A couple of years ago I thought it would be fun to complete a sprint triathlon. Anyone who has met me knows I’m not an exercise fiend, nor do I sport that lean, lithe body. But I dream big and follow through!
I’d just turned 50 and needed to do something extraordinary to prove I was still vibrant. I researched every article I could find on triathlons, first to set up a training schedule and then to decide where to compete.
Then came the hard part – exercise. It took a while to get the hang of it. I practiced swimming until I could complete a quarter mile in the high school pool. I practiced running on treadmill because I didn’t want to overheat in the summer sun. I got a new bike and spun laps around the neighborhood.
The night before the event, I watched an instructional class for the” first timers.” The organizers warned this event was the most difficult sprint triathlon in the state. I groaned quietly but I didn’t quit. As I looked around the room for affirmation, I realized I was old enough to be every competitor’s mother. I could be grandmother to a few. Then came the real moment of decision – when we toured the race course.
This was the lake where we’d conduct a half-mile swim. “What?” I shouted. “That isn’t what it said in the brochure.” Well, that was a clerical error. No indoor pool with roped off lanes. This space was wide open and ice cold.
The next morning I looked around and discovered most of the participants were wearing high-tech clothing designed for triathletes and fancy shoes from outer space. I looked all wrong, but what the heck. I was here and I wasn’t slinking home.
The competition began. All the women swam out from shore, then the men followed. I looked totally silly with my side stroke. The men who started 15 minutes later were churning up the water and moving ahead. Somehow I finished.
Then the bike competition started. I kept hearing variations of the same mantra all around me. “On your left.” “ On your right.” “Passing.” I walked my bike uphill because I couldn’t figure out how to change gears on my old lady bike. I gulped hard when a 75-year-old man rode past me. But I finished.
Next we all ran nimbly through the woods. I cried silently. This uneven dirt peppered with tree roots was nothing like my nice, smooth treadmill. I kept going forward. Griping would disturb my state of mind.
Once out of the woods I reached the finish line cheering. I wasn’t the last one in. I wasn’t among those who took a ride back on the sag wagon because I gave up. I was Rocky Balboa in tennis. I still have my medal tacked to the bulletin board over my desk to remind me of this accomplishment. I set out do something very physical, very challenging and I did it. Even it if felt like it was uphill all the way.
When I think I can’t do something, I remember that very wonderful quote from Henry David Thoreau that speaks of competition in business, athletics and every walk of life:
“All endeavor calls for the ability to tramp the last mile, shape the last plan, endure the last hours toil. The fight to the finish spirit is the one… characteristic we must possess if we are to face the future as finishers,” Thoreau wrote.