It seems that sport and life are often defined by the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. These are what we remember; we revel in the huge victories, and we often become defined by how we respond to the biggest struggles. They help us create more compelling stories. And while these two extremes are important and critical, it seems easy to forget what allows either of these to occur; the countless days in between, the glue that holds it all together.
When I discuss these ‘lows’, realize, I reference them in relative terms. While personally, as a triathlete, these were lows, in the big scheme of ‘life’, these would merely be small blips on the radar. But with regards to an athletic career, two of my major lows came in 2005 and 2013. The first one was a bike crash that ended with a double compound fracture of my left arm. What ensued was immediate surgery, a second ‘emergency’ surgery the next month, and third surgery 6 months later. While this was a major setback, it ended up being a blessing in disguise. At the time, all I knew as a pro triathlete was ITU racing; which I wasn’t truly enjoying. This forced me into a huge break, whereby I enjoyed the solitude and slower pace of walking and hiking the mountains outside our doorstep. I joined a women’s writing group and worked more hours at the running store. I came back a full 10 months later able to fully train; but having completely shifted my focus to a different kind of racing. This ‘low’ in hindsight made me realize how much I truly loved triathlon, and that I had the desire to keep pursuing it; but prompted me to shift my focus to something I was more passionate about.
The first major ‘high’ came in 2010. The moment was one single race, one single result. I finished second at Rev 3 Quassy, in an extremely strong field; surpassing my expectations and I’m sure many others. It was one of those “Holy Crap, I am actually good at this” moments. I was handed a check which was probably the equivalent of (at least) half a year of income at the time. Proudly, I bought my mom McDonalds… and happy hour drinks…and dinner. This big result was followed by my first Ironman, my first two 70.3 victories, and my first time competing in Kona. It was a high that started a snowball effect.
The second low came just last year. After three of my best seasons ever, 2013 greeted me with physical issues that we struggled for a few months to pinpoint. After doctor appointments, research, and frustration, we got an answer; it entailed surgery on an artery, which may or may not ‘fix’ the problem. I could either not get it and call the career to an end, or put my trust in the doctor and give it a go; we opted for the latter. As with the broken arm, I cannot truly say this low was all bad; I’d been fortunate to have a career 10 years strong without any ‘injury’ of this nature; it happens. The tougher part was the physical, mental and emotional struggles this issue placed upon me. When looking back, I realize that the forced rest was, again, ironically and appropriately placed within my career; 6 weeks entirely off was a welcome and much needed break.
And the most recent ‘high’… Ironman Texas, 2014. I was coming off of pretty major surgery only 8 months prior; add to that a few mediocre races to start the season; some very good training, but also a slew of doubts in my head. I had a deep inner confidence in my abilities this day, but the months leading up were strewn with questions…could I really come back? Did I make the right decision? Little did I know, I had the performance of my life in my body; I just had to get my shit together to let it out. I managed to do so, and it was very sweet.
We can define ourselves with these moments. But you know what? I’d rather not. I’ll openly talk about setbacks, but I don’t want to be defined by them. I love those days when it all comes together, but it does not change the person I am. I’m rather uncomfortable with too much attention. What I like to define me, as I said in college, is “Kelly the Person, not Kelly the Swimmer” (as I was often called). We are able to dig out of the lows because we develop resiliency daily. And while the big victories are exhilarating, they are simply the culmination of the hard work; they confirm that dreams can come true if you are persistent, work hard, and believe in yourself; you figure out what makes you click and you go after it. My husband Derick appropriately told me after a tough race in 2013, “Don’t let a win get to your head or a loss to your heart.” (courtesy of Public Enemy). So true.
“Cherish these times
They’re already leaving
They’re already bound
For a brighter unknown” (John Fullbright)
I heard these lyrics while nearing the end of a 4 hour trainer session, one which, no doubt, I had moments of feeling sorry for myself. A cool rainy Saturday morning, while my husband and my pup were inside, warm, cozy, coffee mug in hand…and here I was, on the back porch, in the rain, working my ass off, going nowhere (literally, not figuratively), trying to s
tay on task, work harder, not get bored, occupy the mind…stay on task…I hope this pays off… how many years have I been doing this?…
Then I thought of these lyrics. These 4 hours, while seemingly ‘miserable’, are what it’s made of. Any achievement that comes easy is often far under appreciated. It is about the day in day out, the hours we put in when nobody sees us, nobody cares…but one person, ultimately. And the successes are built upon these days, one upon the other; weeks, months, years of them. They are the glue between the good stuff. I’ve had some highs and lows but you know what? After 12 years of racing, the majority of the days are spent just putting in the work, staying consistent, taking the good with the bad; trusting the process, believing in yourself, paying your dues. The middle ground; that’s where the good stuff lies.