I have two major goals this summer.
The first is to complete my first Olympic-distance Triathlon. I am going to do this in the early part of August with a friend – thank goodness because I think I would totally NOT be doing it without her. I am not remotely ready for this Olympic-distance Tri but it sounds like my friend doesn’t feel like she is either so we’re just going to do what we can and keep each other going.
The second is to complete one Sprint-distance Triathlon in each of the 5 Great Lakes. As one of the Mermaid Club’s mottos goes: #cozwhynot? It just seems like a fun, crazy, cool thing to do.
But I suppose there are more meaningful reasons for this Great Lakes tour too. I’ve struggled with re-making Michigan my home. I never really intended to move back to Michigan, let alone settle down here for the rest of my life. But, here I am. And every summer, I marvel at how absolutely stunning my home state is. I spend as much time as possible on the water and in the woods and I think, of course this is my home -- of course the beauty of this place outweighs what I feel I'm missing in other places! And every winter, just about the beginning of February, I begin a two or three month obsessive search dedicated to getting the hell out and into those other places that seem to have all of those other things that I want. And this love-hate relationship is not so good for my soul since I feel almost constantly like I don’t belong. It’s important to feel – especially at a certain age and stage in one’s life – like we belong where we are. So, I suppose I thought I could use my love of triathlon and outdoor fitness-related activities to fall in love with Michigan, for real, for once and for all. I’ve thought for the last couple of years, if I just looked closer, got deeper in, that the Michigan that is already in my blood would multiply, take-over, train the rest of me to accept that, yes, this is where I’m from and where I belong and that’s good.
So, one Sprint-distance Triathlon in each of the 5 Great Lakes. This summer. Right now.
But, because of the aforementioned dubious feelings regarding my place in signing up for races AND the fact that not a single one of the (only) four (!) triathlons offered on Superior fits my summer schedule, I’ve made the decision to not make each of these Sprint-distance tris absolutely official. It’s looking like two (Michigan and Ontario) will be very official. One (Erie) will be a little bit official. And two (Huron and Superior) will not be official at all – they will be me, alone, doing my thing – swimming at least 500 meters, biking at least 12 miles and running at least 3 miles in consecutive order. These last two, I’m referring to as “My-Tris” and I completed the first one last weekend, in Lake Huron at the Caseville Triathlon in Caseville, Michigan.
Because, the truth is, Lake Huron is pretty amazing. I mean… it’s no Lake Michigan… but nothing is. Lake Michigan wins, in my book, every single time.
But… last weekend in Caseville, the water was calm and warm, the sun was shining, the beach was busy. It was a beautiful night for a swim… and a bike… and a run. And… HUGE bonus: because I opted to complete the course the night BEFORE the race, rather than with a huge throng of wriggling, attempting-to-swim around each other athletes, I was able to wear my mermaid tail for the swim. THIS was a seriously badass way to start my Great Lakes Mermaid Sprint-Distance Triathlon Tour.
And the cool thing is, of the two experiences – the completion of the course & the next-day volunteering – I would say that the volunteering was far more amazing and fun. Completing the course was great. I actually really enjoyed being alone and having plenty of space to spread out and to not feel that insane surge of adrenaline that makes me NOT want to be passed by people or makes me actually want to go faster than other people or makes me look at the age on the back of other people’s legs and decide whether it’s important that I try to pass them or not (athletes bodies are “marked” in triathlons with their bib numbers, wave numbers and ages). But this My-tri experience was actually calming and quieting and felt liberating from all of that hype. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy that hype immensely sometimes, but this was just a nice change of pace. I luxuriated in the swim – especially since the water was GREAT and I was in my tail. I soaked in all of the beautiful views from the bike course – even stopping to take a picture at one point (ha! Not very race-time-conscious of me). And I got to do the slowest run humanly possible without being passed by a million other athletes so it didn’t feel like the slowest run humanly possible, it still felt pretty bad ass. So, ya, the course was awesome. But… volunteering was even better.
It started with Jane.
Jane was the fellow-volunteer placed at the aid station with me and my seven-year-old daughter, Lucy. She was the mother of one of the race directors. And she was, simply put, awesome. Jane is also an athlete, and an artist, and a mother, and an all-around interesting, sweet, enjoyable person to spend a morning into afternoon with. We began, of course, with the polite conversation you expect to have in such a situation -- while filling cups of water and cups of heed half-full so they don’t spill completely as they are grabbed on a run – but soon enough, our conversation turned truly enjoyable and we got to know each other a little bit and she was so super nice to my Lucy that I wanted to hug her – and so, when we said our goodbyes, I did.
Then, the inspiration.
