Sunday, June 12, 2011

Like father, like son, like father

Jayden picked at his oatmeal early Saturday morning as usual, looking at food as he usually does, as a pain in the ass that kept him from Nick Jr. or the computer or, in this case, his first triathlon.
"I don't want this. I'm full," Jayden said.
This is the game we play every day. None of our kids want to eat. So we're used to it. We try different weapons against it all the time, and none of them work very well. We try time outs, threats (NO Nick Jr. until you eat) and the "just a couple more bites" plea. We've even used the starving kids in Africa line. Or maybe it's China, which, if Jayden knew what the economy was like over there, he'd also know I was full of crap.
But he's still 5, so sometimes he buys it, and usually, he doesn't. We usually sigh and save the food for later, knowing there will probably never be another later.
But Saturday, I tried a different tactic.
"You know, Jayden," I said. "Whenever I have a big race, I have to eat a good breakfast. I need my strength. I need the energy. I need to be strong. You'll need to be strong too."
He looked at me. He considered what I said. And then he ate the rest in big, heaping gulps.
• • •
I stared out into the open water a couple weeks ago just a couple hours after one of the fastest 10Ks of my life. I felt good about my Boulder/Bolder PR, really good, actually, considering how the marathon had sapped my speed for a month. But this was no time for pats on the back. Three of my friends were in the water, waiting for me.
"Come on, dear, you've got to get in," Sarah said. "Get your ass in here."
The water was cold. I knew it was cold. My running partner jumped in the lake and gasped involuntarily.
I am not a swimmer. I am a floater. But for the second year in a row, I would be entering the Greeley Triathlon, and part of the deal is, of course, a swim. And this swim's in open water, meaning you don't get the luxury of touching the bottom, let alone a friendly pool. It can be scary for anyone who isn't used to it.
I was not used to it.
My wetsuit - actually, a borrowed suit - was on tight. My cap was ready. I just needed to find the courage.
• • •
Jayden had a confession as we rode to the Greeley Kids Triathlon Saturday, the day before my own Greeley Triathlon (rated R, for adults only, for strong language).
"Daddy," he said. "I'm scared."
"It's OK to be scared," I said. "I was scared a couple weeks ago when I swam in the lake."
Jayden considered what I said. Then he strapped his goggles over his head and waited for his turn in the pool.
• • •
I jumped in the water, and the cold gut-punched me, numbing my toes and making me sputter. But I'll be honest, lest you think I'm being overdramatic. It felt good after a bit. After that last, miserable mile of the Bolder/Boulder, when the sun came out and hot air swirled around my cheeks and sweat ran into my eyes, a cold bath was exactly what I needed.
It always gets better, I said to myself, as Brenda stayed me to give me a few pointers and, uh, make sure I didn't drown.
I'm not a natural athlete. Yeah, I know, I do all this stuff, so shut up. But really I'm not. I may have more endurance and energy than most people, and I may even have some kind of VO2 advantage. But the skill sports flummox me. I can't really play football. I can't even dribble a basketball and run down a court. And swimming is a skill sport if I've ever seen one.
My left arm flopped around like Nemo's special fin. When I turned my head to breathe, I usually swallowed more water than air. And I'd start swimming by plopping my head in the water and kicking first, as if I was starting up a rusty fishing boat.
My goal was to make it to an island and back. That was maybe 300-400 yards.
I was out of breath after the first 25.
• • •
Jayden had to hurry to the start and jump in just after the race started. That was my fault. He can't stand still for more than a minute (show me a 5-year-old who can, in his defense), and so he was playing in a park 100 yards away when I noticed the tots were gathering for the mini-triathlon.
He jumped in the water, swam halfway and looked at me. I shouted at him to go, and he grinned and turned on his motor.
Jayden's already a pretty good swimmer. I think he has his mother's genes. He loves the water. And something surprised me about him. He climbed out of the pool and ran to the transition area.
He knew he was in a race.
In fact, he began yelling at me almost right away to dry him off and get his shoes on.
• • •
Today, Sunday if you're reading this at work, I lined up with 100 other guys, many who looked at home in their wetsuits. I fidgeted in my seal's skin, scratching at the zipper and trying to breathe through the tight fit. I joked about how much I sucked to hide my nerves and lower my expectations of the race. It's what I do.
One other thing I do, and this one is more serious, is I remind myself to race myself. That's the only way I survived going to all those track sessions at first with people who could place in their age groups at will in every race. I tried to PR every race and didn't worry about the applause showering over them when their race times were announced before we killed ourselves at intervals.
When I crossed the line faster than I had before, inside, I heard cheering.
So when I looked around, I saw most of those guys had obviously swam, possibly for years, and so of course they were better than me. I'd have to make it up on the run if I could. That, at least, thanks to a lot of hard work, I can do pretty well.
• • •
Jayden hopped on his bike and burned down the course, passing any kid he could, which, thanks to my terrible transition skills, wasn't very many (hell, I was yelling at myself at the end). Then he hopped off and sprinted the quarter-mile run. I ran with him and told him to chase down the kid in front of him. His face turned red, then purple, but he ran harder.
He finished, breathing hard, crispy air, and looked at me with a question in his eyes: Why did I just do that?
Then they draped a medal around his neck.
He wore the medal the rest of the day and showed it to his babysitter as soon as he ran out of our mini-van that night. He kept showing it to me, too.
I told him I was proud.
• • •
I remember my father taking me on hikes and getting me up my first few peaks. It was something we did together. Despite an background that favored music and band over athletics (something I'm still proud of, by the way), I eventually became only one of less than 2,000 people to climb all the 14ers. The mountaineering eventually led to the running because, hey, I could climb, couldn't I? And the running led to the triathlon and the swimming because, hey, I could run, couldn't I?
Dad opened the door by me watching him and wanting to do what he did.
I sputtered and panicked a couple times and thrashed around, but I eventually did get through the swim. My bike was pretty mediocre, which was better than my swim, and the 5K went well. But I knew it would. I finished in the middle of the pack, maybe even a little lower. I did not finish last in my age group, like I did last year. I knocked six minutes off last year's time.
Mostly, I did it.
I didn't wear my medal all day. But I really wanted to.

1 comment:

SirFWALGMan said...

I can only do a slow breast stroke! I swam every summer too and somehow got a Jr. Lifeguard badge. LOL. Sounds like fun man.