For Christine Gates, it isn't a question of how fast she'll complete her upcoming Ironman triathlon. Rather, it's about her motivation for even attempting it.
The Palatine resident will be racing on Sunday, Sept. 7 in Madison, Wisconsin, and while the event itself is an exercise in solitary, self-imposed endurance, Gates will have plenty of virtual company as she competes.
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"For me, the time isn't so important," said the 42-year-old mom of two. "It's not about when I finish -- it's about why I'm doing this race."
And there are many good reasons for that.
Gates is dedicating her race to those close to her facing special circumstances. That includes Lindsey Pazerunas and Sam McLeod, children with Down syndrome who are the offspring of good friends she's met through YTri, a club for triathletes run by Buehler YMCA in Palatine.
Gates' youngest son, Alex, battles a disorder called Alopecia, an auto-immune condition. Both Alex, and Nate Gates-Petykowski, 10, compete on Buehler's age-group swimming team.
Gates hopes to benefit those who have been an inspiration to her by returning the favor. She's been raising funds, an effort which will continue through the completion of her big race. Contributions to her two charities, Ups for Downs and the Children's Alopecia Project, can be easily made by finding Gates' fundraising pages at crowdrise.com.
The training required for an Ironman has sent Gates on an interesting journey of her own. She's lost 65 pounds over the last six years as she's made the natural progression through sprint, Olympic and half-Ironman triathlon distances. All that's left is the biggest test -- a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a 26.2-mile run to finish what will likely be a 10-plus hour odyssey.
A swimmer in high school at Fremd in Palatine, Gates has mostly concentrated on honing the bike and run legs of the triathlon. Key to her big gains in those areas has been her participation with her running club, Dick Pond Fast Track.
An ultra-endurance race such as Ironman requires loads of conditioning, so it's been a summer filled with long swims, rides and runs for Gates. All of that, she says, has been made easier by thinking of the toughness of those close to her, such as her mother and sister -- both breast cancer survivors -- and her father, who "instilled the value of hard work and sticking with it and following through."
Preparing for Ironman has also helped Gates fulfill a life goal. She credits a book called "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch with helping her realize the importance of chasing one's dreams -- and helping others fulfill theirs.
"In my case, it was about being an athlete," Gates said. "That was something I'd always wanted and never quite got around to. I've been inspired by the people close to me -- I hope this can be an inspiration to them."