Throughout my childhood I swam on a summer swim league, for Hickory Hill. When I was 10 I started to excel, and that summer I was rocking the 50 free. As our big meet with the Orchard Park Country Club approached, my coach prepped me. I was going to be swimming against Margaret, she was one of the best 10 year old swimmers, if not THE best one in the entire summer league!!!! He said he thought I could beat her! I was excited.
It was one of THE events of the summer. Or the week. I can’t remember. I just remember being nervous. Could I beat Margaret? Man did I get nervous.
On the day of the meet I was ready. About 2 hours before the meet began I got the news. Margaret wouldn’t be swimming. She burnt her eyelid on a curling iron! I was devastated (I was also VERY worried about her eye). Suddenly swimming didn’t seem THAT important yet at the same time, NOW what was I going to do?
I remember telling my Dad “What am I going to do? Margaret isn’t swimming?”
“What does Margaret have anything to do with it?” he asked me “We don’t go against people. We get on the block and give our best. And have fun. Sometimes your best means you win, sometimes you give your best and you come in last. No one else should ever have anything to do with what you do in the pool.”
That was a lesson that I took to heart, and I still hold as a priority to this day.
One time, WAY back in 2001, I pitted myself against a friend. I was unsportsmanlike. It blew up the friendship, to this day. And to this day I deeply regret it. How silly. Over what, an Ironman?
I needed that lesson again back in 2001 I guess. It’s kept me on the good foot ever since.
Many times, to other people I have become Margaret. A few weeks ago I got to race Chattanooga 70.3, and a friend came up to me. They apologized in case I heard them giving splits to their friend, their friend’s goal was to beat me. I smiled. While it’s such an honor to be a feather in someone’s cap, I hoped they had better reasons to come to this race, than to beat me.
On any given Sunday we can come in first, and we can come in last. So many things happen on these race courses, the equivalent of burning your eyelid on a curling iron. To put all your eggs in the basket of beating someone else is sad quite truthfully. I live for being on a race course and getting to those finish lines together. I live for those moments where you meet people you will never see again but will never forget. The past 25 years of my triathlon career have been filled with those.
By the way, that person didn’t beat me. I hope though, that they left the race course feeling fulfilled by what it was they were able to do. Not everyone makes it to a finish line, hell not everyone makes it to the starting line. We are all out there to help one another become our best. As Dad said, what matters most that we give our best and have fun.
I loved everything about Chattanooga 70.3 I felt good on the swim. I biked conservatively. I was able to run! It took me 15 months to buoy myself from this injury and this grief. To think they were separate would be foolish. It didn’t matter if it was my heart or my calf, both had been shattered and every step on that course felt like pure joy.
Have I gone faster at this distance? Oh gosh yes. In 2004 I was the first winner of the Musselman in 4:48. I was a sub 5 regular at the same weight I am now (I had a coach who was very weight focused, which is why I mention that). I don’t chase the past, I never have. I create the future. Another amazing lesson from my Dad.
But let me back up. It took me about a year to get to the finish line of Texas 70.3 in April. My goal was to make it to that finish line healthy, and if I did, I would engage my coach Jessica (she just won Ironman Tulsa by the way). I worked with Jess through the pandemic and right up until Dad got sick. She was shoulder to shoulder with me the whole way through that and his death.
Right after Texas we started working together. In the 6 weeks we had between Texas and Chattanooga she helped me break through the anxiety about my injury that I had. It was awesome. I finished Chattanooga 70.3 feeling confident about my run, feeling like I was in excellent finisher’s shape, and so fulfilled. The 70.3 distance is my favorite yet it’s always been an afterthought as I always do them preceding an Ironman.
At that finish line I suddenly thought, why are you waiting to focus on this distance until you do ANOTHER Ironman? What do I have left to prove at the 140.6 distance? I have podiumed. Gone sub 11. I have qualified for Kona 3 times. What am I chasing?
While my Dad seemed to want me to do Ironman again, I know that what he was really trying to do that day in the hospital, is to get me to move forward. I could have set the goal of going over Niagara Falls in a barrel and as long as that got me to move forward he would have supported it (and freaked out).
This was a post race conversation we would have had a blast with. Even as a 49 year old. And he would have told me that I should pursue whatever it is that allows me to give my best effort, and have fun.
So I am thinking of deferring my 10th Ironman. Maybe forever. To be determined. I need to determine that soon.
As I said, I loved Chattanooga 70.3. The current wasn’t flowing in the swim yet I swam well. I biked conservatively, and used a new nutrition plan that went really well. I launched my favorite spare kit on train tracks and had to stop twice to align my back wheel. Those things are things that happen on race courses and the nuances of those plus a lot of people on the course was not enough to temper the absolute joy I felt. The course was amazing.
And as a massive bonus I was sharing it with the “LFG crew”, and I am not sure it gets any better than that.
I couldn’t WAIT to get to the run. This run course was one of the best run courses I have ever had the honor of competing on. We ran on a path, then over two bridges that crossed the river. Chattanooga is such a cute and fun city and everyone was out cheering.
Before I turned to the finish line Mike Riley was suddenly on the corner and I got a big high five from him. What a lift!
I finished this race feeling so happy. I feel like it’s taken me a long time to come back to the surface from the very deep well that my Dad’s death has been. My heart will always be broken. If you are connected with me on social media, then we have also talked about this concept of Kintsug (did you see it in Ted Lasso last week too?).
Through the past 15 months I have done the very deep and difficult work, of moving through grief. I have worked with a wonderful grief therapist, and people showed up for me. Holy cats did people show up.
They say that there are people who will show up at your funeral. Then there are people who will show up on a Tuesday (or whatever day!). My Dad’s death, it brought those people. Those people showed up on a freaking Tuesday. I have held their hands so tightly and we walked together. That’s why my boundaries are strong. That’s why my circle is tight. Nothing will solidify your priorities faster than your life shattering into pieces.
While it was shattering that my Dad died…. it was HOW he died that was the final blow. Through the 8 months that our son sustained an injury that required surgery, to Curt’s cancer diagnosis, surgery and miracle and my Dad’s brief illness and out of left field way he died, it was hard. It was like every time we crossed the street together, we looked both ways. We held hands. We made sure it was safe. We had everyone together.
Then the last time we crossed that street we got hit my a damn airplane.
We never saw that coming.
It’s been a horrible, but beautiful journey back to the surface. I am crystal clear on a lot of things now. That happens when things like that knock you so far off your feet, that you aren’t sure you will ever get up again.
With a lot of help, I got up.
In the span of 6 weeks I hit two 70.3 finish lines. I am curious to find out what kind of competitive shape I can get into. I am not interested in capturing old PR’s, I am interested in creating new ones. I am older. Wiser. Stronger now.
I have somehow surrounded myself…. with Valor.
I did end up winning the 50 free that summer night back in 1984. Hickory Hill versus the Country Club. It didn’t matter that Margaret wasn’t there (her eye was fine and she continued on to an incredible swimming career, and she was / is an even better person). I distinctly remember my Dad’s words that day, they flipped a switch for me immediately.
Give it your best. Have fun. The rest will take care of itself. To his sentiment I will add, when you make things (even races) all about you, you will lose your purpose and you will lose your way. You can still pursue your personal best and all of those goals you set, while along the way lifting one another up.
It’s a much richer way to compete, and to live.
I am eager and curious and painstakingly patient. Where can we go? I don’t know. What I do know, is that I have the right people around me. Just as much as they help me, they know I am here to lift them up as well.
Like Margaret ultimately did for me.