Tri Numero Tres: The challenges and its life lessons

This past weekend, my family travelled to lovely Missoula, Montana. While there, my husband I participated in our final Olympic length triathlon of the season – The MTCC Garden Valley Triathlon.

I won’t bore you with a play-by-play of the race, but I will share a few challenges I faced. I happen to be going through some personal challenges right now as well (but won’t bore you with those details at the moment, either), and races like this remind me of the many parallels between athletics and life.

So here’s my humble attempt at a little Philosophy 101.

I started at the back of the pack in the water. I thought if I could better control the situation and avoid other swimmers, I would breathe more calmly at the start of the race. But my strategy didn’t work. I still panicked.

If we try to control everyone and everything in our lives, we may only end up gasping for air. Learning to let go may not be easy, especially for a Type A personality, but is beneficial for a multitude of reasons.

But I hyperventilated in the swim again – not just once, but twice. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why this keeps happening. Was it the climate (55 degrees at the start of the race, to be exact) or cold water? Is it a fear of what lies beneath the murky water or a kick in the face from a friendly person passing by? Or is it my foggy goggles and inability to see around the next buoy?

Like the weather on race day, we can’t predict what’s going to happen to us next in life. We have no way of knowing if the path will be hilly or flat, or if blue skies or black clouds will come our way. When fear takes hold, it paralyzes our mind’s ability to think creatively. Even with clear vision, our judgment is often clouded. We often miss buoys, swimming in the wrong direction until we hear a voice that gets us back on track.

So I turned over on my back. I thought if I flipped over and kept kicking, I’d calm my nerves and slow down my sporadic breathing pattern. But it didn’t work. In fact, I veered further off course because I can’t swim a straight line when I can’t see where I’m going. Then I panicked even more.

If we look in the wrong direction, we’ll drift even further off course. But if we look forward and concentrate on what’s immediately in front of us, we’ll start to see our way again.

I tried a new stroke. I tried the breast stroke, even though I’m incredibly slow at it, in hopes I could catch my breath. But this didn’t help either.

A new approach may not always get us back on track, but at least it keeps us moving. If we’re not in action, we’ll never learn from our mistakes and improve upon them.

Then I hung onto the rescue boat for dear life while I caught my breath. Since all else failed, I swam over to the friendly race ref and stopped in my tracks. Not just once, but twice. He suggested I breathe differently. He encouraged me by saying that I could swim well (when I could actually swim).

Encouragement and support go a long way when you’re down and out. Don’t be afraid to let others help guide you along your path. Their words of wisdom may be just what you need to hear.

And I prayed. A lot. There’s nothing like fear of drowning that brings us closer to a Higher Power. So I first prayed I wouldn’t drown. Then I prayed I could calm down, catch my breath, swim like I knew I could and finish the race. Ah…at last, I could breathe.

Isn’t this when Faith serves us best? When we’re truly dead in our tracks? Maybe that’s what it takes to realize we can’t go the journey alone.

I was in last place. When I let go of the boat for the last time, I looked up to see every race participant in front of me, many by long distances. Though I have joked about coming in last place, I never actually do. So I told myself this was more about overcoming fears than winning races (or losing them, the relevant scenario in my case). About fighting adversity and continuing on. About the next stroke, not the next event. About the fresh air, not the bottom of the lake I couldn’t see.

We’ll always lose our breath. Panic. Get kicked in the face. Go the wrong direction. But with some deep breaths, a calm mind, faith and perseverance, we can conquer most anything that comes our way.

I caught three people on the swim before I got out of the water. And they had been considerably ahead of me! If only I can breathe, I can actually swim pretty well.

OK. I admit it. A little boost to the ‘ole self-confidence never hurt things.

I lost my clip one mile into the bike ride. Though I was thrilled to be out of the water, I wasn’t so happy to hear a “clang” one mile into this portion of the race.  The clip on my shoe – the one that attaches to clip-on pedals – decided to fall off. After wearing the same shoes for nearly 8 years, I’d have to say the timing could have been better. Needless to say, I slipped and slid the next 24 miles of the ride. But I still averaged the same pace as my last race.

Even when we’re breathing freely again, we will still experience set-backs, bumps in the road, hills to climb and equipment malfunctions (in my case, this includes memory loss, tennis elbow, back pain and other aches). With the right attitude and a little elbow grease, we’ll keep pedaling along. And even fast at times.

I passed a bunch of people on the run. I kept spotting folks in front of me and moving comfortably in front of them.  Though I knew I wasn’t going to put the race leaders on alert (in fact, they had long ago finished), it felt good to compete! If only I could swim like I could run!

Heck, we all have our strengths and weaknesses, good and bad events. We have to work with what we’ve got, and do the best we can. Just as long as we enjoy the journey, who cares what the prize is?

I won a white rose. For placing third in my age group. Now it may have been 3 out of 3 (the race results are still not live), but I was still excited to accept my award (as was Luke, who didn’t know the difference anyway).

Don’t give up. You can finish the race, too. And through the eyes of a child, we’re a hero no matter if we come in first place or last.

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