Saturday, July 23, 2011

Triathlons and Life

So Amy Winehouse is dead.

She was the soundtrack to the events that sent me into the triathlon world. With the interview coming up tomorrow, I couldn't help but take a blog entry to meditate on how the rest of my life intertwines with triathlons.

"It's only after we've lost everything, that we're free to do anything." 

Around the time that Amy Winehouse crooned in the background, I watched Fight Club over half a decade after everyone else did. Tyler Durden, my prophet, his words, sparks falling on dry tinder. I lost everything. I knew nothing.

"I don't know. You're just too Christian for me."

I lost my perspective on life. I had nothing on my resume except teaching at a church day camp.

"You have to answer this question! If you died right now, how would you feel about your life?"
"I don't know. I wouldn't feel anything good about my life." 

That was my answer too. I looked at my whole life. I didn't have anything I cared about in all of my life. I had a job I felt nothing towards. It fed me and kept a roof over my head. Was that sufficient for life? I had friends but what did we do except go out to restaurants and eat? I had a church I spent most of my free time at but what was that to me? Why was I even doing this? And take my church activities away from me and what was left of my life? Nothing much. And if those activities were taken away, would I really miss them so much?

People misunderstand what I mean by transformation. They think I mean the 120 lbs. I've lost. I mean the life I began. I turned off my auto-pilot switch. I stopped caring about what other people thought should matter to me. I became obsessed with my own death. Not in a macabre goth way. I feared death before - not because of heaven or hell - but because I lived a life that other people wrote out for me. How shameful would it be to arrive on the day of judgement with a life lived by committee?

"Mom told me to find a stable job. Dad told me to find a quiet woman. Church told me I needed to volunteer more. Work said they needed more hours. So there's my life!"

"First, you have to know, not fear, know, that some day you're going to die." 

I became obsessed about death because I knew what kind of death I wanted. I wanted to be surrounded by chubby, red-faced grandkids. I wanted my kids to gather around me grateful for the spirit that I had passed onto them. I have no intention of leaving grand material possessions behind. I'd like to give most of that away before I go. But everyone I meet at anytime, I want to give them a piece of me, the realest piece. I want to lay on my death bed and look back on a long life, grateful for the amazing ride I had. I want to do something incredible. I want to meet kindred spirits. I want to scream defiance against the impossible. I'd like to live a life I thought was amazing.

Is that too much to ask?

We overestimate what we can do in one year. Look at the New Years Resolutions people make when they're "determined" to change their lives. I want to learn a language, read a bunch of books, go skydiving/bungee jumping, etc. Most people end up accomplishing exactly none of those goals. Most forget them by February. I couldn't forget my goals because those goals were all I had.

We grossly underestimate what we can do in five years. Look at where you are now. Look at where you were five years ago. How much did you learn? How much have you changed? And for most people, this happens passively without application or dedication. What might happen if you put the full force of your life behind your drive to accomplish your goals? I was around 25 at the time. I came up with a "WILL DO BEFORE 30 LIST." Completing an Ironman race was up at the top of the list.

So I wrote out a 5-year plan. If I was to make the Ironman by age 30, I needed to see at least some of the steps in between. So I registered for the NYC Triathlon. Halloween 2008, while everyone dressed up and drank, I was at my computer frantically clicking away on the Firefox 'refresh' button. I'm glad I did. The race sold out in 20 minutes.

I chose an Olympic because a sprint just didn't look challenging. A quarter mile swim, 10 mile bike, and 5k? I could fall out of bed and roll 5k before I woke up at that point. I wanted to push myself to the very limit. The thrill of finishing NYC in 2009 was diminished by the fact that my body felt so good. I wasn't sore that day or the day after. Did I take it too easy? I always trained with the goal of over-preparation in mind, but I should have at least some sign that I was pushed.

Next year, I'll get that chance. Ironman. NYC. 2012. A great challenge in the world's greatest city, filled with the world's greatest fans. 2.4 Hudson river miles. 112 Palisade Parkway miles and 26.2 miles ending in Riverside Park. It's my dream come true. It's a chance for me to knock off one of my Before-I-Turn-30 Goals, a year early.

Triathlons are amazing. I'm built for powerlifting. It took me a month to bring my max bench press from 200 to 375 lbs. It took me two months to go from 300 to 450. But I don't regret leaving that behind for triathlons. The first triathlon, I ever did, NYC back in 2009, changed my mind. As I rocketed down the West Side Highway the clouds broke and the sun painted the course with brilliant light. I don't know what happened at that moment. I've seen sunrises and sunsets, magnificent declarations of God's goodness in his creation, but I began to cry. I rarely found God in church. I knew doctrines. I studied a whole hell of a lot. I found a bunch of friends but my soul still rang hollow. At that moment, alone on the West Side Highway, I met God and I felt an overwhelming confirmation that this race course was where I should be at that moment. I could've been in church leading the congregation in prayer that July Sunday but I believe that what happened to me that day did more to help me make much of Christ than ten thousand sanctuary-sequestered Sundays.

I stopped letting other people write my life for me. I'm the one that has to wake up in the morning and look myself in the mirror. When I die, I have to be the one to give an accounting of my life, all the wrong I've done, all the good I've done, before God. I am the one that will lay on my death bed one day, looking back on my own life. I don't know where or when, but I want to look back with satisfaction on my life.

I'm glad Kid Cudi dropped his weed habit. He's the soundtrack to my life right now. And right now, I love where my life is heading.

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