What Brings Us Back

Over the last few months I finally got around to posting again after a couple of years of hiatus. During the process of my divorce unfolding I had just been too
disoriented to be able to express myself. And once I could start to string coherent20150125_121909 thoughts together again, I let myself be busy with too many other things than writing.

I last posted on March 1, just about the same time the divorce was official. There was still a lot of clean-up to do in getting my life reassembled into some sort of new version of normal, but overall, that has gone well and the new rhythm feels right. It feels right, but busy hardly does it justice.

In addition to single-parenting every other week, I returned to my graduate studies working toward a doctorate in education leadership, and a couple of other life-opportunities developed that I’ll write about some other time.

But even with all that is happening, I’ve found happiness again in al IMG_20150919_103718879_HDRl that is transpiring. To be clear, during the ugly stuff the last couple of years, I felt peace, and hope, and faith, even love. Love from my Heavenly Father; either through personal, intimate feelings or promptings, in the scriptures I read, the hymns and music that I listened to, and especially through the family and friends that stayed close to me throughout the journey.

But even with those tremendously rich blessings, I didn’t feel happiness. At least not consistently. There were moments. Moments when my kids did something funny or were tender with me. Moments when someone said or did just the right thing, or even moments when the sun was shining just right enough to get inside me and light things up.

So there was a steady stream of peace, and moments of happiness… but now, I feel joy. Just about all the time. It’s funny. I didn’t know how much that was missing until it came back. I knew inside that I would be okay, that I WAS okay. But until that effulgence swept back in and stayed there, I didn’t realize that more happiness, and peace, and laughter would come.

2139And so all of that is just to say that my life is a joy. Truly. And I want to share that with others. Because we’re here to share the joy as much as the burdens. And because it feels better to share a smile than a sadness. And because sometimes we all suffer, and hurt, and feel sad. And sometimes when we feel that way it helps when someone shares their happiness with you. At least it did for me.

And I hope that by sharing what’s good in my life, maybe I can help someone else 20150722_162624too. Offer some hope that it’s going to be okay, and eventually better than okay. Great even. I “knew” that before, when things were hard, but now I can feel it again. And I want to share it.

I’m looking forward to writing about some of the stories that brought me back. And I will. Gradually. But for today, the best way I can express my feelings is with a few pictures of the greatest sources of joy in my life.

It feels good to be back. And to share it with you.

 

How Do I Do This? On Cowboy Boots and Divorce

I wore cowboy boots until I was almost eight years old. It wasn’t that I was such a fan of westerns, although I did spend those years in Kansas City and Omaha. It Children's Cowboy Bootswas that I didn’t know how to tie my shoes. I struggled to master the complexities of the loops, and the over-under, rabbit-down-the-hole process. It was just easier to pull on my boots and get going. I struggled with similar dynamics for the last couple of years as I’ve tried to navigate my way through a divorce.

A few months ago I had a conversation with my former mother-in-law that was at best, uncomfortable for both of us. It was the first time we’d seen each other since my former spouse had made known to her family her intention to divorce me. And when we stood face-to-face the first time once the divorce was in process, it was awkward, and difficult, and emotional. For both of us.

We had a brief conversation, that ended with me standing there saying, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to do this.”

And she replied simply, “I know. None of us do.”

And then, not knowing what to say or do next, I walked away.

Experiencing a divorce has been the most painful, confusing and overwhelming experience of my life, even worse than losing my father twenty-four years ago. And as it unfolded I found myself grappling for answers. Not about why, or why not, or what the hell happened, but how. How do I do this?

By “this” I mean, how do I stay on a path of improvement, of discipleship, of being honorable, a good father, a loyal employee, without getting lost in the tidal wave of ugliness that divorce washes ashore?

I ultimately had to resign myself to someone else’s will, a determination to end Broken Marriage Heartmy marriage. It was hard enough to get to acceptance of that demand, but then I had to figure out how to become my best self as I moved on. I knew one thing: I didn’t want to end up like so many people I’ve seen; angry, bitter, and a trail of bad decisions and damage in their wake.

So how was I supposed to move forward, honoring the covenants of my marriage while simultaneously preparing to dismantle it. When I talked to married friends, for all of their best efforts, they didn’t get it. How could they? They were kind and sympathetic, but they didn’t know how to do this “thing” of being a disciple experiencing divorce.

I talked to others that had experienced divorce but that had limited value. For the most part, the people I talked to were either angry or indifferent about their own experiences. Both were coping mindsets I didn’t want to be in.

I talked to lawyers. Really not helpful. Because they all wanted to do their jobs, which for a divorce lawyer means having your back, even if that means destroying the other person. I wanted nothing to do with that. For whatever brought my former spouse to make this decision, there was no way I was going to tear her down in court. My children love their mother, as they should, for all that is good about her. Her other decisions don’t negate the love that exists between my children and her.

