I have, among so many blurry memories that seem to more suddenly vaporize the tighter I try to clutch them, a few that are crystalline. Of these are my first memories of sport - specifically, 2nd grade baseball. I remember loving summertime days when there was a game the next day. I have vivid memories, attached to the senses; the smell of my black Hendrich's t-shirt, with a plasticky screen-print odor. Could be the origins of my existing night-before-a-race routine, all type-A and personal, were borne then; I recall digging through the laundry to find my shirt - making sure it was mine and not my brother's identical version. Collecting my glove, worn and soft, from whatever outside adventures the week previous had taken it. Getting all my stuff together, organized and sensible, ready for me to wake up the next day and play ball. I remember such disappointment on those days when it would rain, huddled around the radio to hear the inevitable announcement that Youth Baseball Today Has Been Cancelled. We took second place that year, losing in the championship game, and there exists a picture of me looking a bit stoic and stern, my eyes a bit squinting as if from the sun, looking seriously into the camera just after the game. Truth is I'd just bawled my brains out, my eyes were puffy and bloodshot, and I was probably pissed off somebody was sticking a camera into my face.
But my most vivid memory, the one I call my earliest memory of sport, is a sensation I can just barely recall, a kind of fluttering in my stomach that I feel even as I write this, of standing out in the outfield and seeing my Dad (in a short-sleeved button up shirt and sunglasses), making his way from the sunny, glinting parking lot, coming to meet my mom, taking a break from work to sit in the bleachers and watch his boys play baseball for awhile. I can even remember the early-inning anticipation I felt just knowing he said he'd be there. Waiting for him.
If you've spent any time here at all, or know hardly anything about me, you know that my Dad's life, and his death, have shaped me more than anything else in my life. It took me a long time to understand that, and even to make peace with it; there's a fine line between being haunted and being inspired. A precarious event where those that have passed away can seem in competition with the living. Ironman 2006 was my last, epic stand against these unknowns. All those highway lines collected forged out much of the impurity of that process; when it was over, I stood firmly and happily among the living. In celebration, rather than mourning.
So it's with more joyfulness now than sadness that I can acknowledge a rare and special thing in my relationship with my Dad - we were both athletes. I hardly feel comfortable even putting the two of us together in that statement - he was a great basketball player, a great baseball player (like his Dad before him), a huge hitter on the golf course, a homerun clutch hitter on the softball team. I was average, or perhaps slightly better on my best days, in any of these things. But that hardly mattered; we were so often a team, a single entity out there on the tee box as the sun started to cast long summer shadows, or when we'd throw the football around, or he'd stand catcher to my brother and I pitching to him, or he'd join my friends and I for a basketball game on our neighbor's hoop.
I mention all this about my Dad not to confuse my new efforts (which I'll get to in a minute) as any kind of tribute or dedication; though I suppose there would be some of that however I approached things. For just as important to this story are the many things I've shared about my mother at Ironman, or standing with an umbrella to cheer me on at last year's marathon, or even her years of coming to watch me play football in high school, which she admits she never really enjoyed or understood, but I was out there, so there you go. Just as important is my cousin Erin leading the Team with "B-I-N-T-L-I-F-F" on State Street, or my Grandpa Doyle's long history of picking it up and setting it down, all the way back to nineteen-fortysomething when they called him Big Ben and he pitched 20 innings in 3 days. It surely exists in Amy's, "It's all will from here, babe" in the cold and rain, and the balloons my brother's family sent for my first triathlon in 2004. I have countless other stories, probably like any of us, that when distilled, are about a rare and common union. A Team. Where, at its best, one of us is out there only as ambassador for the rest. 140.6 miles is too far to go alone.
But it can be a challenge to make that truth tangible; to make real that when I'm out there on my bike for 5 hours in the heat of July, that I'm not really by myself. That when I'm melting down at a hot half-Iron because my nutrition went haywire, that it's not just me who's feeling concerned. Ironman can be, by appearances, a deeply personal, sometimes selfish manifest. And even with a Team behind you, at the end of the day it can feel lonely. Like the process, and its untold benefits, can only be fully understood or realized by a single torchbearer.
It's in this spirit of Team and Purpose, then, that I am - humbly and so proudly - making Ironman more this time around. For each U.S. Ironman event, Janus (the investment firm) sponsors the Janus Charity Challenge. Athletes have the opportunity to raise funds, utilizing tools and resources provided by Janus, for a charity of their choice. I'm using my Ironman experience this year to raise money for the American Heart Association.