When you are running among them and being passed by them and trudging way far behind them, as I usually am, it is difficult to really see athletes doing their thing at a race. But, one of the coolest things about volunteering is that you get a pretty close look at the work, the determination, the technique, the mastery and the love for the sport these athletes have. You may have noticed, Dear Reader, that my own determination and commitment has been floundering these days – THESE athletes changed that. Seeing their faces, – sometimes looking painfully angry, sometimes on the verge of tears and much more often (remarkably!) with big smiles – watching their bodies, their muscles work, hearing them comment on how under prepared or well prepared or hurting or feeling great they were was all fascinating. Because, except in the case of one young man who walked away from our aid station devastated, they all KEPT GOING! And THAT is the inspiring part. They keep going. They push through. I know that feeling. It’s not just racing. It’s a life lesson. We might train for triathlons (some of us more than others – ah-hem) but triathlons are training for life. Push through. Keep going. You can. You will. And when you find yourself in the situation of the young man whose legs cramped up on him so badly during his half-ironman distance that he couldn’t keep going, remember that your friends will come along, give you what you need to get you back on your feet and tell you that next time, you will. Absolutely, you will.
One of my favorite parts of the day was hearing people say, “Thank You, Sweetie” or “Thank You, Honey” to my little Lucy as she mustered the courage to say “Water!” as loudly as she could and held out cups to athletes who grabbed them as gingerly as they could from her little hand. Lucy is painfully shy. She does not like to talk in front of or to people that she does not know – not one bit – so this volunteering gig was a big deal for her as well. She pushed through some pretty big fears. And it was so sweet to see people – especially people in the middle of doing something so hard – actually take the time to notice her and her effort.
But the thank yous were actually common – MUCH more common than I expected. Almost every single athlete that came through our aid station said “thank you” at least. Many of them said, “thank you for being out here” and things like that. Some of them even said, “I really appreciate you being out here.” What was unbelievable about these expressions of gratitude in this moment was that these athletes were working so hard, they were drenched in sweat, they were exhausted already, some were really hurting – but they took that moment to say “thank you” anyway. Do you see what I mean?
I mentioned in an earlier post that there was this athlete with one-leg who rolled through our station, with a huge smile on her face and specific instructions about how she needed the cup handed to her so she could drink. Even SHE expressed her gratitude to us for being there, for giving her a drink of water. What I mean is: if anyone out there was working their ass off, it was this girl. She wasn’t just overcoming this race. She was overcoming what, for most of us, would be a deal-breaker; what, for most of us, would be a clear and reasonable excuse for NOT pushing through. And yet, she said, “Thank You.” And as she rolled off, kicking ass, Jane and I looked at each other from across the road, shaking our heads, both holding our hearts. Jane said something like “I just can’t believe…” and I said, “I know!” and then we talked about all of the gratitude we had received that day and we both admitted it was overwhelming.
Bear with me, Dear Reader, please. I spent one horrible night, with my niece Brenna, in the hospital, with my brother Mitch before he came home to die in his own home. What made the night horrible was that he was in a lot of discomfort and a lot of pain because of a procedure he was undergoing. This procedure lead to a violent and terrifying vomiting episode. Brenna and I did the best we could to respond to my brother’s needs, holding the bucket for him to vomit into, holding his body up off the bed, wiping his face. We were not quick enough, we didn’t understand him well enough (his speech was severely impaired by this time). He became angry with us for a moment – in a moment when it was obvious that he was not at all angry with US really but with what was happening to him. But, immediately, when things calmed down, he said he was sorry. And then he thanked us. HE thanked us.
This moment with Mitch played over and over in my mind after that moment when the bad-ass athlete in the bike-chair rolled away. And as I thought about it, I remembered that Mitch said “Thank You” often in those last days of his life.
Gratitude, Dear Readers, is hard for many of us on a good day. On a perfect day, when the sun is shining and everything we want to happen is happening just as we wanted it to, we might take a moment and soak everything in and say, “Aaaah! I’m so grateful for this day.” That’s good. We should be grateful when things are good. But to be grateful when things look bad, to be grateful when things get tough, to be grateful when all we really instinctually want to do is just curl up into a ball and cry or lash out at those around us because life is so unfair or because life is so hard, to be grateful during THOSE times is the trick. I suspect it is a trick we learn by pushing through. Even the biggest badasses curl up into a ball sometimes. Even the sweetest of us, lash out occasionally when life feels especially unfair. Then, we learn to push through. We learn to keep going. We learn that gratitude is at the heart of what fuels us to keep going.
I am grateful to Tri to Finish, the organizers of the Caseville Triathlon, and to every athlete on the course that day for reminding me of all of this.
I am grateful to the Universe for guiding me in the direction of the experiences that will teach me the lessons I still need to learn more fully.
Why complete a Sprint-distance Triathlon in each of the Great Lakes this summer? Why not? How much am I going to learn about myself, this crazy Universe, the astoundingly beautiful and precious Great Lakes in the process? Let’s see.
On a nice day, I’d say the beach in Caseville is ALMOST as good of a place to be as Frankfort Beach – and, Dear Reader, if you’ve been paying attention to the life of this blog at all, you’ll know that, from me, this is a very high compliment indeed. And… get this! Caseville is only about an hour from my house! I am convinced that, if we are looking for it, there is awesomeness for which we can be grateful, almost everywhere. I’m keeping my eyes open. With love.
keep your eyes open
and be grateful for everything that you can
and, of course, Vaya Con Dios