I talked to church leaders. They were immensely helpful at keeping me on the right track, encouraging me, listening, ministering, drying my tears, being honest about my faults. They were invaluable in helping me stay on the path to discipleship, but even they could not advise me on how to navigate the divorce.

I looked for literature. There’s a lot of practical advice out there that is helpful, but not a lot that considers divorce as a Christian experience. There was no shortage of literature on building a marriage, battling pornography in a marriage, dealing with same-sex attraction with your spouse, but absolutely nothing, especially for men, on how to handle a divorce well as a Christian. And if you are Mormon like me, there is even less available as formal guidance. No books, no support groups, not even a pamphlet. As I said, I had great priesthood leaders but that is a hit-and-miss proposition at best. They all tried hard, but I think it would be hard to find the same caliber of guidance that I enjoyed from my leaders as a rule of thumb.

So I didn’t know what I was doing, how to “do” the divorce thing. It was like the lyric from “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads. “And you may ask yourself, well… how did I get here?”

But just like my cowboy boot problem. I slowly found my way. When it came to tying my shoes, I learned it eventually. My parents, and all five of my brothers and sisters, each took turns teaching me whenever I was willing to take in a lesson, and eventually it all came together.

Seems like our whole lives are like that. We encounter some new challenge, an Divorce Memeunexpected demand, that requires a skill we don’t already possess.  So we find a way to manage until we learn what we need to overcome it, to master the new requirements. We pull up our bootstraps and keep practicing the lessons with everyone that will teach us, and eventually we get there, better equipped, more capable, and in the case of my eight year old self, more fashionably attired in something besides cowboy boots.

The last couple of years have felt a lot like my shoe-tying days, or rather my non-shoe tying days. I’ve been living in a season of not knowing how to do new things. I didn’t see it coming, I didn’t want it, but since I didn’t have a choice, I had to learn.

I had to learn how to “de-couple,” (my counselor’s phrase) from my spouse, while simultaneously driving the pilings even deeper in the relationships I have with my children. In all of that I was grappling feverishly to not become an uglier version of myself.

I didn’t know how to do it. As I felt myself crumbling I found myself on my knees, praying desperately for solace, for guidance, for hope. And I found it. Slowly. God first whispered in my ear that eventually things would be okay. And I didn’t know how that could be, but I had to trust in my Heavenly Father. I didn’t really have another choice.

And through faith, prayer, spiritual counsel from trusted leaders, family, friends, counselors, co-workers, lawyers, and a lot of literature, I eventually found my way. Sometimes I did it well, and sometimes it was just downright clumsy, ugly even. I found good advice, and some that proved to be disastrous. Some of it was just so stupid and out of order that I couldn’t believe I was hearing it. All of it was shared with love and concern by people who cared, and the ones that didn’t care were getting paid so they at least had a vested interest.

And here I am. Not done with the journey, but much farther along, richly blessed and uplifted through the trials, transforming into a better version of myself, in possession of fortified faith and a greater understanding of God’s love for us and Christ’s atonement.

I still don’t know how to do it. I don’t know if I can write the book that is so desperately needed, the book about how a Mormon man can navigate a divorce and still keep his faith intact, but I can write this blog. One post at time, one experience and lesson at a time. And maybe one of you  out there will find it useful. I know I have.

Emerging

This has proven to be one of the more challenging pieces I’ve written. It’s just been hard to know where to start, what to share, what not to share. The last time I posted anything, April 2013, life seemed to be going about as well as it ever had. My spiritual progression, career performance, physical health, and family life were all at pinnacle points in my life. Or at least, so I thought.

It would not be long after that I would learn that the most important endeavor I had worked at in my life was coming to an end. In the coming weeks I would learn that my marriage was terminating in a downward spiral from which I would be unable to rescue it. After twenty years I found myself experiencing the incomparable impact of divorce.

For the last two years it has taken everything I had sometimes just to string two thoughts together, let alone write a blog post. I did write though. I wrote in journals. I wrote text messages and emails to church leaders and friends. I wrote to my counselor. I wrote to an attorney, more than I ever cared to write anything to an attorney. And I wrote to her. But in all of that writing, none of it could find its way here, to this blog.

I have often shared my personal experiences, the adventures, the accomplishments, the mistakes, the insights, that I have experienced in my life on this site. That is after all, one of its primary purposes; to share my life with those who are inclined to take an interest. I write here for two other reasons; to practice my skills as a writer, and to experience the insight and catharsis that comes from pouring myself out on the page. I write to you, for me.

And for nearly two years I could not find the words to share what I was experiencing, nor the courage to put those words in a place where anyone else could see them. But now… now I can. I have to. I have to write them to more fully understand them, to move on, to grow, to establish the record of what has happened in my life, and perhaps even to make a difference for someone else.

