It always seems inevitable that every awards ceremony comes down to people rolling through laundry lists of thank-yous, “I’d like to thank my personal assistant for helping me choose which pair of shoes to wear on the red carpet, I’d like to thank my make-up artist for making me look way better than I do normally, blahblahblah.” I’ll do my best to keep my personal thank yous personal and not bore you all. Of course, there are a few thank-yous that need to said. First off, thank you to all the volunteers out there. Thank you Steve King, who sacrificed his voice so that each and every one of us could feel special And thank you to Subaru, the town of Penticton, and Graham Fraser and the NASports crew for putting on this race. Even though I can’t claim to have been here for all of them, after 27 years, it just seems to keep getting better.
Lastly, though, I want to thank everyone here. You are really the ones that make this possible. Without all of you, there would be no race. For some reason that never ceases to amaze me, everyone here *wanted* to do an Ironman. You wanted to swim 3.8km, then go ride 180km, and then run 42.2km. I think they probably ought to update the waiver to include a psychiatrists approval.
But really, what is it that drives us to step on that starting line, knowing that the finish is many hours and miles away?
In the 5th century BC, the Greek philosopher Aeschylus wrote “there is an advantage in wisdom won from pain.” As intimidating as that sounds, like it could be on the side of a bus plastered with energy drink stickers and pictures of guys cage fighting, it is nevertheless a simple and eloquent truism. It doesn’t matter what time the clock says when you cross the line, everyone here suffered to finish the race. Everyone here felt pain at a point during the race yesterday. And through that… let’s call it a “character building experience,” we learned something about ourselves. And unlike those things in life that are about ease and convenience – like microwaves and valet parking – there really is an advantage to what we learn about ourselves in the face of adversity. There is something rewarding and insightful about discovering just what we really are capable of.
Of course, there is actually the possibility that I’m just perpetuating some bizarre delusion of human psychology. Maybe I just needed to come up with a good reason that three or four toenails will fall off of my feet in the next few days, and I decided to invite all of you to share in my fantasy. I don’t drink very often, so it’s possible that the champagne from yesterday is still doing most of the thinking and talking for me.
Ironman is really a remarkable achievement. It is – in the literal “ohmygodwhyonearthwouldyoudosomethinglikethat” sense of the word – “AWESOME.” Of course, that very same word is used to describe pretty much everything these days — the latest youtube video sensation, anything involving Michael Jackson, even nationalized health care. I’m an American so that is supposed to be funny… But what every finisher achieved is not something that can be measured in the millisecond attention span of modern media. Whether it’s your first Ironman or if you think it might be your last (but hopefully not both at the same time), you have all achieved something that is truly special.
In the weeks after the race, I think there is always a letdown. I know that I’m often left with that “what now?” feeling, when the incredible high (and extraordinary soreness) have left my body, and the race itself fades into the shuffle of every day life. For those of you lucky (and crazy) enough to be going to Hawaii, that may be postponed in the rush to prepare to tackle the distance yet again in five short weeks. For better or worse, I will not be among you, which seems like a really good decision right now as I struggle to walk down stairs, but which will I will probably regret on Oct. 11 when I watch the race unfold online. I will plan ahead to have an extra supply of bacon to stave off any profound regrets.
But when all of the racing for 2009 is done and the offseason comes – at least for those of us that don’t respond to that word with “what’s an ‘offseason?’” – and we all look ahead to next season, the next race, and the next time we don’t have to ride a trainer, don’t forget to also look backwards, to the end of August, to that day when each of us stepped over that line and knew that we had just done something extraordinary. In that moment you all were – and still are – an Ironman.