I had the privilege to witness courage, sportsmanship, and the fruits of year-long dedication. I honor you!
On Saturday (April 1, 2017), ironically April Fool’s Day, I raced with you in the Oceanside, CA Ironman 70.3 Race. We raced against clock and competitor to complete 1.2 mile ocean swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run. We had to finish each segment before the clock or we would be pulled out of the race. We had to perform against the elements, cold ocean water, resistant currents, crosswinds and headwinds, hills and ramps, bumps and gullies. We had to fight the physical demands of cold, heat, fatigue, muscle demand, intestinal fortitude, and even our thoughts as we each pushed ourselves beyond our comfort zone.
Athleticism is the fruit of persistent training. I honor the commitment to get-up early for that training swim, run, or bike. I honor that determination to get that workout done even though you have had a long day. I honor the persistence to do that again and again, for days and weeks, logging miles and miles of running, riding, and swimming. You chose to train rather than watch TV. You decided against the crap food in favor of more healthy choices. You sacrificed an hour or two of sleep, over and over again. You may have bonded more with your training buddy more than your kin, as you shared a kind of crazy fanaticism to get prepared for something you likely thought impossible…70.3 miles of racing!
Beyond your persistence and commitment, I honor you for your sportsmanship! I witnessed incredible determination not to quit. I saw it in a 60-year-old athlete clearly struggling and nearly completely exhausted at the 1/2 point of the run. Bolstered by encouraging words of his family he labored on, using a gait pattern certainly not normal, to complete the remaining 7 miles. I saw it in the effort of the “host” who biked a blind competitor up and down demanding hills and through challenging wind. Another athlete ran with a blind competitor to lead him safely through the run. I honor the 63-year-old woman who I watched struggle against fatigue and muscle cramps during the run and finally pulled away from me to finish her race in the glory of fulfillment. I honor the athlete who slowed his race to stop and attend another (formerly a stranger) who struggled with biting muscles spasms of the right groin. Later to have that athlete pledge, “I got your back” and “we can do this together”. Some of you may appear less able-bodied, but you left me amazed as you jogged passed me with your prosthetic limb that I know bangs with pain on every bound. I saw you push your w/c up very steep ramp and some very long uphill climbs. I saw almost universal commitment not to quit in the face of the struggle. I also witnessed compassion, encouragement, and support as you completed this effort, conquered the hill, transitioned and pushed on, renewed your pursuit, and then finished the race! Many congratulations ensued, then knowing smiles and nods. Some of you limped home, others were banged-up and bandaged, but each of you had your victory smile!
Each of you must have had a source of your strength. I had to pull upon all of mine. Perhaps you can relate. I was hit by a bout of anxiety immediately upon starting the race! What are you doing? You are not ready for this! I overcame this doubt by focusing my thoughts as I did during each training swims. I thought of my Heavenly Father, my Savior, the blessing of having the Gift of the Holy Ghost, the hope that the Atonement offers me and the blessings of repentance, and the blessing of being a priesthood holder (“it’s not about me, but about those you serve”). As soon as I started what some might consider a prayer, I got into my groove. Simply reach and pull, repeat! From then on throughout my race, when I started to struggle, I thought of others…my wife, my children, my brother, the triathlon friends competing, and those competitors around me. Each time, my thoughts and prayers for others eased me through the difficulty and helped me find new reserves of strength.
I congratulate all of you! You overcame doubts, too! You overcame fatigue, dehydration, heat, cramps, and pain! Some of you overcame hurdles that none of us would wish to battle. You are victorious!
I invite you to remember that you did not do it alone. Your loved ones made sacrifices of their own and certainly missed you for many of those training hours. Your training buddies helped you stay the course through many months of preparation. They were generous to share their own advice and knowledge. They were lavish in encouragement. Then, there were all the volunteers who cheered you on, served you water or refreshment. Also, the community served you with music, banners, and a refreshing spray of water. Many of you had supporters who traveled the distance, battled the sun and weather, and searched with eagerness among the athletes to find their special one to encourage. Many local supporters buoyed my efforts with their encouragement. I picked up my pace in response to their music. One particular spectator cooled us with the water spray from the front yard water hose.
What did I learn? I can do much more than I thought I could. I am not alone. Kind words of encouragement are powerful. Compassion and support leave long-lasting impressions. Despite the heat of the day and exhaustion of a grueling physical event, I saw the goodness of humanity. I saw a community of support and encouragement. I saw victory over adversity. I saw recognition of accomplishment. I saw the bond of healthy relationships grow stronger. I gained understanding.
Thank you, Ironman organizers, competitors, volunteers, and supporters!