Categorized | Sports

Ironmanlife: What sports are all about

Kevin Mackinnon has another story from the world of Ironman

For the record, the scratchy throat and runny nose started a few hours ago. Lots of body aches, too. My prediction is that I’m going to be deathly ill and bedridden for … well, I’m guessing a couple of weeks. Things will likely come around just before the closing ceremonies.

I know, I had my little diatribe last week, winging to you all that the Ironman was every bit as entertaining as the Super Bowl and should garner more attention. Yes, I realize that it would be hypocritical to then turn around and say that the reason I haven’t returned any e-mails, answered my phone or done any work for a couple of weeks was because I was glued to my television watching the Olympics. Which is why it’s very handy that this flu thing appears to be coming along.

Which is exactly the words that I’ll use when the office calls on Monday, wondering what I’m up to. I had lots of work planned for the last two weeks of February. It’s too bad I got that bout of flu and was forced to lie on the couch.

So what is it that will keep me watching the Olympics? As disillusioned as I am with so much of top level sports – the news that 30 Olympians won’t be competing because of positive drug tests during the last few weeks hardly comes as a surprise – I just love watching people compete at the pinnacle event for their sport.

That’s especially true for the winter games because so many of the athletes competing aren’t ever going to make huge dollars or receive national attention from what they do. Just like the world’s best triathletes, most of these guys and gals aren’t bringing in NFL type paychecks.

Most of the athletes competing at the winter games toil away in relative obscurity for four years, only to receive lots of attention (and in Canada, crazy amounts of pressure to “Own the Podium”) during this two week period. Most of them make it to the Olympics thanks to their own hard work and sacrifices, not to mention the sacrifices made by their families.

For me, watching these athletes compete is every bit as exciting as watching so many of you compete at an Ironman. The desire to see what you can do, to see what you are made of. To put everything on the line for one day.

Yes, competing at the Olympics is all about winning. Going for the gold requires that kind of mindset. Sometimes, though, winning doesn’t require finishing first or even getting the silver or bronze. Sometimes you win by just getting there.

Here’s a note I got from Russell Dirks after he read my column last week, which is ample proof of that.

You hit the point comparing the Iron Man events to the Super Bowl. Personally I have never watched a Super bowl or watched football on TV. Let me tell you one thing about Ironman events that most civilians might miss out on.

I trained, competed, and successfully completed my first full Ironman event June, 2009, in Coeur D’lene Idaho. It was my first triathlon of any distance. During the training process, a full year by the way, I met some truly inspiring and great people.

One stood out however – a 60-year-old man who swam at the same pool I did. I never met someone so determined. His knees were scarred and battered beyond belief plus, if I am not mistaken, he had a chest scar that indicated he might have been a heart patient. But what a heart he had.

He was always at the gym burning up treadmills, cycling, and swimming. I knew he was hurting, but he never gave up. When the weather got good enough to swim open water in the lake, I saw him there, easy to spot with his American flag swim cap & determined stroke.

Race day came and it was cold, windy with a good chop on the water. 2,000 athletes mulling around on the beach and I bump into Jim. Looking out on the water he said, “Man, I’m scared, I don’t think I can make it.”

I told him “You paid your dues and earned the right to stand on this beach with your fellow triathletes. Don’t let it get in your head. You can do it.

“But you’re a good swimmer,” he said. “So are you!” I replied.

He was nervous so I told him I would start with him and go with him until things settled and he got into t rhythm. The cannon went off and we got separated – I never saw him the rest of the day.

This is how Jim’s swim went: After the start, his first lap time indicated to race officials that he would never make the cut off. They actually stopped him as he came out of the water to run thru the timer and back in the water. He was asked point blank: “Do you really want to go back out?”

He did. He missed the cut-off and was taken to the medical tent right from the beach, if I remember. His day was done. But, he finished like the damn champ he is. The crowd, I am told, went nuts watching him go back out. They stayed to cheer him and others on.

They stayed until every last swimmer was out. Nothing new to Ironman followers, it’s a dedicated and enthusiastic bunch. Yeah, it is this kind of drama people glued to television just might miss out on. The sights, sounds … the whole visceral experience. Jim will be back guaranteed.

My father is a dedicated football fan who never really ever came to anything I ever did. He had never experienced something like the Ironman. It was very dark and cold when I crossed the finish line, but there my dad was pushing thru the crowd to greet me. He was very emotional when he heard the words, “Russell Dirks, YOU-ARE-AN-IRONMAN!”

My favorite quote sums up these experiences fittingly:

Theodore Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

Russell Dirks: “Dream as if you’ll live forever, Live as if you’ll die tomorrow.”

(Reach Kevin Mackinnon at kevin@ironman.com)

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