When I examine the image below, I am reminded of many small things. The main concept, idea, thought however is one of perspective. I like many others in the triathlon world can tend to drift away from “reality”, from what is important, from what is the journey all about.
Sure we all want to be fit, fast and healthy. We all wish to improve our times, better ourselves as an athlete and “prove what we are made of”. This however can be a slippery slope, one in which you find yourself at the bottom of the mountain of normalcy and are looking up. You are thinking: “Holy cow! what the heck am I doing!!? I’ve really lost touch with reality and what is important. Sure triathlon is fun and challenging, but is it really worth losing sight of family and friends and the important things?”
I think we are in need of a PERSPECTIVE PICTURE….often times we have quotes to motivate us and drive us blindly forward in the pursuit of excellence. How many of us though have a picture, an image, that grounds us, brings us back to the WHY in the “Why are we doing this?”
The picture below is my favorite perspective picture for a number of reasons. Sure I have many many other images or videos that inspire me or even ground me a bit, but nothing does this like the image I am sharing today.
THE LAST RACE….
This picture was taken in March 2006 at the Ironman 70.3 Oceanside California. It is taken on the first lap of the OUT part of the out & back 21.1km run course. As you can see, this is a picture of me and the man with the cane, standing by my side is my father. At this point I believe he was 55 years old and had recently been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), 100% fatal disease. He was in the early stages and at this point his left leg had stopped functioning, thereby leading to the use of the cane. So that is the overlying gist of the image.
The reason I title this the Last Race image is because this would be the last triathlon or race of any kind my father would ever be able to watch me compete in. His condition would get continually worse and in Oct.2007 the disease would take his life. My father was (and mother is) a great cheerleader and fan of mine. He didn’t understand the “why” in triathlon, and frankly I dont’ think he really cared to understand or figure it out, as he simply knew it was something that couldn’t be explained; his son just loved to go out and swim, bike and run for a really long ways. He understood that as a blind/visually impaired athlete, that I was searching for something, something that I felt pride in and confidence in. He understood it brought me joy, self confidence, a sense of belonging and was a great outlet for my stubborness (a trait he gave to me). When I mentioned that myself and my wife (fiance at that time) were headed to San Diego where my aunt/uncle lived, dad and mom were happy to come along. Simply getting through the airport and the long journey with early ALS was a struggle for him, but I think he realized as well that this could be more then just a vacation. It would be a final opportunity to go out west, perhaps a final opportunity to see me race. So off we went.
For many years I simply saw this as the Last Race image and used it as a perspective of how lucky I am to be alive and how thankful I am for my father and mother being so supportive. However recently I got thinking about the picture and realized a few other interesting notes. I am now thinking of this as the “2 year” image or the “transitions” image. Let me explain:
Transitions Image- At this point in 2006 myself and my family were going through a variety of transitions. 1) We were learning about ALS and the horror that was yet to unfold, 2)I was newly engaged and learning about the new life that I was entering into, 3)My father was coming to grips that he was surely going to die, and fairly soon, and finally 4) I had just started to come to terms that perhaps my racing days solo were coming to an end as little bits of my vision started failing me. What you didn’t see in that picture is the scrapes I had from hitting a pylon near the end of the ride because I didn’t see it and just barely caught the edge, sending me to the ground. That fall and each one after were the wake up calls the led to where I am now. So, I see this picture as a moment in time captured to let me remember how life was, how life was about to change (some good, some bad) and how lucky I am today.
2 Year Image- Along the same lines as the transitions theme, I look at this as the start of a 2 year decent for both myself and my father. Obviously the decent for my father was much greater then mine. The next appx. 2 years from that point in my life and the life of my family were not the brightest and happiest of recent memory. Besides the obvious fact that 3 months after this picture was taken, I was married to my lovely wife and the joy we had with friends and family on our wedding day; not a ton in that two year period was shining. For my father he was beginning on a roughly 2 year decent into the hell and misery that is ALS. This disease is absolutely brutal and strips a person down to something you wouldn’t wish upon your animals. With stubbornness, grace and as much humility as possible, my father slowly lost function in his entire body until that autumn evening in 2007, he finally let go. It sounds funny, but to the relief of our family, he was gone. I say to this day the most inspiring thing I’ve ever seen is his 2 year fight with that disease. He had guts, far more then any Ironman would/could ever reveal for me. I will take that demonstration of determination with me whereever i go!
For me that image marked the final 2 year journey of my solo triathlon career. As stated I had crashed on that course minutes earlier, then when I got home roughly a week later I crashed again…..I was seeing (or not seeing i guess) a pattern. I knew time was limited but desperately wanted to get in as many Ironmans as I could before I had to hang up the solo bike. From that day of the image, I went on to finish 3.88 more Ironmans between Mar.06 to Oct.08. The .88 came from my failed attempt and utter destruction at Ironman Hawaii. Leading up to that race I had a few more incidents where I manged to end up on the ground with my bike by my side. i knew that what I wasn’t seeing would somebody kill me, thus far I’ve been lucky but I didn’t want my luck to run out. So I vowed-and kept true to the promise-that Kona would be the last time I would ever ride a bike solo again. I rode my Cervelo to the slowest, most torturous ride of my life….only fitting I guess that my last ride be the longest ride of my life. Then 10 miles into the run my fairytale ending was squashed with me facing my first DNF ever. Not the way I had planned to go out, but nonetheless it too was the end of my two year journey (ok, slightly over 2 year) journey.
So I look at this picture, I remember and recollect the good and the bad, and I am thankful for both. You see, I am still alive, racing as a Paratriathlote, I’ve made many new friends and I’ve made a new best friend….some big tall ugly guy named Syd. (just kidding bud). I remember that when I feel frustrated or unhappy with a race, a training ride, or the lack of a training ride; I really have it good. I remember that thanks to my father support and the determination he passed along (even if it is only a fraction of what he had), is why I am here today, writing this blog and heading out for a swim…..because I can…….because I am lucky.
Life is short, don’t find yourself at the bottom of the mountain looking up, wondering why you never payed attention to the things that matter. Triathlon is a gift, yet keep it in perspective that it is not life or death.
Find your perspective picture, find that image that keeps you moving forward with the right purpose in mind.