Sunday, August 05, 2007


Photo: Recovery ride, 7:00 a.m., 65 degrees, Linn County, Iowa

Weekly activity log:
Swim: 5,300 yds (ytd 232,800 yds.)
Bike: 87 miles (ytd 3,660 mi.)
Run: 24 miles (ytd 947 mi.)
Whether training for Ironman or cycling for fitness, I have a favorite ride. It’s not a workout of epic proportion – just 35 miles in length – but it gets me away from town on quiet, smooth back roads where, depending on the season, I can smell the tall corn, pedal through snowfall or see the shadows of red-wing blackbirds swooping toward my helmet. The terrain is challenging, though hardly impossible, while the landscape is spectacular in a Field-of-Dreams sort of way.

At the route’s furthest point sits a quaint Iowa farm… white house, red barn, small creek, big trees and a tall, pristine church steeple in the distance… in a word, idyllic. It’s easy to see why someone would want to live there. Real-world problems are far beyond the last tassel of corn and news from the outside world comes only when the television is turned on, which isn’t often. As long as there is sunshine and occasional rain, the crops continue to grow and day turns into night into another day.

Inside that farmhouse lives a husband, a wife and two sons. More often than not when I pass, one of them is tending to a garden, herding goats or breaking a sweat over work I can’t begin to imagine. While I spend most days at a computer keyboard, they spend theirs getting the richest black soil beneath their fingernails. They’re always happy to wave, knowing that the little slice of paradise is theirs to keep, all day, every day, while I simply pass through for a minute or two.

As I began my taper for a trip to Lake Placid, New York and Ironman USA, I heard through our small-town grapevine that the father on that farmstead, a rock of a man, was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and given a very dire prognosis.

Riding by that house I realized that soon his wife might have no husband and his children no father. By the time I returned from New York, there could be one less smile and one less wave from beyond the barbed-wire fence.

His wife recently said, “I am allowing myself two days of pouting and sulking and then I will suck it up and get on with it.”

My God, Ironman is tough, but that mother is a thousand times tougher. Ironman runs the gamut of emotions, but that family of four, along with all their friends and relatives are feeling so many more. Ironman leaves me asking many things, but life asks us much bigger questions with far more complicated answers.

I find true inspiration in and around me every time I compete in Ironman. Yes, we’re all doing something tough, incredible and inspiring. But inspiration, tears, incredible joy and sadness are found in so many other places, including a quaint little farm on my favorite cycling loop near Lafayette, Iowa.

Postscript: On July 22, I finished Ironman USA… as the farmer prepared for a round of chemotherapy and continued his own much more difficult fight.

3 comments:

the old bag said...

Wow -- great piece. Lots to contemplate.

Anonymous said...

Nicely put. I beleive we all share parts of a larger struggle that some of us choose to admit to while others choose to ignore, and still others can't even see. You eloquently helped open our eyes and minds to that which is all around us but sometimes gets lost in all our clutter and narcisism. Thanks.

C. P. said...

TOB - Lots, indeed.
Anon - Agreed. Thanks for reading.