Tuesday, July 10, 2012

An Awakening

Last weekend and the first few days of this week witnessed me struggling with a decision to whether go ahead and participate in a triathlon at month's end or step aside to focus on what I love which is running. My swim has never quite improved to the level I wish. Even when I celebrate the major improvement of my swim time in 2010 at the New York city Triathlon compared to my time at the 2008 NYC event, I still wish I could have done better. I wish I was a dynamite confident swimmer. Knowing this, I wrestled with whether to register because I love racing triathlons. I love being out there giving it my all. I also know I do not enjoy the misery and anxiety every single time when it comes to the swim portion. I find that I do not enjoy the days leading up to races. I do not fully take in race weekend because I am always bothered by what awaits me in the open water. That truly is a miserable feeling. I want to smile, have fun, and enjoy the company of others, but I can never do so with the swim leg looming. I get nervous prior to duathlons and marathons too, but for different reasons. I always question whether I am ready, what I could have done better in terms of my speed work, or if I could have done an extra mile each long run. Yet, as much as the late miles may hurt, I love being out there, hearing the crowd, and being with my sighted guided whomever may be the one taking me through the course.

I know how much I dislike the swim portion of a triathlon. I know how much I do not want to disappoint people. Whether I am participating for the C Different Foundation, Imerman Angels, or Dare2Tri Chicago, I do not want to let anyone associated with those groups down. Anyone who volunteers to guide me in any race of any kind receives my respect and admiration. I do not want to disappoint. Whether it was Brendan in my second time in the Hudson River, Clark in my first Denver triathlon, Rich and Peter during my first marathon, Todd in my first duathlon, Ross in my first 30K, Brian in my first half marathon, or anyone else who has ever lined up next to me to go the distance. I find myself burdened by the pressure to not disappoint and frustrate them. My friend, Andrew, to whom I was introduced by Jemma, offered to be my eyes for the triathlon. I was excited. I was also scared because it would be the first event where he would guide. There is no way he deserves to be put through my panic attack and stress filled swim. I can not do that to someone for whom I have so much respect. As I spoke to various people including Andrew, I started to wonder why was I racing. What drew me to athletics several years ago? I had played sports all my life mainly enjoying baseball, basketball, and football. I was never the best, but often, the fastest. When I lost my sight, I was introduced to sports for the blind. I hated all of them! They were not the sports up with which I grew. In high school, I tried track for one year and loved it. I needed guides for the training and practice, but otherwise, it was all me. When I got into the best shape of my life at the time of my junior year of college, it was once again, all me. When I decided to get a Bruce Lee physique, the responsibility was on me to get it achieved. From the moment Gina Lombardi's Fit Nation on Fit TV inspired me which was soon followed by Lokelani McMichael's story doing the same, I was moved because I wanted to achieve something special. I wanted to be great. One of the notions against which I have always pushed back is the idea that I am an inspiration. At least, I never was motivated by Bruce, Gina, or Loke to be the best blind athlete so I could inspire other blind athletes. As readers know, I see myself merely as a person and not a disability. I want the world to embrace me as such. I want to be the marathoner, duathlete, screenwriter, actor, and one day, triathlete who happens not to have sight. If one day people call me an inspiration I wish for it to be because I have achieved at a high level and not merely because I can not see. I do not feel being blind is the inspiration. Achieving that which is great is the inspiration.

As I debated on whether to participate at month's end, I began to realize what was making this decision difficult is the chains I have placed on myself to answer to others. The idea that I tell people frequently is that I am racing for the coaches, guides, and friends who invest in me. I find myself racing to make Brendan, Kimberly, Jenny, Matt, Jenna, and others proud. It was a desire to make the wonderful people of D2T proud which caused me to struggle with whether to race. Suddenly, the reminder of what motivated me returned. Gina Lombardi and Lokelani McMichael. When I started out, I wanted to be the best I could be. I wanted to achieve beyond anything I could ever dream. Yet somewhere along the way I started racing for others. I started to race out of fear not to disappoint anyone who has ever believed in me or offered to guide me. Many of my friends have insisted that I should not and must not race for them. I should do it for me. My loyalty to friends has always stood in the way. This afternoon, as I crafted an e-mail about my continued swim struggles and my decision to not tackle the triathlon, I found myself writing what I always have known to be true, but had long forgotten as my purpose for what I do has become blurry. I realized that my desire all along has been to push my body to its maximum limits then beyond. The truth is, if a race has a disabled or blind division, I want to win it. If it does not, I want to compete for my age group title. Recently, a friend ask if my performance at Pleasant Prairie was good enough to qualify for Nationals. I was not sure and it was not important to me. Now, it is. If I have a chance to compete on a national stage, then I want to do so. What I discovered over these last few days of searching is that my friends have been correct all along. I can not and should not race for my guides, my coaches, or the organizations I feel indebted to because it is not my place to do so. I need to only race for me!! My best will some days be good enough for a podium finish. My best will not be good enough on other days, it will be my best. When I deliver my best after putting in all the tough work in training leading up to the race, then my coaches, sighted guides, and non profits for whom I race will be proud of me. I should not let that dictate how I race. My only concern is to put in the work daily in preparation then go out and crush every single race. Some days that will mean pushing 35MPH on a bike. Other days will see me break seven minute miles on the run. Other days, I will not be able to perform to that level, but so long as I am doing my best to be ready then everyone will be proud. I only need to answer to myself. My love and joy is best displayed when I am pounding the bike and galloping on the run. If marathons and duathlons are my stages to shine then go shine! If I am not ready to tackle the swim then continue to work on it, but do not even consider another triathlon until I am a confident strong swimmer who can overcome any anxiety which comes with racing. Right now, I know I have the ability to compete in road races, so I will focus my race attention on that. I believe I have had some wonderful realizations these last few days. Do what makes me comfortable and happy. Make sure I am racing for me. Friends will love and respect me because I am pushing my limits and achieving not because I am always trying to make them happy. Romping and stomping to victories will make them happier and prouder of me, so time to go be the best!


  1. Hi Israel! It's Lauren from the Pleasant Prairie Triathlon! Sorry it took so long to find your blog, but I'm glad that I did!

    Let me know if you ever want to go for a swim together - it sounds like that's something you're working on. I hope to see you at South Shore, whether for the triathlon or duathlon or just cheering!

    1. Hi Lauren! Great to hear from you. Thank you for the nice swim offer. I'm definitely open to working with anyone so long as it gives me a reason to keep getting in the pool and trying until I get the swim thing down. I have enjoyed reading your posts. I look forward to seeing you at South Shore. I should be their racing in some capacity.

  2. Thanks so much for posting a lot of this awesome content! Looking forward to checking out more.

    aluminium blinds & Skylight Non Velux Blinds