Perhaps it’s because I turn 39 in just a few short hours, but I have been feeling somewhat reflective today.
This morning, my kids were at my door bright and early. Ally had requested to come to my house before school so I could help do her hair for picture day. The boys ran inside to grab more breakfast while Ally got the curling iron heated up. During the backpack handoff, their dad and I came to an agreement on ordering a picture package that we can just split rather than ordering two as we have done in the past. Dare I say we are making progress?
A whirlwind 20 minutes later we were in the car on our way to school and while we sat at the world’s longest stoplight, I looked over at my daughter as she told a story about horses. “Who is this kid?” I thought. How am I possibly old enough to be her mom? She’s so grown up.
When I pulled into the drop off circle, Ally and Ethan jumped out fairly quickly. Silas, as usual, was the pokey one. He is also the only one who will still give me a kiss goodbye upon request. Sadly, I don’t know how much longer he’ll do that.
I went about my morning. A trip to the post office to mail some bills (yes, I still do that even though the majority of the world does it online) followed by a visit to Dr. Brian to get me ready for my race on Sunday. A stop at the bank, and the gas station and finally Starbucks.
By the time I got to the gym, it was closing in on noon. I ran into Maria at the door. Even though I half expected to see her, it’s still funny to randomly run into a friend from 30 years ago. I did a warm up on the elliptical before changing into my swimsuit and heading to the pool. I had the pool to myself at first, which is pretty typical. It’s funny, a couple weeks ago when I signed up at Gold’s, it occurred to me that it was the first time I have ever in my life signed up for a gym membership by my own decision and completely on my own dime. Weird. Even weirder still? That the very first thing I did after signing the papers was go jump in the pool. I’ve used the pool more than any other part of the facility so far. So when I say I usually have the pool to myself, I mean all 5 times I’ve been in it.
But today, interestingly enough, the pool was the happening place to be. And before I tell this story, let me offer 2 things. 1. I am in absolutely no position to make fun of anyone’s abilities, so please don’t take this as such. And 2. I don’t claim to be an expert at much of anything, least of all swimming.
So, anyway, after about 10 minutes, I noticed a fellow in the far lane from me. My initial reaction whenever I see anyone else in the pool is…Oh boy, I hope they don’t notice how slow I am. But as I paused to fix a leak in my goggles, I noticed that the fella in the far lane didn’t even have goggles. He was barely putting his face in the water. That was the first thing Coach Andy told me to do 2 years ago. The second was “relax your shoulders”. “Far Lane” looked just as tense as I had initially. Which is probably why a guy at Lifetime had suggested I take some lessons a couple years ago. Granted he was right, but no one likes unsolicited advice. I never showed my face (or any other part of me) in that pool ever again. I think “Far Lane” did 4 lengths. Two full laps in the pool, I calculated as I passed him with ease, and then he resigned. Yeah, I remember those days of only being able to swim a couple laps and then giving up out of exhaustion or frustration. Or both. No judgment from me, Far Lane.
Again, I had the pool to myself. And then a moment later, a girl in a Tyr two-piece suit came in and set her towel and water bottle near the end of the pool, taking the place of Far Lane. She put on her swim cap and goggles and looked the part of a real swimmer. Again I thought, “Please don’t notice how painfully slow I am…”
I continued my swim, paying no mind to how many laps I was doing today. I just wanted to do a consistent swim for 30 minutes without using the end of the pool to take a break or push off toward the other end. I don’t have the slightest idea how to do flip turns, but as a triathlete I don’t really need to. Basically, I just get to the end of the blue line on the bottom of the pool and then change my stroke to get turned around going in the other direction. We’ll call that the “triathlete’s adaptation of open water swim in a pool”. Anyway, I was just doing my thing, watching the clock, trying not to be obvious that I was trying to see “Looks the part” through the peripheral view of my goggles. Wait…did I just pass her? No, I had to be imagining that. And besides, even if I did, she’s probably still doing a warm up. But several minutes went by and I realized that I was doing almost 2 lengths to her 1. Ok, so it is entirely possible that my competitive juices kicked in and I began trying to see how much faster I could swim than her. But can you blame me? I’m never faster than anyone in the pool! As I climbed out of the pool, I patted myself on the back for the fact that now I can go knock out a 30 or 45 minute or hour long swim, my biggest concern being boredom. Not breathing, not exhausted shoulders, not wondering whether or not I can do it. Just simply I don’t want to stare at that blue line while counting my strokes any longer. In a race setting, it’s relentless forward progress toward a tangible finish line. Training in the pool is relentless forward progress toward the wall, and then back, over and over again. But it trains your mind to keep going, even when you really, really, REALLY don’t want to.
As I wrapped my towel around me, I noticed that “Looks the part” didn’t so much cut through the water like a pro, but sort of wound through the water more like a snake. Since I don’t know that much about swimming technique, I won’t even try to pretend that I could coach her into a more efficient stroke. I just know that she probably could glide through the water more effectively if she didn’t have the limp noodle thing going on. But, who am I to evaluate?
So, whoever sent me an early birthday gift of not one, but TWO slower swimmers than myself today, Thank you! But in seriousness, that whole experience again made me take note of how far I’ve come. 3 years ago I had no desire to even attempt a triathlon, even less desire to go the distance of an Ironman. And why was that? One thing: the great unknown. I knew nothing about swimming. Or racing a bike. And especially not putting 3 sports together. But at that same time, as I was facing so many other unknowns, I decided to give it a Go.
I always say the hardest part about running up hill is that you only see how far you have left to go, and not how far you’ve come. But today reminded me to turn around every once in a while and be proud of how far I’ve come.
Right now, as I type this, my kids are asleep upstairs after a crazy evening of homework, dinner, Tae Kwon Do, Gymnastics and buying crickets for the lizard. There is wrapping paper strewn about Ally’s bedroom floor. There is a poster board and markers all over the dining room table, even though I’m not supposed to look in there. And when I put Silas to bed tonight, he made me set an alarm for the morning so that he and Ally can get up to do “birthday things”. It’s precious and terrifying at the same time. But that pretty accurately describes my life. Precious and terrifying. After the “birthday things”, I will spend the day doing things I love. I will get my first pumpkin spice latte of the season. It’s tradition. And I will go to lunch with my girlfriends. And spend time with my kids. And tomorrow evening my beau is making dinner for me. But after I drop the kids at school, I will go for my annual reflection run.
I will look back over the past 39 years and I acknowledge how blessed I am to be standing right here right now, right where I am. I’ll looking back at the valleys I’ve climbed out of and know that God willing, I’ve got a whole lot more climbing to do. I don’t know what hills are still ahead of me, but I know that I’m courageous and strong enough to get over them. I’ll turn around once in a while to remember where I’m coming from. And it will be worth it. Because as challenging as it is to get there, the view from the top is always magnificent. My life is not perfect, but it’s mine. My journey. Relentless forward progress into the unknown. Precious and terrifying.