ironman1990.jpg

There was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, just arms and legs violently slapping and punching into my head, my legs, my torso.

OMG, what am I doing?

Bedlam and panic ruled for 10 minutes that felt like an eternally long sleepless night before the dawn calmly re-established itself.

A thousand wetsuit-encased bodies thrashed and maneuvered like spawning salmon rushing upstream in claustrophobia for the first few hundred metres… Men, Women, Canadians, Americans, Germans, Japanese, Australians, Brits and so on, all attempting to move forward, immersed in the chilly dark waters of Okanagan Lake.

Raising my head above the roughly churning water, I gasped desperately for air, moving my arms in an unfamiliar breaststroke motion.

Attempting to efficiently freestyle swim wasn’t a possibility without adding to the chaos and physical harm of others.

Momentarily, I distracted myself from the hysteria by trying to guess how many of the swimmers around me were peeing into their wetsuits at that moment. Take a deep breath…

BANG. Oh Shit!

An arm crossed in front of my face and dislodged my goggles, water flooded in and my sightlines suddenly blurred as I coughed up a mouthful of unwanted water from my lungs. Please let me out of here before I drown!

……………………..

You’ll have to excuse me this morning but I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. Funny, isn’t it?

I’m at a time and age where significant events of my past occupy a significant part of my present moments, sweet fragrant flowers blooming over and over again for me to enjoy and savour.

Nostalgic?

Yup, I’m feeling nostalgic over suffering an anxiety attack for the first 10 minutes of an IRONMAN triathlon race that I swam, biked and ran in 26 years ago this weekend. I’ve spoken to many triathletes since that day and my experience of panic was and is a common one.

26.YEARS.AGO.

August 26, 1990.

I had plenty of dark hair, few wrinkles at 33 years of age, and well-defined quad and shoulder muscles.

Although I loved participating in most sports, I was never a great Olympic-style athlete, but here I was razor thin and fit beyond my own imaginings.

I was an ordinary everyday Joe doing something that at the moment felt unimaginable and extraordinary.

My now-grown kids were so little and dependent, wearing tiny cute T-shirts that said stuff like: “Iron BabyandIron Tyke“… Maureen should have been wearing an Iron Widow” shirt given the hours and hours I spent out on the roads training for a full year ahead of time.

Emma Iron Baby.jpg

My youngest Emma gets ‘psyched”…

In so many ways it seems like yesterday and yet I can see a whole generation of people have been birthed, grown up and been schooled, married, started jobs and families all inside that very time frame. And all those years somehow happened in the span of an Okanagan minute.

If anything should send me to the cliff’s edge of a panic attack, that knowledge alone should do it.

Nostalgia is a wonderful, happiness-inducing, but nonetheless bittersweet part of our humanness.

All of our sentimental, happy, heart-lifting moments are harmoniously stirred in a Mix Master with strains of melancholy sadness for times when others we loved – relatives, friends, pets – still inhaled the delicious wonder of the morning air and were a special part of our daily lives.

Inside our heads we hear long-gone voices and laughter, we smell a familiar perfume or cologne, we remember a kitschy expression used only by a grandparent or an aunt we loved.

Time and nostalgia are like ice cubes melting in our glass where we try to catch the best of the potential that exists inside.

Yet slowly and inevitably the energy dissipates until the last vestige of ice disappears and for a time we still enjoy the stimulating chill that fortified us but can never again be re-captured totally.

………………..

Touching the sandy lake bottom 3.8 k. and an hour and 18 minutes later, a brief sense of relief set in. The pressure and worry of the crowded swim portion was burned away in the early morning sunrise.

Strangely now – comically really – the only real pressure I felt settling my chilly bum onto my bike seat for a 180 k. ride through the sultry Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys was the need to hit the finish line ahead of Sister Madonna Buder from Spokane, Washington.

I’m not an uber-competitive person.

I compete to improve myself, not to better others… but I wasn’t going to allow Ms. Buder, aka the Iron Nun – 86 years-old now and still participating in triathlons, but a mere 60 in 1990 – break the finish line banner before me.

My sexist/ageist/secularist ego couldn’t handle that small measure of faux disgrace.

………………..

I’ve learned other life lessons along the way, but the ones that I’d look back and tell my twenty-something self now are: It’s not what you say, it’s what you do; don’t pay attention to how old you are, only focus on how old you feel; and be patient — one of my worst enemies is patience, I’m still trying to fine-tune it so that I’m able to stop and smell the roses.”

Madonna Buder

Madonna Buder.jpg

………………..

It was time now to settle into a rhythm on the bike ride that would last for over 5 hours, followed by a run of a similar time.

The hours passed by like minutes.

There were so many distractions along the way, from tossing used-up water/Gatorade bottles into hockey nets at the numerous Aid Stations, to interacting with other athletes along the route, to watching for salty urine spray coming from the rear bike tires of those who refused to stop at the side of the road and pee. What the…

Making the transition from the cycling motion of the bike to the running motion was like handing me a 50 lb. medicine ball and asking me to go for a light jog.

A quick massage (and the… ummm… surprise of the massage volunteer slipping her hand beneath my shorts to rub my weary gluteus muscles back into running form!) helped the transition go slightly less difficult.

Ironman 1990 Run Larry.jpg

But honestly – truly? – the highlight of the 5 hour marathon run along the shimmering afternoon waters of Skaha Lake was that amazing … sensational… joyful… moment when I closed in on, then passed, the Iron Nun and felt the elation of knowing that my young male ego would survive the long day intact.

The hours passed, I chatted with a panoply of painfully downtrodden as well as cheery runners, one foot ahead of the other plodding at a terribly slow but consistent pace. Amazingly supportive family and friends boosted my spirits throughout the long day.

Finally, I saw the sign at the side of the road: “1 Kilometre to finish line“.

That final kilometre coming into downtown Penticton, as the sun hugged the western horizon over the West Bench was where I lost any sensation of fatigue or pain and ran as if supernaturally possessed.

I had pushed my body for well over 13 hours but the endorphins flooded in, the euphoria pushed me at a pace I didn’t believe possible.

And then… then… the sight of the FINISH banner floating in the twilight haze in the near distance.

Spotlights blazed brightly, rhythmic music saturated the space around me, a huge cheering crowd and the familiar British-accented voice of announcer Steve King in the cozy, thick evening air beckoned me closer and closer to the welcoming light as if I were entering a rapturous near-death experience.

Ironman 1990

………………..

I’m always happy when I feel nostalgic.

Nostalgia means we’ve lived and loved and felt something deeply, memorably.

We should seek out and create the experiences in our lives that lead us both forward and backwards to nostalgia.

Then, when the endorphins fade from those special times, we can sit back with a big bag of popcorn and enjoy our own life movie.

To be laden with nostalgia is a gift, a wondrous Santa bag filled with joy and warmth that supports and sustains us in good times and bad.

It’s a gift we give ourselves even if we have to outrun a nun to get there.

 

 

Advertisements