Wednesday, August 09, 2006

When it began:

When I was ten years old, the police department in my hometown hosted a "bike rodeo". It was a goofy Saturday morning when kids could pedal around a parking lot dotted with orange cones and learn about bike safety. We could register our bikes and get these little decal license plates to stick on them to identify them if they ever got stolen. I had a purple bike with a banana seat. It kicked ass. But they were raffling off a cool new bike from the hardware store in town, Coast to Coast. And I knew I was going to win that bike. Not, I had confidence that they'd call my name. No, I had some psychic idea that my ten year old mind couldn't understand that I was going home with that bike. So when they gathered us all together at the end for the raffle, and then read "Bullwinkle from Bemidji, Minnesota.", I started to cry. Because I cried a lot, and I didn't get the joke, and it was simply not possible that I didn't win that bike. I calmed down then when I learned they were kidding. And I knew as soon as they started reading a last name they couldn't pronounce that the bike was mine. It was red and white and had a cool pad on the handlebar crossbar that said "Chaser", and cool "Chaser" decals on the frame. It had red tires with a pattern on them called "snakebelly". It had a red seat. It kicked total ass. The bike they had on hand for the raffle was a girl's bike. I didn't care. I took it home and rode it until the store called and said they had a boy's model in stock and I could go pick it up. My twin brother felt left out so the policemen gave him all the extra ice cream bars they had from the rodeo, and they melted all over the car on the way home. And because parents have an innate sense of fairness, they went and bought him a bike that same day. But I have clear memories of cruising down the sidewalk on University with my weird friend Robby with my new Chaser. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

Growing up and watching the Williston Coyotes high school sports teams, about the coolest thing ever was when the cheerleaders made these hoops covered with paper with painted words and cheers and pictures on them, and then during introductions or after halftime the players would crash through the paper and all of us kids would make an aisle for them to run through and they'd high five us as they ran onto the field or the floor, and the best was when you were right next to the paper hoop and got to take some of the ripped shreds, bright with orange and black paint, back to the stands with you. My parents were the really cool about making our birthdays really special, and on our 9th birthday they'd papered the doorway to our bedroom like that, so that when they woke us up we could crash through it. And my brother and I shared a bedroom, and my bed was closest to the door and I wanted to crash through the paper like my Coyote heroes so I sprinted to the door while my brother was too, but I was a step ahead of him and was going to be first, but in my grogginess I instead hit the side of the doorway head on in a full out sprint and was thrown right back on my ass while my brother ran by and crashed through the paper. And I cried because I cried a lot, and my damn head hurt, but mostly dammit I wanted to crash through that paper. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

In gradeschool - I think I've told you about this - we had these annual track and field events called Olympics. They were every spring, and we got a whole day off school to go to the Olympics. We each got to be in three events, I think. Three or five. And for two weeks before the Olympics, our teachers would let us have an extra recess to go "train". And so me and my friends would go run around the alley at Rickard Elementary, around the playground. In the 2nd grade I was in the 100 yard dash, and I was winning the race so I started looking around and cheering at the crowd before some little weasel passed me just before the end and I took second place. I got a red ribbon. But I was happy. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

That summer, after 2nd grade, my baseball team - sponsored by Hendrick's, one of two department stores in my town, made it to the championship game. We lost, and I cried. And cried. Sobbed, really. Because I cried a lot. And I hate losing. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

When I was 12 years old I won a free-throw contest, making 14 out of 25, which meant I got to go compete at the state contest all the way in Jamestown. For the weeks in between my Dad would take me to go shoot freethrows at the gym, just me and him. I only made 9 of 25 in Jamestown. But that's when I began training for Ironman.

In the 8th grade I picked a fight with the most unpopular kid at school for no reason at all. He was weird, and poor, and dirty. But I didn't know him, not really. His nickname was Buttcheek. Swear to God. I thought it'd make me cooler if I kicked his ass. So I picked a fight after lunch, and got my ass kicked. Which is precisely what I deserved. I was embarrassed and humiliated and, wouldn't know the word or how to to identify the feelings then, but humbled and ashamed. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

When I was a freshman in high school, I was little and awkward and scrawny. I didn't get to play much on my football team. When I was a sophomore, I was little and awkward and scrawny. But I knew I wasn't too bad a player because my Dad had played catch with me since I was 5 years old. But the coach would never put me in. One day at practice this kid hurt his back and was lying there on the field. "He just got the wind knocked out of him," the coaches said. So on water break everybody - including the coaches - went to the sideline and this kid was out there by himself. So I brought him some water. His name was Ty and he was my best friend in the world after that, all through high school and college. He's the only person from high school I even still talk to. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

When I was a junior in high school I grew a little, and became a starter on the junior varsity football team. I was a wide receiver. I also dressed for varsity games, which was a big deal. One day in the hallway my dumbass sophomore coach said to me, "I hear you're doing really well on the football field this year." And I said, "Yeah, imagine what I could've done with some playing time last year, coach." And he said, "Say now, that's not fair." And I said, "You want to talk about not fair, we can do that too." And that's when I began training for Ironman.

