Monday, July 19, 2010

The Athlete Support System

We all learn quickly that triathlon shows us who we are. This enlightenment doesn’t always agree with the vision we have of ourselves. It usually involves good news and bad news. An unexpected second wind can give us just enough to drop cyclists on a hill. We may not have the stamina we thought we trained for, but we make it across the line. For most age group athletes, that’s the reward. After that, we think about faster. We obsess about the precious seconds we can gain or lose from last minute tactical decisions. Late nights are spent laboring over training plans, gear selection, and strategy.

Through each course of a race we find ourselves. Alone, behind the pack in an ocean swim. Passing them on the bike. Trying to catch our breath in transition. All of these moments add up when we cross the finish, and tell us what we have inside. While we all have different reasons for trying (Tri•Ing!), the benefits we gain are equally diverse. Health, confidence, and inner strength are just a few of our rewards. An unexpected benefit, and perhaps the most satisfying, is what the experience says about the people around us - the non-competitors that are a part of our daily lives.

Through all the training and competition, my wife is there. In my daily progress, she prepares healthy meals she doesn’t have an interest in eating, helps me buy gear, and understands when I take off alone on my bike on a beautiful Saturday. I just completed (survived?), two weekends of sprint triathlons. These where my second and third events ever. She got up early on a rare day she’d get to sleep in, carried my food and beverage bag all day, and took pictures of me throughout the race. Hers was the lone voice I heard through the crowd in transitions and at the finish. Then, a fantastic and satisfying event was capped by friends showing up at our house with a barbeque feast and a full cooler. While I sat and recovered, they prepared a meal to celebrate my victory of finishing.

My next event was out of town. Instead of picking my wife up at the airport on the way, I traveled alone while she sat in the airport lounge in Heathrow, having been bumped from her return flight on a business trip. Being only a couple of hours from home, I had friends in the town the event was held. While having dinner out, they told the restaurant owner of my event the next day. Water glasses kept appearing at my side, as the owner urged me to hydrate for the big day. Waking at 4:30 a.m., an uncommon hour for me, I rushed bleary eyed to my car to find a note on the door. “Best Of Luck!!” it said. I grinned widely as I pictured my friends sneaking through the lot in the middle of the night to send me off to race with their confidence. I could have gone home at that point and considered my experience worthwhile. Instead I met up with another friend on the beach before the swim wave, who came to cheer and take pictures. He stayed through the finish, enduring ninety-degree heat in the early hours of his Sunday off.

After a well-earned nap, I woke to the neighbors, one of which helps me with strength training, preparing a cookout on my grill. The event itself faded as I marveled at the enormous support network I found myself amidst.

While triathlon can seem a selfish indulgence, it’s influence carries over to our friends, family, and even strangers. From a friend paddling along in a canoe to back us up on an open water swim to the mail carrier who marvels at our training and competition, we become part of something much bigger than the sport. A sport that is much bigger than the athletes. How has being an Endurance Athlete connected you to the world? Who is part of your team? How far will you go, and who’s coming along for the ride?

- Riley


  1. Love this post Riley. And it is all too true because without our family and friends we really wouldn't be able to do it - emotionally, spiritually. I feel so blessed to have found this sport and to have my family support me. My kids absolutely love watching me accomplish things and when I come home from a swim, bike or run they are always asking me "How far did you go" I hope that I am inspiring my children to want bigger and brighter things for themselves.

  2. Great Post! My wife helps me with preparing healthy meals, like yours she has no desire to eat them. She often ignores my purchases, although we don't always have money for them. Two weekends ago she travelled an hour with me so I could recon the course of my first event. She also came to the only other race I have been in. It was at 1200am and 28f. Although new to Triathlon, when I competed in martial arts, she came to every fight.

  3. Great post! We have to have support around us to do what we do. Mine is family, work buddies, and friends I've made through the running community.

  4. Awesome! I love this post! It sounds like you have an amazing support system. :)
    Without the support of my husband there is no way that I could do what I do. He is always there with my boys cheering me on, spends quality time with my boys on the weekends when I have to do my long bike rides/runs, and of course gives me emotional support too. My family, although they live far away, are a huge support system too. Again, I could not do it without any of them!

  5. I feel like the support from Running is like that of no others, Im sure its the same with bikeing and swimming but then it stops, we (the athlete) are teh hardest on our selves while the surrounding peeps are the most influential, loving, good comment shouting, supporters... When I run long, I always keep my head up in hopes to see another runner/biker/swimmer playing the same game against themselves!

    P.S. I totally have that bandana

  6. I have always loved cycling but got a lot more involved when one of my students was diagnosed with leukemia in 2008. I got very involved with the LIVESTRONG Challenge and began training for the 45 mile ride - difficult for me, because the course is very hilly and I live in a flat area, but I finished the ride and have been training for the October 2010 ride. The support of my friends, family, and students has been priceless to me. I'm hoping to be able to do the 65 or 90 mile ride next year!