Triathlon was always something other people did. Not me. I could not swim. In fact, I did not swim. I wouldn’t even try. A near-drowning when I was a kid made sure of it.
The experience was still, 30 years later, so vivid and acute. I could still see my body being pushed into the deep end of the pool. I could still see myself plummet into the depths of the water, screams coming out of my mouth apparent only by the chaotic bubbles rushing upwards, me in sudden panache, knowing I would die, trying to hold my breath. Then something grabbing me, yanking me to surface, pulling me from water to deck. A hand pounding my back. Then suddenly a cough, then another, with water shooting from my mouth, I cried. And cried.
And I never forgot. Nor did I forgive. Water was evil. It was for other people. Not me. I didn’t swim. I did not want to swim.
Which was a shame. All of it. Because of the goals I formed as a wide-eyed sports-active kid. Watching the annual running of the NYC Marathon on TV year after year helped me form the goal of running a marathon. That I could do. Another was, after watching airing of the Race Across America, I wanted to ride my bike across the United States. I even knew the route I would one day take. And the last was, after being moved by it on TV, was to do an Ironman, only this was one goal that, quite sadly, I would never achieve. Because it involved swimming, something I had no interest in.
Over the following years, I went on to run many marathons and even go on crazy cycling adventures, never across the US, but certainly enough to satisfy both childhood dreams. But the other, Ironman, would never happen. In fact, it wasn’t even an option. So I ignored it by thinking up other goals in its place.
Until one day my wife (girlfriend at the time) announced that she wanted to do a triathlon. And she wanted me to do it with her. I laughed the idea off. The notion of me swimming was too far reaching to the point it was silly. I didn’t swim. Swimming was for other people.
Months went by. During this time my wife made only trace mention of her intentions with me all but ignoring her plea that I do a triathlon with her.
And then 4th of July came when we found ourselves at a family reunion in which we, along with family, were putting a huge dent in a full keg of Heineken.
My wife brought it up again. Only this time she didn’t wait for me to brush off the notion as silly. Instead, she talked right over me.
“Do it with me,” she said, “you will do awesome.”
But I don’t swim.
“And then you will want to do another.”
I don’t swim. Water is for other people.
“We could go down to Miami for our birthdays. There’s a half Iron on your birthday. You could do the half; I could do the shorter one.”
“And after that we can go to Germany for World Cup. You can do Ironman Germany; it’s around the same time.”
In a drunken-dare dream, even before I agreed to do a triathlon with her, I confessed my childhood dream of one day doing an Ironman.
Less than two months later we, together, did a sprint triathlon in Rhode Island called Try the Tri. That day I stared perhaps my greatest and deepest rooted fear in the eyes, one I’ve carried for nearly 30 years, and I kicked that son of a bitch right in the teeth. I went into the water that day with the idea that I might not come out. That is no exaggeration. I struggled in the water, it sucked, and at times I thought I might not make it, but I did. That day I crawled out of the ocean dead last of 200 others. I went on to finish in the top 30.
The rest, as they say, is history, one carved, almost to the path, by my future wife.