Sunday, August 27, 2006

Spirit of Triathlon: Friendship

What is it about this triathlon? Swimmers can be elitist and standoffish. Road cyclists can be really elitist and standoffish. Runners, especially the fast ones, can be darn intimidating. Yet, what happens when you squash all these prickly disciplines together?
Oddly enough, this "individual" sport of triathlon creates a really cool and welcoming community that is fertile for friendships. Some of those friendships are just people you greet from the handlebars. Sometimes it is the friendly assistance in setting up transition or figuring out that wetsuit for the first time. Sometimes it is nothing more earth shattering than post-race libations. But some of our friendships transcend this hobby or sport that we share. Why is that?
I am sure that I have neither the complete answer nor a corner on the market for insight, but I have a theory. Perhaps nothing is quite so toxic to community as pride. This sport will humble the proud. The swim champ is likely to get smoked by the cyclist. The uber roadie will leave his legs in T2, only to get smoked by every runner in his age group. The road racing champion first must avoid drowning and remember how to clip out before falling on his bike. All three of these might get smoked by the nutritionist who is smart enough to stay hydrated and fueled on the day.
At this stage in our sport's devleopment, none of us (or practically none of us) comes to triathlon having lettered in "triathlon." Many of us (especially us guys for some reason) come to the sport relatively late in life, as full grown adults. We don't come as "triathletes" per se, but maybe as runners, or swimmers, or cyclists, often having only recreational ability. We don't come because of our strengths; we come in spite of our weaknesses. None of us has it all together. Indeed, I bet if you interviewed the best professional triathletes, precious few of them would feel like they had it all together.
So what happens when you have a group of individuals that recognize their own shortcomings and the strengths to be gleaned from someone else? You have a community that creates friendships. Our tri club meetings are probably much like yours. The 30 something females, the 40 something males, the grandmas and grandpas, and the teens and twenties are all on the same footing. All share the fellowship of stupid mistakes, limited abilities, starting from wherever they are and moving onward and upward. After all, the ironman was the sprint tri newbie, not that long ago.
If it is true, as Saint Thomas Aquinas said, that "[t]here is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship," then it is also true in my case that there is no passtime on earth more to be prized than my sport, triathlon.


the Dread Pirate Rackham said...

Someone told me that a great triathlete is someone who is "average" at all 3 sports.

So, for the first time in my life I'm openly aspiring to be "average".

Perhaps Ego is the thing which separates triathletes from individuals who are good at their separate disciplines. If I'm only "average", I am easily humbled in the presence of greatness.

21st Century Mom said...

I agree completely with your analysis - it is the fact that most triathletes are going to have a strong leg, an okay leg and a leg that they just get through that engenders an appreciation of other people's strenghts and weaknesses. It also helps people to remember to stay out of the way on their slow leg.

I'm not in a tri club but maybe I should fix that. Nice post! Thanks for sharing your very positive thoughts.

Jessi said...

Very interesting post. I especially loved the statement about how we do tri's not because of our strengths, but in spite of our weaknesses.

Iron Benny said...

As always Greyhound, nicely done. I mentioned something similar in a post some time ago. I was on a ride one day, and the local cycling club rode by and not one of them waved back at me. All of them saw me, but none of them waved. And, they weren't all in a pack either, so there was no reasonable excuse, other than their snootiness (sp?). Then there are triathletes. My very first sprint race, despite the pain because I was so fat, I got hooked immediately. It wasn't the swimming, riding or running. It was by far, without a doubt, the supportive nature of all the other athletes. The sport called to me and I have never looked back. Thanks for verbalizing what many of us think about this great sport. I've played many sports, albeit, not well, but never have I been more proud to be associated with any other sport as I am with triathlon. It truly is a pure sport with pure intentions and pure results. Take care

Iron Pol said...

I want as many friends in the race as possible. Each friend represents one more person who might stop and drag me back to the surface when I start drowning.

Nytro said...

well said....

wait, does that mean that we're friends? if you don't mind, i'll prefer to think of you as my mortal enemy until after SOMA. work for you? good.

Wendy said...

Come over to the Swim Side, Greyhound!!!! If the time comes when your body will no longer tolerate the Demands of the Tri, the lure of the Swim Side may yet win you over! You just may find that the Masters swimming community also offers friendships and a supportive community. (I can't speak for the road racers.)

When anyone finds a sport that completes them it is a truly wondrous thing. Everyone should be so lucky. But we all see our sports from the inside out. What could be perceived as standoffish and elitist, may simply be a different approach. (Being part of a club, any club, by its very nature is exclusionary.)

I talk to fitness swimmers, masters swimmers and triathletes at lane swims. But I truly believe that the only reason some of the tri boys speak to me is that I have a trump card. My brother does triathlons.

Fe-lady said...

I have been in this sport a LONG time (26 years) and like any other it has those who think us "old ladies" and "newbies" are to be laughed at. I have seen it first hand. It's ugly. And those that were snobs and made fun of the age-groupers didn't fare so well on a national level, so it came back to haunt them. They are probably not even racing anymore. It's like lumping teachers, doctors and lawyers into one category. But the "bad" ones(triathletes, teachers, etc.) eventually take themselves out of the equation sooner or later. Hence we are left with what you see in your tri-club. Nice triathletes. ;-)

Fe-lady said...

Oh and trail runners are great people too!