Book excerpt 1 – Mental Health

“… Months later, when I got my new triathlon bike (I’ll introduce you to her later), I had an inspirational sticker printed that I stuck on the cockpit, where I stare down every day when I’m riding in aero position. Cockpit. Aero position. What am I training to be, a pilot? It all sounded so jargony and cool picking up all those expressions at the beginning of my triathlon journey. But in fact, my bike does look super aerodynamic. It even looks like a plane from the front.

Anyhow, the sticker reminded me during my training and races of what is important in life. On what I should focus on during my long Zone 1 and Zone 2 efforts. More cool endurance sports lingo for the lower intensity training zones. It consists of only five words: Correct Focus. Courage. Gratitude. Kindness. “I am so fortunate and grateful to be able to do this. How can I not be?” That’s what I want going through my mind when I race. And that I am courageous. That I will not be afraid. But when I am, I will face my fears head-on. 

As for kindness, well, my hero is, after all, the Dalaï Lama. And while I will never live up to him, I refuse to let my past pain and sorrows prevent me from living his guidance. Not at all a religious man; his religion, he simply says, is kindness.

So it was time to move on. To snap out of my depressing sadness. I would do it on my own. By being courageous, by being grateful and by being kind. By remembering how lucky I am to have the opportunity to do anything I want. Anything I set my mind to.

Confidence, then hope were the subsequent emotions to return, and that’s really when I started to feel like myself again. I then decided to get back to what jazzes me the most and what I’m just naturally good at. 

I set goals.

So I registered for an Ironman 70.3 distance race in one year in Barcelona, Spain. With that big, hairy goal in front of me, I had committed to becoming a triathlete. After all, I had promised my wife that I would do it for her at the time. And I keep my promises. Now, perhaps more for me, maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t too late. There was only one way to find out.

For some reason, I always liked challenging people’s assumptions. Playing the role of the underdog and then proving them wrong. And I like big, hairy goals. I thought, why set small ones and work my way up from there. So in the spirit of “Go Big or Go Home,” I would pass, thank you very much, on the shorter Sprint and Olympic distance races. I wanted full or at least half Ironman. The longer, more challenging distances. I want hard. I don’t want easy. And at first, I forgot where that attitude came from.

And I didn’t just want to race such as distance; I wanted to do well. Really well. I wanted to be the best. That’s what the kid in me always thought and was thinking at the time: “I want to finish first. Number one!” 

So here’s the conversation that went on in my head: “OK, wait a second, you idealistic kid,” the realistic adult in my brain said. “Don’t get too far ahead of yourself. You can’t even swim, and you just had shoulder surgery”. To that, the kid in me replied: “But I swam when I was young, no?” The retort was quick: “No, not really. You had no idea what you were doing. We’re talking Ironman triathlons here.”

And the few people with whom I shared my goals, by the way, agreed with the adult me. Some of them, experienced triathletes themselves, even asking me where the idea of needing to be unrealistic in my first year came from? Why couldn’t I just be happy, doing it for fun? Why did time goals even matter? But they didn’t get me. Or maybe, unbeknownst to them, they weren’t speaking to a realistic adult but a stubborn, pig-headed kid.

For weeks, the internal discourse continued. The adult brain, arguing with the inner child. The inner child offended that it was accused of being quaint, cute, and unrealistic. The reasonable adult in me knew full well that I wasn’t realistic to think I could just pick up a sport such as triathlon from scratch and finish first in my age group—all in one year. But the kid in me didn’t care. And that’s when it hit me. You see, it’s the kid in me that doesn’t see limits. That doesn’t do easy. In fact, the kid never had it easy. So, despite the “tri” in triathlon meaning three sports (all three endurance ones at that) and the fact that I did, well, none of them, the kid won out. “I can’t swim? I can’t do this? I can’t finish first? Number 1? Just watch me!” And with that, my triathlon journey began.

After all these years, some would say that the kid still had something to prove. That he still had issues. I used to think that as well. I don’t anymore…”

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