If I weren’t a triathlete, I would not know the musical whisper of chain and wheels and smooth pavement on a dark morning. I wouldn’t know the feeling of my thighs pumping up and down like pistons with the breeze swooshing past my face before the rest of the city even wakes up.
If I weren’t a triathlete, I wouldn’t know the new-found assurance of lifting weights at the gym--knowing that even as mediocre as I am, none of the bulky metal heads can use those big muscles to beat me to the line in any discipline at any distance.
If I weren’t a triathlete, I might be the average middle aged man. My largest feature would be my belly instead of my spirit.
If I weren’t a triathlete, I’d get a whole lot more sleep. I probably would not have been outside on Wednesday morning to see the iridescent peach, pink and purple in the dappled clouds announcing the coming of the sunrise. If, on the off-chance I had been outside, would it have even mattered. Would I have noticed the sunrise or felt the same sense of presence had I not just completed a swim?
If I weren’t a triathlete, I probably would not have been in the finishers chute for the Austin Half-Marathon on Sunday. And if I had been there to spectate, I wouldn’t have felt the fullness of air in my lungs and the honest pain of escaping the gravitational pull of being “like everybody else.”
If I weren’t a triathlete, I probably would not have discovered that encouragement is lighter than air. I saw Kathleen with about 5 miles to go and was bridging up to her. I reached her about the time we hit a stiff hill and told her to grab my wheel and I'd pull her up. I don't think I annoyed her, and I tried not to be a chatty Kathy. There were long periods where I just listened to her footsteps and breathing, but for the next four miles I talked her through climbing and descending about 200 yards at a time, and in the process focused on my own form. When you find your friend on the race course, and you make it your mission to fill her sails with encouragement, you get pulled along too. Who knew?
If I weren’t a triathlete, I might not have discovered that being first to the line is not nearly as delicious as watching a friend's eyes open to the whole new self that they never knew. I told her that I expected her to beat me to the line, and after the last hill, I accelerated. So did she. I pulled ahead. So did she. Faster I went. She went faster still. A couple more surges and she was gone. She finished her fastest 5k ever in the last 3.1 miles of a VERY hilly half-marathon. I took the finisher's medal given to me and put it around her neck with a smile that was almost as big as her own. That finish for her is just another beginning.
If I weren’t a triathlete, I would be poor indeed.