The summer between my junior and senior years in high school I worked really really hard. And I became a varsity starter on the football team. And I got to crash through the paper for real this time. And it was everything I knew it would be. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

Then I hurt my ankle just before the basketball season, and I couldn't play. I couldn't heal in time to make the team. I was done playing organized sports. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

When I was a freshman in college, I was coming home really late one night after a party and this dude and his girlfriend were fighting in the entryway of my dorm. And as I approached, the dude hit the girl. So I ran up and told him to stop it, and tried to separate them. And he pushed her away and got in my face, so I punched him hard, like in the movies. He reeled back, and the girlfriend gasped, and I turned to her like Superman would and asked if you're okay miss, and she pushed me and called me an asshole and put her arm around her boyfriend who was doubled up and escorted him outside, asking him if he was okay. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

In the summer of 1995 I met a boy named Teddy who had a sister named Katherine, and they were both abused and I reported it to people who could do something about it...and likely made things much worse for them before they got better. And I met a boy named Zyontis, and he'd never been on a canoe before, and when I suggested we all go on a hike and said, "What's hike?", and I googled his name and I'm not sure, but there might today be a warrant out for his arrest. And - this happened long before I would have imagined any kind of impending irony - I woke up a kid named Jacob because I'd gotten a call at 2am that his Dad had died and his mother thought I should tell him. These kids are all men now, but in my mind they're still 10, 11, 12 years old. But that's when I began training for Ironman.

In the spring of 1996 mother and Dad came to visit me in Boston, and we watched part of the Boston Marathon go by. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

One early fall day in 1996, I spent the day on the lake with my mom and Dad and Amy. Dad was driving the boat. I water-skied a little, when suddenly the boat died. I was behind the boat, and for some reason let go of the rope. The wind was coming up, and Dad tried to get the boat started up but couldn't. The boat was drifting away, and I was swimming after it as fast as I could. But it was hopeless. I was not going to reach it. I started looking around for a backup plan, like swimming to shore. Just then a boat came by and picked me up and towed us in. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

The next day, I golfed 36 holes with my Dad and his buddies. I spent the day trying to outdrive my old man, who could hit the ball a ton. I think I managed it a handful of times. On the 35th hole I had a huge drive, but felt a little pull in my back. On the 36th hole, standing on top of the ball for the final putt of the day, my legs suddenly gave out underneath me and my back went into horrible spasms. The pain was excruciating. I was 22 years old, and my Dad had to carry me back to the car, then into the house. I could only lay on the floor, so he sat next to me and held my hand, the way good friends clasp thumbs in a handshake. He had to help me to the bathroom, I was so useless. That was the last round I ever golfed with my Dad. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

In the last days of 1996, I shoveled the walk because I didn't know what else to do, and the house full of mourning was suffocating me. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

The next day I literally carried my brother and sister and mother into the room to see what we should never have had to see, and in that moment lost the vision of youth; the Rider wears lenses because he was blinded that day. And I'll never erase their trembling wails as I somehow wrapped them up, all three of them, and carried them into the room. And how I thought, one of a handful of clear thoughts I'd have for the next 8 years, that I have to keep my head up, I have to keep my eyes open, I have to do this. I have got to do this. Not because I was stronger than any of them. But because I was much, much weaker. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

In the spring of 1997 the Red River flooded the town I went to college in, so they cancelled classes so we could all go help sandbag, and we'd sandbag all morning and by that afternoon our work would be flooded, and I sat in my apartment with Amy and it was nearly midnight and we'd had no sleep for two or three days because this water was not stopping and it just wasn't possible that all these miles away from the river the streets were filling with water, and then the National Guard drove by and said over a loudspeaker that they were evacuating the area and it was like a post-apolcolypse movie and I was sitting on the couch exhausted when it suddenly occurred to me, and I turned to Amy and said, "We have to go right now." So we left and drove an hour and got the last hotel room in a little town on Highway 2 and the next day the entire city went underwater, and then a fire started and downtown started to burn, and that was the worst year I could think of, ever. Ever. But that's when I began training for Ironman.

