Anything is possible
I haven’t lived at home with my mom in over 30 years. I’ve been married 28 years, I am the mother of an adult child…and yet I still call my mother when I get home from being out somewhere. It’s a small thing that will save her a sleepless night imagining all the ways I might be dead.
It’s not unusual for me to receive a frantic call about an accident on a highway I may have driven once – “Honey, I heard there was an accident on Route 9. I know you drive that way sometimes…Are you okay?”
“Um, yes, mom. I’m at work.”
“Oh. Right. Okay, darling. Talk to you later!”
Or perhaps a tornado touched down in a town…in a nearby state.
“Honey, they just said on the news that a tornado touched down in Pennsylvania. You’re not going out, right?”
“No, we’re in for the evening. We’re fine, though. I think it was 500 miles from here….”
And forget if I am taking her out somewhere and she’s waiting for me to pick her up. I can never be late lest I arrive to find her in a heap, weeping at the foot of a police officer painstakingly explaining that her daughter is late and must be lying dead in a car wreck somewhere. Every Single Time I arrive at her home she says, “Thank God! I was worried something happened to you.”
All this to say, it should come as no surprise that I have inherited the morbidly active, fear-inducing breath-constricting imagination of my mother. Indeed, I suspect mine is her imagination to the tenth power. She should be calm and worry-free for her child, me, is a docile, security-seeking, rule following being who will almost always choose the safe avenue and eschew the dangerous side streets. I drive the speed limit and stay in the right lane. I am not inclined to seek adventure. Danger gives me hives.
I, however, gave birth to the wide-eyed, curious child who refused to walk until he could run full speed downhill into traffic. This child became the young man who jumped out of planes repeatedly – once was not enough – in order to obtain his skydiving license; who went to Thailand to swim with whale sharks while getting his scuba license; who, when his dad said, Let’s go trekking, went online to buy plane tickets to Nepal.
They went to Nepal. They called me from Mt. Everest to ask me to Google what was the worst thing that could happen if you got altitude sickness (you DIE), because their guide had it and they were trying to decide if they should continue WITHOUT him to their final destination (Everest Base Camp) despite EVERYONE’S warning that that was not a good idea in any way. Is it at all surprising that when I did not hear from them after that, and my calls went straight to voice mail the next day…and the day after that…and the day after that…that I KNEW they had decided to continue, that they had gotten lost, that they had gotten altitude sickness, that one or both of them had fallen off a cliff and was lying somewhere dead and unreachable while the other suffered alive, cold, full of guilt and wondering how in the world he would tell me the other was dead? (Spoiler alert: They did not die.)
On day four, I dialed their number every half an hour and listened to the operator tell me they could not be reached. (I screamed and cried, knowing they were unreachable because they were freezing to death lying under 20 feet of snow due to an avalanche.) At 5 am, it finally rang. My husband picked up. I burst into tears. The phone, he said, had frozen. But they were fine now. They had climbed up and down, had the best beer of their lives at the bottom and my son was unavailable because he was getting a massage. I accused him of lying and hiding the truth that my son was unconscious or dead. He assured me he was fine and promised to have him call after his massage.
What an adventure we had, he said. He had tried to convince my son that they should give up and try again another time, but he lost that argument. (Not sure how hard he tried to win it.) They left the guide behind and continued their ascent. They walked 12-14 hours a day because they had a plane to catch (they hadn’t scheduled enough days to actually make the journey in a normal time frame). They started leaving baggage behind at different inns in an effort to make the going easier…as they both got a touch of altitude sickness (my son in the head, my husband in the lungs.) Oh, but it was so exciting to see snow leopard prints although they never saw the actual leopard (THANK GOD) and it was so coolwhen they were eyed by some mountain goat-like creature that, judging from the picture they took, wondered exactly why they were on his mountain.
And why was the goat confused? Because they had made their own path away from the Everest Base Camp path to some other mountain. So…they scaled the side of the mountain (ROPES? WHAT ROPES??!!) to get back to the right path they could see…across the abyss. Eventually, they reached Everest Base Camp. And passed it by, thinking it couldn’t possibly be it. Too mundane. Must be that place up there. (Base Camp 1). Note: Most climbers spend 4-8 WEEKS at Everest Base Camp (at 17,598 feet) to acclimatize to the altitude. Base Camp 1 is at 19,000 feet.
You can’t be here! Some employee screeched at them. Clearly, they did not belong: You need a reservation, a license, oxygen, tents, food…once you get that high. More likely than not you also have a GUIDE, a group, a Sherpa. My son and my husband had the clothes on their backs and each other. I’m sure the employee thought they were out of their minds. (Don’t you? I did.) You must go back! He screamed. They rested a few minutes so my husband could try to breathe and then they started the eternal descent. Since my son’s head was exploding, they had to walk down some 10 hours until his head stopped throbbing.
They didn’t die, but they did do so many of the things I had imagined. Is it any wonder I always presume the worst?