So I have had to think long and deliberately about what I will write, what I will share here. On the one hand, it is my story and it is my privilege, my calling, my necessity, to tell it. On the other hand, some things are so personal, so intimate, so sacred, that they can’t be publicly consumed. Lots of different people read these posts. Strangers, friends, family, you name it. And I am mindful of the range in my audience, especially my own children.

It seems that the best thing I can do is to keep doing what I’ve always done. Write, share, filter, unload. And try to do it with a voice that creates a connection between us. A voice that demonstrates the integrity of honesty, candor, and consistency. A voice that is fervent in its beliefs, trembles with its fears, quavers when it all feels too much, and warms when it smiles.

I have missed being with you all, and I am so excited to be joining you again. I haven’t shown you myself for a while. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t capture the

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image, either in writing or on the screen, of who I was. But here I am now. Not the man I was. Rather, the man I am today. The only man I know how to be while I’m on my way to realizing the man I envision myself becoming.

Race Calendar 2013

It’s time for me to put up or shut up so that means it’s time for me to post my 2013 season race calendar. This is all about going public as a way of steeling my commitment and holding myself accountable.

Recently I taught a class on goal-setting to a group of office professionals and one of the strategies I advised them on was to make sure they shared their goals with other people who would hold them accountable and help support them in their efforts. I wouldn’t be a very good teacher if I didn’t model that behavior so here I am posting my race calendar for all of you to see. I am now accountable to you.

I also need your support. Monday nights are typically when I get my weekly long run in. Tonight was 10.5 miles and it was hard. Harder than usual and so hard that I spent a fair amount of the time arguing with myself about whether I was going to finish the run, or even pursue my summer race plans. That surprised me because while I know full well that I’m not a performance athlete, I at least possess the will to persevere.

I’ve been nursing a tendon injury that has both slowed me down and limited how much I run lately. It’s getting better thanks to a good podiatrist and excellent physical therapy with George at Outpatient Physical Therapy. But it’s not even close to where I need it to be. My biggest consolation tonight was that after 5 or 6 miles the pain subsided for the most part and I started to find more stamina. I am aggravating slower than I was two weeks ago, which wasn’t fast in the first place, but at least I am able to carry on. My goal of completing my upcoming 1/2 marathon with a time of 2.5 hours is at serious risk, and I may have to alter that goal just to make sure I get through the race without causing further injury and blowing the rest of my season.

triathlonBecause I am going to complete my season. I reaffirmed that commitment after mile 6 tonight. It helps that I’ve already paid my registration fees for most of my races and they are non-refundable. That strategy alone is helpful at keeping one’s commitments.

But more than the money are the promises I made to myself to continue my progress, to challenge myself physically and mentally more than I ever have before in life, to honor the privilege afforded to me as  a “Blue Zone Athlete” with Raise the Bar, to make my coaches proud of me, to set the example for my children, to expand the joy my wife and I are finding training together (even if she is consistently outpacing me on the runs now), and to live more fully the commandment God gave us to care for the temple we call our body and thus enjoy the spiritual blessings that come from that obedience.

And so I share my race calendar with all of you. Because it is ambitious, and because to realize my greatest level of success, I need you, probably more than I care to admit. Your support means so much to me. Your comments so often carry me through the challenging times, and compliments when I do well strengthen my resolve to get just a little better. And because some of you have been joining me on the journey, and I hope to see more of you out there on the courses!

Summer 2012 Race Calendar

March 16 Auburn YMCA indoor Triathlon

April 20 Dash for Dance 5K

May 4 Cinco de Mayo 1/2 Marathon

May 27 7 Hills of Kirkland Century Bike Ride

June 8 Flying Wheels Century Bike Ride

June 14 Raise the Bar Swim Race

June 15 Lake Wilderness Olympic Triathlon

June 22 Chelan Century Challenge Bike Ride

July 12 Raise the Bar Swim Race (Tentative)

July 13 Seattle to Portland Bike Ride – One Day

July 20 Chelan Man Olympic Triathlon

August 16-17 Ride from Seattle to Vancouver & Party (RSVP)

August 24 Lake Sammamish Sprint Triathlon

August 31 Bonney Lake Labor of Love Olympic Triathlon

September 7 Hero Mud Run

September 20-21 Salt to Saint 400 mile Bike Relay

October 5 Leavenworth Marathon (Tentative)

Race Report 2013: YMCA Indoor Tri

My race season kick-off event was an indoor triathlon at the YMCA. The format was twenty minutes for each segment; pool, bike and treadmill. The distance for each leg is tracked and totaled, and your standing calculated accordingly. If you’ve never done an indoor triathlon you should try it at least once. I think this event went especially well because of the people who organize it, Cheri and Stephanie, who run the triathlon club at the Auburn Valley YMCA. They kept everything positive and were so supportive of the participants. And I would be out of order if I didn’t acknowledge the great volunteers who there making sure the athletes had a great experience.

