“Hold a higher purpose in your mind. Think of someone, something, much bigger than yourself and race for that.”
Whether a piece of advice is helpful is hugely subjective. But when advice resonates, it can really touch your soul.
There’s a lot of advice to be had on just about any topic, so of course it’s also true of endurance sports. Some of that advice is conflicting, and some of it is pure garbage, but much of it can be helpful to the average age-grouper as much as the elites. From the scientific to the psychological, there’s no shortage of counsel to be had.
Sometimes, the advice is there, but hard to digest until you hear it phrased in the way that just reaches your soul. That line up top, well, that’s some advice that immediately touched my racing soul. From the moment I heard it, straight from the mouth of a pro Ironman competitor in a cheesy but inspirational video, I knew this piece of advice would be key.
For each race, I set tangible goals. But I also sit, a few days ahead of time, gathering my thoughts to bring forward the “something bigger” that I will bear in mind. Truthfully, it has frequently been my brother, who passed away three years ago after a brave lifetime of medical woes. I’ve finished races in tears because the drive to compete with him in my heart was so strong, so compelling, that it was as if he was there watching, every step of the way, every stroke of the pedal, right with me.
Racing, much as there is a strong tri and du community, can be a very solitary sport. After the starter’s pistol (or air horn) sounds, the masses thin out and it’s every competitor for their own self, and largely by themselves. You are left alone to battle your doubts, digest your thoughts, and overcome your physical limitations, be they perceived or real. Spectators see us and cheer at the key turns in and out of transitions, or the finish lines, but there are a lot of miles put in with nothing but your own thoughts or the sight of the next hill looming ahead.
I can’t imagine racing without my brother Adam in my mind or heart. But this year, someone else, and a cause ever so much bigger than myself, will be top of mind, and deep in my heart.
My former work colleague, and now friend, was diagnosed very suddenly with cancer just a couple of months ago. Without getting into telling her story for her, let me just say that she has been an incredible picture of fortitude, from when she first heard those words, to when she heard the next bit of bad news, and the next, right up to and including now, on the doorstep of a long, difficult series of treatments. Stoic, strong, and still sassy.
Tomorrow, this friend I call “Lightning” McQueen — a mother, daughter, sister, wife, and friend to a large crew who clearly love and admire her — embarks on what will be the better part of a year of chemo, radiation, and recovery. Her family is with her, and they and her friends will support her, but ultimately, this must be a terrifying moment, one where she steps over a doorstep onto a journey that few but other cancer patients and survivors can ever understand.
Nerves for an amateur athlete, toeing that start line? Nothing. Even. Close.
Friends, family, and extended family (not to mention the family of our friends) have gone through their own cancer battles. It’s a horrible disease, and we know it will touch even more of us as the years progress. As soon as those words are spoken from doctor to patient, life has changed irrevocably.
For all the public face of the disease, the pinkification of sport, the fundraisers and the awareness campaigns — for all the support people have gotten, they still each had to walk down the hallway to start that road to treatment, one foot in front of the other.
Let us hope that nobody faces that walk alone.
And so here I am, starting race season #3. It is a completely arbitrary, self-imposed, self-indulgent thing. A glorified hobby. Just as friend Joanne’s first treatment fully kicks in, I’ll toe the start line in Ottawa. Much as I know it’s just a coincidence, the irony is not something I can shake. This hobby of mine does mimic what is true about life — that it’s sometimes hard, that it requires flexibility, and that we can push ourselves well beyond our perceived limits to endure.
Endurance, for those of you directly affected by cancer, is a very real thing.
I can not possibly complain about a tough training session or an injury, about race conditions or placing, when I know just how trivial it is relative to the real — yes, very real — issues people face. One can hardly quit because it’s uncomfortable, when there’s no such option to quit for people like Lightning, for all the Lightnings.
“Uncomfortable” pales in meaning.
This year, I’m adding a bright flash of pink to my race kit. Let this be my reminder, but more so, my shout out to this particular rock, Joanne, and to the rest of you touched by this stupid awful thing called cancer — in the past, in the now, and forever.
It takes a phenomenal strength to face down that which we have no choice but to face.
Mad respect, Lightning.