You’ve got the t-shirt, now move on

Life has a funny way of showing you how far you have come even when you don’t think you have moved.

As the Ekahi Center enters into the second month of operation, there have been a roller coaster of emotions.  As I opened the Center this morning, I knew I had to arrive early as the Kelowna Apple Triathlon was in full swing and the main action was right in front of our Center.  The fact that many streets are blocked – including the one right in front of the Center did not make for a profitable day.

Watching the triathletes stream by the front of the Ekahi Center did make me realize how far I have come in my life.  Way back in the early 1980’s, I became interested in this new sport which started as a bet between friends in Oahu as to who was the fittest: the swimmer, the cyclist, or the runner.  The first Ironman Triathlon happened in 1978 with 15 participants.  A few years later, the event was moved to the Big Island and word started to spread that this crazy new sport called Triathlon was the best test of fitness.

Like many triathletes of my generation, there were very few events in the early 1980’s. It wasn’t really until 1982 that the Triathlon really caught on.  In 1982, a competitor in the Hawaii Ironman named Julie Moss was leading the women’s race before collapsing a few yards from the finish line.  Those who witnessed the live event on ABC Sports will never forget watching Julie Moss literally crawl and drag herself across the finish line to finish second.  Her act of determination and will had a direct correlation with an explosion in the interest of the sport.  Now adrenaline junkies and endurance athletes everywhere had a new challenge – survive the Ironman Triathlon.

Over the next decade the number of triathlon races being hosted were on a meteoric rise.  The Ironman race of 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run was now being offered in different lengths to suit all abilities.  The most popular length (Olympic distance) was the 1.5 km swim, 40 km bike, and 10 km run.  This was the first distance of triathlon I participated in.  The race was in Nelson, BC.  I remember that my training for the event consisted of a few runs over 5 km, some swims in the local pool, and bike rides around the community.  I survived that first race and I was hooked!

I went on to compete in numerous other triathlons and running races but my goal was always to do the Ironman and go to Hawaii.  In 1989, I competed as a teenager in Ironman Canada.  By this time my training was serious and I had a few mentors who had done the new Ironman in Penticton to guide me.  I trained, worked, ate, and slept.  In August of 1989 I felt ready for the race.  It was the most difficult thing I had ever done in my life.  I can still remember how exhausting that race was.  I did well, but not well enough to qualify for the World Championship Ironman in Hawaii.

The next year, I tried again and in 1990 I qualified for the Ironman in Hawaii. I was exhausted and elated.  The next morning I stood in line and paid my registration for the race in Hawaii which was only two months away.  I went home and decided to take a few days off training before re-committing to my training.  The following days and weeks after arriving home were a pivotal point in my life.  I developed chronic fatigue syndrome and literally could not look at my bike.  I could not will my body to do any exercise.  The Ironman in Hawaii would pass and I would not be in it.  I was depressed.

I was now at an age and stage in my life where I needed to think about a career.  I spent much of my high school training and never thinking about what I would do if this triathlon thing didn’t work out.  With the same zeal that I put into training, I put it in to college and university.  Over the past 25-30 years, I have had many moments where I thought, “I could go back and try that Ironman again!”  I would start training and quickly get injured.  I would become frustrated and those old feelings of depression would creep back.  About six or seven years ago I went  to see a counselor and she gave me some good advice.  She sternly looked at me as I was waxing poetically about wanting to return to the glory days and then she stopped me abruptly and said, “Brett, you’ve got the t-shirt and now it is time to move on in your life!”

I left her office feeling scolded and perhaps misunderstood.  I still had a few lingering feelings of getting back on the bike and trying to get back to triathlons.  A few years ago, I finally understood that there is no “going back”, there is only now.  The t-shirt marks your past and has nothing to do with the now.  The life I lived then is in the past and it is done.  I used to have a drawer full of tiny t-shirts from my past.  Now those t-shirts have a new life as rags in my shop.  I have a wonderfully full and exciting life and while I owe much to my past, I have let it go.

As I watch the triathletes of today go by the Ekahi Center I smile and cheer and have no more feelings of wanting to go back.  I’ve got that t-shirt.


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