Sunday, May 25, 2014

Guest Blogger: The Iron Sherpa...Life Lessons learned from the Support Crew

I have been asked to contribute to this blog as a "guest blogger."  I am Katie's husband, Kenneth.  I have never participated in a triathlon.  In fact, it would be pretty hard for anyone to guess that I ever ran track and cross country in high school, and lettered in the latter.  As difficult as I am finding it to get back into running, I find swimming any distance further than jumping off the diving board and swimming to the side of the pool a nearly impossible feat.  I have told Katie that I would maybe consider participating in a sprint distance triathlon if they allowed me to wear a life jacket.  No such luck.  The other thing this old school guy doesn't find appealing is "clipping in" to a bike.  It looks like flirting with an accident to me, and one of my objectives in life is to avoid pain where possible.  

As much as I don't see myself participating as an athlete, I have learned a lot by cheering on Katie and other friends during their half marathons, marathons, triathlons, etc.  Many things that you learn at these events are beautifully analogous to life.  A few of these lessons I found particularly poignant while waiting for Katie to finish the St. George Half Ironman a few weeks ago.  Here they are in no particular order.

1.  People can do hard things.

I know this is an understatement, but it has become a mantra for Katie that I hope is rubbing off on me and our children.  When Katie started running, it was to lose some weight and feel better.  I didn't imagine she would do anything more than the occasional 5k.  Well, she skipped the 5k and went straight for a half marathon.  It wasn't easy for her.  She struggled and she was slow, but I was very proud of her.  She then said she wanted to do a marathon.  I thought the idea was crazy simply because it sounded like a lot of work and a lot of pain.  She did it, though.  I remember seeing her when she still had half the marathon to run, and she was already hurting, just trying to keep going.  I don't remember what parts of her hurt, but I was worried what quitting would do to her psyche as a new athlete.  I was so pleased and proud that she stuck it out and finished.  She wasn't happy with her time, but I was elated she even finished.  During the St. George Half Ironman I knew how hard the course was, but I had very little doubt she would finish because I knew her resolve and commitment to finish no matter how difficult it would be.  We all (athletes and those of us less athletic) can learn and remember that doing hard things strengthens and refines us, and that almost all things worth doing take hard work and diligence.

2. Help others along the way.

I understand that occasionally folks in bike races and triathlons get flats or their bikes otherwise break.  I saw a man in T1 have to quit because his pedal broke off and he didn't have another one.  I was heartsick for him, and I thought I would have been so angry that I wasted so much money on a race I couldn't finish.  Well, Katie came across another athlete who needed help on the bike course.  She offered him what he needed, and he took a few items.  I was proud to hear that she would be charitable enough to help a fellow athlete.  I believe that every day there are opportunities to help others.  There are plenty of times we'll be the one needing help.  I am attracted to the kind of people who serve and help automatically and cheerfully.

3. Never give up.

Katie was having a fine race at the Half Ironman until her bike got a flat.  In fact, I left the T1 before she got there, and she still beat me to a spot about 15 miles into the bike course.  I didn't know she had been there already until I saw her update on the app say she just passed mile 22.  Well, somewhere in that ride she found some adversity.  I'm not talking about the hilly course or the heat, which probably would have done me in, I'm talking about three separate instances where she got flat tires.  This is another reason I don't think I'd want to do triathlons.  I think it's enough work to swim, bike, and run.  If my bike got a flat even once I would resent having to stop and fix it, and it would affect my attitude the rest of the race.  I know, it's a bad attitude, but that's how I'd feel.  If my bike had three flats in one race, I think I might throw it over a red rock cliff.  Well, she didn't.  Thankfully she has more character than the monster inside me.  She actually didn't have all the equipment and supplies she needed to fix her three flats because she lent them out to another racer.  That meant she had to depend on other racers to help her.  Again, I am impressed with people who are racing, but take the time to help another in need.  The lesson I learned here, though, was to never, ever give up.  You'll get there eventually.

4. Others will help you.

I spoke to this in the last paragraph, but I will expound a little.  I believe that in life it is our responsibility to help others when we are able.  Triathletes, for the most part, embody this quality.  With very few exceptions, I have been impressed with distance athletes in general because of their cheerful willingness to cheer each other on, help in emergencies, celebrate each others' successes, and console each other when athletes have a bad day.  I believe that the lesson is well taught by triathlons that not only should you help, but others will help you, too.  Life is the same way.  There are days I just want to go to bed and stay there.  We can't do that, though, can we?  Don't despair.  If we allow them, there will be others in your life who want to help and will help when life's not going well.

5. Do your best-not others'

I know that there is a desire in many to be the best, the top dog, the one on top of the podium.  However, I have learned that one can, and should in my opinion, be happy with getting a personal best.  I have seen people rocked with insecurity because they constantly compare themselves with others.  I admit I sometimes fall into this trap, as well.  I can't remember things as well as a colleague.  I'm not as good a shooter as the guys I play basketball with.  The list goes on and on.  The valuable lesson I've learned from watching Katie and other athletes, however, is that it really doesn't matter how much faster, stronger, and skinnier others are if you are truly happy with your effort and continue to improve.  Now, I admit there are times when we're competing for a job or money, when you better be at the top of your game or expect to lose, but for the most part, life is about looking at myself in the mirror and being able to say I am doing the best I can, and it's good enough.  Don't worry about doing someone else's best, do YOUR best.

I've gone on enough.  Maybe she won't ask me again because I tend to be wordy.  Just remember my athletic (and those not so athletic) that you can do hard things, you should help and accept help from others, never give up, and just do your personal best.  Carry on!

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