As I anxiously waited for my girlfriend Sue to finish her long day’s journey into night to accomplish the goal of finishing her first-ever Ironman, I stood near the finish line listening to the famous announcer proclaim to each finishing participant….
” (INSERT NAME HERE) YOU’RE AN IRONMAN!”
Over and over the sweet refrain echoed across the Capitol plaza in Madison, Wisconsin.
And then a strange thing happened. The announcer called out my name over the loudspeaker with these words…
“CHRISTOPHER CUDWORTH, YOU’RE NOT AN IRONMAN.”
Shocked and in a state of disbelief, I turned to look at the stage but could not see where the announcer stood. I looked around to see if anyone recognized me, but of course, they did not. A small wave of tittering laughter swept over the crowd. And then the announcer came over the loudspeaker again.
“GET YOUR ASS IN GEAR, CHRISTOPHER…”
So I turned to the crowd standing near me and told them, “Hey, I’m just learning to swim again…”
“That’s you?” someone asked.
“Yeah, that’s me, I admitted. “Actually I’m here as a sherpa for my girlfriend Sue. She’s about to finish, but she had a rough day. Someone swam over her and she took in a bunch of water in her lungs.”
“Oh, that’s terrible,” said a sympathetic grandmother clutching a sleeping child. “Is she okay?”
“She seemed good on the bike coming in,” I offered. “And she ran pretty well through six miles. It’s all gone pretty well, considering.”
“So why is this Ironman announcer picking on you?” the young mother with the gaggle of children standing around their grandmother asked. “What did you do to attract his attention?”
“I don’t know exactly,” I replied. ” I can’t say that I actually consider it a calling. I was thinking of enrolling in seminary school instead. But he kind of sounds like the Voice of God. So now I’m confused.”
“Well, he seems to think you should,” the young woman replied.
“Yeaahhh, I get that,” I said with a chuckle. “He’s not alone. I’ve been asked all year while training with my girlfriend if I’m going to do Ironman too. It’s a question I hear quite a bit.”
Athletes kept streaming into the chute. As I watched them finish and heard their names called out over the loudspeaker, it gave me time to ponder what all this Ironman thing really means. I mean, 140.2 miles of competition is no small undertaking. I’ve watched two Ironman competitions live now, and several Half Ironman races as well. It’s a matter of pride, it seems, to finish, and finish well.
I’ve also trained side by side with Ironman athletes through the heat and drain of summer. I’ve seen them overcome obstacles ranging from injured knees to crushed and ruined bikes in several incidents in which motorists either accidentally or willfully ran them down.
We’ve run together too, and I’ve witnessed the combined effort of long runs, long bike rides and perpetual swimming workouts wear an athlete down. They get grumpy and tone deaf to all but the most important of activities. They can only take so much after all.
And having once trained 100-mile weeks for competitive running, I know what fatigue feels like. It walks around with you. It rules your life. Yet you suit up and go out for another run because that’s what it takes to succeed.
And a few summers back I rode so many miles in the heat my weight dropped to 163 lbs. I actually developed heat injury that was so persistent I could no longer ride during certain times of day, lest I develop the shivers and have to stop and catch my breath.
Now that I’m in swim training with a winter of indoor pool workouts to consider, the notion of being able to swim a mile or two in open water is enticing. I like the idea. But I also know that it won’t come easy. Just like the running and the riding, it all has a cost of one sort or another. At least I know the chlorine won’t ruin my hair.
But the announcer (as I imagined him) was right. I might never be an Ironman. And that’s okay with me. Given my lifetime of competition and well-considered efforts from the past, I might just be satisfied with a Half-Ironman at most.
“CHRISTOPHER CUDWORTH, DON’T BE A WUSS!”
I walked out of the finish zone and gave that some consideration. If there’s one thing I know about myself, it is that I’m not a wuss. So the announcer can have his fun at my expense. I know from whence I came, and believe that wherever I plan to go is the right path for me. Ironman or not, I can be satisfied with life.