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What heaven do these faithful seek? For some it is simply a finish line before midnight. For others, heaven is an invisible start line in the Pacific Ocean off Kona. Zealots? Idolaters? The Ironman symbol, its heavy human shape, is distinctly pagan looking, a false idol of a new age that demands blood and sweat sacrifices. I have met men who have sacrificed wife and children to the altar of sub-nine hours. I have also watched the lame walk 42.2 kilometres, hailed them as heroes for their determination not to quit. I have shaken my head at friends who continue through the pain of injuries that will never heal to sign up again and again trying to reach that piece of heaven called Kona. But I have also helped a woman who could not swim finish the race. A cancer survivor, mother of three, grandmother of one. This was not a woman praying to false idols for healing, nor beating herself to make it into heaven. This was a woman who was celebrating, thanking her god in her own way, by using the gift of strength that she had been given back, rejoicing in her health and body and the miracle that she was a part of. Her faith in me to teach her, her faith in God – her handing over her fate to the both of us helped her complete another miracle, learning to swim so that she could survive the tsunami that is the start of Ironman and complete her race.
Who are we and why are we? These are questions that I had a chance to contemplate many times on the rides I did leading up to Ironman Canada 2003. I learned to trust swimming in the lake. Trust what? I'm not sure. But in the murk, the bottomless gloom rays of sunshine would break through and I could let go of fears of inland sharks and Ogopogo and gain a sense of calm that let me know I would be OK. On rides in the Rockies I saw antelope in the river, marveled at the upheaval of the Earth's crust as it soared above me, purple strata visible in the rising sun and wonder at creation. Like the Lake Poets I had time to contemplate. Like the monks, meditate. Biking and running were often done alone. The repetitive motions of my legs pushing pedals carried me over vast distance where I was aware of the quiet and solitude that can be everywhere in the vast landscapes. When running I was supremely aware, the cracks in the pavement, the waves in the lake below, the different texture of rain and cold. The vast and the miniscule bringing me closer to a sense of wonder – God in the Details.