Late afternoon sunlight refracts off Lake Arrowhead, mountains hugging the park’s edges. I put my goggles on for a pre-race practice swim open to all athletes competing in tomorrow’s Olympic distance triathlon.
My feet meet the squishy moss of the lake as I push my legs off the sandy bottom, moving my arms full stretch in front and behind, taking in gorgeous views of the Blue Ridge mountains each time I turn my head to breathe. Dozens of swimming memories enter my thoughts. Memories of the very start, all those swim lessons from long ago that I’m so thankful my parents enabled me to experience (a forever thank you, Mom and Dad). Memories of the first year on swim team, where I discovered my first Earthly love: the water. I thought of those grueling college sets and the grit that kept us all going. Come to think of it, that must be where some of stubbornness stems from. I became stubborn in refusing to let go of my promise to myself freshman year: you will stick this out through your very last race senior year. It’s the stubbornness it takes to say, “I will never quit this team!” as you underline and capitalize the commitment in your journal. And now, through triathlon, I get to relish in the sport I love all over again. I consider myself lucky to have a way to stay in touch with the sport I love. My friends who played more team-oriented sports talk about the struggles of finding adult leagues, but as swimmers, we get to carry this love we have for the entire span of our lives.
I swim up to the shoreline and hop on my bike, my freedom machine, preparing myself mentally for the race ahead. This short ride takes me to Hilltop Road, where I stare out into mountain vistas, blue sky and lush green trees. The fresh mountain air fills my nostrils and nestles down deep into my every part of my lungs.
I then put on my running shoes and it hits me: my love of this, how much I’ve learned from this, and how much it serves as a tool to let me express my truest self. I am aware of the privilege it is to be able to compete in this [rather expensive] sport while also not drowning in guilt over this privilege. The sport taught me to get over privilege guilt by treating myself to a racing bike this year. Because when you have a talent, you’re not asked to martyr your finances for those who are not financially secure. Instead, you’re called to creatively pursue your talents and passions and use them to create good in the world, which is so much more meaningful and further-reaching than a check to a social justice organization. This sport helps me to express my passion for gender equality, as I’ve advocated for women’s full inclusion in the Tour de France my past four races. And a world in which women are empowered is a world in which societies are empowered, which encompasses economic empowerment, too.
All of this hits me and it’s in this moment that I remember.
I remember why I love this so much.
I’ve had some shitty runs this summer, as I made a five week life transition that left me with packed days in many different states with little training consistency. Getting back to where my training performance was before this transition period was downright hard, at times, awfully so. It was hard to maintain motivation because I was doing so much of it alone. It was hard to see long run mile splits increase almost 20 seconds per mile. I give all my praise to athletes who’ve come back from a much longer recovery period, be it from injury, illness, or even cancer. Yes, it’s hard when day after day, you seem to live in this state of dread/hate/love of the workout that lie ahead: challenging bike shop rides, track workouts, heavy lifting sessions, the race pace timed distance runs. It’s hard when there’s a small part of yourself that longingly wants to be more—faster, stronger, better, almost as though this little piece is forever insatiably unsatisfied.
It can also be hard sometimes to be gracious to yourself: to express gratitude for where you are right now, doing the hard work you’re doing, lifting what weight you can lift, running whatever pace you can run, biking whatever speed you can bike, without comparing yourself to other athletes, or, what I find particularly challenging, to males that I train with, as if the only way I can be satisfied is to beat every male I know, a futile task for the simple reason that I don’t want to live my life constantly measuring myself against or trying to out-do men, essentially trading in partnership for antagonistic competition, each one trying to prove her or himself. No. Instead, this feminist is going to choose allyship and measure myself by how much I’m giving: am I pushing myself to the best of my ability?
So all of this is hard— the intensity it takes to keep improving, challenging gender norms, and feeding yourself mentally with positive belief systems. If I’m honest, sometimes I fixate on the hardness, until something helps me to remember.
Because sometimes I forget.
We’re invited to a life in which we’re given grace when we forget. Because we all forget sometimes.
We’re invited into a life in which we can remember. Remember it all, fed with beads of hope, be it in the form of sweat, a spectator’s cheer, or that voice inside of you that will never let you forget who you are.