Opinion: A few words for those who tried to sabotage Ironman Chattanooga

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photo David Cook

First, a few words to those individuals who tried to sabotage Sunday's Ironman.

You tackheads.

These triathletes aren't toys. All summer, while you've been lounging on pork rinds and Red Man, they've been putting in the hard work, training on bikes that cost more than your engine block, running more miles on Sunday than you will ever, all of it for this one unforgettable race day.

And you thought it would be hee-haw funny to pour tacks and 10w-40 on the race course ?

"A flat tire can ruin your whole race," said Chris Nasser, an Ironman finisher and age-group winner from Atlanta. "One person goes down, and everybody behind them goes down, too."

That's why Walker County authorities should investigate, arrest and prosecute you for malicious attempt at causing injury or harm.

This is not pranksterism. It's attempted road violence. Your mini-Valdez is in the same family tree as buzzing, air-horning and throwing beer cans, and if our city's really going to remain an Ironman-type of place, it's got to protect those very people it claims to attract.

Because they're going to keep coming.

Because -- minus the Pennzoil -- Sunday's race was out-of-this-world great.

"First, I'd like to congratulate the city of Chattanooga," said Ironman announcer Mike Reilly. "For a first-time race, I cannot believe how many people have been so helpful."

Monday morning, he hosted the awards ceremony at the Chattanooga ConventionCenter. It was a roomful of resting heart rates, ropy muscles and compression socks.

They were here from near and far: Germany, Colorado, Ooltewah. So many of them loved our city's volunteer spirit.

"There was no time on the bike or run when I didn't have someone cheering for me," said Angela Naeth, who came from Canada to win the women's race.

"Definitely," said Matt Hanson, the men's winner. "Thank you to the city of Chattanooga."

Halfway through the awards ceremony, Reilly announced the winner of the physically challenged category.

photo Despite being legally blind, Elizabeth Baker competed in the Ironman triathlon with help and support from her husband, Brian. Here Elizabeth is pictured at her home in Signal Mountain.

"Liz Baker," he said.

Baker is the legally blind Signal Mountain mom with Stargardt's: a degenerative eye disease that's made mush of her eyesight. She and husband, Brian, spent months training for Ironman -- she'd swim and run on her own, he'd ride in front of her as a guide on the bike -- yet barely two weeks ago, she wasn't sure she'd be racing at all.

All during training, Brian checked in with local race directors, confirming -- many times -- what he and Liz wanted to do on race day.

Everything still OK with our plan?

Oh yes, they'd reply.

Then, just days before the race, she got an email from out-of-town officials, whose rules and decisions trump our local ones. They told Liz that someone had to tether her during the swim and run, and she needed a partner to tandem-bike with her on the ride.

In other words, she and Brian couldn't race under their original plan.

"I cried all afternoon," she said.

(Why did our local race officials not realize they had to line up their rules about physically challenged racers with national ones? What if Liz and Brian had showed up on race day without knowing?)

Then, in perfect Liz-style, she dried her eyes and adapted.

She and coach Andy Sweet cooked up a plan. He would swim alongside her (even though they'd never practiced the tether before) and then ride in front of her on the tandem bike (even though they'd never ridden a tandem before, Andy hadn't been training, and the bike wasn't built).

It all went ... splendidly.

"I was happy the entire day," Liz said.

As the sun came up over her left shoulder, she and Andy swam the 2.4-mile swim in 40 minutes, tandemed through the bike in a little more than six hours, even joking back with other triathletes who had never seen a tandem on race day before.

Hey, they'd say, how do I get one of those?

Lose some eyesight, Liz would shout back.

She ran a 4:20 marathon (someone said it was the fastest marathon by a visually impaired Ironman) got to see her cheering family on the race course (they all wore the same color shirts so she'd spot them easier), all for a sub-12-hour race.

"She killed it," said Andy, who owns HUB Endurance on the North Shore.

"He's like the hero of the day," Liz said of Andy, who helped train more than a dozen racers, including Jason Greer, the local fireman running on behalf of his cancer-sick son.

Not even tacks and oil could stop them.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.