My wife and I were on the bike trainer watching the DVD of the 1995 Hawaii Ironman as Paula Newby Fraser set out on her last Ironman. She had declared this would be her last Ironman. She had won six and on this day she had a ten minute lead on the run on her way to her seventh.
But a couple of miles from the finish she started to cramp, then she appeared to become disoriented. The announcer said it was about 400 yards away from the finish where she finally just sat down on the curb and took off her shoes. Her fiancé called for an ambulance.
One runner passed, then another. She laid flat out on the pavement and refused to get into the ambulance. She kept saying something to the effect of “Give me some space and I will finish on my own.”
And she did. After about a 15 minute bout with who knows what she got herself up and defiantly staggered, then walked the last 400 yards barefooted to finally cross the finish line five minutes later.
With about 15 yards to go a third woman sprinted by her assuring the Newby-Frasier would not be on the podium.
But what did the podium matter at that point? Staring down a “Did Not Finish,” spitting in its face and then walking across the finish line on your own terms – that is the best victory of all. It took the heart of a six time world champion to move forward that last 400 yards.
But, in truth, that is the heart that we all have within us.
I will never be as fast as Paula Newby Fraser. I will never be as fast as Mark Allen. I may never be as fast as my friend Alan Cox. But that does not stop me from competing against my ultimate competitor – myself.
When I realized my competition was not with others, I became a much better competitor. I may not have the same equipment as others. I may not have the same training time as others. My priorities may be different than others. God may have decided to bless me with more lactic acid and fat cells than others. But when I come to the honest conclusion that every day all I can do is my best and a race day is simply a measure of how honest an effort I gave on those training days, that’s when I become a better competitor, a better athlete, and a harder trainer.
I have found myself closing my eyes more than ever on my bike trainer. I am truly trying to get the feel of my muscles, heart, and lungs and am honoring them by giving my all. That kind of motivation doesn’t come through my ear buds in the form of Luda or Big N’ Rich. It comes from my brain that can hear my body the best.
I am no longer frustrated on race day by my comparison to anyone else. I am truly happy for them on good days. I am truly disappointed for them on tough days. I am truly happy for myself every race day.
I know that I missed some training days because I spent time with my family or spent time in a meaningful job. I know that on days I felt like crap I went as hard as I could and that may have only been a slog. But I know that that slog went into some memory bank for equity to pull out when I needed to push through my body saying, “No mas!”
I am happy at the end of any endurance race, any adventure race, any competitive event because God gave me the ability, the desire, and the love of the sport to sign up and proudly say “Yes, I can!” To be disappointed at the finish line would be dishonoring God, myself, my friends, and my family who have supported me getting to the starting line.
When I see you at the starting line I will sincerely wish you good luck. When I see you at the finish line I will congratulate you. It should be as great a day for you as it has been for me. We both went out there and had a heck of a race against the same person, ourselves. And no matter what place we finished, no matter what the clock said, we challenged ourselves, we learned a lot about ourselves, and we came out with a different, better self.
I won because I made myself a better person. You won because you made yourself a better person. We both won and the world is better because we made ourselves better. Here’s to competition.
Paul Peavy is a Licensed Psychotherapist, Motivational Speaker, and former Stand-Up Comic. He is a two time Ironman finisher and headed for the inaugural Ironman New York City Ironman this August followed up by Ironman Florida in November. He competes with wife in triathlons and has one daughter who is captain of the Florida State University Equestrian team and another daughter who helped her high school to a state championship. He has been published in Triathlete and Triathlon Life Magazine as a former columnist for www.usaswim.com. His book, Recession Proof Your Heart, Mind, Body and Soul! is available on Amazon. He can be found at www.paulpeavy.com and on Facebook.