After the third kick to her face, Peyton had taken enough. She firmly grasped the man’s ankle, felt it try to shake free, and then released it when she was sure he’d lost momentum. It wasn’t a tactic she liked to employ, but what was a girl to do? The lake water was very cold, amplified no doubt, by the dark clouds in the sky. Drops of light rain occasionally bounced upon the surface. Once able to concentrate again on her stroke, Peyton had begun to break free of the pack. Now she could really get into a rhythm. One, two, three, breathe; left, right, left, breathe; right, left, right, breathe.
Peyton marveled at how effectively she had learned to utilize alternate breathing techniques. Turning her head both left and right to take breaths was proficient and symmetrical and you know how an efficiency engineer would feel about anything . . .well, efficient? The practice allows the option of breathing on a preferred side when necessary to avoid waves and splashes. It also allows a swimmer to keep track of competitors on both sides. That skill would have been extremely useful in her youth when she was competing for various swim teams in 25 and 50 meter pools. Her coaches at that time had never considered the option. But then, everything was different back in those days.
That was long before Peyton knew that her hypermetropic eyes would someday fail to be useful devoid of aid. In those days, compensation was achieved without causing fatigue. Now then, she was an expert at the art of wearing glasses. Two years of experience had taught her many lessons. Inside the first year, she’d had a large increase in prescription, "once her eyes had relaxed," as the optometrist put it. Now on her third script, Peyton could not see well at any distance until one of her many pairs was placed upon her face. Near vision activities were impossible, midranges were annoying at best, and distances seemed plausible only if she didn’t concentrate on what she was missing. And without fail, the ever-present headache would assume control.
She knew that it didn’t matter anymore because, for her, glasses were mandatory. In essence, they had been since that first Friday. Initially, she had tried to find a rationalization for every possible reason that they shouldn’t be. But there was no option. Using the black readers had proven dependence well before the optometrist would. So Peyton chose to embrace the inevitable. Within a short period of time, it was how she was. She couldn’t remember what it felt like to not wear glasses. It was who she was. Her last photo without eyewear was but a blurred memory. Everyone referred to her as the girl with glasses, now.
Of course, she still preferred the ‘signature’ red frames and had kept the lenses current. Why wouldn’t she? They were the ones that turned the most heads. But the red frames never went on workouts, did yard work, or participated in any kind of physical activities. Those babies had been pampered and protected, so much so, that they still looked new. There was one exception to the physical activity ‘clause’, however, but we’ll get to that later.
Without slowing her stroke, Peyton lifted her head to see straight ahead. Looking over the water through the generic +5.00 lenses of her goggles, she estimated the lake’s shoreline to be another hundred meters. Just over a minute later she discontinued her stroke, touched the bottom with her hands and feet, and began struggling to wade as quickly as possible. Before reaching the bank, she began pumping her arms and running barefoot through the sand. When she reached pavement, a large carpet had been laid out to give the shoeless swimmers traction from the dampness. It felt good to reach the end of the 1.5 kilometer swim but she knew the hardest parts remained.
"You’re in second, Peyton," her sister, Eli, shouted while clapping, "and Drew just passed by a minute ago. Maybe you can catch him?!"
Reaching the end of the carpet, Peyton began searching for her bicycle. That part she’d rehearsed earlier in the morning. Without hesitation, she removed her goggles and swim cap. As her short pony tail fell gracefully from its bondage, she tossed the items in a plastic bag hanging on a post beside her bike. The bag, which would be transported to a storage zone near the finish line, was identified with her racing number to match the ones that had been written in permanent marker on her arms and legs. Feeling blind now, she’d discovered that doing anything near without correction was as useful as being in the dark. Because of that, her first act was to slide a pair of sport glasses on her face. They were expensive ones with aerodynamic wrap-around lenses containing her exact prescription including the cylinder for astigmatism. The lenses, of which she owned three sets, were removable and could be interchanged. Today, she had chosen the amber-colored ones as they would improve contrast while she cycled below the dark, overcast sky.
The final ‘clothing’ change was accomplished by popping a cycling helmet on her head and latching the clasp on the strap tightly under her chin. From the holding rack, Peyton removed her bike and placed it in the direction of travel. With very purposeful moves, she grasped the handlebars in one hand, slipped her left foot into the ‘bootie’ attached to the pedal mechanism, threw her right leg over the saddle, and slipped into the ‘bootie’ on the right while simultaneously starting to pedal. With brutal grace, she was underway and began a steep decent up the road leading from the beach area toward the nearby hills. The entire transition had lasted only ninety seconds, but at the finish line every second mattered.
Upon reaching the crest of the hill, Peyton relaxed and tried to regain control of her breathing. Again settling into a rhythm, she began to focus on her cadence. Today, her legs felt loose and free. The digital monitor attached to the handle bars agreed.
It had been about six months since she’d met Drew but it seemed like yesterday. She was swimming a timed one-kilometer workout as he swam one-hundred-meter repeats in the adjacent lane. He was astonished at the fact that not only did he struggle to keep her pace, but she continued to go while he stopped at each interval of rest. What he didn’t know was that Peyton had been pushing her tempo to stay with his sprint pace. It was the only way that she could watch his wonderful legs work under the water. According to her underwater vision, they were perfect.
