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Age-group triathlete Holly Bennett writes about how lessons in positivity can come from the most unlikely sources.
For all our often talked about Type-A rigor, triathletes can be a readily adaptable bunch. We adjust to many different situations for many different reasons, either planned or unforeseen. For example:
We juggle time. It’s no secret we tackle seemingly insurmountable loads, with family, work and training vying for those oh-so-precious 24 hours in each day. So we get creative. In an interview, Josiah Middaugh admitted to compensating for the constraints of his schedule by sometimes eating lunch in the shower. (I forgot to ask how he keeps his sandwiches from getting soggy!)
We grasp opportunities. This happens in straightforward ways, such as making a break on the bike when the opportunity is ripe. And it happens in surprising ways as well. Xterra world champion Conrad Stoltz, during his early days of frugal living on the European race circuit, once collected and cooked a freshly road-killed rabbit, resourcefully turning it into a gourmet meal. (What’s with these Xterra guys?)
We shift gears on the fly. Remember when Ironman champion Heather Wurtele’s bike broke during a 2012 race? Barely skipping a beat, she borrowed a much shorter athlete’s “mini-bike”—no easy feat for a 6-foot-2 cyclist. Yet she saddled up and soldiered on. Sadly, it turned out this tactic was against the rules (unknown to Heather at the time), but it was a valiant example of making do with the tools at hand.
I try to remind myself of these, and similar situations, every time I encounter challenges in my own life. Not that I’ve ever selected my sustenance off the side of the road, but you get my drift. The mere fact alone of being an endurance sports enthusiast implies a certain capacity for getting through any angst—a strength of character I’m sure most of us have called upon more than once. But there’s also a lot to be said for how we navigate life’s murkier moments. Attitude, it turns out, really is everything.
Imagine my horror when my phone service failed to work for a full 18 hours recently. No phoning, no texting. I felt like Tom Hanks in the movie “Cast Away,” marooned in suburbia with no connection to the outside world. And yet I loved every minute of it. Sure, there was the minor annoyance of my itchy thumbs automatically moving toward the keypad, to no avail. But on the flip side, I greatly enjoyed the unexpected escape from all things instant, direct and SMS. I even kept my computer and television turned off to be truly rid of technology. Instead, I relished a bath, a glass of wine, a short read and a long night’s sleep. Lo and behold, the earth was still turning on its axis come morning.
Take your average traffic jam. The fact of the matter is this: You can rant and rave and drop F-bombs at any other driver who will listen. You can freak out about missing whatever rendezvous you’re in a rush to reach. Or you can chillax, enjoy some music or perhaps phone a friend. Whichever approach you choose, you’ll arrive at your destination at the exact same time. Stress will literally get you nowhere.
The poster-boy perfect example of positivity is a guy called Riley. That’s his given name, though he’s better known as Mr. Fur, and incidentally he’s not a triathlete at all.
Mr. Fur is the canine pride and joy of Ironman champion Mary Beth Ellis. And all of us, triathletes and couch potatoes alike, stand to learn from this furry phenom. Granted, dogs are a positive lot to begin with. A simple kind word or a cuddle, or especially a tasty treat, elicits a tail-wagging frenzy, the equivalent of a human being who has just won the lottery or crossed the finish line in Kona. But Mr. Fur is more than just a mutt wagging his tail at life’s simple pleasures—he’s wagging that tail with a can-do attitude in the face of extreme adversity. A few months ago, Mr. Fur was diagnosed with cancer and as a result had one of his front legs amputated. One day he frolicked on all fours; the next only three remained. But that’s the only thing that changed one day to the next. Mr. Fur adapted almost immediately to life as a tri-pawed dog, smiling his overgrown puppy smile and wagging up a storm.
Admittedly, we can’t overcome every obstacle with Mr. Fur’s resilient demeanor. But we sure can try. We can only work with what we have, not what we had yesterday. Our last personal best time means nil compared to our fitness at present. Bad breaks happen, but life goes on, and in each moment our opportunities start afresh, right now. Chew on that chunk of wisdom next time your coveted noontime workout is cut short because a work meeting runs long. Think of that the next time you’re in a race or a tough training session—or even a traffic jam—and everything seems to go awry. Ask yourself, “What would Mr. Fur do?”
Then move forward, and by all means wag your tail.