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Lessons And Humble Pie From a Triathlon

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Ok…. let me lay this out there first: My daughter Grace beat me in the Nautica South Beach Triathlon. There. Got that out the way first. Now, for the rest of the story…

Not sure how many of you have ventured into the world of triathlons. They come in various lengths, but all involve sequential swimming, cycling and running, as quickly as you can, and over the course of a couple (or many) hours. Actually, if you think about it, it’s a little stupid. You could be having a cold beer on the beach.

Anyway, I realized at the finish line that there are three inseparable dynamics in completing a triathlon, each a life lesson.

1. It’s all about the prep.

Can’t even begin to underscore the importance of practice, prep and training for anything. Be it in the classroom, on the job, recovering the lost love of your life, or doing a triathlon. It requires work, dedication, and the mindset that you are willing to 'pay the price.' And, in the end, well… it’s worth it. Seriously…there are only a few ‘free passes’ (no prep required) in life, and you have to be willing to pay the price to be successful. Even at that, while there are no guarantees, investing in preparation and training increases the probability of success.

2. Doing something together strengthens the bonds

Doing anything with your child, or someone you love, makes a world of difference, and changes the life experience. Grace and I have run half-marathons, the Marine Corps Marathon, and participated in numerous adventure outings. It creates a deep, strong bond. If you truly want relationship depth…do things together. It doesn’t need to be a Tri, but it does need to be an activity in pursuit of something to nourish the relationship and grow. So here’s the gist of this bond building, and believe me, it’s humbling...

With a bang in the sky we launched the swim off the shore of South Beach, Miami. I hit the water just ahead of Grace. There were about 3,000 swimmers, total, and there was a half-mile of ocean to stroke before jumping on our bikes for 20.7-miles of mad peddling.

Very seriously, I was ready. 

Prep?  Rocked it. 

Mentally set?  Check. 

Look, I’m not one of these stud guys…I just worked hard to get ready for this thing.

Quite frankly, when it was time for my wave of swimmers to take off, I was moving.  It was fairly rough, with lots of bodies a little too close for comfort, but I kept my stride…except for, well, one near fatal moment.

About a quarter of the way I lifted my head out of the ocean to draw a deep breath of air, and just then a wave overtook me. I inhaled and ingested saltwater…lungs and stomach…problematic.

Still, I kept plowing to the first turn… then, unfortunately, more problems crept in. Couldn’t keep anything down and had trouble breathing. Was barely treading water. I thought, after all that damn training…this is it? I’m not going to go further with that visual, but it was pretty darn pathetic.

Now, you really need to understand the setting. The wave of swimmers behind us is catching up, everyone is splashing frenetically like they’re swimming from sharks, and lifeguards on kayaks are signally that they were going to come fetch me. Grace somehow noticed that these guards were signally to somebody that was in her direct pathway…then she saw it was me. Dad. (Important to note… this was an important race to her and she trained really hard to post a strong finish time. It was also amazingly lucky, for me, that in that mass of humanity in water she was so close.)

At that vital moment, Grace gave up her race…stopped dead in the water and pulled up next to me. Although I told her to keep moving, she refused…and started to push me. Physically pushing as she’s treading water. Truthfully, the smarter thing would have been to get the heck out of the water and call it quits.

So here we go… She’s pushing, “You’re not going to give up!and I’m still struggling, but we slowly paddle our way along. Miraculously we finish, pull up on the beach out of danger, then she turns to me and says, “OK… You’re on your own now. Finish this.”  With her race blown, Grace focused on crushing the next two segments, and that she did.


With that, I kept at it; though, the problem was that I couldn’t keep down fluids. Still, I managed the bike portion without veering off into a canal or Biscayne Bay and slowly transitioned from the bike ride to the 4-mile run (which previously had been my strongest segment), and took off…ever soo slowly. Unfortunately, couldn’t keep the Gatorade down, and had a couple of unpleasant moments as I ran forward (more a jog by then)…but kept putting one foot in front of the other. Left, right, left.

About a half-mile from the finish line, guess who shows up running beside me? Grace. She finished her race, and then came back out on the course to cross the line together. It was truly one of the most inspiring moments of my life: the old man, the sea, getting my ass kicked…and her being my rock. Whew…talk about role reversal!

So you ask, what’s the third lesson? Well, there are actually a lot of lessons in this story, but the one that rises above is:

3. Don’t Quit. While you have breadth in your body…don’t quit. People count on you in all aspects of life. Maybe there are times when we think we can’t go on, that we’re down for the count, that we feel like the race is lost. Well, that’s the moment we need to dig inside ourselves just a little deeper. And maybe, just maybe…you’ll get inspiration from the most surprising sources to keep going.

We both are proud of our shiny medals and finishing the triathlon. But most of all, I’m proud of her. Someone famous once said, “Courage is grace under pressure.” That day, under so much pressure, it was Grace who taught me much about courage.


Postscript… Unfortunately, after crossing the finish line I ended up in the ER later that afternoon with a chest infection, serious dehydration, and some very embarrassing photos of me with IV tubes and monitors. BUT it was still worth it. Every minute of it. 

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