As I have reflected over the Tri season this year, I thought about some of the people that I don’t think I will ever forget. At almost every race, I have had time to study the transition area and I have seen the different ways each athlete methodically places each of their race items in their own special way. However, I have had the opportunity to see some incredible competitors that have left a lasting impression on me. Little did they know they would make an impact in my life, but they did.
The first is not from a story that someone told me or I heard about this triathlete. It was a muggy April morning and several members of our local tri club had driven to a small triathlon that was set up for first timers. As we arrived and picked up race packets, we began to see old friends from last year’s season and quickly we made new ones. As I looked around, I could see several members of our Tri Club helping out some of the newbies. We all made our way to the swim and that was when I saw him. I could see it on his face - it was a confident look, but for some reason I could sense that he was a little nervous. As he turned, I could see that somewhere in life, he had the terrible misfortune of being burned over the majority of the rear portion of his body. I am not a burn specialist, but you could just look at him and tell that he had fought to get to the point of competing in a triathlon. I don’t know if it was his first or his millionth, but I knew that if this guy had made it through something that had to be as terrible as the scars apparently indicated, the battle just for life itself was probably more than most of us could ever start to even imagine. But somehow this guy had fought back and had come to the point where he was able to compete in a triathlon. As far as I was concerned, his disfigured body was not really disfigured at all. It was a symbol of the battles that he had already won. I never got to speak to the guy, didn’t remember his race number, I might not remember his face if he walked up to me, but he reminded me that the battles that we fight are sometimes minute compared to the battles of others.
Then there is this guy and his name is Ed. Ed has been at almost every triathlon that I have ever been in. He was even at the first one I ever went to and I still remember him from then. Ed can take the wind out of your sails when he passes you or if you start in the same bracket as him and you see how far he is ahead of you on the run. What is so special about Ed? Well he is about six feet tall and probably weighs in at about 180 pounds, has a smile on his face, is a pretty good swimmer, a pretty good biker, an o.k. runner and get this ------ he’s SEVENTY PLUS YEARS OLD! If you take his age into consideration, he is probably the best racer on the course. He always, even if he is having an off day, is giving it his all and you can just look at him and tell that he loves to be out on the course. In the last race that we raced in together, I shouted out to Mr. Ed (now that you know that he is in his seventies, I’ll show him some respect), “One day, I’m going to catch you!” He just smiled, as if to say “If you catch me that’s fine, I’m not out here to show anybody up, I am out here to have fun.” Mr. Ed, I hope that I make it to seventy and if I do, I hope that I have people trying to catch me.
In my last race of the year, I really was shot mentally going into the race. The evening before the race, I stopped by the race area to pick-up my race packet and get familiar with the surroundings. While standing in line, I couldn’t help but over hear the guy in front of me telling his story. He was probably 5’7” and athletically built, and looked like the typical triathlete. The lead-in to his story went like this:
“You know, you will probably blow by me on the run, I’m just out here for the fun of it.” The other competitor that he was talking to said, “Oh, you’re not a good runner?” And he replied, “No, I’m slow on the run because I have no other choice. I have had both of my hips replaced and one of my knees rebuilt, so I have to walk on the run.” Then and there, I guess this probably gave me a good little kick in the butt. Then he told the guy that he wore a sign on his back during the race, that said “Two hip replacements, and rebuilt knee! What am I doing out here!” If this guy shows up and gives it his all and has that many problems, then why should I even think about having an off day? On his best day, he probably feels worse than I do on my bad days.
Every race we can learn from those around us. I am sure you have seen similar people or heard their stories that may have made you realize the same thing, but the day that we fail to notice these unique individuals, we are missing one of the greatest parts of this sport. Most of us have our battles that we face in each race, but when it comes down to it, our battles may be pale in comparison to those faced by others. Focus on your race, but don’t miss out on the things that assure us we are fortunate to call ourselves triathletes.
The rewards for those who persevere far exceed the pain that precedes the victory. Karen Bliss Livingston – Elite road racer, captain of the Saturn cycling team
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