Not being a sanctioned “race,” it was both a casual and competitive atmosphere. Twenty-two people participated ranging from the experienced athletes to the newly initiated. Some were there just for fun, some were like me – using the event as a rust-buster to shake off the last few months of rainy training and put some of my training to the test, and others were there to crush it because they are competitive athletes and that’s how they approach life. Everyone was awesome.

First leg of the race was the swim. I’ve been attending Raise the Bar’s coached swim sessions three mornings a week where I’ve learned more about swimming than I thought there was to learn. Coach Patty recently told me my goal was to get my 100 time down from 2:10 to 2:05, so that was my goal for this race. In 20 minutes of swimming I managed 18 total laps. That means 1/2 mile. Not bad, but that average equates to a time of 2:13/100. I was actually slower than I am in practice.

But I learned a lot. First, it takes discipline and concentration to maintain the form you’ve been practicing once the starter bell sounds. Adrenaline has a way of making you execute a freestyle stroke that looks more like a windmill than an efficient glide through the water. But after a couple of laps I settled down, found my rhythm and spent the rest of my time concentrating on good form and strong swimming. It was also a good chance to work on maintaining technique in a competitive environment. Adrenaline is motivating, but it has the potential to kill your efficiency if you don’t manage it.

2013-03-16 19.08.47The next leg was on stationary bikes in the gym. I can’t remember the last time I rode a stationary bike and I hope it’s long time before I do again. I know, it’s necessary for a format like this but beyond that, no thanks. Give me the open road, the changing terrain, wind, rain, sun or whatever. That being said, I’ve never maintained a better pace than sitting in that gym. All of the bikes were locked into the same resistance to keep things fair, and the resistance seemed to be pretty low. I averaged 24 miles per hour, something I only see on descents on my local hills. And it was fun to be with a crowd of people enjoying the loud music they were blasting from the spin instructor’s play list. On the road I never ride with head phones and it’s difficult to keep up a conversation. Here I got to enjoy the music and I even met a new friend with the guy sitting next to me. He also became one of my life-goal indicators. I want to be as healthy and competitive as he is when I reach that age.

We finally transitioned to the treadmills for the run. I also despise treadmills. I used one recently when I chickened out on running outside when the weather was especially cruddy. Pounding out the miles standing in place made me want to break in to pet shops everywhere and liberate all the hamsters of the world. It wasn’t quite that bad for this event but I still don’t want to make a habit of it. The upside of the treadmill was that I could turn up the speed and force myself to push a little harder.

Probably the funnest part of this run was watching the guy next to me. He was a young kid, 19 years old, who recently moved here from Mexico. There’s not an ounce of fat on him 2013-03-16 19.39.50and he moves fast. You just can’t help but smile when you watch an accomplished athlete do his/her thing. And running side by side with this young man, Oscar, exemplifies one of the things I love about multisport. Triathlon allows a guy like me to get out there and compete and achieve goals, even though I’m really only competing with myself more than anyone else at this point.  But at the same time, the field is always replete with high performance athletes who can handily serve you some humility as they breeze by. There’s room for all of us out there, and while you always have something to feel good about what you’re accomplishing, there’s no shortage of humility to help keep you in check.

My results were okay. Not the front of the pack, but not at the bottom either. I stood 10th overall, 3rd in the swim,   10th on the bike,   and 14th on the run. A solid effort and a good practice race.

But the greatest result was seeing my friend Kevin there. Kevin’s never done a triathlon before. In fact it was just a few weeks ago he sidled up next to me at church, and speaking almost in a whisper, said, “Look, I don’t really want this out there yet but I’ve been watching you and I’ve decided to do a triathlon. We’ve 2013-03-16 20.05.03been going to the Y as a family and we’re trying to turn things around.” Lo and behold, a month later, there he was at his first event. Not only did he do a fantastic job, he had a great time doing it. And his sense of accomplishment was huge. You can see it on his face!

And for the record, I’m not breaching his confidentiality about keeping quiet about his goals. The word is out. I’m confident about that because I’m told he wore his finisher medal to church the next day. I’m glad he did. People should know about his accomplishment!

So yeah, I’m okay with my race results. But I’m ecstatic with Kevin’s performance. Welcome to the world of multisport Kevin! You’re gonna love it here. And yes, I expect you to sign up for at least one race this summer.

I hope you’ll join me in welcoming Kevin to the sport. Leave a comment here and I’ll make sure he sees it.

