Funny what a difference one week makes. On September 1st I was competing in the World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia. I had so much at stake, trying to qualify a U.S. boat for the Paralympic Games next year in London 2012. At the start line I felt the weight of the seriousness of my goal and felt I had failed when I didn’t get the job done. I thought about all the hours I had spent training since winter and how, once again, my season ended on a sour note. I didn’t accomplish what I set out to do. I went over and over in my head what went wrong, why my body didn’t do what it was capable of, how the circumstances didn’t play in my favor. I was bummed.
When I got home, I didn’t have time to sulk, because six days later I was to participate in an all women’s triathlon in Kansas City. My hosts were members of the TriKC triathlon club and they had invited me to race in the event as well as give a couple of motivational talks to the other participants. I wondered how was I going to motivate others, when I was carrying so much disappointment within myself.
I arrived in Kansas City on Friday, September 9th. From the moment I got there, the weekend was a whirlwind. In fact, so fast-paced I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself, even if I wanted to. Straight from the airport, I went to do a radio interview at KCTE radio with a lively DJ named Coach K.
Have you ever been in the presence of someone who, just by the virtue of their personality and nature, you can not be in a sullen mood around? Coach K was fun, lively and gregarious. The interview was fast-paced and quick (it would have been longer, but we were late getting there because we had to track down my racing chair, which didn’t make it on my flight) and set the tone for the weekend. I knew then, it was going to be a good time. After that, we bee-lined it to the sponsoring medical center (Olathe Medical Center) so I could give a talk to some of the staff and race participants. Then another rush to my hotel to make sure my racer made it and we were off to the pre-race meeting for another short talk. Then dinner and finally bed about 11pm.
Saturday morning I was up at 5am (which is late for me on triathlon day), and off to the race. When I got there it was so much fun. I got to be the celebrity “pro” and people were stopping by to say “hi”, get their pictures taken with me and I put my race numbers on my equipment. Racer #1. It was the first time I’d had that experience and it brought me back to feelings of gratefulness. Sometimes I forget why I race. I get caught up in what I didn’t accomplish, what I could have done better and compare myself to other racers. But, here at this triathlon, again I was reminded of just how lucky I am to be able to compete in sports at all. I saw women who were doing their first triathlon and who would be happy with just crossing the finish line. I saw the excitement and enthusiasm in their eyes. They were nervous, giddy. I watched those feelings intently and tried to bottle them up in an imaginary container, so that I have them on hand the next time I am feeling sorry for myself or when I need to psyche myself up for the next race.
The thing is, while people so often look to me and my experiences for encouragement, I have found that I need the same thing. I think sometimes we all need to look outside ourselves to finding inspiration and positive examples of motivation, perserverance and appreciation. I know that by being at the Kansas City triathlon, I found a renewed sense of admiration for my talents and abilities, my successes and even my shortfalls. I won’t always get to the finish line first, won’t always have my best race. But I can always be thankful for the experiences, the journeys and the physical ability to pursue athletics, whether I am following my dreams or just going out for a casual workout. So, while I was invited to KC to motivate others, I found instead that they were motivation for me.