Thursday, May 08, 2008

A Triathlete's Mother's Day

note: in the U.S., this year Mother's Day is Sunday, May 11.

She didn't always approve of your involvement in triathlon.

Her appreciation of sports was limited. For her, it was just a past-time, a means to other ends: alleviation of boredom, making new acquaintances, attaining a medically desirable level of health. Beyond that, it was a luxury, an extravagance, and ultimately a waste of time. To her, it was by necessity secondary to the other priorities of life and living. No one, at least in your family, had ever demonstrated that there was any other justification for it. As your mother had once so quintessentially observed: "You're not a professional athlete, so why are you pretending to be like one?"

Which is why you didn't tell her about your decision to do triathlon. You didn't tell her that it was actually 3 sports in 1. You didn't tell her that it meant training for swimming, and then biking, and then also running. You didn't tell her that it meant hours per week, and months, or years. You didn't tell her that it meant equipment, which meant money, or the equipment maintenance, which meant even more money. You didn't tell her that it entailed an increase in your food bills, or the cost of club memberships, or the price of race entry fees, or the charge of insurance dues. You didn't her it meant a change in lifestyle, or outlook on life, or the nature of who you were.

And you certainly didn't tell her about the risks of drowning, being eaten by sharks, catching water-borne illnesses, getting hit by cars and trucks and bikes or even pedestrians, or being attacked by assorted wild animals and plants and even people on the running trails, or skirting hypothermia in winter and heat exhaustion in summer, or sustaining chronic repetitive-motion syndromes with bizarre names, or just simply becoming injured in freak accidents with no explanation whatsoever.

You didn't tell her these things, because you already knew what she would say.

Which is why you weren't surprised when you finally did tell her. She made it clear to you that she did not approve. At best, she could offer only a grudging acceptance...and with an air of resignation, at that.

Which is why you weren't surprised when you then told her you had decided to do Ironman. Being a medical professional, she made it known to you that there were dangers associated with extreme endurance sports, including risks of permanent debilitation and possibly even death, and gave you the full litany of the reasons why this was not supposed to be physically possible. Being herself, she also made it known that this was also pointless, and served no purpose, and constituted an activity several orders of magnitude beyond that required or recommended for healthy living by any normal, perfectly sane individual.

Which is why you weren't surprised when you invited her to join you on your trip to Ironman New Zealand, and you noticed very clearly that she glossed over the Ironman part, and that she made it a point to describe it as just a family vacation, and that she insisted she was really just going to see a country she'd never visited and explore a culture she'd always wanted to learn, and that she fully expected you to be traveling with her, and not the other way around.

You accepted this as being as much as she could offer, and satisfied yourself that she had given you this much.

But then came race day.

And you noticed that even though she had told you she wasn't going to be able to wake up in time to see the swim start, she was standing on the shoreline as the pack turned the first buoy by the shores of Taupo Lake.

And you noticed that even though she had said she wasn't going to walk all the way into town to catch the swim-to-bike transition, she was there at Taupo Domain to see you off as you got out of T1 and started your 112 mile ride.

And you noticed that even though she had mentioned that she wasn't sure if she could stay out the entire portion of bike leg, she was there at the Lake Terrace roadside in front of the hotel for each of the 2 loops you went by.

And you noticed that even though she had talked about retiring before you made the bike-to-run transition, she was there at Kaimanawa Street as you struggled into your running shoes and staggered out of T2 and climbed over the girders of the temporary steel street-bridge and stumbled off to start your marathon.

And you noticed that even though she had been adamant about not staying for the run, she was there by the same spot on the grass under the shoreline tree by Rifle Range Road in front of the hotel each of the 2 times you went by.

And she'd been there. The entire day.

And she'd been cheering for you, calling your name. The entire day.

And it had been cold, and wet, and rainy, and windy, and miserable. The entire day.

So when you crossed the finish line, you thought you understood why she wasn't there: you accepted this as being as much as she could offer, and satisfied yourself that she had given you this much.

But then you made it back to the hotel.

And you saw that sometime as night had begun to fall, she'd gone into both transition areas, and had retrieved all your equipment: your bags and bike and helmet and shoes and glasses and goggles and bottles and gels and bandages and sunscreen and shirts and shorts and jacket and hat. And she'd pushed and pulled and carried and dragged it all--all miniscule 95 pounds of her--the entire distance from Taupo downtown to the Tui Oaks hotel.

And she'd done it alone.

And you saw that she'd cleaned everything. All your clothes. All your equipment. The entire room. She'd wiped it down, run it through the wash, laid it out to dry, packed it away for the next morning check-out. And she'd left a fresh set of clothes, and a fresh set of towels, and a fresh blanket, along with a canister of deep heating massage creme and a bottle of ibuprofen.

And you saw that she'd left a plate of hot food to eat and a bottle of water to drink and a letter letting you know there was more in the refrigerator.

And in the silence of that moment, as you stood there reading her note, you realized everything she'd done.

And it was then that you began to truly understand the depths of love.

And you understood even more the next day, when, as you sat at a table over a cup of coffee gazing listlessly across the lake, tired and broken and sore and numb and as profoundly lonely as the solitary tree you saw below you standing alone on the barren shore of a featureless sea, an empty shell of a wreck of a human being pretending to be this thing people somehow find within themselves to ironically label Ironman, she reached out and took your arm and held your hand and leaned over and whispered to you:

"This was one of the best experiences of my life."

And even though it had been cold, and wet, and rainy, and windy, and miserable, and even though you'd finished with one of the worst times of the day, and even though you'd woken up with some of the bloodiest and ripped-up feet you'd ever had, and had been so beaten up and worn out that you'd barely been able to hobble out of bed to get to breakfast, you then--in the silence that always accompanies the most profound and moving and unique and meaningful and deep and sacred moments of our lives--suddenly felt like a champion.

Because what she said meant more to you than all the victories in all the races of all this world...or any other.

Because you knew what they really meant.

Because it was then that you finally understood the depths of love.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. Thanks for everything.

This was one of the best experiences of my life.


Sladed said...

Nice job.

Your post got mentioned on the Tri Club San Diego forum. That's how I found you.

Congratulations on graduating (from USC?). I have faith that you'll find your way to success.

jonathan starlight said...

tri club san diego?
thanks for the kind words. i appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

this is going on my fridge.

Kat @ Where the Sidewalk Ends said...

Um...made me cry. Really, actually cry.
Now, to be completely honest this could be partly from exhaustion...but wow. Beautiful story, and I totally relate to having the amazing mom.

jonathan starlight said...

oh now you guys are going to make ME cry.

thanks so much for the kind comments. you're being so gracious, and it really pleases me to find other people find as much meaning as i do from my writing.

and i promise to keep writing more stuff like this--it's the only thing i really know how to do.

Bob Almighty said...

Dude props to your mom!

TriExpert said...

Beautifully written, JL.

Makes me wish I'd've had a mom like yours.

Mark Woodhall said...

I've only recently stumbled across your blog.

Spent the best part of 2-3 days looking over old posts.

Had to comment on this though, I really found it moving.