So, I was sitting here today thinking of how much people change throughout the years. Marriage, kids, careers, and the pressures of day-to-day living cause all of us to become more subdued, more thoughtful about the decisions we once made so recklessly. But some people you think you totally and completely “get” grow and evolve, at times becoming someone almost unrecognizable to their closest friends. The sweet tom-boy softball player becomes the morbidly obese, neurotic mother who insists on feeding only gluten free vegetarian dishes to her young. The black sheep, smoking-in-the-stairwell friend who can’t seem to pass a test becomes a spokesperson for global healthcare and a budding leader in clinical research. It seems almost disingenuous to accept that these two originated from the same person. Then again, you have probably changed immeasurably, but you’re too close to appreciate the changes.
I remember clearly the feeling of disconnect when I spent the day watching my best friend from college—and frankly, my very best friend for life—race in her first 140.6. It was such a surreal experience that I didn’t even think to buy her a gift or even a card wishing her good luck on race day. I had little appreciation for what lay ahead of her that day, and really had no interest in triathlon nor what inspired her to do it. See, she and I had “grown and evolved” over the previous 20 years, getting married, having kids, growing our careers. I felt that my 80-100 hour work weeks were enough of a physical challenge for me. I didn’t need to run 26 miles or race for 17 hours to feel like I was working hard. But here she was—the more sedentary of the two of us; the one who, when we shared an apartment in NYC together, would make a meal of a can of corn and a Diet Coke; the one who shaved her head on one side and wore only black all throughout college—doing what less than 1% of Americans ever accomplish. She was never what I would have considered “athletic”. But here she was, doing something that, despite my long history of dance, gymnastics, and aerobics, I had never even dreamed of.
The transformation didn’t happen then. I left after her race, still feeling as though the earth was rotating slightly off its usual axis. “That was great for her,” I thought. “But I have absolutely no interest in doing that, EVER.” At the time, I couldn’t even muster the desire to run more than 3 miles, let alone 26. I was very content with my 30 minutes on the treadmill followed by my core and weight training. But then, the wheels fell off my wagon. That next year was one of realizing and accepting hard truths. My job consumed me and kept me from the life I wanted so desperately to lead. I had been convinced to sign up for a 12 mile mud run, but realized I didn’t have the time to train unless I did it at 3:00 in the morning before starting my 12 or 30 hour day. I was disgusted with the fact that I had neglected my health and well-being for over 10 years because I couldn’t find the time to do anything but work, eat, and sleep a little. But as I trained for that mud run, running more and sleeping less, a strange thing happened. I changed. I grew and evolved into a runner. I experienced “the high” and craved the escape that distance running afforded me. Had a hard day at work? Go for a long run. Been eating and drinking too much lately, and feel like a fat slob? Go for a REALLY long run. I found that I loved it, and I began to understand.
The following year, I not only watched my dear friend complete her second 140.6, but I volunteered. And, I began to get it. I watched her facial expressions, I kept track of her splits, I met her at the finish line and walked her to the massage tent. I wanted so desperately to get to know this old friend that I had known for over 20 years, yet had only just started getting to know. Could a bit of that extra-ordinary person she had inside of her be a part of me too? Could triathlon be something we could share through our next 20 years, allowing us to grow and evolve together?
This year, I will be racing in my first 140.6 triathlon. And I will be toeing the start line with my very best friend. It’s an interesting switch in roles. She, being the more experienced in triathlon, gives me nuggets of advice she has picked up over the years. Her wisdom is remarkable, considering her amateur status, and I’ve told her I think she would make an excellent coach. She, on the other hand, lacks confidence, and I find myself filling the role of cheerleader. Because I love her, and because I believe in her, and because I’ve witnessed her conquering her fears. She is the face of triathlon, and the poster child for “everyman” doing what once was considered impossible. I have developed a deep respect for her and a longing to follow in her footsteps. It’s a humbling AND exhilarating position to be in. And I’m happy to be her student. Her cheerleader. Her friend.