She’s 11 years old. And she finished a triathlon with a fractured shoulder.
What’s left to say about Jade Mountain, the Ellinwood, Kan., girl who has won six races this year and will challenge for a national title at the IronKids U.S. Championships Sept. 17 in West Des Moines?
For starters, she won’t be the only member of Team Mountain to compete at the nationals. Included in the field will be her younger brother, Jordan, who came to Jade’s aid when she took a nasty spill on her bike at last weekend’s Ironkids Columbia event.
Their father, Ryan, calls it a story “of overcoming adversity, working through pain, coming together as family, and a love for the sport of competing.”
It’s probably better if Jade tells it herself:
“I came out of the swim after passing three people in the heat before me. I felt good; I felt I was on fire. On my mind was B.S.H., which stands for belt, shoes and helmet. I've repeated it a million times as I lay awake in bed the night before a race.
“I made my way through transition very smoothly. I was so excited to get on the bike, which I feel is by far my strongest of the three disciplines. As I began my way up the long hill that starts the bike portion I knew immediately that I was going to have a great bike ride. Everything was clicking.
“I was moving faster than I ever had on the bike. For the first time, I ran out of gears. My form felt great. My legs weren't burning at all, so I set my sights on the upcoming corner and I knew I was going to nail it.
“Going into the turn, I had maintained most of my speed and was leaning into the turn the way we've practiced. About three-quarters into the turn, I decided to pedal in order to come out of the turn hard and fast. I was too early. My right pedal drug the ground, and the next thing I remember was flying over the front of my bike face first.
“I felt a hard hit to my left shoulder and head. I bounced up as fast as I could. I tried to get back on and pedal, but my chain was lodged in a weird way. There happened to be a volunteer at the turn. I told him I was fine, but my bike was messed up. He and another volunteer were able to fix my chain and handlebars enough to ride. But soon as I mounted my bike, I could tell immediately something wasn't right with my shoulder.
“I knew I had lost a ton of time, so I tried to block out the feeling in my shoulder. The only thing on my mind was winning the race. A volunteer attempted to ride by my side and escort me to my parents, but I pulled away from him. I remember he yelled: ‘You're on your own, babe.’
“I began my second loop and got blocked by two riders, so I went around them on the grass. I tried to pull my front tire back onto the path my left arm wouldn't let me. My tire caught the side of the cement path and I went down again. I landed pretty much on my feet, but it still hurt. My parents were cheering for me at this spot and yelling for me to ‘overcome,’ saying it's all part of racing. They had no idea about the fall I took just over a mile earlier.
“As I charged the big hill for the second time my dad could tell something was wrong. He later told me he thought I was frustrated over getting blocked in. Little did he know that I couldn't put any pressure on my left arm. It was throbbing, and I remember crying as I rode by him.
“Then, out of nowhere, my brother Jordan rode up beside me. I knew he would have started many heats behind me, so all I could think about was the time I had lost during the wreck. He realized that by catching me on the bike something wasn't right. I told him I thought I might have broken something. He asked if I was going to quit or keep going. I told him there was no way I wasn't going to finish.
“He rode beside me and pushed me to finish what I had started. We began to move through the field pretty fast and I knew we were making up some time. We came into transition together and luckily, as I was trying to rack my bike with one hand, a volunteer was nearby and racked it for me.
“As we were running out of transition, I told Jordan to go ahead, because I knew my mile time was going to be slower than his. I could tell he was hesitant to get too far ahead. He would continue to look back to check on me, even though my parents always preach that the race is in front of you, and whether you are in first or last you always look forward.
“At the turn around my dad was yelling out our 800-meter splits, but I couldn't hear a thing at that point. All I wanted to do was finish. Every step jarred my shoulder, and I had to hold my left hand to my chest so I could stand the pain.
“As I crossed the tape, the pain became so unbearable that I thought I would throw up. I remember my mom trying to take pictures; she had no idea that I'd had a bad wreck. The volunteers took me to the med tent immediately and the paramedics were called. We were so lucky the hospital and emergency room were right across the street.*
“We made it back to the race right as my age group was receiving their awards. I was pretty bummed to find out I got second by only 14 seconds. That ended my undefeated streak on the season.
“I'm in a sling this week, but I've been on the bike trainer in the house making sure my legs stay strong. It's killing me to know I'll just be a spectator this weekend in Iowa, but I'll be cheering on my brothers, and I'll at least get a look at the course before nationals. My parents say they are not sure I'll be back for nationals, but I've got three weeks, and I'm having the best season of my life.
“I feel there is nothing that can stop me, especially with brothers like mine out on the course watching over me.
“And I promised to do the same for them.”
* X-rays confirmed a fractured shoulder
Postscript, by Jade’s father, Ryan Mountain:
“Jade is by far the strongest competitor I've ever had the opportunity to coach. I told her mother that when it comes to Jade dealing with life's sticky situations I'm not worried. I know that no matter what obstacles she faces, she'll be able to focus, obtain a plan, and work through them.
“Her mother and I began to cry when Jade told us what her brother had done out on the course. Katherine and I coach many sports in the public school system, and our number one focus has always been teaching young kids to overcome obstacles in life through skills they learn in sports.
“These skills include teamwork, never stop fighting until the fight is done, understanding you're only as strong as your weakest link (so make them better), family, leadership, and always—no matter what the circumstances—having each other’s back.
“It was proven to me on this day that the kids actually listen to the lessons my wife and I try to teach through sports and competition. During the car ride home I explained to the kids that during this race, each of them showed me how much heart they had.
“If Jade makes it back and is healthy by nationals, all I have to say is look out girls, you've got a dogfight on your hands!”