By Dave Denniston
CARLSBAD, California, December 5. WHEN she walks on any pool deck, within minutes kids are screaming with excitement, “Coach Beeee!” Nobody calls her Belinda Eschenwald or Coach Belinda. She is known in the swimming community as Coach Bee. She loves kids as much as they love her, and she can keep up with every one of them because of her other passion: Ironman Triathlons. She’s done 10 of them, and is determined to qualify for the Big Daddy of all Triathlons, Kona.
It was on July 4 of this year that her childish exuberance caught up with her. She was at a Barbecue, and naturally several kids were running around and riding skateboards. Coach Bee hadn’t been on a skateboard in years, but was sure at 38 she could still ride one with the best of them.
Bee was right; she could ride with the best. But she couldn’t stop with the best. While going down a hill toward the Pacific Coast Highway she was faced with a choice. Ride out into the highway and get hit by a car or try and stop using a brick wall.
She chose the brick wall and broke her collarbone, destroyed her rotator cuff, broke her elbow and fractured her skull and face in several places. She doesn’t remember any part of the accident. She underwent surgery on her shoulder and head, and was stuck in a bed for weeks.
Bee was thankful to be alive, but still had the Ironman flame burning inside of her. Knowing that she was losing valuable training time, and not knowing if she would even be able to swim, Belinda started doing everything she could to keep her body in shape. She started eating only good things, and kept her legs in shape by walking, light running, or stationary bike riding when she could. In the process she lost 10 pounds and her body was in the best shape of her life.
The real test came about a month later when she lost her sling and started moving her shoulder: Could she still swim? She took her time and practiced very slowly. Her Physical Therapist worked with her diligently, and for month and a half Bee took care of her shoulder and developed the confidence to swim the first leg of the Ironman, 2.4 miles.
Going to Ironman Florida in November of the same year she was hurt so badly seemed crazy by all of Bee’s peers. But she knew that she could go a best time, her legs had gotten so much stronger that the bike and run portion of the Ironman would definitely be faster. She thought she might have a chance at making Kona. She was going to go for it, only three months after her accident.
Not only did Belinda Eschenwald finish the swim part of the Ironman, she finished in record time. Her transition to the bike was quick, and for the next 112 miles she picked off competitors right and left. Toward the end of the ride she looked at her jersey only to realize that she was becoming extremely dehydrated. Salt lines outlined her jersey, and her stomach was feeling upset.
She tried to force water and salt back into her system, but it was getting tough. Her bike leg was minutes faster than she had ever been before! The finale of the Ironman, a marathon, was staring Bee in the face, and with Kona in her sights she took off determined to reach her goal. Her body however wasn’t quite so willing and the effects of dehydration started taking their toll. The last ten miles were extremely tough and painful for her and she felt sick most of the way.
When Belinda Eschenwald crossed the finish line she had gone faster at 39 then she has ever gone before! Her time was nearly 11 minutes faster than her previous best, it was a Personal Record! Moreover, it was just amazing that she finished the race, because for the next two days she was in the hospital being treated for dehydration. She didn’t qualify for Kona this time, but she had achieved her goal: To go a best time in an Ironman after a potentially career ending accident.
Coach Bee never gives up.