On Ash Wednesday 1998 I went to church and they made a cross made of ashes on my forehead and I went to Barnes & Noble after that but chose to not wipe the cross away and people looked at me weird, and I liked that. So I wrote a song called Dust, and I that's when I began training for Ironman.

In 2001 those Towers fell and that made no sense at all, and it never ever will. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

In 2002 I nearly lost everything else that mattered to me, but by grace did not. And my friend Mike said "I believe you can be the best among us." And that's when I began training for Ironman.

In the fall of 2003 I swam 25 yards before stopping at the wall, wheezing and dizzy and gasping. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

In the spring of 2004 I took my new bike, the Grey Ghost, fresh from the bike shop out for a short ride. I got a flat tire and had no tools to fix it. Hell, didn't even know how to fix it. It was raining and cold and getting dark. I walked 3 miles in my cleats before a guy in a pimped out bright yellow pickup picked me up. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

In summer 2004 I finished my first goal race, and learned what it felt like to set that kind of goal, something absurd and lofty and impossible, and then change your life to reach it. And I became an addict, and that's when I began training for Ironman.

In 2005 I crawled and clawed my way through a Half Ironman, inexperienced and - I know now - unprepared. I collapsed at the finish line, but it felt so good. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

Last October I finished my first marathon. I lost 5 toenails and my left little toe exploded in the world's most spectacular blister. I was physically unprepared after spending the summer training for a Half Ironman. I didn't know I could hurt that bad. I didn't know the human body could endure that level of self infliction. I usually give my medals away - the "stuff" of being a finisher never meaning too much to me. But I kept that one. And I wear it around the house somedays, if only to remind myself that yes, I can and once, I did. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

On May 20, I rode my bike 100 miles for the first time. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

This summer I've finished - not always easily - 2 Half Ironman races, when last summer one about did me in. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

Two days ago while I was running this kid was pulling his puppy along, and he had a gentle-leader type leash on him, only his mom had put the leash on the dog's nose way too tight so it was like a muzzle, so I stopped and loosened it and then showed the kid how to walk his dog with a gentle-leader on it. And in a world where kids should not talk to strangers and strangers do not help one another, I was glad our paths crossed. The puppy's name was Roscoe. And that's when I began training for Ironman.

Later today I'll run 12 miles or so. And I'll begin training for Ironman.

There are many for whom it's just a race. It's not some "high drama metaphor" as Iron Wil calls it. Who are training to qualify, or to outdo, or accomplish some specific time, or placement. It's just another part of a season maybe, or the end of a season, or a pinnacle of whatever height. To them I say very very good luck. I hope for you to accomplish all you're setting out for. I hope you do everything you're capable of, I hope you have the most excellent race of your life. For me, it's somehow become the fruition of a lifetime. Is that possible? Is that even possible, that one could have the audacity to think his entire life is leading to this single moment? I guess I think it is. Is that lacking perspective? No, I think for the first time I'm capable of perspective. Is it self important? I don't think so. Maybe. But it is important, at least to me. Listen; the world still spins, the sun rises and sets, the dogs bark and the winter will fly regardless of my impending September. I know that. And not that this moment won't combine with everything in between and before and after to become the trail to which the next milestone, whatever and wherever it is, is reached. But today, here and now, this is it. This is everything I've ever wanted to be. This is everything I never knew I could be. This is everything I would have hoped, wildly and unspoken, could be possible. On the precipice now; my calendar isn't defined by days or weeks, but by training days and miles and meters. And every day of that is a new reality, a new opportunity, a new possibility. And everyday, I begin training for Ironman.


Pharmie said...

Wow. That was amazing. It makes me think back to all of the events in my life that I can now say were the start of my training.

We've come a long way, and soon our training will all be worth it.

Michael Anderson said...

Baptized by fire. How else to forge Iron?

Be strong, you will be the best.

abby said...

I'm so glad we can join you on your journey, and I'm glad your training will soon be coming for you.

TriSaraTops said...

WOW--I had similar thoughts yesterday, but you went in to more detail and put it more eloquently than I could! Amazing...and to think we're almost there, huh?

We've come a LONG way...

R. Jeffrey Davis said...

Once again, another incredible post. You really ought to consider turning your "becoming" into a published book.