Why I Decided to Tri – Part II

In my last post I shared the story of how a friend and colleague, Julie, got me thinking about the idea of a triathlon. And this post is about how Brad,  owner of Northwest Tri and Bike, was the pivotal person in my decision to ultimately try a triathlon.

I don’t remember how I came across the store, probably just exploring the area for bike shops closer to home, but I remember being in there one day last year chatting with Brad. I told him about my colleague’s suggestion to try a triathlon, dismissing it in the same breath with a comment like, “It sounds interesting but I really wonder if I could ever do something like that.”

2013-01-11 18.14.50“Of course you could,” was Brad’s response. I scanned his face for signs of polite yet phony cheerleading, but there weren’t any. And he didn’t try to sell me a new bike, running shoes, wet suit, or even a water bottle. He said it simply and matter of fact. And in that moment, I believed him.

Riding had become a daily habit already. I’d already bought a new road bike and it replaced my car. I was riding to work, meetings, church, and just for fun. A friend had convinced me to sign up for the Seattle to Portland bike ride so I started doing longer training rides.

I’d recently completed my first 5K as part of a fundraiser to bring ballroom dance to my school’s PE program. I was slow, 42 minutes, but I ran every step of the way, and for me it was a victory. I’d been on a swim team in my middle school years and was confident in my ability to swim. So as I thought about Brad’s response, I realized that I at least possessed the basic skills to complete each part of a triathlon.

I completed my first triathlon, the Lake Sammamish Tri, last August. I will never forget it. I didn’t stand on any podiums, but I met the only two goals I had; Photo Aug 25, 9 50 53 AM (1).2finish, and don’t be last. I finished 267 out of around 305 entrants, and finished 11 out of 12 in the Clydesdale division. I beat an 11 year old kid, and a 70 year old man. And I lost to a lot of other 11 year old kids, and host of other 70-somethings, including a 77 year-old woman who was celebrating her birthday that day! But most important, I finished. On my way home from the race I stopped in at Tri and Bike to shake Brad’s hand, tell him that I actually finished my race, and to thank him for instilling a sense of belief in myself.

Not long after that I was talking to Brad and Patty, and once again, they shaped my thinking unexpectedly. I’d asked them to help me figure out how to start a triathlon club at my school. In the course of that conversation Patty looked at me and asked, “What are your goals? What do you want from multisport?” Until that point all I’d really thought about was finishing my first one. I knew I wanted to do more, but I didn’t know what that would be.

From there, multisport came to be the defining benchmark in my goals. I decided then that next year, (2013) I would complete an Olympic distance, and the year after that I would do half-iron, and the next year I would complete an Ironman.

So here I am, training to pull off one of the most physically challenging summers I’ve ever had in my life. I’m singed up for at least four triathlons, a couple fo century bike rides, a couple of double-century bike rides, a swim race, a mud run, a 1/2 marathon, and if I can stay injury-free, a full marathon.

At 350 pounds a few years ago, nobody, including me, would have predicted me taking on a summer race season like that. But because Brad looked me straight in the eye without any pretense, and said, “Of course you could,” I believed him. And look where I am now. Admittedly I’m still a long way from my goals, but I’m also a lot farther away from the guy who didn’t have any goals at all.

Brad… Julie… Thanks for helping me see myself in a way that I couldn’t see on my own.

Why I Decided to Tri – Part I

It continues to amaze me how much a single conversation can influence the direction your life goes.

2013-01-31 11.37.49Around this time last year a colleague, I’ll call her Julie, (because that’s actually what her name is.  Julie is an assessment and data expert in our school district and has actually developed something of a reputation for having high expectations and challenging others go beyond the mark. She’s typically pretty direct which means there are some great stories I could tell about the impact of her candor. I won’t do that here. Suffice it to say, she has the ability to tick you off with her positions. But it’s hard to stay angry because she typically stands on pretty solid ground, even if it’s something you don’t want to hear. And if you don’t want to hear it, she’s also pretty unapologetic about saying it.

All that being said, if you have the ability to get over yourself, and I think I do, she’s a great colleague and friend. She’s super smart, friendly, funny, and so on. So one day when we were chatting during a break at a meeting she said, “With all the cycling you’ve been doing, you ought to think about doing a triathlon. The Chelan Man is a great race.” She’d taken note of my new commitment to cycling (a story for a future blog post) and thought I might enjoy the challenge.

I was intrigued but didn’t consider it very seriously being ignorant to the sport. I  mean, no one in their right mind just decides to “do” triathlons. Swimming, biking and running all at the same event in a competitive environment just doesn’t add up. At least, it didn’t make sense when Julie told  me about it.

And like I mentioned in my last post, when I looked in the mirror I couldn’t see a person who could do something like that. Besides, my main goal at that time was training to do the Seattle to Portland (STP) bike ride that summer.

