Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars. -Kalil Gibran
Impatience vibrated through my body, "C'mon man! How much longer are you gonna be?" The fifteen minutes i had been waiting for the one wheelchair accessible outhouse seemed to bore into my brain with an ice cream scooper.
The race announcer, "Olympic distance men, four minutes till start!" and the wish that i could pee anywhere else, or even in the water, crept up my throat. It hurt. I looked at the bathroom, across sand and rock, with a step leading in, and figured it would just be faster to wait this out, unknowing how long this guy would actually take. I thought about going in the bushes, but too many people and children whirled around in every direction. I could skip it, but my bladder was full and swimming with it that way would not be good. So, i sat and watched, powerless, as racers came and went out of the other outhouses. Some even sitting empty for spans of minutes at a time. Frustration.
FINALLY, the man emerged from the outhouse. I wasn't angry, just stressed and bummed. He apologized and i accepted. There was no time to dwell on it. I had to hurry.
In retrospect, i wish i would have done my research and figured out ahead of time where the start was and where i needed to be, but now, after the outhouse debacle, my friends carried me across the sandy beach and we could not figure out where to set me down. I thought about the pain surging through their arms as we scuttled about asking volunteers for directions. We found the group of racers at the water's edge and figured this must be it. A volunteer with a go-t and walkie talkie nodded that we were in the right place. Phew!
"Racers, TWO minutes till start!"
I had two minutes to put myself all together: specialized custom suit i use for swimming, cap, goggles, etc. Profanities echoed in my brain. Then, in an instant, all the racers that surrounded us switched to a different spot down the beach. NO! I should have had my friends just pick me up like a fish (my suit keeps my legs straight and rigid for planing on the surface while swimming) and follow everyone, but i decided it would be easier to just swim over and rolled into the water. One stroke, two strokes. "Its too shallow!"
The start horn blasted and all the racers disappeared. I was alone, arduously crawling through the 50 yards between me and the start. Standing up and running over not an option. More frustration.
Once in deep enough water, i realized i failed to pass through the start buoys where my timing chip would register. This time, one of the profanities in my head escaped and i dropped an F bomb. I had to swim back to the buoys in order to get timed, so i reluctantly turned around. Once there, i stopped to catch my breath and caught a glance of the shore. The crowd looked on in bewilderment. Everyone wondering what the heck i was doing. And then i saw it. The timing platform sat about 30 yards away on the shore's edge. NO! There was no way i was going to get timed and i wanted to give up. Defeat sank in and it was all i could do to not cry right there. NOW, anger at the guy in outhouse began to swell up inside me.
Right there, interstingly enough, i was faced with the opportunity to practice what i preached the night before at the pre-race dinner where i was the guest speaker and told an emotional story about suffering.
You see, its not about seeing the glass as half full, its about understadning that being broken is where your life begins. When you are at the end of your rope, with nothing to give, close to giving up. That is the dark place you must go through in order to become the person you want to be. Dive into your suffering. Feel it. Live it. Embrace it. The hill you must surmount makes the finish that much sweeter.
I swam on and the frustration gradually subsided. I actually passed twenty people or so even though i started late. "At least i'm not last," i reassured myself.
When i finished, my friends grabbed me and ran me up the beach through the cloud of cheers. Once next to my bike, i slathered on sunblock and doned my helmet, glasses and gloves. I jumped in and started cranking, but quickly realised the gears were not working correctly. I would have to ride the race without the top nine and have to manually shift the crank set with my hand. More frustration.
About two miles into the ride, while wrestling with the emotion of everything going wrong, after everyone i had passed in the water had now passed me on the road (i knew i was actually last because the motorcyle sweeper followed right behind me), something occured to me that made two huge salty tears roll down my face and everything changed. "I'm not here for myself." My struggle, that day and every day of my life, inspires others and being honest with my weakness is true strength.
I rode on, feeling born again in this new realization and at Mile 16, when my right rear tire blew, i sat in the dirt and repaired it in delight. Then, when it blew again and i was out of innertubes, i laughed and got a ride back to the transition area. The beer on the beautiful white sand, surrounded by crystal clear turquoise water and old mountains, tasted refreshing and i simply enjoyed myself, cheering the finishers.
Your struggle is not about you. Share your weakness and inspire your world.
Photos by Minaret Photography