I remember reading this was one athlete’s first thought after winning a lottery slot into the Hawaii Ironman. Now I’m not an “oh boy” kind of guy, at least haven’t been since the third grade, but I do understand the sentiment, especially as it concerns a trip to Kona. When I found out I was one of the lucky ones headed to Hawaii, it was in front of a local news camera a few days before the announcement of the official results of the lottery.
I had been contacted to be interviewed for what I had been told would be a piece on the everyday athlete training and competing in Ironman races, and I agreed, surprised but thinking, “Why not, I’m an everyday athlete?” We arranged to film a short run/bike workout at my local gym and then do the interview afterwards. Day of the interview I meet up with the guy who will conduct my interview as well as film it (obviously this piece merits special attention), and we set up shop in one of the cardio rooms of my gym. Doing my best (though no doubt failing) to look impressive on a spin bike and then a treadmill, the camera man begins filming me from a variety of angles while fellow gym rats momentarily cease their workouts, their faces revealing signs of bewilderment as they try to figure out just why someone might be interested in filming such feats of mediocrity. After some time the camera man decides that I’m sufficiently sweaty and out of breath that a proper interview can be conducted.
He attaches a microphone to my shirt, has me sit back on the spin bike, and begins firing away questions about the Ironman as I do my best to answer in soundbites suitable for the 30 seconds of airtime I may get–all the while fighting back the urge, as the camera lights cause my face to flush and sweat to roll off my forehead, to spit out every athletic cliche I’ve ever heard: “You gotta give a hundred and ten percent, you know, leave everything out there on race day, just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team,’ win or go home, baby….” His questions shift to the topic of racing in Hawaii and now all efforts at avoiding cliche fail. Like I was reading from a thesaurus, out spills, “It’s the superbowl of long distance triathlon, it’s the big dance, the big show, the big island, it’s the grand-daddy, the jewel, the beginning and the be-all-end-all of Ironman racing.”
His final question is punctuated with a prop: “How would you like to race in Hawaii?” he asks, pulling out a large certificate with my name and an invite to the race in the Ironman World Championship on it. And there it is, “Oh boy! Oh no…. That’s awesome. How long have you dreamed about this? How hard have you worked for the past four years? How many times have you pictured what it would be gathering in the pre-dawn light along the Kona pier before the swim start? Swimming out to the turnaround ferry in Kailua Bay? Biking through the lava fields? Running down Alii Drive? Crossing the finish line in Hawaii? But this isn’t the right year. You almost didn’t enter the lottery this year, waited until the last day, the last minutes. You haven’t swam since injuring your shoulder before the Clearwater 70.3. You haven’t been able to run either since injuring your leg last month–faking it through this last workout was bad enough. How can you train for an Ironman starting from such a sorry state of fitness? Wasn’t this the year you focussed on your career? Your personal life? Your friends and family? Reacquainting yourself with the joys of an ice cold beer on a Saturday afternoon spent drifting down a river in an old truck tube? Weren’t you supposed to qualify on your own merits? How can you possibly go? How can you possibly not go?”
The one lesson I’ve at least learned in a lifetime of repeating some of the same mistakes over and over again is that you don’t pass up opportunities when they come along. You are guaranteed no second chances in life, and this is especially true in sports. There always lurks the unforeseen: injuries, accidents, ill-health. You do what you can today because tomorrow you may not be able to. Besides–ready or not, right time or not–it’s always easier to reconcile the things you’ve done in your past, good or bad, than it is the things you could have and didn’t.
“How would you like to race in Hawaii?” he asks, pulling out a large certificate with my name and an invite to the race in the Ironman World Championship on it. “Awesome,” I answer, “where do I sign?”
A few points regarding my selection:
- This was my fifth time entering the lottery.
- On all my attempts, this one included, I joined the passport club to increase my odds at winning a slot.
- American’s have 150 slots available through the lottery, the rest of the world only 50. So while there perhaps isn’t some form of universal health care, an average of only 13 vacation days a year, and well, Bush as our leader, at least in this case, it’s good to be an American.
- Aside from being so exceptionally un-exceptional as to approach no longer being exceptional, I have no really compelling story to tell–no life threatening disease, no physical disability and no starring role in areality television show (not that I’m not open to offers). I haven’t raised millions of dollars for cancer research nor awareness regarding the plight of Eubalaena glacialis. I’m not a CEO, CFO or a COO. Fact is, I’m just a pretty regular guy and said so on my lottery application. So despite what the doubters might believe–and I myself was one of them–the lottery selections would appear to be the result, for better or worse, of what they should be: pure, dumb luck.