“Isn’t that nice” and other backhanded compliments

When I started thinking about doing my first triathlon there were a million little ah-ha moments. I suddenly found myself surrounded by people who did triathlons. I found opportunities every where. There’s a saying that universe first gives a whisper, then a shout than hits you over the head with a brick to get your attention. I was very close to being hit over the head with a brick before I decided to hire a coach, make a plan and register for my first triathlon.

I’ve read stories about women who signed up for for their first race (sometimes it’s a 5K, sometimes it’s a triathlon) and they win or place in their age group. And then they’re hooked. And of course they’re hooked. Winning has a way of drawing you in because really, who doesn’t love to win?

This never happened to me.

I didn’t win. I didn’t place. I still was hooked.

There were times when I found myself surrounded by people for whom results mattered. Sometimes they would say they didn’t matter, but it was a very unconvincing argument. They would pat me on my head and say, “Isn’t it great you’re still out here,” when clearly my running would never get me close to qualifying for the Boston Marathon, my swim would always leave me one of the last people out of the water and I was still riding the Specialized road bike I bought in 2005.

images-1For a while, I thought I was getting caught up in results, too, but two things were happening: 1. I was secretly comparing my results to other people’s results. 2. I was judging my goals based on other people’s goals. Let me highlight a few key words and phrases from that for you: comparing, judging, other people.

See, it wasn’t the results or the goals that were the problem, it was imposing self-judgment and, at times, substituting other people’s judgment for my own. (Or more accurately my perception of their judgement, which may or may not resemble their actual judgement.)

When I start to feel the “I should” bug creep into my thinking, I take a moment to go back to the reason I started in the first place.

I didn’t start triathlon to win races or place in my age group. I dove into triathlon as a way to challenge myself. It was one big multi-sport adventure where I face fears all the time — the fear of open water swimming, the fear of not finishing, the fear of what people will say if I finish with what they deem a poor time.

But there’s a deeper reason. One that’s connected to my sense of being. That’s when I think back to the summer in the Blue Ridge Mountains with my family. We were visiting my Aunt Mary and my dad, brother and I did some hiking and whitewater rafting. I loved being outdoors. I loved the adventure. I loved the physical activity. I was, however, overweight, with lackluster fitness and a diet that consisted mostly of HoHos and diet Coke.

I started my journey (which eventually led me to triathlon) not because I wanted to be thin or fit into a dress or because if I lost weight maybe I’d get a date to the prom. I did it because in my soul I wanted to be ready to do the things I loved. I wanted to be able to hike and bike and play and embrace all the things I love about life. I wanted to have the energy and the mental clarity to appreciate travel and books and museums and new experiences. And I wasn’t completely capable of that from the place I was currently living.

PITA_swimfinishIt was a slow process, but bit by bit I started to learn on my own. A small circle of friends encouraged me, sharing their knowledge and passion with me as I started to make small changes. And the small changes made me want more. Walking made me want to run. Exploring where I lived made me want to explore other places. I started to become ready for new challenges. My path led me to endurance sports and an entire new set of challenges which includes staying true to my journey while supporting everyone else on theirs.

Go ahead and pat me on the head and say “isn’t that nice that you’re still trying this whole triathlon thing.” Because see, I’m not trying this triathlon thing. I’m embracing my life. And triathlon happens to be part of it. No matter where I finish in the field.

I’m training for the Princeton 70.3 and fundraising for Carolyn’s House, a safe transitional living space in Niagara Falls, N.U. that promotes healing, growth and self-sufficiency for homeless women and children. Through advocacy, counseling, case management and education, Carolyn’s House creates a support system that is free of judgment and discrimination and empowers women to determine the course of their own lives.

Your entire donation stays with the Niagara Falls site and directly goes to programs which help women through educational programs, life skills and counseling.

As a thank you for a $25 donation, you can receive cookies and trail mix, created and prepared by The Catering Crew, a social enterprise business at which trains and employs women at Carolyn’s House.

%d bloggers like this: