A triathlon. The scary, yet exciting race that exists only on many peoples “someday” list. Regardless of the distance, the thought of swimming, biking, then running is just too intimidating to many. For me, it was always like this. The feeling that I had to spend hours and hours preparing for weeks on end before I could jump in and race. I was full of excuses. One of the biggest (and the eventual reason I did jump in) was my family. Looking back, I created the excuses just so I could continue to dream yet feel somewhat justified in keeping it as a dream.
This all changed in January. At 40 years old, with more than 20 years of dreaming behind me, I was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer, one that specifically attacks my red blood cells (those are the ones that carry oxygen and remove carbon dioxide). Suddenly I was faced with the decision about my dream. Maybe it would never be fulfilled or see the light of reality. Or, I could tackle the dream. I could push forward and make sure I was the best example of inspiration and determination to my wife and kids that I could possibly be. I could prove that I would fight and not let the cancer hold me down. That I would live and not die.
I signed up for my first triathlon at beautiful Lake Berryessa in Napa, California. It would take place on a sunny, but cool, day in April. It was a sprint triathlon, consisting of a 750-yard swim, 12.4-mile bike, and 3.1-mile run.
The two months leading up to the triathlon were full of surprises. I had been sick through the fall and had lost more than 40 pounds. Now, two months out from the tri, I was starting treatment (micro-dose chemo every two weeks), was on blood thinners, and had dramatically changed my diet. I also started to exercise each day–well, almost. There were many days where I just felt like garbage and didn’t go to the gym.
I’d like to say finally race weekend came, but it was more like suddenly. Suddenly race weekend arrived and I had not done any swim training. I was confident in finishing the bike and probably the run, but the swim… I had not actually been swimming for nearly two years! What was I thinking! (Don’t try this at home.) On top of that, I had a dose of chemo just three days before the race and was just starting to get over the side effects (nausea, headaches, body cramps, aches, etc).
But there I was, with my family to cheer me on–my wife Christine, my kids Sydney (14), Ethan (12) and Melodie (8). I had to finish. I had to show them that I choose life. That this is not my end. That they did not have to be afraid. For me it had nothing to do with the finish time. It was all about the FINISH!
I was at the start line, ready(ish) to go. The countdown and the start! Into the frigid 58-degree water and off. The first 100 yards were great, I think because of the adrenaline. Then I realized I had another 650 to go and the water was really cold. First the freestyle, then backstroke followed by breast stroke and of course doggie paddle. It took everything to just finish the swim.
Coming out of the water, Ethan was cheering me on: “Go Dad, go! Run, run! Faster! You can do it!” It helped me not collapse and reminded me why I was doing it. I put one foot in front of the other and made it to the bike.
I was thrilled to be on the bike taking in the beautiful scenery as the pedals ticked over. The course was filled with ups and downs – 5 mph to 50 mph in moments. The Napa sun was shining through and warming the cold bones of each racer. I took great joy in the ride and tried to breathe in each pedal stroke with an air of thankfulness.
Onto the run–an enjoyable uphill all the way out and down all the way back. Although I’m not a big fan of running, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. I think it was part knowing two thirds were behind me and the fun in shouting encouragement back and forth to other racers as we passed each other on the out and back course.
Into the finish was pure joy. My family there to cheer me on. We were the only ones there that knew I was racing against more than the clock. Crossing the line, I was fighting to hold back the tears as they greeted me with the most loving hugs. I’m not a fan of participation medals, but this is one I was proud to receive–one I earned.
I was racing against cancer. Racing to live until a cure is found. The time was of little consequence.
Don’t wait for a diagnosis to throw your excuses to the side and live your life to the max. There are loads of other reasons to intentionally seize today. Is it your family? Is it to get in shape? Is it to simply challenge yourself and go to bed with a smile? Or to know that you did something with the gift called life. Whatever it is, find your reason. It’s there…if you look.