In my closet there sits a pair of old running shoes. They’re white with orange trim and the black Sharpie etching is still visible. The phrase reads “June 8.” As if I could ever forget that date.
June 8, 2008 was my first triathlon. That makes today my two-year anniversary of being an endurance athlete.
I celebrated this morning is grande style — doing a track workout with Sue. I had to run four 1,000-meter repeats on the track. By No. 3 I was ready to throw up.
Ah, do I know how to celebrate a milestone or what?
Actually, I could have picked pretty much any date I wanted to for my athletic celebration. It could have been the day I decided I wanted to do a triathlon, or the day I started training or the day I registered for my first event. It could have been one of the prelude races I did — one of the indoor triathlons or perhaps one of the first 5Ks I ever ran.
But while all those are important markers along the way, my sense of stepping into my athletic identity came at Keuka Lake, when I first survived a complete triathlon.
Those who are familiar with my story know how that day went. I was the last swimmer out of the water. No really. They announced it as soon as I hit land: The last swimmer is out of the water. I tackled the 750 meters mostly by floating on my back and doing a sort of backstroke which was more akin to looking for the poolside bar than in racing through a competition. But I made it. Doubts and tears and all.
The bike portion flew by and I actually passed people on the bike. By the time I got to the 5K run I was back with other athletes. The goal — keep moving forward.
By the time I hit the finish line of my first sprint triathlon I had a huge smile on my face. My parents were there. My brother and sister-in-law were there. Friends drove in from across the Northeast to make watching my race part of a weekend getaway in the Finger Lakes region.
Oh, the race was painful. It was challenging. It was downright hard. It was, until that point, the hardest thing I had ever done.
But there was joy, too.
It’s difficult to articulate. If you’re an athlete, you know that feeling — how the challenge, how seeing how far you can push yourself, brings a mix of exhaustion and exhilaration. For me, it was a feeling of being completely authentic — a chance to exist in a space that felt natural and good and right. It’s a space that I’ve embraced and tried to live in, daily, ever since.
It’s taken me a long time to define myself as an athlete. And what I’ve learned over the last two years is that it doesn’t matter how other people define an athlete, or how other people define you. All that matters is what you believe about yourself.
Happy athletic anniversary to me!