Friday, November 30, 2007

The Individualist Sport

There's a frequent perception that triathlon is an individualist sport.

People point to the sport's primacy on personal achievement, with rankings and times and accolades going to the single athlete. They also point to its fundamental rules, which outside of ITU events requires solo time trials on the bike with no drafting. Often, especially when discussing Ironman, they turn to the sport's origins on the sun-baked wind-blasted humidity-laden fields of Hawaii, where the theme has always been one of the lone athlete taking on the elements. Sometimes, people will talk about how the sport is less about competition against others and more about a deeply reflective, intensely personal, strangely profound journey into the self and one's own humanity.

In many ways, this perception is a misnomer.

Increasingly, we see organized teams on race courses, branded by sponsor logos and adorned with identical uniforms and equipment. There are clubs, associations, organizations with fixed dues, regimented training, and identified rosters. Colleges routinely field teams in intercollegiate competition and mark scores by collective point tallies. Even professionals now identify themselves by team names.

This extends to recreational participation. We seek the comfort of fellow athletes, and attendant camaraderie of shared experiences, understanding of common wisdom, support of training companionship, connection of mutual emotions. We have our network of family and friends, and their words of encouragement, acts of warmth, comfort of kindness, tenderness of compassion, and promise that no matter what happens, they will always be there.

All this, summing to the fact that we are not ever truly alone. Even though we sometimes see ourselves to be.

There are, however, aspects that still make this sport truly, ultimately, undeniably about the individual.

Like the sound of the alarm in the early morning darkness, and the only thing getting you out of bed and the dreamy solace of soft sheets is you. Like the thought of a swim in the midst of pouring rain when everyone else is home, and the only thought getting you into icy waters is you. Like the prospect of a long bike ride when everyone else is taking rest, and the only body pulling you into the pedals is you. Like the step out for a run on a freezing winter's day when everyone else has called it a season, and the only soul out upon the earth is you. Like the constant, never-ending temptation to stop, and call it an end for the night, and the only thing carrying you forward is you.

You. With your ambitions and aspirations, desires and dreams, inspirations and hopes. With your demons and ghosts, angels and spirits, imagined and real. With your varying by parts strong and weak, courageous and afraid, faithful and agnostic, committed and dispossessed, pious and profane.

You. Body and mind, flesh and soul.


And that's what still makes this an individualist sport.

Because no one else can drive you, no one else can push you, no one else can pull you, no one else can lead you. Not in the morning darkness nor the longest stretch of day nor the waning dim of twilight. Not through seasons rolling endlessly by marking your time within this world. Not through water, not upon earth, not beneath the sun and stars and heavens and skies and the silent witness of all creation.

When there's no one else to watch you. When there's no one else to goad you. When there's no one else to carry you. When there's no one else at all.

Only you can imagine for yourself what you want to do.

Only you can decide for yourself what you are going to do.

Only you can go and do it.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The victory is a shared experience with those who support you. Yet a failure should be your own responbility.

At least that's the way I see it.