When she finally stopped, Drew felt compelled to speak.
"I don’t know how such a skinny girl, can be so powerful. You’re stroke is just gorgeous."
From the odd look Peyton returned, he realized he’d said it wrong.
"I don’t mean you’re skinny," Drew added vacantly, "God, you’re gorgeous, I mean you’re body’s gorgeous."
"You probably better stop while you’re ahead," Peyton suggested with a wry smile.
"I feel so stupid," he continued lowering his head into his hand.
"Don’t," Peyton responded, "I think you’re pretty gorgeous, too."
"Now I feel like a tool," he said as they both laughed.
Peyton noticed the wonderful squint in his eyes. She had recently realized that was about the sexiest thing a good-looking man could do. Before getting glasses, she’d never thought much about that but she viewed the world in a much different way these days. It was obvious that he couldn’t focus on anything past a few feet.
"Hi, I’m Peyton," she said extending a hand while stripping the goggles from her face, "and this is how I look without these stupid goggles. I’m more than just a pretty body."
Even with the ‘raccoon eyes’ impression left by the goggles on her face, Drew couldn’t resist her charm. He was smitten immediately.
Peyton had counted three ladies that had passed her on the bike. As she neared the end of the forty-kilometer ride, she knew she had a lot of ground to make up. None of this was unexpected. Cycling was her most difficult phase in triathlon. Despite all efforts, it was the part she struggled with always. Over time, she had learned to simply maintain composure and preserve her pace. Everything could be regained on the run.
As Peyton hit the second transition zone, she removed her feet from the booties, coasted in, collected her thoughts, and stopped. Again in her bare feet, she gently placed the $5000 bicycle with its $2000 wheels into the rack. Without socks, she stepped into her racing flats. Bending at the waist, she gave the round shoestrings a tug, compressed the spring on the lace lock, cinched the laces, and released the spring. After repeating the process on the other shoe, she deliberately took the time to change glasses. The day was too humid to wear the aerodynamic wrap-around lenses for the ten-kilometer run. Soon her face would be dripping with sweat. She placed them for safe-keeping in a bag on the post by her bike and retrieved another pair.
She’d given herself the option of dark-lensed aviators but the skies were still extremely overcast. Instead, Peyton had chosen her pair of very lightweight silver wire rims with bifocal lenses. They offered the added benefit of allowing her to see her wrist watch. If she had any hope of making up time, she was going to need to know accurate split times of each kilometer. The shape of the glasses was an elongated oval that, at first, looked somewhat dated. However, that design on her was as perfect and stylish as the red cat-eyes. For some reason, rectangular glasses just never worked on her face.
Peyton struggled to find a rhythm on the twenty-five-kilometer run. Her legs felt unusually ‘rubbery’ today. Perhaps she’d pushed the tempo harder than she realized on the bike.
"Brady’s in first, Peyton. You’re only three minutes back. Push it!"
Her sister and brother-in-law had moved to the final transition area. They had no idea how much Peyton appreciated the support and the informative updates. But at that moment, Peyton’s legs had no desire to be pushed. It was as though her muscles were asleep with little circulation but she knew that couldn’t be the case. Her heart was pumping far too hard.
By the time she hit the two-kilometer marker, her legs had come alive. According to her watch, her pace was remarkable. Everything was beginning to gel and her breathing was no longer labored. As she focused forward, she saw another pony tail attached to a shapely body. Within twenty seconds, she had ‘dispatched’ that lady. One down, three to go. Peyton was feeling good . . . no . . . she was in the ‘zone’.
On that first encounter, Drew had asked Peyton to go for coffee. How could she resist. He had seen her at her worst and most vulnerable state; exhausted, red-faced, and smelling of chlorine. Granted, she was wearing a Speedo . . . and she was wet. Okay, that could be construed as being somewhat provocative. But that’s the point. There’s no hiding anything in a skin-tight suit, except maybe glasses. Everyone wears goggles in the pool. He didn’t know the fact that she needed glasses. Surely that wouldn’t be a problem to him. With that sexy squint, she was positive he needed them himself.
To be honest, she had no idea what to expect either. How would he look after a shower? Probably pretty damn good. Stop it! But how would he dress? Who cares? He’d look fantastic with nothing on. Stop!! Peyton couldn’t believe her four eyes when she met him at the entryway. He was wearing dark gray slacks, a blue dress shirt and tie, and cordovan-colored loafers with tassels. But best of all, Drew was wearing the most sexy glasses; black and clear plastic frames in a rectangular shape with substantial lenses for myopic eyes. She wanted to grab his tie, take him to the floor, and jump him right there. Stop it now!!
But that made Peyton feel self-conscious. This had been a presentation day at work. She had dressed in a dark gray suit coat with a matching pencil skirt and white dress blouse. Even her shoes were all business. Instead of her usual high heels, she had chosen black patent flats with a bow. She felt short, insignificant, and unattractive. There wasn’t one article of her attire that clearly stated ‘date me’. Her mind changed when she saw the gleam in his eye and the smile on his lips.
