Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Rethinking Our Fears

This past Sunday I participated in a triathlon relay event with two other men I had never met. Since I was a swimmer in high school and college, I did the 700 meter swim. When I was invited to be a part of the relay team, I felt a certain sense of unease. A thousand excuses filled my mind. I said I would consider it and let them know in a few days. Honestly, I said this so that I could come up with a good reason why I couldn't do it. Why did I want to avoid this experience? Well...I was afraid.

I was always a natural swimmer and eventually earned All-American honors in the 100 & 200 yard backstroke. When I was in my younger years, I always felt pressure to win and perform. The difference is that fourteen years ago, I was in the best shape of my life and felt confident that I could live up to expectations. Now, at thirty-five, I didn't have that reassurance, although I still felt the pressure. I guess I just didn't want to look bad.

The interesting thing is that during the time that I was supposed to come up with a reason why I couldn't compete in the triathlon, something deep down inside was telling me that I had to face this demon. Something within me wanted to push against my fears and limits. I ended up calling to let them know that I was in.

I had only three weeks to train for an event that was considerably longer than my longest swim in college. If any of you have children, you will understand that finding time to train with a four and two year-old at home can be challenging at the very least. After three weeks of training at odd hours and in twelve yard hotel pools, my big day arrived. I couldn't really sleep the night before.

Family and friends came to cheer our relay team on. The swim began with a chaotic rush of splashing. During the halfway point, I had to fight this intense urge to just quit. It wasn't that I couldn't finish, for I had swum the distance numerous times over my three weeks of training. Rather, it was that I knew how far I still had to go. Once I pushed through that barrier, runners call it a wall, I knew I was on the downhill run. I finished the race, jumped out of the water, and sprinted the hundred yards around the pool. A good friend who I swam with at Grove City College finished about the same time I did. As we ran around the Olympic size pool, we high-fived each other.
Rounding the bend and heading for the parking lot where our team biker was stationed, I felt a wave of absolute exhaustion hit me like a ton of bricks. It was at that moment, that, seemingly out of nowhere, the runner on our team appeared by my side, and ran the rest of the distance with me. Staggering, I handed off the timing band to the biker and I was finished. Our team ended up with our best time and finished fourth overall!

So what did I learn from this experience? I learned that sometimes you can finish fourth and still win. I had my best time in the 700 meter swim. That is winning. I pushed through a wall that could have stopped me dead in my tracks. That is winning. I had the chance to struggle and overcome alongside a friend who was experiencing the same thing. That is winning. When I felt like I couldn't go on anymore, a new friend ran alongside me and gave me the strength to keep going. That is what friends do. That is winning.

What demons do you need to slay? What do you need to face and stop running from? When you drive against your fears, your life will become richer in so many ways!

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