Friday, June 02, 2006

Epilogue: Little Chief Returns

August. 1983. Ridgecrest, North Carolina. I am dead asleep in my bunk. Other campers are sleeping around me, and as I recall it, they stay asleep as the counselors rouse me and we slip out into the night.

In that way that is unique to 15-year-olds, it is an honor to be awakened in the middle of the night for this particular purpose. It means I am eligible to attain the rank of “Little Chief,” the equivalent of an Eagle Scout at Camp Ridgecrest for Boys.

But there is a test. After a ceremonial pep talk from the counselors, we few candidates are placed under a vow of silence and led into the mountains where we must gather wood, start a fire and keep it going all night. If we succeed, we must complete a trail run up the side of a mountain, eat in solitude, and prepare the ceremonial camp fire for the next evening--all in complete silence.

The trail run is approximately a mile, switchback after switchback. Repeatedly, you think you see the top, but it is only a false summit. Each one sucks the determination out of you. Walk or become overtaken by the counselor in the rear and you fail.

But the run hurts. With no warm up, with no breakfast, you take off running, you almost always start too fast, and it hurts. All you can think is “walk and you can breathe again. Walk and the pain will stop.” At least your brain tells you this. The truth is otherwise.

Walk and the pain is just beginning.

I walked. Twice. Once in 1983 and again in 1984 after determining that I would not again fail. I walked anyway. I did not like myself because I walked. I walked because I did not like myself. What a trap.

It’s not as if I lived in a depression for the last quarter century. I’ve been really happy and have been wondrously blessed. But it still gnawed at me. I felt like a quitter. That feeling probably was a good thing. After all, it is our dissatisfaction that makes us work to improve. My dissatisfaction probably motivated me to overachieve academically and professionally.

All that is fine, but guys feel the judgment of society on their athleticism, probably in much the same was that girls suffer judgment about their weight or their looks. I know I should probably have turned the page a long time ago, but as time creeps up on us, we guys start to wonder, “is this all there is? Is this all I’m going to be?” My question also asked, “are you still a quitter?”

Every time I finish one of these events, and every time I improve to do something I could never do before, I get to answer that question the way I want. I am not a quitter. I am not just the shy, studious one. When I was a teenager, I walked when I should have run. Now, I am old enough to simply waddle around the golf course with my colleagues. But I don’t. I swim. I bike. I run. I don’t quit. I finish. I compete because I like myself, and I like myself because I compete. It may be 25 years late, but the Little Chief has returned.


Iron Pol said...

There is a fine balance between determination to finish and pushing too hard. Chris Legh can speak to that. Of course, he would also acknowledge that "walking" is tough to do.

The challenge is to find that place where acceptance of what was accomplished trumps feelings of failure about what wasn't. Finishing the race trumps missing the PR. Starting the race trumps a DNF (so long as it's for a reason other than just quitting). The training that was completed trump a DNS due to injury.

Few Americans even attempt this sport. Stepping up to the plate and trying puts you in a very small group.

TriBoomer said...


The all surrounding light of the future drowns the shadows of past.

I have no doubt that what you are learning through your triathlon quest will serve you well in the endeavors of tomorrow.

Next objective: Buffalo Springs IM 70.3

Stay tuned...

Spence said...

Wow. just wow. This is very cool. Congratulations on finishing what you set out to do. It can be so hard to live with those regrets - I think we all have at least one... but it makes the vindication so much sweeter when we finally give ourselves the chance to succeed and the forgiveness to put the past where it belongs - in the past. Nice job - and excellent race report. Looking forward to reading more...

Habeela said...

There is absolutely nothing more satisfying than proving to yourself that you're not a quitter. Your story has made me realize a lot of the reasons I decided to come back after my triathlon dreams. Rock on!

Bolder said...

that wasn't a race report, that was a well-written symphony!

*stands up*


*wild clapping*

*sits down*

great race, great time, great report -- well.freakin.done.

bring on Buffalo Springs!

Scott said...

Thank you so for much for this post. I have been terrorized by my own "quitter" monster for years and feel like I'm (finally...) past it... even though I'm still dreaming about my marathon.

Veeg said...

Ahhhh. You had a great race report, but this post. . . well, it puts it in a whole 'nother category.

Welcome back, Little Chief.

Anonymous said...

I found your page on google, and I have to say I'm impressed. Know that you have the state of mind of a Little Chief, something you heard in the charge is the whole point. Feel honored.

- Little Chief Dancing Whirlwind (2003)