All of the above is merely backstory. What you need to know before reading the real story.
My son competes in Ironmen competitions. He has completed one full event at Lake Placid, New York (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and a 26.2-mile run). Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is a marathon after a 112-mile bike. And a 2.4-mile swim. He has completed five half Ironman competitions (1.2 mile-swim, 56-mile bike, and a 13.1-mile run).
I, like you, think he is leaning towards nuts, but I do find it motivating to see so many people, some as old as 75, challenging themselves to do something that is physically and mentally very difficult. It is a great achievement and though I often start the race thinking, oh, maybe I could do this, I always end up with, but why would I deliberately force myself to endure so much pain? My 5K at the gym three times a week is plenty hard.
So, this past weekend, my husband and I went to see my son participate in a half Ironman competition in Connecticut. He had done this particular course before and had done a lot of training and other events in the meantime, so he expected to see significant improvement from his performance a year earlier.
The day started with heavy fog. You couldn’t see more than 50 meters in the water. First, they delayed the start. Then they shortened the swim and delayed the start again to give the officials time to remake the swim course. This was exciting because it meant he could swim full out for 750 meters, get a fast time and start the bike less tired than normal. It was great.
His transition time was one of his best and then he was off on the bike. We used the tracking device on our phone to keep abreast of his progress while we had breakfast. It stopped tracking him at mile 29. When we thought he should be finishing within half an hour or so, we went to the bike finish to await his arrival.
My husband started getting nervous. “He should be here.”
“Maybe not,” I said. “Perhaps he had more difficulty on the climbs than he anticipated.”
My husband went to the event officials and asked if his bike was back in transition, just in case we had missed him returning.
Nope. And his running shoes were there, waiting for him. “Just go watch the race. He’ll show up,” the less than sympathetic man said.
After some 2 hours pass the time we expected him, my husband had questioned the officials again (they radioed others along the route and no one had any news about bib 313), the on-site police officers, firemen and medical representatives. No reports about bib 313.
We figured, if he had fallen or had a flat tire, someone would have noticed. Therefore, he must be in a port-a-potty, sick, unconscious and alone with no one aware of his dilemma. Alternatively, he had lost control near the lake we had seen on our drive across the bike course the previous day, and fallen in, unable to do anything to help himself because his shoes were clipped into the bike. Or, he lost control and skidded into nearby woods, crashed into a tree knocking himself unconscious and was laying, bleeding somewhere where no one could see him.
I stood alone trying desperately to remain calm and not cry, while watching the crowd dwindle as rider after rider rolled in.
My husband ran around the park trying to get someone to look for our son or tell us what might have happened.
Had he been able to ask the returning athletes, however, they would have said, oh yeah, I saw him. That’s the guy RUNNING WITH HIS BIKE.
Well, it turns out near mile 28, he got what he thought was a flat tire. but when he went to change the inner tube, he realized it was a damaged tire, not the inner tube. He rode on the flat to the aid station.
“Do you have a tire? he asked.
“No,” they said.
“Can I leave the bike here and just run?” he asked.
“No,” they said. “You have to keep the bike with you.”
“Can I run with the bike,” he asked.
“I guess so,” they said.
And so he started to run. Barefoot. With his bicycle.
Some riders offered him food and drink as they passed by. He just asked that if they saw bike tech, let them know he needed help.
One guy offered him socks since his, by that time, were all torn up.
He stopped at two more aid stations for hydration – no bike tech to be found – and kept running.
A spectator saw him running and called his wife who was a few miles up the course and asked her to bring out a pair of running shoes for a guy who was running barefoot with his bike.
That was mile 46.
At mile 50, after running 22 miles, he found bike tech. They had a tire. They replaced his (took the Good Samaritan’s running shoes) and he biked the last six miles. He came in smiling at me. I have never been so happy to see that smile.
Then, he sped through transition, put on his running shoes, and ran the 13.1 mile run course.
With blisters the size of walnuts on his feet.
He finished the competition in 7 hours and 23 minutes. Two and a half hours longer than he anticipated…but really, in the grand scheme of things, he can’t complain. He finished.
When my husband and I were on the shuttle going to get the car from a nearby lot (we left our son laying splayed on the grass at the side of the road, exhausted), all the participants were talking about this inspiring athlete they saw running with his bike on the bike course. He really motivated me, so many of them said. My husband and I held hands and smiled at each other, tears in our eyes.
The slogan of Ironman is “Anything is possible.” I often think my son lives that phrase (frequently to my chagrin, it’s true.)
In a recent blog post, he wrote: “My love [of Ironman] stems from my desire to push myself both physically and mentally, to prove to myself and those around me that limits do not exist, that impossible is just an excuse, and that we can achieve great things, the greatest things, if only we have the courage to find our fire, burn off the cold and light up the dark.”
May you all have the courage to find your personal fire and let it burn bright!