victory. All I ended up tasting was goalpost. I remember swinging around, stopping short… seeing white…seeing nothing…then seeing my mom’s face above me and wondering why I was on the ground. My eye swelled shut and I remember not crying because I was too embarrassed. My mom checked me out and said I was ok. My dad said to rub it and walk on it and I sat out the rest of the race in the car.
After the race we went back to Uncle Tom’s house. We were all sitting around
the house exhausted from the day’s events. My head hurt badly, but all of the
pain and exhaustion was quickly set aside when from the bathroom we heard…"SO
GIVE ME A CHEER, FOR GRANDMAS LYE SOAP"…….
This is my first installment of many stories to be put into Carmody Central. I chose to dedicate this story to Uncle Tom because he not only inspired me to run my first triathlon, but he also inspired me to actually write family stories. He had all sorts of stories and I had mentioned to him that he should post them on the web. He got mixed reviews from the family but at least he got us thinking about where we came from. He put forth the effort so that our grandchildren’s grandchildren will have an idea of who we were and why they are as messed up as they are…Just kidding. I hope everyone in the family will take this idea and run with it. As UncleTom says…"Never let the truth get in the way of a good story." For instance, all of the events that I wrote about actually happened. Or they are at least how I remember them to be. I know for a fact that Uncle Tom organized at least two triathlons in Lynn: The North Shore Triathlon and the Ultraman. I know that I helped out at both of them and I am equally sure that I’m mixing the two events up. And so it goes….