For the Love
In triathlon, there are two primary groups of athletes. There are the age groupers and the professionals. There are distinctions, to be sure, and much are made of them. There is ITU draft legal racing, Clydesdale and Athena, variations on the length of the race from super sprint to the ultra, double- and triple-Ironman distance races. Some races add a class for Masters or Elite between the age groups and the professionals. Regardless of age, fitness, disability or profession, we are more alike than we are not.
I believe we are all amateurs. Learning, striving, improving, and critically, competing. All of us get paid when we do well. The means of payment vary and the measure of a good performance is highly personal, but we all get back as much or more than what we put into the sport. That is how love works in other aspects of life too. When you give it freely, it multiplies, enriches and is paid back.
There is always a measure of competition whether it happens to be the person next to you in the chute, the distance, building the confidence to overcome an illness or to set an example. It may be true that all endurance athletes are running from something, but I think that most of us are moving toward a personal standard of excellence.
Of course, amateurs are lovers. The word comes from the Latin term for lover, amator. We may love the sport, the training, the wellness — physical, emotional and psychological — that comes with fitness, the recognition that comes with accomplishment. We can love each other on the race course and in the comaraderie of long rides. I know the profound gratitude that must be some form of love for the thousands of cheering fans and patient volunteers who line every course.
We can love the electric thrill of surging adrenalin and the placid, calming embrace of a silken stroke through cool water. I unabashedly love them both. I know some love the endless opportunity to tinker with gear combinations while others recite pace, power and heart rate numbers like a maestro in concert.
I’m an amateur. I was about 15 or 16 when I realized — when it became real to me — that I would never make it to the Olympics and probably had close to zero chance to swim at a big university program. I was 17 when a Division I coach at a prestigious academic institution kindly told me that I might be able to walk on to the team, but he didn’t think I’d enjoy it and probably wouldn’t swim in any meets. For a time, I thought that the love had ended. Eventually, I found my place and learned that true love is lifelong. It changes as you change. It requires work.
I enjoy the training. I find comfort in the structure of a plan with a lofty goal. The physical effects of disciplined adherence to hard work is wonderful — providing energy and good health. There is solace for me in the water. I revel in the races and the discovery of what I might accomplish on any given day. I am reminded at every turn that these things require trade offs and hard choices — sacrifice. Yet they pay back. For this and so much more, I’m grateful.
I’m a lover. I’m an amateur. It is a high hope for my children that they too can become passionate and learn to love an activity in this way. May they too be amateurs — learning, living with energy and fullness, and loving.