But the idea seemed to nag at me once in a while and I wondered what it would be like. And that surprised me. Not only was the idea aversive, but I had never attempted anything that challenging before in my life.

As I look back on why that conversation had such an impact I’ve concluded that at least two things have to be in place for an experience to have an impact: it has to take place with someone who’s credible. In this case, a colleague who I hold in high regard. Part of what gives Julie credibility in my eyes is that she’s one of the smartest people I know, and she’s never given me a reason to question her honesty. In fact, sometimes I’ve been pretty put off by her candor, which oddly enough, fosters respect with me.

The other important element is that you have to be ready to receive what’s being said. I’m pretty sure that if Julie had suggested a triathlon to me a few years when I weighed in at 350 pounds and had trouble making it up a flight of stairs, the idea would have vaporized almost as quickly as it was spoken. But hearing it just a year ago when I’d lost a lot of weight and had become an enthusiastic cyclist, well, that seemed to leave room for possibilities.

And sometimes someone can say something to you, someone you know absolutely nothing about, someone you have no reason to listen to at all, and the way they talk gets your attention almost like someone grabbing you by the collar. That’s where Brad comes in.

And because nobody likes reading long blog posts, and because sometimes it’s good to give your readers a little cliff hanger, I’ll tell the rest of this story in my next post.

Raise the Bar Kick-Off Party

In the meantime, I was organizing some pictures recently and realized I didn’t share a couple of the fun ones from Raise the Bar’s kick-off party. In my last post I shared the experience of discovering the friendly and supportive community of triathletes, particularly the Raise the Bar team. Thanks by the way for the supportive feedback you’ve shared about that post.

Here’s a picture at the kick-off party with Brad, Patty and Kathy. I really had a great time that night and I feel so lucky to be forging new relationships with folks like them.

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And this picture is all about the swag. Raise the Bar put together a fun little prize bag to take home that night. I’m not sure who was more excited about it though, me or two of my sons. There was a lot of calling dibs on gear that night, especially for stickers! Thanks RTB!

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Invited to the Party

So in my last post I shared the news about winning the Raise the Bar/Blue Zone athlete contest, which amongst other things, gave me the chance of working with a professional coach for several months.  It also gave me the prize of a membership on the Raise the Bar triathlon team.

A couple of years ago, or ever in my life for that matter, nobody I knew, or me, would have imagined I would be competing in triathlons, let alone being part of a team. But to tell the truth, while I was thrilled at the idea of it. I was also pretty unsure about how this would go.

I’d actually been planning on joining this group for a while. I wanted to get better in multipsort and knew I could only go so far on my own. I was holding off though. Partly because I needed to plan my budget for the team fee, uniform, etc., but truthfully, more because the idea of trying to hang with a group of dedicated triathletes freaked me out.

I work in schools, so trust me when I tell you; I know what it means when someone crosses over the lunchroom to sit with a new group of people. Describing it as awkward is just the beginning. I mean, that’s why The Breakfast Club was such a huge hit. We watch it over and over again relishing the inevitable social train wrecks that occur when cultures clash. And in my experience, it isn’t all that different in the adult world.

So when Patty, from Raise the Bar, emailed me telling me I’d won and inviting me to the team kick-off party, I was thrilled. And then I started to panic just a little.

Raise the Bar TeamI know. I was over-thinking it and worrying way too much. But it was hard not to. I mean, look at these people. When I stand in in front of a mirror, this not what I see looking back.

Riding my bike several miles to the event helped burn off some adrenaline which probably saved me from embarrassing myself by walking in and doing some nervous stunt like shouting out, “Hey everybody, look who’s here! Woot, Woot!” Sounds improbable, and even inappropriate, at least socially, but my anxiety in new settings has been a pretty consistent traitor to my best interests all my life.

These bizarre conversations happen in my head that sound something like, “So you really like these people and you want them to like you, so why not start off with a bang and show up dressed like a rubber duck to show everyone what a fun loving guy you are.” Only an idiot would do that. I know, because sometimes that idiot is me. Everybody else knows it’s a ridiculously bad move to show up to the opera appreciation club in a yellow feathered suit singing arias in a duck voice.

Fortunately age and experience have honed off some of my rough edges. And when I got to RTB’s party, I just stood back, watched, and listened. After all, what would I say? “Hey, did you see the way I didn’t come in last at my first sprint? I mean there was no way I was gonna let that old lady or the eleven year old kid cross the finish line before me. I totally dominated right?”

See? I’m learning.

