Saturday, July 19th, 2014
At the beginning of each triathlon season, most triathletes sit down and plan their races based on their goals. Some goals are event based – “I want to qualify for X championship race.” Some goals are time/distance based – “I want to do a sub 5 hour 70.3.” Others are competition based – “I want to finish on the podium, or at least beat my brother who won’t quit bragging about the last race where he bested me.”
While I’ve built previous seasons around each of those different types of goals, this year is different for me. This year my goals are “happiness based.” I want to get out there as often as I can, and have as much fun as I can. In my head, whoever smiles and laughs the most during the race, wins. And I’ve got a chance to break the tape in that competition. After all, this is a hobby. If I’m not having a good time and I’m making myself miserable mile after mile, what am I doing wasting my time? I should take up painting instead. That sounds much more relaxing.
Why is this year so different?
In February 2013, I severely overestimated my skiing skills. I had a major crash coming off of a big jump. I fell +20 feet out of the sky and straight on my back onto hard packed snow. I managed to fracture 7 vertebrae, was strapped into a rigid back brace for weeks and was on a heavy dose of pain killers for months. Every sneeze and hiccup felt like I was being stabbed in the back. I’d wake up in tears every few hours when my pain killers wore off, desperately grabbing in the dark for my next dose. The littlest slip or trip up caused panic, fearing a major fall and spinal cord injury.
There were periods where I didn’t know if I would walk again, or tie my shoes, or even have the flexibility to reach and put the seat down on the toilet, but I eventually healed enough to do all of those things. (My wife was happier about the last achievement than I was.) The most basic things that I used to take for granted were now huge achievements.
Fast forward to 15 months after my crash, and plenty of physical therapy and recovery time, and I completed my first post-injury Olympic-distance triathlon at Rev3 Quassy. It wasn’t my fastest race or my longest race, but it is by far the one that I’m the most proud of because of what I’d overcome to get there.
After seven years in the sport of triathlon, finishing countless races from sprints to full 140.6 distance events and now returning from a traumatic back injury, I now have a whole new and different appreciation for what my body was capable of. I’ve also achieved a whole new level of gratitude that I probably couldn’t have reached in many other ways.
I recognize that there will be some day when my body won’t cooperate and let me race triathlons. That day may come sooner than I’d like, but it isn’t today. And today I am going to have a blast doing it.
Whatever your triathlon goals are this season, make sure they make you happy. Because I don’t care what the clock says. In my mind, whoever has the most fun during a race, wins.