I’ll admit this week I’ve been struggling a bit. I’ve actually had four different blogs written in my mind about everything from racing this weekend at New Orleans to all the emotional ups and downs a tragedy like what happened in Boston can bring about within each of us.
In the end, I still feel conflicted in my approach, but it doesn’t change the fact that I want to write something on paper if only to clear my head a bit and share what’s on my heart in hopes of sorting some of it out.
The essence of my thoughts have been hovering around the beauty of “sports” and "competition" and what it means to each of us. The kind of competitions that keep us coming back year after year, even with many of us knowing that our times or places ahead will never match those of our earlier days. We keep coming back though don't we? Our love of the game is so much bigger than than results or places anyway. I crossed the finish line at Boston in 2005 and it is one of those you never forget. The fans are so passionate and the feeling of being a part of something so historical is irreplaceable.
Those that traveled to the race to compete looked forward to a happy day where they would test themselves throughout 26.2 miles. Riding out the hard parts and reveling in the experience is the part that makes everything worth it when you finally see that line. For the others, a chance to support those that they loved and see their dreams accomplished was as good, if not better sometimes, than seeing their own dreams even come to fruition. It’s what allows those of us who compete to truly be at our best that we have that type of unconditional support.
In the end, I guess I’m realizing that "sport" isn’t really about me, or even you, it’s about us. It’s about the journey that we take to the starting line, the people we meet along the way, how we treat each other and the struggles that we help each other overcome. The older I get the more I look back at my career and think about how much I’ve changed and grown as an athlete, but even more how it’s shaped me as a person to be more compassionate, learn true discipline, commit myself to worthwhile causes to help raise awareness and funds (i.e. Ballou Skies) and feel a part something bigger than myself. It’s deepened my own personal faith and helped me to even share my faith with others which is something I never really anticipated or expected.
My heart goes out to those who never got to cross that finish line on Monday. Regardless of how any race actually goes in terms of our own expectations, crossing a finish line is good for the soul. It gives us that sense of accomplishment and that the sacrifices we made to get there were worth it. Many charity runners who raised thousands of dollars to get their spot on the starting line didn’t have that satisfaction. Even greater still, because of this senseless act of evil, three people paid the ultimate price with their lives.
Yet, we have to continue, we must. Letting this terrible act define us is something athletes know a bit about. We all have war stories to tell and still we train, still we press on. The best we can do is lift each other up, just as we have been doing, and stand together courageous and unwilling to be afraid. I’ve said this before, and I will say it again (much to the chagrin of my own Mother), that I know what I’m doing with my gifts is right where I am supposed to be at this point in my life. Should something happen to me while I’m doing what I love, please know that I don’t regret a single second of living my life to the fullest, taking chances, traveling the world and laying it on the line. It doesn’t define me, but it is a large part of where I am right now and those who try to stop us by placing fear in our heart are not going to get very far…that’s a promise.
As I go into New Orleans 70.3 this weekend, I can guarantee you a couple of things. One is that my heart is heavy for the families and friends of those who lost loved ones this week in Boston, as well as, for those injured and unable to complete their dream of making it to the finish. Two is that I believe sports and competition can bring out the very best in us, as a community and as a nation. We can use this tragedy to banned together and lift each other up in a way that touches many lives. Finally, three, I love to compete, not for the places or for the times, but because it was one of the things I was born to do and no matter the outcome, I’ll be living true to what I wrote on my shoes at the beginning of my season.
In the spirit of lifting each other up, I’d like to take a quick moment to say a few words about my VIP for this race, Tricia Learn. I met Trica three years ago when she contacted me because she was in Pittsburgh and training for some Olympic distance triathlons. She was looking for some advice and help and I could tell she had exceptional potential in the sport. We emailed back and forth many times and finally met in person right before she moved to Dallas to take a new job out of college. As a swimmer and a runner, she lead many races from the start and used the run to close the deal winning her age group more often than not. When she moved to Dallas, she was just starting to get used to biking on her brand new triathlon bike and was looking forward to her race season just beginning in this new area.
When she dropped off the radar for a month or two, I didn’t worry, as I figured she was training hard and busy with her new position. What I later found out from a long email was that the worst had happened and she was in a great deal of pain. As I sat in a restaurant with Kyle, I remember tears welling up in my eyes as I read the story of her on a training ride, being chased by some dogs and after taking her eyes off the road for only a second, she veered off the side of the road, hit a ditch and went face first into the pavement. Her jaw was broken she had multiple broken bones and had lost many of her teeth. Her face would require some reconstructive surgery and her jaw was currently wired shut so she was drinking all of her food through a straw. I could tell it was going to be a long drawn out recovery process, but Tricia assured me that she was courageous in her belief that all things are possible with the strength of God and that she would be just fine in time. After multiple surgeries and physical therapy over the next year she slowly regained her strength and even was able to start exercising a bit again. For a young girl of only 23 this was a lot to handle, but she did it all and never stopped believing she would compete again someday.
Tricia is one of those who really inspire me that anything is possible if you believe enough in your heart that you were meant to do something. She’s now back to training and working on getting ready to do a couple of triathlons this season, two years post-crash. Her potential is endless and I know that if she wants to, she can do anything she wants, including turning pro someday which she talked to me about in one of the first emails when we said hello.
So, Tricia, this one is for you! I asked her to send me some pictures last November because even then I was thinking about her amazing story and how it might help some people who are going through tough injuries or a crash. Whatever you do, don’t give up! Anything can truly happen if you believe!
In the spirit of believing, I’m excited to race this weekend, for Tricia, for Boston and for those who never give up on their dreams…whatever they may be! Let’s do this!