Facing fear with a smile

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Determined to stay fit and do smething new in 2015, I entered a triathlon near our home.

At the time, signing up for a sprint (read: short) triathlon was a consolation prize for not signing up for the Chicago Marathon. Several friends ran that race this year and encouraged me to join them, but I decided the training would have taken too much time away from my husband. I wasn’t willing to make that sacrifice because we had a marriage to work on.

Toeing the start line of this triathlon, however, with husband watching from the top of the beach, I was almost wishing I had chosen Chicago over Lake Lanier. As I watched the waves of athletes before me splash into the lake and shrink down as they eased into their swim, it hit me that I was going to have to enter the chilly, opaque water, too. I didn’t know exactly how I would feel or how I would handle it. I had practiced in a clear, perfectly chlorinated pool with taut plastic ropes that neatly kept every swimmer in their lane.

But the race marked out for me zig-zagged into the dark lake before heading back to the safety of the shore. It groaned up a hill to the transition area before snaking back down the hill and out of the friendly resort into the gray hills of the surrounding area. The bike path looped back into the resort after a loud intermission on a highway, then spilled into a cloverleafed course that meandered into the woods and back. It would be idyllic if it were just a 5K, but I would be running under the fall colors after gunning it for about 13.5 miles.

Living through 2015 has taught me that how you handle life is up to you. Life’s difficult. People don’t always act the way you want them to act. Goals are postponed, or given up. But you have the power to choose how to react. You have the ability to strengthen your self-control.

Minutes later, I ran headlong into the lake, and proceeded to flip out that I couldn’t see the bottom. I was also terrified of getting kicked in the face by other swimmers with every stroke. To see better and to help control my hyperventilating, I switched from freestyle to breaststroke. Normally, doing breaststroke when everyone else is free styling would put you behind. But I started passing others. I told myself to buck up and push forward. I finished the swim 5th in my age group.

During the bike, I pedaled my heart out but had the humbling pleasure of being passed by athletes more than two decades older than me. (Our ages were marked on our calves.) After a few minutes of feeling inadequate, I realized: I’m doing a flippin’ triathlon. Which I’ve never done before. But here I am! And I’m not wheezing from tiredness or passing out from fear. I’m smiling in the face of my fear of not doing or being good enough because I am out here, alive. So let’s stop feeling sorry about this sloppy cycling and just keep pushing. I finished the bike 5th from last in my age group.

Still chosing sing to be in control, I dropped off my bike and started to run the 5K. Immediately I realized I couldn’t feel my legs. Calling certain muscles back into service after letting them rest for 13 miles wasn’t easy. I was running on wooden 2x4s, but I was not going to fall on my face – not after working so hard for so long. With small, quick strides, I proceeded to run my second-fastest 5K.

Thats what 2015 was like for me – challenge after challenge. I didn’t handle all of it gracefully, but I became better at handling life with each new situation. I learned to be more patient, and to ask for help when my patience broke down. I’ve worked too hard to panic and stop. There’s too much joy and love in my life to feel bad about what I can’t yet do, or don’t yet have, to not enjoy the ride.

I’m not going to cry or yell about my shortcomings anymore, or others’ shortcomings. (Maybe. I will try not to.) Feeling crippled is all in my head. I can show self-control when it’s really needed. I finished that 5K 5th in my age group, despite not feeling my lower half for one-third of the run. What?!

Best of all, husband was watching and supporting at every turn. He saw me off with a kiss and wrapped me in a hug when I returned to him. Just like he has for all of 2015, and has vowed to do every year to come.

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