Wind hit me and rain pelted down on my frozen skin like a pellet. Shivering and shaking like a leaf on a tree, I looked up and watched as all of the
people in my heat of the race continued on without me. My dream of finishing a triathlon seemed to diminish with every gust of wind and drop of rain. Minutes before, I had made the decision to swim to the side of the shore. The three foot waves may as well been a tsunami because with every breath I tried to breathe, I swallowed in more water. As I sat shaking on the rock I pondered 3 questions:
Who am I to think I could finish a triathlon, especially under these circumstances?
I could easily just climb up from the rock and walk back over to my car. Why am I still sitting here, and why am I even here in the first place?
Finally, questions such as where am I even going and why is it important to me? Lingered in my mind.
Six months prior to the race, I was a recent college graduate working a part-time job. I had an extra 20 hours per week on my hands and had started reading about triathlons. The event seemed like such a monstrous challenge, especially since I had never had swimming lessons and was a very poor swimmer. Furthermore, I hadn’t really pushed myself to the limits necessary to physically and mentally endure such a race. The more I read about it, the more I wanted to do it, so I set forth a game plan.
First, I purchased “The Triathletes Training Bible” and studied it religiously. I learned how to track my work-outs and eating. Part of this included getting rid of foods that were bad for me and wouldn’t give me proper energy like fatty and sugary foods. I cleared my house of bad foods and started keeping close watch over what I ate. I learned from expert athletes about how to mentally and physically prepare for the race. I put up charts to track my progress and stay focused and every day as I read, I would focus on my vision during each stage of the race. I could see myself confidently swimming gracefully through the water, churning 20 mph on the bike and running like the wind. Over time, I gained complete confidence that I could not only finish, but do well in the race.
Next, I assessed my weaknesses. I noticed an obvious flaw in my swimming and cycling abilities. I had participated in running races previously, and saw some slight areas of improvement there as well. After analyzing my weaknesses, I decided that I needed more hands-on guidance in swimming and cycling. I turned to two experts in each area: a girl in my church who was on the BYU swim team, and my roommate, who was on the BYU cycling team. As I approached them asking for help, they graciously obliged to coach me.
A few times each week, I would meet with my coaches and they would help me with technique and encourage me. Over time, I became much more efficient in both swimming and cycling. For example, when I first started swimming, I couldn’t even go for ½ a lap. By the end, I was swimming laps for 45 minutes without stopping.
Finally, I turned to other experts such as people at the pro-shops who were seasoned racers. I would ask them questions about the proper equipment, techniques, and strategies. I learned about how to properly eat before, during and after the race, what swimming, biking, and running gear are essential, and how to mentally prepare. One word of wisdom that I wished I would have heeded was that I should purchase a wetsuit for the race. The athlete who told me this strategy said it was helpful for a number of reasons: first, to provide buoyancy, and second to keep me warm in case of inclement weather.
As I sat shivering on the rock with my swim goggles pulled up over my head, watching as countless athletes swam past me with their wetsuits, I realized that I had made a serious mistake. However, I thought about all of the time and effort I had put into preparing as well as the time and effort my coaches had put into me. They believed in me, and I also believed in myself. I also envisioned how dejected I would feel by quitting without reaching my goal of finishing the race.
I realized that over the course of 6 months of training, I had become an athlete as well. I was in the best shape of my life and I was there to prove to myself and others that I could overcome a challenge and meet a goal I had set for myself.
A picture came to my mind that I had seen nearly every day for 6 months as I had trained. It was a picture of a strong athlete finishing the race with hands held high in triumph. As my mind caught hold of the vision of finishing the race, I pulled my goggles back down over my eyes and jumped back into the frigid water. I didn’t want to let myself down.
When I stumbled out of the water, I had only one focus and that was to get to my bike. However, I was very, very cold and shivering almost uncontrollably. My friend, who was waiting for me instantly ran over to me and helped warm me up, gave me some food for energy, and helped me get my shoes on and onto my bike. He gave me some words of encouragement and a big pat on the back as I started to ride.
I was so far behind that the next heat of racers was already getting onto their bikes. I was the very last one in my heat. Competition started to kick in and I pedaled as fast as I could. Within a few minutes, the blood was circulating and I was thinking clearly. I could clearly picture in my mind me running across the finish line. However, that event was another hour or so down the road. I realized that I needed to focus on a shorter goal. What I chose was targeting the racer right in front of me and trying to catch up and pass him. This strategy worked because I ended up gaining ground and finishing about in the middle of the pack once I ran across the finish line.
The Race of Life
When the huge and cold waves of the lake washed over me and I was overcome in the triathlon, I took time to swim over to a rock and re-focus on who I was and why I wanted to finish.
President Monson has said:
In this fast-paced life, do we ever pause for moments of meditation—even thoughts of timeless truths?… when sickness enters the house of good health, when life’s candle dims and darkness threatens. Our thoughts become focused, and we are easily able to determine what is really important and what is merely trivial…In our times of deepest reflection or greatest need, the soul of man reaches heavenward, seeking a divine response to life’s greatest questions…
One of the main purposes for our life, if not the main purpose in life is to develop charity, or Christ-like love for ourselves and each other. In the Book of Mormon Moroni wrote:
And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—
But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.
Clearly developing the gift of love is one of the greatest purposes we have in this life.
Whatever our situation in life is, if we pause to pray and reflect on how we can love more deeply, we will be blessed with a closer relationship with God and our fellow men. Like a triathlon, it takes patience and preparation and daily focus. As we read our scriptures, pray, and surround ourselves with things that will bring us closer to God, it is important to realize that we can not endure the journey to the end without the help of Jesus.
Because Jesus Finished, We Can Finish
One thing to keep in mind as we do everything we can to develop the gift of Charity and endure to the end of our “race” is that were it not for Jesus there wouldn’t even be a race for us to run. If Jesus hadn’t already won the race by suffering for our sins and dying on the cross, we would be hopeless and unable to obtain eternal life.
Not only has Jesus provided us hope through the Atonement, but He is also there to help us in our daily walk with God. We need to realize that, like me stumbling out of the water, weak and exhausted and needing help to be lifted up onto my bike, we cannot move forward and be lifted up without Jesus. Daily, we need to call on him and He will provide us with the strength we need to continue on.
Whatever trial we are facing, I hope we can find the energy to reach within ourselves and get back into the race by calling out to our Father in Heaven for help. I know that if we do this, God will provide us support and strength to continue on and it is my hope that if we do this, we will eventually enter into His presence.