It was 2003, I believe. As I was driving north toward Hyannis, Massachusetts, even I was having trouble making sense of what I was doing. Everyone else had bailed out and I had the same exact option. I was supposed to be part of a 4 or 5 person group who were all going to compete in the Hyannis Sprint Triathlon. My girlfriend (now wife) and her friends had made all of the arrangements. I was tagging along for my first triathlon experience. On the day of our departure at the last minute, everyone decided not to go but for some reason I went. Due to all of the uncertainty about the others, I got a late start. After 11pm when I arrived to town, the bed and breakfast where we had reservations was shutdown for the night. So I started scouring the town for a hotel room. The first place that I went had nothing. Luckily the Days Inn had one room left, the “honeymoon suite,” complete with mirrors on the ceiling and a heart-shaped bed. It was not ideal considering I would only be sleeping for about 5 hours but I took it.
Although the race didn’t start until later in the morning, I got to the headquarters around 5:30am because I needed to pick up my race packet and drop off my bike. My first triathlon was off to a bumpy start to say the least. Luckily my registration was done ahead of time and that was the first thing to go off without a hitch. Ill prepared, on my own and completely unsure of the task in front of me; I sat and waited. The swim was by far my weakest event and it is first. Despite being a triathlon newbie, I had received one piece of good advice from a veteran weeks prior, wear a wetsuit. It helps to keep you afloat slightly. Even though I had that slight help, I still swam very slow. Out of nearly 1000 competitors, I was around 800th after the swim (from results after the race, no idea at the time).
My ability on the bike was definitely better than my swimming but my equipment was not. I had borrowed my older brother’s mountain bike for the weekend and although it was functional, it wasn’t set up for speed. Of course I really can’t use that as an excuse because a few miles in, I was passed by an older gentleman on a bike from the 1950’s (I’m guessing). He had no gears or special clipped in shoes and he passed me like I was standing still. Luckily I was also moving up in the pack. I focused on one by one passing the person in front of me. By the end of the bike, I had climbed into the 500s out of 1000.
The run was by far my best event. Having been a track athlete and soccer player, I knew how to pace myself over long distances. However my legs were heaviest during this portion of the race. After about a mile, the weight of my legs was starting to get into my head. What was I doing? No one was here to cheer me on. I was alone. Whether I ran harder or not, that fact was not going to change. Then I started thinking about my girlfriend. Even though I knew she wasn’t there, I became fixated on the thought of her and my legs felt lighter. So I picked up the pace and began catching as many people as I could. Although I knew it really wouldn’t matter one way or another to her, I was able to mask the pain of the moment by associating my performance with her. Much like the knights of the past used to go into battle to win the favor of a lady, I put that emotion into my legs. By the end of the run, I had progressed to the low 300’s.
When I crossed the finish line, I still did it alone but I had a full heart. Although I had entered the race ill prepared and unsure, I walked away from the event feeling more certain. Since I had already paid for a hotel room that I used for about 5 hours, I wolfed down as much post race food as I could. Then I had just enough time to go back to the “honeymoon suite” to take a shower before checking out and going home.
This story is about me but it applies to many more people. There are battles to be waged throughout our lives. Some are simple and fleeting like a triathlon. Others are complex and life altering like cancer. Regardless of which you are engaged in, it’s important to realize that you don’t need to be alone in that fight even when you are alone. People believe in you. They care about you and want you to win. Sometimes that can be hard for them to say. Perhaps they don’t even know that you need to hear it because they just think it’s implied. In a world where we can send and receive messages from around the globe through a device in our pocket, we can forget to send the simplest of messages to the person next to us. Perhaps we need to turn off that “connection” device and get reacquainted with the device inside of our chest. It can also send and receive.
Now more than ever we have the opportunity to connect with those that we love in order to raise each other up. There are things in this world worth fighting for and most of us have more ability than we realize. Sometimes it just takes the right person believing in us to bring it out. Don’t wait around for them to say it though. Just trust that it is out there. No matter how many people are cheering you on, you need to show up first. You’re worth fighting for!