My First Triathlon: Passion Stomps Ego
By Scott Simpson
February 16, 2010
As a former fat bastard, pack a day plus smoker and party animal extraordinaire, my initial foray into the world of competitive athletics was inauspicious, to say the least.
My athletic background consisted of ... wait, I have no athletic background. Growing up on a farm with hours of chores every day negated any opportunities to participate in after school athletics -- there were cattle to be fed and dung to be disposed; in one end and out the other. While these were physically demanding chores, by no stretch of the imagination did I ever consider them to be athletic activities. They don't give out medals for shit shoveling.
I entered my first triathlon without knowing how to swim, although I knew how to ride a bike and was a sporadic jogger. Fortunately I had quit smoking the previous year but was carrying an extra 30 or so pounds. On the morning of the sprint distance race (750 metre swim, 20 km bike, 5 km run) I stood on the beach, waiting for my age group to start, munching on a power bar, thinking I would need this energy for the next few hours. Eating before swimming, as our mothers told us, is not a good idea, as I would later be reminded.
Prior to the start I had placed my bike in the transition zone with several hundred others and wondered how I would be able to find mine in this sea of bikes. I decided that I would drape a towel -- bright pink no less -- over my bike so that I could spot it easily among the masses. As I left the transition zone to walk toward the swim start I turned back to have a look: my pink towel stood out and my bike would be a cinch to find. I was proud of my ingenuity and pitied those fools that would be searching frantically for their own in the sea of bikes.
Since I had never really been involved in competitive sporting activities, my thoughts were unencumbered by negative chatter and self-doubt. Instead, I distinctly remember that in the moments before the horn blasted to start the race, I took a look around at the other men, and had thoughts to the effect of: 'None of these guys, these super jocks, know who I am. Boy, are they going to be surprised when I kick their ass. They will definitely know who I am after the race'. Holy runaway ego, Batman!
The horn sounded and we ran into the water and started swimming. Seared in my memory is the first 30 seconds: I was knocked around, punched and swam over, and quickly I was in last place, gasping for air, as the pack swam away from me. For some, obviously self-delusional reason, I had thought swimming was like breathing: it would come naturally. Not so much. I flailed around, sinking in and then swallowing the water -- I think the technical term is drowning -- before abandoning my so-called freestyle swim stroke in favour of living. Flipping over onto my back so I could float and catch my breath, I very -- very -- slowly made progress around the swim course.
About a quarter of the way I started to feel sick from the over exertion and started puking that power bar. Treading water as the remnants floated away, I could see the next group of athletes swimming toward me. Then I heard a voice -- to this day I do not know if it was the race announcer's voice echoing across the lake or my guardian angel -- but he said that I should get out of the path of those swimmers. Suddenly I realized that this pack of 100 or so men did not care that I was in their path, they were going to swim right over me and I was going to die. I used all the energy I had to dog paddle perpendicular to their path and barely got out of their way before upchucking the rest of the power bar. Lifeguards in a boat stopped and asked if I wanted a ride back to shore. I'm not sure why, but I declined, and continued flailing -- on my back so I could breathe -- toward the swim exit. Many, many scores of people swam past me and I was dead last out of the water. But not dead.
I made my way from the swim exit to the transition zone to find all the bikes gone except for one lonely bike: the one with the bright pink towel. My ego, already bruised from my swim fiasco, took another hard hit. My ass had been kicked -- thoroughly, and by everyone. Even the sixty something grandmothers. Nevertheless, I hopped on my old, rusty, steel-framed bike and started to chase the competitors in front of me, none of whom I could see.
Eventually, toward the end of the bike section, I caught two cyclists -- a father keeping pace with his 14 year old daughter. She was riding an ancient bike with a banana seat and frilly things extending out of the handle bar ends. I passed them and realized -- much to my ego's relief -- that I wasn't going to finish last overall.
I finished the bike, weakly pulled on my jogging shoes, and started the 5 km run portion. Holy mother of god! My legs felt like tree trunks in quick sand. I quickly discovered that running after cycling was pure, unadulterated torture and struggled to get one foot in front of the other. Time slowed as I battled to find reasons to keep running as my body screamed at me to stop, or at least walk.
Then I saw I was catching a guy in my age group. I was in a new and unfamiliar world of pain and, to be honest, it was an emotional rush to be immersed in it and still want to hunt down a guy in my age group. For some reason, those contradictory forces appealed to something inherent in me; slow down for physical relief vs keep pushing for emotional rush, give up vs never give up.
I made it to the finish line; sore, exhausted and nauseous. My ego had been crushed, my innards turned inside out, and my body abused. I loved it. I had found a passion. That taught me humility, resiliency and self-efficacy. And I was instantly addicted: the next day I signed up for the rest of the triathlons in the season.
Discover your passions. Life's too freakin' short not to.
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HIV+ Triathlete: Til I Drop
Scott Simpson is an HIV+ triathlete, student and inspirational speaker avoiding real work so he can find more time to train and learn. A former party boy, Scott has gone from the fictional national drinking team to the real Canadian national triathlon team and is current provincial long course champion in his age group. Scott is also founder of, and inspiration for, the Race for Dignity, which is both an annual spinathon in Toronto and annual school campus events coordinated by Dignitas Youth chapters. Cumulatively, they have raised almost a million dollars for the medical humanitarian NGO Dignitas International, contributing to over 11,000 people living with HIV/AIDS gaining access to ARVs in Malawi. Scott is currently training for Ironman Louisville 2010.
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