Always open to new experiences….that’s got to be your philosophy if you want to grow in this life. Which is why sitting on a grassy hill above the Quarry Pool in my hometown of Batavia was yet another part of a growth curve.
Ten years or so ago I flirted with triathlon training and had taken my very first swim lesson. Then I tore my ACL playing indoor soccer. The resulting rehab and a determination to return to playing soccer took my attention away from doing triathlons.
A year after the injury I was back playing futbol. My knee was fixed using a cadaver ACL stapled to the inside of the joint. For a couple years it was triumphant success. Then on a hot day in June on a greasy wet field an opposing player slid into my leg and the ACL tore again. Click. It ended with little fanfare.
The idea of doing all that surgery and rehab again seemed silly. Soccer and basketball were feeling a bit risky as the body responded with tweaks and tears anyway. Yet I’d learned a lot from physical therapy and turned that into a fitness regimen in support of running and my newly chosen sport of cycling. It was time in life to diversify.
That was 2005, so I took up cycling and got a decent bike. Raced in criteriums and learned how hard cycling can be even for someone steeped in years of distance running and endurance sports.
Of course those eight years from 2005 to 2013 turned into an endurance test of another sort. My late wife worked through multiple rounds of cancer treatment. There were moments of peace between grinding difficulties. But that left little energy or emotional strength for endurance competition. Even a hard group ride was too much to take some weeks. It was like living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Any extra pressure was an affront to the sense.
That’s all to be expected when you encounter the unexpected in life. You do learn quite a bit about yourself when tested by circumstances such as those. Frankly the patience and discipline and flat-out determination you learn in distance sports comes in handy when you become a caregiver by circumstance or by choice. Fortunately lessons of endurance can sometimes be applied directly to your real life. My high school coach called one day to tell me, “Your whole life has been a preparation for this.” And he was right. You learn to tolerate the intolerable.
“Hang in there, it’s just one night of no sleep.”
“Don’t spend time worrying. It only makes things harder.”
“It is what it is.”
Right now I’m guessing that’s what Tour de France rider TJ Van Garderen is saying to himself after having to withdraw from the Tour due to a respiratory infection. All those miles of training, gone to waste.
He was in third place, no less, with the Alps to face. So it wasn’t going to be easy trucking. But dropping out made him disconsolate. In his own words, “I want to disappear right now.” Perhaps you’ve felt the same way at times.
The best we can do perhaps is pray for the guy right now and send him good wishes via social media. The Tour de France is taking the long way round to glory and achievement. Going home without reaching your goal is twice as hard.
Most of us face difficulties in life that at some point cause us to want to disappear. But the wonderful thing about the human spirit is that it does rebound if given a chance. Taking the long way round to triumph is––we learn––one of the greater feelings in life. You know the value of winning much more deeply when you’ve felt a keen sense of loss.
Which is why my experience of standing up for the first time in a wetsuit time felt a bit like that scene in the movie Gravity where the Sandra Bullock raises up to her feet on the sand. She’s just ejected from a co-opted space capsule and weightlessness has left her weak or imbalanced. Yet she struggles to her feet and takes a few steps toward her own recovery. That’s one small step for woman…one giant leap for the human spirit. You go, Girl. Make that Woman. Make that Humanity.
In my own little world, the wetsuit I am wearing is a birthday gift from my companion Sue. With her strong legs and lean frame she reminds me in some ways of Sandra Bullock. Sue has also had to pull herself from circumstances in life. Together we share that pull toward survival.
It is through her that I have gotten involved again, step-by-step, in triathlons. Last year I did a couple duathlons using my running and cycling. This year the results have been very good in that sport.
Meanwhile I have continued to work on swimming. I even changed the tagline of this blog to eliminate the “No Swimming” notation I’d included when it was first set up. I certainly can’t offer much advice to others taking up the sport of swimming. But you should pay attention to form. And swim even when it doesn’t seem to be going well. You learn by doing, correcting, and building on the lessons along the way.
It has taken lots of practice and a bit of recollection of early experiences to become a swimmer again. Now I’m managing multiple laps and my form is truly coming together. Next weekend will likely mark my first Sprint Triathlon. The swim is what kept me at bay last year. That and some wicked Achilles problems.
But first some practice in the wetsuit was needed, and to check the fit. So I pulled on the neoprene suit and stood up on the grass overlooking the Batavia pool. The sight of me drew some strange stares from the pre-teens and teens lounging around the water’s edge. But I walked over to the Life Guard on the east side of the pool and asked him, “Hey, could you help me out with this zipper in back?” He obligingly zipped me up the first time and into the water I went. It felt good. The suit was floaty, sort of. I swam 500 meters as instructed to test out the suit. Suddenly all kinds of things seemed possible.
It’s been a long way round to a triathlon wetsuit. A whole decade has passed since I first imagined doing three sports in one event. Now it’s finally happening.
It’s been a long way round indeed.