So while I surveyed the room wondering what I was doing trying to fit in with a bunch of hard core endurance athletes, one by one, people started to introduce themselves. One couple chatted extensively with me about our favorite bike training routes. I saw a woman who is a frequent substitute teacher at the school where I work. Patty and Kathy, Raise the Bar staffers, introduced me to some folks who extended warm greetings and welcomes. And I started to relax realizing that while the majority of these folks are pretty accomplished, or at least experienced, they were all there to grow, and to share their passion for a sport they love. And if nothing else, like me, they liked pizza. Which is apparently what they serve at parties for hard core endurance athletes. So while I may not be as physically accomplished as most of them, I belonged.

The next day I was doing a long ride from my home in Auburn to the north end of Seattle, a distance of about 40 miles, to attend training on how to be a ride referee for Cascade Bicycle Club’s organized rides. I love the route I was on which meanders up the shore of Lake Washington, through the arboretum, and across the University of Washington campus.

There were a lot of other cyclists on the road, and a number of runners on the adjacent trail. And one of the runners was wearing a Raise the Bar jersey. And for a moment, I almost shouted out, “Hey, look who’s here! I’m one of you guys now! Woot, Woot!”

Fortunately my inner voice convinced me once again that discretion would be the better part of valor, or at least the better part of enthusiasm. But I thought it. I definitely thought it.

What started off as somewhat of a selfish interest, improving as an athlete, is evolving into something that I think is better. Yes, I definitely want to gain whatever I can learn from my new team. But I also want to give; to the sport that is enriching my life, and to the community I’ve joined and that is embracing me. I want to Raise the Bar.

Raise the Bar Community

I’m in Training

It’s true. I actually am in training. Officially. I entered a contest. I won. And now I’m in training.

RTB-outline-with-tag-line-300x151The contest was sponsored by a local triathlon team, Raise the Bar, and a medical consulting firm, Blue Zone Consulting. The announcement on the website said:

“Raise the Bar Multisport and Blue Zone are teaming together to present an opportunity for 2 athletes – one man and one woman – to improve their health and longevity through multisport in 2013.”

It was as if they had created a contest just for me. I’ve been working on health and longevity for a few years, and in the last couple of years really started making some strides.

After I got started in cycling a couple of years ago, a friend suggested I try a triathlon last summer. So I signed up. About the same time, my wife decided she wanted to run a 1/2 marathon before she turned 40. And she wanted me to go with her. So we signed up. The triathlon and marathon combined with the Seattle to Portland bike ride became pinnacle events in what has been one of the best summers of my life….  Ever.

TriathlonAt summer’s end I was so excited about what we’d done I decided to set new goals of finishing longer triathlons and marathons. So after the race season was over I kept training. The problem is, I don’t know what I’m doing, and you can only learn so much from books and You Tube. I was logging the miles on the bike, on the run, and in the pool, but I wasn’t getting any faster and I was pretty sure I wasn’t getting any better.

I started talking to people. The woman doing swim lessons at the YMCA, the folks at the bike shop, the colleague who’s a marathon runner. They were all friendly and helpful but it wasn’t enough. I needed a coach and I knew it

And then I learned about the contest.  So I told them my story in response to their essay questions, and eventually I got an email congratulating me on being selected!

So what did wining mean? For me it meant getting the help I needed but could not quite pull off on my own. My prizes consisted of a membership on the Raise the Bar triathlon team (including a uniform), and access to a professional coach for the 2013 season!

So now, I’m in training. Officially. I’ve since met my coach and he’s already crafted my initial training plan, which I started this week

I’m looking forward to telling the story of how this goes. I’ve already started several posts about the night of the kick-off party and what it was like to hang out in a room full of accomplished triathletes, the experience of starting to work with a coach, what I’m learning in the workouts, how my races go, about the wonderful people I’m meeting, how my life is improving, and the lessons life has to offer in the water, on the bike and on the run.

Im in Training PictureFor now I just want to tell the folks at Raise the Bar, Blue Zone, and Northwest Tri and Bike that I’m excited, honored, nervous, and humbled by their generosity, their willingness to invest in me, and the opportunity to make a difference in my life. And with any luck, if I tell my story, it just might help some other people see that they can do it too.

I wish I could write more right now but I’ve got to get going. I have to run 7 miles. I’m in training. Officially!

They Warned Me…. But I Didn’t Believe Them

I was making a late dinner last night while talking to an old friend from my days back home in Missouri. He wanted advice on how to navigate a challenge at his son’s school. My wife sidled up next to me with an expression that demanded my attention. “Katherine has something urgent to tell you.”

2013-02-06_1218I asked my friend to pause and my daughter leaped into the kitchen exclaiming, “I got accepted to BYU-Idaho!” With three burners working on the stove and a phone call on hold, all I could manage was, “That’s great news and I’m going to be even more excited for you when I hang up the phone.”

I finally wrapped up the call and got dinner on the table, and my daughter read her acceptance letter. As she read the congratulatory phrasing from the college I sat quietly enjoying the excitement in her voice, the sense of relief at being accepted, and the air of accomplishment she felt for getting this far.