What is the American Heart Association and why should I care?
The AHA is pretty widely known, I think, but it may not be immediately understood just what they do. First, the AHA serves the public, with a mission to reduce disability and death from heart disease and stroke. The AHA also delivers, processes, and interprets science, providing multiple mechanisms where grants and programs are initiated (to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year) to fight against heart disease and stroke. Finally, the AHA serve as advocates on a federal, legislative level, related to research funding, disease prevention and health promotion, and government regulations related to healthcare policies. At the bottom of this post I provide several links (many of which informed the above paragraph) so you can explore for yourself what the AHA does and why our help is important.
Sweet! What can I do?
There are lots of ways you can be part of the Lionhearted:
1. Give! I have a website set up through the Janus Charity Challenge where you can easily make an online donation. Visit my Janus Charity Challenge site, or hit the Lionhearted link on the sidebar of this blog's homepage, and make a donation! I've set a goal to raise $1000 - if 20 people give $50, we're there! If 50 people give $20, we're there! If 100,000 people each give a penny - well, you get it. Give $5. Give $1. Whatever you can, it all helps. I'd love to eclipse that $1000 goal, but I figured it's a good place to start. And hey, I've already given $100, so we're a 10th of the way there! Whoohoo!
2. Pledge! Feel like making it interesting? Consider giving a dollar for each mile of the Ironman (that'd be $140.60), or some other sum of your choice. Pledge to give a certain amount depending on my finishing time - $100 if I go under 12 hours, $80 if I go under 13 hours, etc. Give a dollar for each Gatorade bottle I go through in training! (caution: only if you have a million dollars to give). Or get creative - total training mileage, odds on the weather for raceday, whatever. If you want to make a pledge, just leave a comment below with your email address and I'll get in touch with you, or email directly at chrisbintliff at mac dot com (except not spelled out like that, rather in normal email address format).
3. Support! There are a lot of great causes out there, and I know there are a lot of charity runs/events/organizations that are special to lots of us. And, I know the economy is crap. So if giving financially just isn't doesn't work for you, you can still be part of the Lionhearted just by cheering on Team Bintliff, myself, and the rest of the Lionhearted. Come to races. Follow me at twitter. Read the blog and comment your thoughts once in awhile. Just knowing you're out there does so much to get me down the road. Knowing you care and support the efforts makes you part of the team.
4. Spread the word! Let's use our social networking powers for good. If you want to grab this snippet of code below and plant it onto the sidebar of your blog, you'll get a nifty little banner that looks like this:
Here's the code to put it on your own site:
<div align="left"><a href="http://becomingironman.blogspot.com/2009/04/blog-post.html" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.i3-inc.com/blog/images/lionheartbanner.png" width="160" height="186" border="0" /></a></div>
When people click on it, they'll be taken to this post where they can learn all about the Lionhearted. Even better, write your own short post on your blog or twitter saying, "hey, my buddy's doing this, it's a good cause, please help" and point them over here. Whatever you can do to spread awareness, it goes a long way and I deeply appreciate it. You could post something on Facebook pointing your friends over here. Anything you can do to get the word out will have a wider impact.
What's all this "Lionhearted" gibberish?
The Lionhearted is just something I came up with to describe all of you who are joining in on the effort. It's separate, but related, to the general Team of supporters. It's specific to the charity challenge - a word or idea I can hang onto to describe the cause and the people involved in it. Rooted in courage, passion, love, strength. If you give, or pledge (financially or just your support), you are among the Lionhearted.
Cool! What else?
For everybody who makes a donation or a financial pledge, I'm going to get a small bead. The week of Ironman, I'll put however many beads there are onto a necklace, and I'll wear it on race day. It's a small gesture, I know, but I take it very very seriously - you will be out there me. The purpose and goal will be tangibly symbolized. After Ironman, whoever has made the largest donation will receive the necklace (all sweaty and Lake Monona-ish) as a thank-you from me and the rest of us.
So, there you go. An exciting endeavor for an exciting time. I really appreciate anything you can do to help, and I'm excited for this to be a new, important part of Becoming Ironman. Any questions? Throw 'em in the comments, I'll do my best.
Some useful links:
Why YOU Should Support the American Heart Association!
American Heart Association website
American Heart Association Charity Rating