Peter Walton, Roanoke, Va
I looked in the mirror and saw 27 gray hairs (yes, I counted). I was about to turn 30, and to commemorate the occasion, I decided to enter my first triathlon.
The whistle blew, and I dove into a 65-degree lake. An open-water swim is much different than a pool swim. The water was choppy and cold, and there were hands and feet slapping me and kicking me. One person seemed to even swim underneath me for some reason. The water was brown, and whenever I looked up, I got slapped in the face with a wave.
Finally, I climbed out of the water and began the ride. After about five miles, I started cranking up a long uphill—when suddenly my left foot started spinning way too fast. I looked down and the entire crank holding my pedal was broken off completely.
I hopped off my bike to look at the problem. Not only was I not going to reach my 90-minute goal, but now it appeared I would not even finish my first triathlon.
So I did what any red-blooded male would do: I kicked the mess out of my bike. I was mad. I knew I had to finish this race. I had trained too hard, planned too much, and my family was waiting for me at the finish line.
I looked down and thought to myself, “Well, God did give me two legs, so I guess I’ll just use the one that does have a pedal.” So off I went, pedaling with only my right leg. Surprisingly, I got into a rhythm pedaling with one leg. The tricky parts were the uphills. I had to constantly move through the gears so that I would maintain some momentum. It was quite awkward, but it worked. And the encouragement I received from the other racers who were passing me helped keep me on my bike: “Hey man, are you all right….Holy sh-t! Keep going! That’s awesome!”
I finally made it back to the transition area and headed out for the 5K run. My right leg was badly beat up, but I just tried to keep a steady pace the entire time. I finished my first triathlon in 1:45, which wasn’t bad considering the mechanical challenges.
Afterward, I saw a 75-year-old man complete the triathlon. I guess I shouldn’t get too worried about the gray hairs.
One Step at a Time
<em> Lynn Pribus, Charlottesville, Va</em>
“Take one step forward,” Sally directs the line of women wearing snowshoes—most for the first time. We do. “Congratulations!” she says. “You are now intermediate snowshoers.”
About 100 women have gathered at a cross-country ski area for a Full Moon Snowshoe Hike. The hike is a memorial to women who have died of breast cancer. Many of the snowshoers are breast cancer survivors.
We head through a forest of naked trees as our snowshoes scratch musically against the light crust on the snow. Eventually we emerge into a wide meadow and gather around a bonfire.
Sally says, “As we go around the circle, give your name and who you are. I don’t mean what you do,” she cautions. “I mean the ‘who.’ This is very hard for some people.”
Everyone becomes utterly engrossed in the fire with its orange and red and yellow flames blossoming against the black-and-white night.
Finally Sally says, “Okay, I’ll start. I’m an athlete and my mission in life is getting people fit. When people get in tune with their bodies, the rest of their lives can start working.” After a moment, another woman recites a poem she wrote in her mind as she tramped through the snow. The woman next to her, abruptly widowed, speaks of the importance of friends. It’s fascinating hearing from these women who are strangers, yet already friends. An attorney, a college student, an entrepreneur. One confides she’s faced big problems since breast cancer forced her to leave her job. “I’d always been what I did. I don’t want to be all about cancer, but it’s taking up all my life right now.”
Another woman has also been coping with breast cancer, but her voice is strong. “This year has been awful and wonderful. There are a lot of caring people coming into my life, so good came from the crisis.”
And there is good for many other women as well. “Six hours ago,” one woman shyly announces, “I learned I’m pregnant. I guess I’m a mother-in-waiting.”
“Today is the one-year anniversary of my cancer surgery,” says another, and the circle breaks into applause, muffled by our mittens and gloves. “I didn’t know if I’d make it. I sure didn’t know I’d be here.”
A grandmother, accompanied by two teenage granddaughters, announces in an awed voice, “This is the first time I’ve been out at night without my husband. And here I am in the wilderness.”
“I’m overwhelmed,” another says, “in a very good way. Struggling with cancer, I’ve had to be so tough and I am so tired of being so tough. I had trouble finding strong women and here you all are.”
Although we’re becoming chilled, there is a real reluctance to let go of this magical time. Being out in the moonlight and snow is an accomplishment for every one of us—a thrill, a satisfaction, an achievement—that’s nearly impossible to describe. We feel jubilant, strong, triumphant.
<em> Tammy Johns, Raleigh, Nc</em>
I headed out kayaking with my dad along the shores of Falls Lake, not far from our home north of Raleigh, N.C. The sun was bright, and it was just good to get out paddling again with my father. I hadn’t seen much wildlife all summer, so I didn’t have my mind set on seeing anything that day either. Yet it almost always seems to be those unexpected moments that you aren’t looking for nature when suddenly you are surrounded by it.
After paddling for about an hour or so, we glided into a marshy area with water pathways outlined by yellow-flowered water plants. A giant sunbathing turtle loudly splashed its way back under the surface of the water. Several belted kingfishers watched us from dead tree stumps about 15 feet above the water. Eight great blue herons also made their homes here. We saw beaver lodges, osprey nests, and giant carp. I sensed that we were in an animal paradise, having stumbled upon this remote ecosystem not often visited.
Our time paddling through that place reminded me that you never know what visitations from nature you might receive, even close to home. It reminded me of the simplicity and joy in seeing life of all forms. To glimpse just a moment of that makes a lasting impression.