Triathletes are a different breed. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Jason R. William (RELEASED) This file is a work of a sailor or employee of the U.S. Navy, taken or made as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.)

Ironman Triathlete - From Sailing Ships to the Modern Triathlete

A few centuries ago, small groups of sailors set out in leaky wooden ships to discover new lands, to explore uncharted oceans beyond the horizon, to conquer and pillage anyone and everyone that couldn’t run fast. They came from different places and held a different social status, but they were all on the same boat.

The captain and officers came from the elite class. They were educated. They had clean clothes. They were better than the average sailor and they knew it.

The rest of the ship’s company, the pot-washers and the deck-scrubbers, those guys came from a different background. They had few skills and fewer options. Some were just regular guys that needed a job, some were beggars or thieves.

A few of the thieves were forced into service by press gangs. No matter how dismal their existence on land, the idea of volunteering for a quick two-year trip to certain doom was not a decision any decent thief would make, so they needed some convincing. They got whacked on the head and woke up on the boat when it was 20 miles offshore.

Those two groups, the officers and the laborers might have been from different backgrounds, but they did have one thing in common. They all took a risk. They all tried to do something bigger than they ever attempted before.

The reasons those sailors were willing to risk so much varied greatly. Some made a conscious decision to join the venture. A few of them were the real heroes of their time. They risked their fortunes and their lives for the chance to discover a new land. Others chose to take part because they were in for a share of the loot.

They weighed risk against reward and made a decision to go forth. The rest of the ship’s company were generally triathletes.

The triathletes volunteered in droves. No decent food? Sure. Hard labor? Why not. No possible chance of victory? Sounds perfect. Sign me up.

Triathletes love a lost cause. As long as we get a participant ribbon, we can’t wait to send in our entry fee. It’s what triathletes do. We commit ourselves to a painful existence that has no chance of success. Nobody wins. At least, nobody I know wins.

I have heard rumor that there is some guy from Australia or maybe Krypton who wins, but I never met him. Those guys are like the officers on the sailing ship. Those guys are better and they know it. The rest of us don’t really have a chance to win, we do it for the challenge. And the ribbon.

In every triathlon, some guy with fast bike and slow cognition crashes into a volunteer handing out water, then power-slides down the highway leaving bits of himself behind. Then he gets back on his bike and screams “I need that ribbon,” leaving blood and tendons on the highway.

I did it last November in Ironman Arizona. It was pitiful, but I am oh-so proud of that scar.

What has gone before doesn’t matter. It makes no difference. You can’t lay claim to past victories as proof of present worth. What is past is past and does little to alter today. Last year you could have been a couch potato or an Olympic athlete. It doesn’t matter. That is not who we are, that is who we were.

Today matters. Now matters. The choices we make, the path we follow, the actions we invoke, that is who we really are. Indecision is the greatest felony we can commit against ourselves.

We have a chance to follow in the footsteps of those sailors that ventured forth to discover something new about the world, to find an undiscovered truth about themselves. You can choose to participate. Triathlon is for you as much as it is for me or for the guy from Krypton.

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Tags: Ironman Triathlete Triathlon

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