In Sickness and in Stealth

author : Scott Tinley
comments : 1
by Scott Tinley
  
Ironman World Champion, 1982 & 1985
Ironman Hall of Famer; Triathlon Hall of Famer

         I hadn’t thought about my rat in a while. He wasn’t really my rat. But I killed him on my roof. So, we had some kind of relationship.          

         These are the opening lines of a story from long ago. I used to have rats on my roof. Still do. They don’t bother me as much now. We’ve achieved a kind of mutual détente. Don’t eat too much of my fruit. Don’t even think about coming into the house and if I have to remove you from the premises I promise not to make you suffer.

         When I first started killing rats on my roof it wasn’t a fair fight. But I was young, macho and afraid that they’d climb into my daughter’s crib, gnaw away at her little toes. There was this big gnarly one who really didn’t like me and desperately wanted to make himself at home in the kitchen cupboards. So I killed him, twice as I recall on account of he lived through the night, dragging his mangled body and the rat trap he was wearing across the roof while I hid under the down covers and listened to that feint, scrapping knock of wood and flesh against tar paper. I felt bad and promised that I would never make his heirs suffer.

         And after I finally ended it all in the morning, buried him wrapped in the sports section of the newspaper, an article on Roger Clemons for him to read in rat-heaven, I tried to build the little guy up for his courage, justifying my actions under the charge of trespassing. But all I was doing was easing my own guilt for not fighting fair. Peanut butter in a slick trap from Home Depot had no purchase on anyone’s valor.

          I’d forgotten about that lack of decency and courtesy until I thought about all the endurance athletes who confuse fitness with health, able-body with physical challenges. Sometimes we want to blame our luck like the way I’d tried to blame the rat for his own grisly end—by thinking we are actually in control of everything.

         That thought gave way to the notion that disease and trauma have no moral difference. And sometimes the harder we train the closer we get to the tyranny of endurance sports—too much is too much. And the costs are never advertised on the label of a race application.  The only thing true about life-altering effects of prolonged over training, disease or getting whacked by a bus is the purity of its randomness. You can get away with it for months, years…maybe even decades. Then something just doesn’t seem right with your heart or your soft tissue or the hardness of a lump.  Oops.   

         Nobody told me. I just did.

         Lots of great triathletes have left their implacable brilliance on history of endurance sport. To hear some of their stories you might glean an out-of-body awareness of your own proximity. But in the quieter moments they might suggest a more practical do-as-I-say not do-as-I-did ideology. It’s a lot easier to be really fit and fast than really healthy and happy. When the magazine and the voices scream that you too can experience a game-changer in less than 17 hours, how will you decide?  It’s not that you feel closer to life or to death by cutting back on your training. More so you have better control over the immutable happenstance that is the long term effects of heavy training. We need to remind ourselves that one day we can do no wrong. And the next we’re drinking out of straw. There it is. Or there it was. Goodbye magnificence. Hello margins.

         Some people don’t like to be around mice or rats. There is that stigma of poverty and deprivation. And other people don’t want to be shown the underbelly of human suffering. But when I think about how much living that the physically challenged have brought to our sport, how their magnificence has taken away our looking glasses and held them up for us to see in a different kind of sky, I think that they’ve made their story our story. They had health. And somebody took it away. The sick and the physically challenged think about loss every day. We only think about it when we lose something. If you lose too much, will you eventually lose yourself? Or will you find the very thing you’ve been looking for? Go ahead; take off a few toes just to see if I’m onto something. 

         To generalize about disease is to generalize about health. I know they dance around each other like two junkyard dogs, but I can’t understand their language or their dialectic. Sport is nothing if it’s not about what the body is capable of. But the great thinkers in history never made the distinction between able and disabled. The challenge was generic, the aesthetic blind to no one save itself and what beauty was possible in human movement. Separation by class, gender, race, skill, and body parts is a recent phenomenon of Modern Sport. It has achieved its discriminatory goal of allowing us to think along separate lines.

         Is Ricky Hoyt’s Ivy League college degree worth less because it hasn’t bought him an M3 with a leather-wrapped steering wheel? Do Rudy Garcia-Tolsen’s gold medals tarnish quicker because they were earned at the Paralympics? And will Jon Blais’ life be any less virtuous because he did not die quietly in his sleep at 91 years old?

         The personal narratives of those who refuse to go quietly, whether told by NBC or over the back fence, resonate because they have what we want. Not the disease or the physical challenge but the spirit that was catalyzed by a gift. Would they rather be whole? Hell yeah. But these people are different. For the most part, they have more of something good than you and I, not traded but earned. Nobody says, “Oh great, I’m paralyzed. Now I’ll find peace.” Pathos and reward, twin sons of a different mother.

         When Jim MacLaren finally passed away in 2010, he woke up in a thousand tales that will carry his kindness well beyond the lives of those he was kind to.

         We should all be so blessed. Or so challenged.

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date: March 27, 2012

Author


Scott Tinley

As the sport of triathlon gained in popularity Scott turned pro in 1983. Between those early years and his move back to the amateur ranks in 1999, Tinley competed in over 400 triathlons, winning close to 100 of them, making him one of the top three winning triathletes of all time.

He won the Ironman World Championship twice (1982, 1985) and the Ironman World Series three times. He was inducted into both the Triathlon and Ironman Hall of Fame upon retirement in 1999.

Near the end of his professional career he helped found and develop the sport of offroad triathlon and continues to co-own and manage the longest running offroad triathlon in the world, Scott Tinley’s Adventures in San Luis Obispo, California.

Scott Tinley's Website

Author

avatarScott Tinley

As the sport of triathlon gained in popularity Scott turned pro in 1983. Between those early years and his move back to the amateur ranks in 1999, Tinley competed in over 400 triathlons, winning close to 100 of them, making him one of the top three winning triathletes of all time.

He won the Ironman World Championship twice (1982, 1985) and the Ironman World Series three times. He was inducted into both the Triathlon and Ironman Hall of Fame upon retirement in 1999.

Near the end of his professional career he helped found and develop the sport of offroad triathlon and continues to co-own and manage the longest running offroad triathlon in the world, Scott Tinley’s Adventures in San Luis Obispo, California.

Scott Tinley's Website

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