"I love your glasses, Peyton. There is nothing like a business-suited woman wearing stylish, colorful glasses."
"I find yours rather attractive, too, Drew."
"My what?" Drew questioned.
"You’re glasses, well, the whole nine yards to be truthful."
"Thanks, I’m glad you feel that way. Without them, I’m hopeless. I got my first pair at age thirteen."
Peyton was feeling pretty lucky and since that evening, she and Drew had been inseparable. It had been the most wonderful six months ever.
As Peyton had expected, the humidity was excruciating. She had prepared by drinking both bottles on her bike of her personal hydration mix during the forty kilometer cycling phase. While running, she had taken a cup at every water station. This was her home triathlon, and one thing she knew well was the local weather. With perspiration dripping on her lenses, she was forced finally to clean her glasses. For a hyperope, that’s difficult at best. While running in a tri-suit, it’s practically impossible. She managed, finally, to find a spot on her suit that was dry enough to wipe them clean. But during her visually impaired condition, Peyton could hear that the crowd along the road was getting excited about something. What was happening?
As she returned her glasses to her face, she discovered that another female form was only a short distance ahead. Even though the form was as tall as the guys, Peyton recognized the colors of Brady’s baby-blue and pink tri-suit. It contrasted significantly against a sea of ‘manly’ shades. Was Brady still in first place? As Peyton pressed, it was obvious by the cheers, that the two of them were the leading ladies.
There was only one man between them. Peyton adjusted her pace to his and ran by his shoulder. She needed to gain poise and relax her breathing. After closing her eyes for a few moments, she refocused through her clear lenses on Brady’s stride. She could see it perfectly. Her opponent’s knees were labored and her feet were shuffling but only a skilled observer would know that. Brady’s arms were tired and unmanaged, too. Anyone could see that. Though he knew he was being used, Peyton could tell that her ‘running mate’ seemed to enjoy having a close and personal view of the strategy that was being played. Peyton had no desire to allow her prey to recapture a ‘second wind’. The attack had to be fatal and final.
After a few minutes of moving meditation, Peyton gave a small wave of thanks to the man beside, and began her pursuit.
"Go for it now!" her unknown friend encouraged.
Feeling her best all day, Peyton forced her way past. The man watched as Brady’s shoulders sagged. She was defeated. Peyton pushed the pace faster than she had gone, yet. With less than a kilometer to go, she could see the balloon rainbow fashioned over the Finish Line. As the crowd along the road caught sight of their first female competitor, the roar became louder and louder. It was the first time that Peyton had experienced that sensation. It only encouraged her to run faster.
Despite the wall of sound as she approached the finish, Peyton heard the shrill voice of small girl.
"Look mom, that lady wearing glasses is going to win!"
Peyton looked through the orange plastic fencing and found the child pointing at her. The little girl was wearing red cat-eyes of her own. She slowed her pace for just a moment and gave her fan a ‘high-five’ over the fence. ‘Wouldn’t it have been great if I’d been wearing my own red glasses’, Peyton thought? It was then she realized that her efforts on this Saturday had made her a role-model.
Soon she caught her first glimpse of Drew waiting just beyond the Finish Line. Raising her hands as she passed under the balloon rainbow, Peyton collapsed into his arms. He had already recovered somewhat since finishing earlier. Drew held her to his chest as her body heaved from exhaustion. Anonymously, a volunteer placed a high-tech lightweight foil-like blanket around the couple while Peyton recaptured her strength.
Suddenly, she felt a gentle pat on her back. As she turned to acknowledge the person, she realized it was Brady. Gasping for breath, she spoke with a smile on her face.
"Congratulations, Peyton. You were wonderful today. It’s your first win isn’t it?"
"Yes, Brady, thank you," Peyton mustered.
But to herself, she thought, ‘what a class act’.
Later, while watching the presentation of awards to class winners, Eli suddenly remembered something.
"You need these," she said digging through her purse. "Remember you gave them to me for safe keeping this morning?"
It was Peyton’s ‘babies’, the red glasses. She exchanged the wire-rims with her sister, and placed the cat-eyes on her face. Now more than ever, Peyton felt like herself.
"In first place overall for women," she heard the announcer declare, "I’m proud to proclaim that we have a first-time winner. Give it up for. . . Ms. . . Peyton . . . Mann!"
Quickly, she climbed the steps and joined the other two ladies on the podium. While cheers arose, Peyton spotted her little friend with the red cat-eyes, right in front, standing with her mom and dad. Wearing a medal around her neck that her father had earned for third place in his age group, the little girl was cheering loudly.
"See, daddy, she wears red glasses just like me!"
Peyton could not have felt more gratified. The ovation from the crowd was overwhelming, but the bond she’d made with the little girl made her feel like a champion. Peyton clasped hands with Brady and the third-place finisher and thrust their hands high into the air. Truly, it had been an incomparable Saturday.