By Michael PateAs I stood in line for an open water start at a triathlon at the end of October, I was told that the water was seventy-two degrees. I had no reason to believe that this wasn’t the correct temperature, but come to think of it, the folks in wetsuits were screaming when they hit the water. Well, it was cold standing on the dock waiting to enter the water, but I was certain that the water would feel warm. Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, Wrong - did you hear me? WRONG! I remember hitting the water and gasping for air as I went under. I have been told numerous times that gasping for air underwater is not advisable, so one would think that I would be able to swim without doing it. I tried to put my face in the water, but the same thing happened.
Now I understand how people drown in cold water. I have made great strides over the last few years to be a better swimmer, but this was really screwing with my head. Oh, and I forgot to mention that I was one of the few, the proud, the tightwads that didn’t buy a wet suit. After all, being one of the “Fat Boys,” you’d think I should be well insulated. Well, my scientific study indicates that this is a load of poop! I tried repeatedly to put my face in the water, but I just kept gasping for more air. This kept happening for the first one hundred yards of the race, so I decided that the sidestroke would be my best mode of survival. At two hundred yards, I started trying to find my happy place and tried to remember why in the world I was doing this. Well, this is my reason: I have a great friend who is the first true Clydesdale triathlete that I ever met. His name is Jonathan Silk and I remember seeing him in my first race. He was definitely military and was really in shape - unlike me. Over the next couple of years, we got to know each other better, but then Jonathan’s tour of duty started in Iraq. You know those guys who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that we can race when we want to? Yeah, he’s one of those guys! Well, anyway, he was hit by shrapnel multiple times but was really injured when he got hit in the chest by Rocket Propelled Grenade shrapnel and the impact from it tore his mitral valve and ruptured the tendons holding it in place.
So in late summer, he had to have a valve replacement. Being the over-achiever that he is, Jonathan wanted to do a relay race soon after his surgery, so we signed up to do a race in September that was postponed until the end of October due to Hurricane Rita . I had never thought about quitting in a race before I hit the water that day. At the two-hundred-yard marker, I was ready to let one of the canoes drag me in, but I couldn’t let him down. Somewhere deep down inside, I am sure there were days in Iraq when he would have loved to have turned in all his gear and said “I quit,” but he didn’t! Then and there with more determination than ever, I decided to finish the swim. I did this because Now I understand.As I made my exit from the water, I was colder than I had ever been. I was numb, I couldn’t feel anything and, thank God, I didn’t have to get on the bike. I handed off my timing chip and was excited to have survived the swim. Yes, I survived and without a wet suit. I would have loved to utter something intelligent or encouraging as I handed off my timing chip, but it would have been something like this: it G-g-g-g-good th-th-the l-l-l-luck on st-st-st-stole b-b-b-bike and r-r-r-ride it l-l-l-like you! Which, with a body temperature of 98.6, would have been “Good luck on the bike and ride it like you stole it!” As I turned to go and change clothes, I heard a race official say that the water was a lot colder than seventy degrees, and Now I understand.After my first tri season, I reflected on why people get addicted to this sport. To me, it all came down to the fact that the sport of triathlon is full of people who are accepting and want others to find out the secret about the sport. They couldn’t tell me the secret to the sport - I had to find it myself, but Now I understand! Now I understand that my decision four years ago to train for triathlons is changing my life for the better. I am healthier, happier, and more secure in myself now. I recently ran with my four-year-old son in his first half-mile race – something I couldn’t have done a few years ago. Now I understand that it’s not about my time at the last triathlon of the season. It’s about my time every day with my family. Time that I may not have had if I’d never learned to love this sport. Now I understand that hours spent in training may mean more years with the ones I love.For those of you who have completed your first tri season or your first training ride, you will have those moments that are defined by Now I understand. My challenge to you is to find those moments as frequently as possible and hang on to them. Your moment may come as you feel the exhilaration that comes when you see the finish line ahead. Your moment may come when a fellow triathlete hands you his spare tube when it’s obvious that you don’t have one. Your moment may come when you realize that the perseverance you’ve developed during training is affecting other parts of your life for the better. Look for those moments. Relish in them. Learn from them. That’s what makes us all better people. Copyright When Big Boys Tri 2005
God, Family, Training and Writing