I felt my eyes start to mist, and then I looked up at my wife. Her eyes were also filling with tears. And for that brief silent moment we just looked at each other trying to experience the moment.

And then it hit me. I realized that within in a few months, she was going to leave us, setting out on her own. A year of college, another couple of years of church missionary service, and then back to school. Soon she would be gone. And my mind instantly filled with regrets. I didn’t expect that.

All I could think about was how little time I had left with her at our home. I instantly regretted all the times I worked late instead of being home with my kids. I’ve always rationalized my late hours because after all, as a school principal, I believe I’m making a difference in the world. I know that I am, but I started questioning the balance of time I spent helping other people’s kids compared to my own. I love my work, but it isn’t easy. It requires a lot of time and energy. And it’s a fickle business. When it gets right down to it, most people don’t know about the time and sacrifices you make ensuring that things are going well for them. And when things aren’t going well, they don’t care. Never mind that you haven’t been home with your kids almost every night of the week because you’re attending meetings, concerts, plays, games, and so on. When the chips are down, it’s pretty much all about what have you done for me lately. I usually don’t mind, but when I saw how little time I had left with my darling daughter, I regretted making other people’s problems the priority so often.

And then I thought about my own selfish interests. How much time I’ve spent pursuing what I want to do instead of spending the time with her doing what she wants. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to almost all of her concerts, plays, games,  and church activities. We’ve hosted parties, planned events, and prioritized our summers for family time. But I couldn’t help but wonder if I couldn’t have done more. I actually don’t wonder. I know I could have.

I felt panicked knowing I haven’t spent enough time teaching the basics of budgeting, meal preparation, and other quotidianal activities. I worried that I hadn’t set a good enough example over the years of consistent righteous living; scripture study, prayer, service, and so on. As she’s gotten older, she’s become predictably more independent, preferring the company of her chums to her family clan. That’s as it should be, but have I struck the right balance? I reviewed my calendar looking for a chance to start making up time immediately. An activity at my boys’ elementary school tonight, a PTA event at my school the next night, an overnight party with friends for her the next night, temple attendance the night after that. Nothing until Sunday. My make-up shot would have to wait, as usual. I desperately yearned for the chance to just hang out together more.

And so I went through my internal histrionics for the rest of the evening. Eventually the evening routine had to take control. Teeth had to be brushed, Pajamas adorned, and then the evening gathering of scripture study. We read Chapter 3 of Mark in the New Testament, each person taking their turn reading a few verses. About half way through I realized I wasn’t listening at all, still consumed with thoughts of my daughter’s impending departure. And then a brief respite came… followed by more lachrymose longing.

I looked up to see every child following along in their scriptures, either a printed bible or an electronic version on the computer or portable device. The room was photoquiet and a gentle spirit had filled the room as we read about the Savior’s ministry of healing and salvation. And in that moment I felt peaceful and content. And then the crybaby in me started up again wishing none of them would ever go away. That we could stay this way forever, tied together as our own little family, content with each other and living entirely in that quiet moment. I even took a picture so that I wouldn’t ever forget.

And then the reading was done. Prayers were said. And everyone trickled off to bed. I congratulated my daughter again on this milestone, and she came close to me. “Hug me dad.” I don’t know if she asked for that because she needed it, or because she knew I did. I held her close, and squeezed a little harder than usual, holding on a little longer. “I’m very happy for you Katherine,” I whispered.

“Thanks Dad. It’s a little scary.” And hearing her say that seemed to help. She knew that striking out on her own would be big step, and that in saying that, she knew that we would still be there for her, no matter what, no matter how scary it gets.

For years my friends have listened to me complain about my kids making messes, leaving the lights on, not following through on chores. And the veteran parents have all said the same thing. “You’ll miss having those lights on and messy rooms when they’re gone.” And in my selfish impertinence I always argued that I wouldn’t miss it all. I’d miss my kids but not the mess. And I would certainly enjoy the chance to read a book uninterrupted, and not race all around all night getting people places, etc. They warned me. I didn’t believe them. Until now.

I finally went to bed, exhausted from waking up early to work out, a full day of work, a run with my wife, cub scouts, a school concert, and most of all from my unexpected emotional response to her thrilling news. And after I lay down, I felt the tears start to flow, and I cried myself to sleep.

When I left for work this morning I passed through the downstairs to retrieve something from the garage. I saw a ridiculous mess in the family room. Blankets heaped on the floor and clothing strewn about. As I walked past the bathroom she and her brother share I saw the garbage can overflowing and a sloppy-looking sink. And I smiled, happy to have a mess.  Because it meant my kids were all there, and for at least a little while longer, we were all together.