I never really had any sports figures that I looked up to growing up. Sure there were players that I enjoyed watching watching but there was never anyone who I felt like truly encapsulated what I wanted to be as an athlete. That all changed as I watched Lionel Sanders take second place in the Iron Man Triathlon Championship last Saturday.
Triathlon races consist of three events: a swim, a bike and a run, all sandwiched into one race. The Iron Man Triathlon is 2.4-mile (3.86-km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25-km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.2-km) run. It is a brutal, unforgiving, mentally draining race. It is also the race that I have become obsessed about completing. You may be asking why someone would want to put themselves through such a daunting physical task...which is an incredibly logical question.
The simple answer is that I need to prove to myself I can do it.
I've never considered myself to be all that mentally strong. Growing up and even into my early 20's I found myself giving excuses and finding reasons why I "couldn't" accomplish different things. It was frustrating, knowing that I was smart enough, gifted enough and physically able to accomplish my dreams but lacking the mental discipline to get them done. A challenge would arise and I would immediately see it as an impenetrable obstacle that wouldn't allow me to continue on. The reality is that I was too lazy to put in the work to accomplish what I desired.
Two things happened in 2014 that would spark a change in me. The first was that my wife had convinced me to sign up for a sprint triathlon race. The second was that I had decided to start a fundraiser to support my father who had been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. These two new ventures threw me into a world I was completely unaccustomed to. On one hand, Kara was destroying her triathlon training. She was a former competitive swimmer and knew how to put the work in. I was a former high school volleyball player who mostly got by with some decent athletic ability. My body was freaking out at the concept of training almost everyday. This reality was challenged by the fact that I really didn't want to lose to my wife. Call it whatever you want, but it was absolutely a motivating factor.
In between training sessions I had started planning out this idea I had for a fundraiser. It was to be a wing eating relay, with teams of five competing to raise money and then coming together for a wing eating race. It sounded cool so off I went. What I didn't account for was my lack of knowledge or training for anything to do with event planning. Suddenly I had contestants and volunteers asking questions and I had no idea what the answers were. The stress ended up being too much. I stopped my training, stopped my planning and for a week I sat at home depressed watching Netflix. I gave up.
Fellas, this is where I tell you that you will know you've found the one when she calls you on your BS and tells you to get over yourself. This is essentially what Kara told me. It was a defining moment for me. I realized that I had not just the ability, but the responsibility to take control over my life.
I ended up finishing my first sprint triathlon at 1:31:00 (1 minute slower than Kara...still kills me) and for our first ever Wingin' it for Parkinson's event we raised almost $7000 for Parkinson's Disease Research.
As I sat and watched the race unfold, I felt like connected to Lionel Sanders race like I had never experienced before. Sure, it had to do with the fact that this was the first Canadian I had witnessed accomplish such a feat. It felt like more though. It was the fact that he didn't take the prototypical road to winning. His swim was fine, not great, his bike was astonishingly fast which generally leads to burnout on the run and his run...well his run LOOKED ATROCIOUS. It looked like he was going to fall over at any moment. Except he didn't. He kept going, and going and going. He was in pain, he was visibly exhausted and yet something in him kept him going. His mental toughness and his ability to battle through was inspiring. It is exactly that mental toughness that I have been trying to find ever since that first triathlon and here I finally had someone who showed me exactly what that looked like in a way that made sense to me.
We all have the things that we would consider to be our weaknesses. I will never be the most motivated or strong willed person but that doesn't mean I can't be better. I'm sure Lionel Sanders has his faults, the things he is terrible at, but for this one day he didn't allow them to keep him from accomplishing something that has been done by only one other Canadian male IronMan: Reach the podium.
I will never be a professional Ironman triathlete. Occasionally I like to imagine it is possible but let's be real. That doesn't mean I don't have my own "podium" I can work towards. Sanders showed us over the course of an eight hour race, what true mental toughness looks like. If we want to accomplish our goals, whether it is to have a clean home, or get that promotion, or finally get that start up off the ground, we need to learn how to have the mental toughness to get past the moments that suck. Those moments in which everything around you is crumbling and you have the option to finally give up, that is your defining moment. That is when you get to decide what type of strength you have. Will it be a Sanders type of mental toughness? Or will it be more along the lines of a Tim's Netflix binge. It's going to hurt, but put down the remote, it'll be worth it.