Thursday, February 16, 2006

february 14

originally written for the USC Triathlon Newsletter 02-16-06

Feb. 14...Yes, admit it, you shudder every time the date rolls around. Either you forget, or you freak out under the pressure of what to get your sweetie, or you suffer the alienation of lounging on the couch while your buddies get their schwerve on, or you just move to vomit beneath the onslaught of pink and sweet and touchy-feely luvvy-wuvvy-dubby oochy-goochy-coochy goodness.

And there's the fact that for every relationship that gets kick-started off a day like this, there's another that gets drop-kicked into the corner round file. Like yours, when your supposed steady makes clear that all those jokes about your training weren't really jokes, but hints about real trouble that was THEIR trouble but is about to become YOUR trouble. Like yours, when your "friend" looks at you in disgust and says "You spend more time with your bike than you do with me." Like yours, when your mate gives you the ultimatum: "It's either your bike or me, and if you ride in the morning I'm not going to be here when you back."

Your response can be to joke about the bike. To talk about the hard curves and supple surface, the twinkling of the frame in the night and the wheels whispering your name. You can be sarcastic and mutter that the bike will never abandon you. You can comment that the bike at least accepts the sacrifices you're making for it. But that doesn't mean much when there's somebody else involved. And to them, it's not funny. And they've mandated you make a choice.

We all make choices in life, and we have to live with the consequences of those decisions. The real issue is what consequences we are willing to accept. Once you understand that, you will do what you have to do.

For this particular decision, for this particular stage in your life, for this particular choice of consequences, you know the challenges that lie ahead, and you know that you must face them prepared, and you know what preparation requires...And you make the decision you have to make...So when the morning comes, you pull out your shoes, you roll out the bike, lock into the pedals, and roll off quietly into the sunrise.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

first race

originally written for the USC Triathlon Newsletter 02-09-06

The first time is always a little...interesting. Strange things happen. Things that you wouldn't expect, or even know to expect. Like a GU misfire that goes sideways into the spectators instead into your mouth. Like a flat tire that magically appears just as you're getting set to power out of T1. Or a wetsuit that somehow manifests an irritating seam at your neck that rubs your skin raw and sends salt water into the open wound. Or a burr in your shoe that goes from an annoyance to a hotspot to a blister that pops just as you're trying to make the homestretch to the finish. Many strange things happen.

And there's really nothing you can do.

It's just part of racing. Things sometimes happen that are beyond your control. Chaos still rules the universe. Equipment failure. Bad course directions. Crashes. Bad refereeing. Bad penalty calls. Malfunctioning alarm clocks. Power outtages. Things sometimes just happen. The japanese have a word for this: shikataganai.

The question is, what do you do?

Well, for one thing, you don't give up and sit on your coach and whine. If you've decided to race, you might as well finish. If you've decided to show up, you might as well commit. If you've expended the time and training, you might as well give it your best shot.

Because you can't control everything. That's just life. All you can control is yourself. All you can do is to decide what you want to do, and to do what you've chosen to do. All you can do is to do your best. All you can do is to make sure you are as best prepared, most ready, most committed, most passionate, most determined person you can be. And then leave nothing on the field, so that when the game day is over and all is said and done and no matter what the outcome, you can honestly look yourself in the eye and say you did everything you could.

Lance Armstrong described his mentality in responding to a challenge during a particularly difficult day at his last Tour de France: "You can either stay and fight, or you can go home and cry to your momma...I chose to stay and fight."

Given the vagaries of race day, given the chaos of life, that's all you can do. Regardless of the outcome, that's all you can do.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

citius altius fortius

Citius. Altius. Fortius.

The words are inscribed on the stones of the main entrance to the original Olympic stadium of the ancient Greeks. They have been adopted by the modern Olympic movement as a sign of continuity with the original Olympic ideals.

Faster. Higher. Farther.

The words call upon athletes to surpass the achievements of the past and aspire to greater performances. They command abandonment of complacency and stupor, and assert a spirit of motivation and ambition. Implicit in their meaning is the need for progression, growth, and improvement. In accordance with the ancient Greek beliefs, this meant not just in athletics, but in all facets of human existence: in body, in mind, and in spirit.

The words are a creed of a species seeking to make something of itself greater than what it is; a creed of the ideal of perfection, and the belief that perfection is possible.

There are those who say that perfection is not possible. That perfection is but a dream. That human existence is a record of weakness and frailty, mistakes and misadventures, indolence and apathy. They point to the long history of human suffering, and mark our nature as one inclined to the basest instincts and worst desires. These are the voices who repeat that human legacy is a nothing more than a funeral pyre to the futility of life.

In some ways, such voices may be right. Perfection may not be possible. Perfection is an ideal, and so by definition may beyond the realistic hope of our species.

But in so many ways, such voices are wrong. We are so much more than the most horrific moments of our history. We are so much more than our worst fears. We are so much more than our weaknesses and frailties, mistakes and misadventures, indolence or apathy.

We are those who say we can be more. We are those who wish to arise from history, and pursue a future of noblest virtues and highest hopes. We are those who insist that human existence can be greater than what it has been, who seek a human legacy that is a guiding beacon to what life can be.

We believe that perfection is possible. We believe that progression is possible. We believe that we can be better than what we are. We believe that even though we may fall short of perfection, that the effort of our labor and the energy of our belief will have carried us far beyond from where we were before, and that will have caused us to transcend life as it is and brought us closer to what life can be.

And we believe that this alone is enough to justify our beliefs, and that this alone is ample reward for all that we have done.

Faster. Higher. Farther.

In body, in mind, in spirit.

Citius. Altius. Fortius.