Saturday, January 26, 2013

On the road less traveled

And on the seventh day, I rested (actually my coach is forcing me to rest for the next three days. I think I may need to go on Prozac since I am already getting antsy. I am sure God/whatever high power floats your boat rested a few days after the creation too). These past six days at my first annual “Beach Body Base camp” have been extremely exhausting but at the same time absolute heaven. People say that I am crazy (most likely am) when I tell them that my idea of a vacation is to fly out into the middle of the desert and do nothing but train for six days. However, that really is my dream. For me this week was more than about having some fun in Vegas and training a bunch; it was about testing my limits, and whether I honestly wanted to pursue this type of lifestyle or is it just a pipe dream.

One of the many pitfalls of any athlete who wants to go pro is that, once they begin to do it full time, it becomes a job. The sport then loses all of its fun, and the athlete begins to regard training and competing as obligations. Obligations inherently come with external and internal pressure to perform, which further leaches any enjoyment that the athlete might have left.  I like to call this the “Tom Sawyer” or “White Picket Fence” effect after the scene in Mark Twain’s classic “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” in which Tom tricks all of his friends into doing his punitive chore of white washing his Aunt’s picket fence by telling them it would be fun, turning a job into something coveted. Anyway I digress.
While this past week may not have been a true test of the pro life, it was pretty close especially with regards to training. Pros train a good deal with some (especially the younger ones who need the base work) doing upwards of 20-30 hours a week. Swim practice every morning, followed by a morning bike or run session and then another workout in the afternoon would leave anybody drained of energy, but pro triathletes do it and not only do they do it, they wake up the next morning and do it again and then again. More importantly though, they enjoy it or I hope they do.
Like any job in which the risks are high, the pay is low, and the proper recognition almost non existent (think teachers, fire and police men and woman, ministers, social workers, and civil servants among a multitude of others), you really have to enjoy and feel fulfilled in what you are doing to carry on that lifestyle. It requires a “vocation.”  Being the son of two ministers, an occupation that ranks as one of the lowest paid in the US, I hear a lot about vocation and discernment. Ministers do not go into the ministry lightly but truly have to be called into the profession; they are not in it for the money. My parents have seen many a candidate have their passion fizzle out quicker than Pete Jacob’s T2 split, when he/she encounters the daily difficulties of the job. If, however, that occupational passion not only stays alive when exposed to the occupational reality but actually increases, then you know you have a calling. After this week, I think I am a few swim strokes, pedal rotations, and Brooks-shoe-clad steps closer to finding that calling.

I recognize that a huge majority of pros have and need jobs outside of being pro triathletes. I wish and they do too that they didn’t have to deal with the stress of yet another occupation outside of training and racing, but this is the hard reality of our under-funded and often overlooked sport. (I fell like this is slowly changing but that’s for another future post). Only the extremely good triathletes—like the top 1-2%—can train all the time without another job and even they had to spend years of doing two jobs to get there. This past week therefore was a taste of the “uber pro life” but a taste nevertheless and one that I want more of. Even if I go pro this year, I most likely will have many years ahead of me before I can get to the point where I can live off my sponsorships and purse prizes. However, this week has given me a peak into that life and given me the motivation and drive to want to live it. I now know partially what I am getting into and my passion is still very much a flame.

Happy (s)miles!

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