When is the right time to walk away from something you love?
I’ve always viewed exercise and sport as a vehicle with various meanings. One is the pure and basic opportunity to challenge oneself, push boundaries and find out what our bodies (and minds) are capable of. Another is that it simply makes you “feel alive”. It’s not always easy to get out the door, but once you do, you find through movement & exertion you begin to think through things in your life if even subconsciously; your perspective changes and once you’re done, you feel a little renewed. As I’ve moved through many years of triathlon and sought to compete at the highest level of the sport, I found myself seeking something else out of my purpose with competing.
People filed into the hotel Thursday afternoon. It was an assortment of campers, coaches, and volunteers. You could tell who the campers were, as they all arrived with easy smiles; outgoing, and eager to learn and take advantage of this opportunity. Our evening included a casual and social few hours of burgers and beers under a warm Texas sky, while the mechanics worked tirelessly to dial in bikes. Although informal, we went around the group and briefly introduced ourselves, telling our new friends where we were from and what brought us here. A few tears were shed, and I knew then staring at the group of friendly strangers that it would be a special few days.
Friday began early with a leadership session, followed by loading up the vans to head over to the lake for a full day of challenge and learning. Many campers had yet to ride a bike while ‘clipping in’ (intimidating for us all the first few times), and don a wetsuit; much less swim in open water. Derick did his usual incredible job of leading them through not only clipping into their pedals but proceeding to make them spend a good 90 minutes riding around in a grassy field (complete with a few potholes), tasking them to ride one-handed, next to a partner, bumping shoulders, and even picking up a water bottle while pedaling. Watching them, I was amazed at how quickly they picked up new skills and progressed through the tasks. By the end of the session, everyone had laughed hard, fallen over a few times, and gotten back up again. Suffice to say, it was the beginning to a successful weekend.
Only 24 hours later, due to schedule changes because of weather (they were supposed to have 2 days to learn!), they were all toeing the start line for a triathlon. This was a first for many, yet for the ‘veteran triathletes’, a chance to race alongside their fellow veterans. Under ominous Texas skies threatening a storm, each and every one of them swam, biked and ran to their own finish line. They all had different stories; various reasons for wanting to be here. While I cannot speak for them, I imagine through the challenge of the race and the entire weekend, they often thought of those reasons; and this passion propelled them through countless emotions and experiences.
I came to this camp as a ‘pro coach’. I’ve watched Derick lead the camp the past 5 years, and I’ve heard from him how moving it has been. I was anxious to be a part of the entire weekend, not just the closing dinner as in years past. But I didn’t want to be put on a pedestal, as a ‘pro’. I actually came into it a bit intimidated. I am not a veteran. I’ve not had the balls to put my own life on the line to serve our country. Who am I to have any sort of hierarchy amongst these men and women? Alas, I realized I had skills and experiences in the triathlon realm with which I could help them; much like they have had life experiences I’ve not had, and could help me, too. To understand a different point of view; a different life story.
The recurring concept I keep going back to when I re-hash this weekend is: Tell Me Your Story.
These few days were all about listening, opening up, being vulnerable; letting others in to our own experiences and insecurities, our worries and our fears; so that we could all go back out into this strange and crazy world a little stronger and a little more confident. We learned valuable leadership and communication skills. We laughed a hell of a lot. We cried a bit too. We learned empathy; and how empathy differs from sympathy. We learned what is truly important, and what is really not. I looked into people’s eyes and heard them talk; I tried to walk in their shoes, to understand where they were coming from. It was empowering to watch them, it was a thrill to have the honor of helping, and it was inspirational to witness. The environment was safe for everyone to truly be themselves; authentic, vulnerable, and real.
These past few days impacted me perhaps as much as it impacted every one of those 32 campers; and I’m guessing I am not alone, given the amazing coach and volunteer staff we had assembled; who also put their energy and hearts into everything to be sure that this experience was nothing shy of awesome for those who took the time to attend. I’m humbled to have been able to be a part of the Team Red White & Blue 2016 Triathlon camp. I only hope that these 32 individuals…heroes…now are equipped with the skills, knowledge, courage and confidence to go out and go after their own goals. After all, they’ve more than earned it.