A short while back, Iron Wil did some posting on her motivation to complete an Ironman, as well as some of the reactions she gets from people who know her schedule. Some outside the endurance athlete world struggle to understand what motivates anyone to undertake such a monumental task, often sacrificing time with family and friends to accompish that task. Her posts got me to thinking about exactly what it is that drove me to become a marathoner and now drives me to pursue triathlons (all the way to Ironman?).
As a child, my mother was a huge factor in participating in a wide variety of activities, and pursuing each long enough to either succeed or determine I truly disliked the activity. Organized baseball, soccer, and football were sports in which I participated. Musical endeavors included the guitar and french horn (and later the trumpet, bass guitar, and saxophone). Four years on the debate team, a year of forensics, and dozens of plays in both high school and college developed my speaking ability. The entire time, winning was secondary. Participation and effort were the primary goal. When I stopped playing soccer, decided to skip my senior year of football, and dropped out of college after three semesters, my mom understood. I had given each an honest attempt.
In a similar manner, my dad was always right there to push his kids to give 100% to anything they attempted. Schoolwork was something to be completed properly, not something to be done half-assed. And we had to do it. He would help, but never gave out answers. If we participated in a sport, we would be at practice, we would attend games, and we would play hard. And if we didn't, he had no sympathy if we spent the entire season sitting on the bench. And in his own way, he was always ready to support our activities, even when it was something about which he personally wasn't that excited. When he bought his fishing boat, he made sure it would tow a skier and bought the necessary equipment. You will never, ever see my dad skiing. In fact, if you see him swimming, it means his boat sank. If you even see him in shorts, it is only because it is 120F in the shade (if you can find any shade). But he knew that at least one of his kids absolutely loved skiing. So he became an expert at towing that child, and learned a thing or two about crack the whip, too.
Together, my parents instilled in me the desire to try new things, and the drive to succeed. And success is defined internally, not by wins and losses. Every race I run thrills them. They may not understand why I run, and they know I am unlikely to ever climb a podium as the victor. But I try, and do the best I can. That's all they ever asked.
Now, I have kids of my own. With two of my own children and groups of eighth graders with whom I work each year, there are lots of young people looking up to me. A huge part of the drive to do these things comes from the desire to let them see that we can accomplish anything if we are willing to try. Every time I speak with someone about marathons or triathlons, I always begin by letting them know where I started. A non-runner. A non-swimmer. Getting fatter by the month. Newly diagnosed with sarcoidosis (a potentially serious illness). The one thing I had going for me was those values instilled in me by my parents. Try. And try hard.
For those out there questioning your ability to complete a marathon, triathlon, or possibly even an Ironman, there is only one real question. Are you driven?