My Sister in law Sally wanted to do something, to help her Mother who is suffering with Parkinson’s disease. Sally is a Broadway singer, actress, and despite her athletic family, not a confident athlete. Perhaps because of this, she convinced her friends to donate money to Parkinson’s by creating her own mini triathlon. Sally trained hard, overcoming her inexperience cycling and swimming, two of the most challenging events for triathletes. Her brother Bob, truly a man made of steel, decided to accompany her for moral support. Stupidly, I decided to join them.
The particulars seemed easy enough: Sally’s triathlon consisted of a 1/2 mile swim, a 12 mile bike ride, followed by a 3 mile run. For any active person, none of these are too terribly difficult. As a hand tool woodworker, a certain level of physical fitness is necessary, and to some extent, inescapable. My Brother in law Bob calls this “blue collar buff”. It’s the strength that comes naturally from a life of manual labor. But the trick to the triathlon is the cumulative effect of the exertion plus the necessity to perform the transitions quickly. So even a modest “sprint” triathlon like this one is still a fairly significant physical effort.
I’m an experienced cyclist, swimmer, and runner. I completed a triathlon twice this length 20 years ago without any trouble. But that was 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve swam little, and cycled less. But I have been jogging a bit. So I didn’t feel entirely unprepared. But make no mistake about it, this was a stunt. It wasn’t a fair representation of my athletic skill or fitness. I guess I don’t generally define survival as success. And if you are wondering what any of this has to do with woodworking, I guess I see this triathlon exactly like so many woodworking projects I’ve attempted. I really think we can’t wait until the event itself to train. Not only does that make the event itself less enjoyable, it shifts the focus from creating beauty to a mere matter of survival. Perhaps more corrosively, it diminishes the achievement, making it less a pronouncement of skill and more a matter of perseverance.
I don’t want to take anything away from those of us who have squeezed out the tiger maple highboys through gritted teeth. I certainly do respect perseverance and a “can do” attitude. But I see my Sister in law’s dedication to training the approach that I’d like to emulate. Her graceful finish was all the more beautiful for it.