Maybe it was because I was only seven years old, but my patience level was near zero. When my dad finally came around the bend of that Montauk road, the crowd cheered.
Everyone was cold and exhausted, even the spectators waiting to cheer on their own significant athlete as they whizzed past. All the built-up excitement, hyperactivity, and frenzy, erupted out of me when my dad crossed the finish line. It really showed me how his hard work and effort paid off and it sparked my curiosity. I wondered whether a small boy of my size could ever achieve something like that. I longed to feel the accomplishment of finishing a triathlon.
The thing about triathlons is they are three sports — swimming, biking, and running — done in one competition. I knew I could do all those sports separately, but the tricky part would be doing them all one after another. The very thought frightened me. I was a small kid; I had never had much experience in any of the three sports and to imagine doing all three at once sounded impossible. I found myself saying this out loud and my father overheard me. He encouraged me and said I could train with him any time. Nearly trembling with excitement and fear, I accepted the challenge.
Training with my dad turned out to be very challenging, but it was a great way to spend time with him. I think it is important to state that my father is passionate to a fault about exercise. His devotion gets him out of the house and running, biking, or swimming, no matter how tired he is or whatever the weather. Once, in the freezing rain, he put on his wetsuit and swam across the local lake and back just because he felt like it.
So I agreed to train with him, and soon found out it was a big commitment. We would get up early for a morning jog, or go for a swim at the pool after school. I started to realize that my dad was competing not only with his fellow triathletes but also with himself, especially in a sport such as running. In running, it is mind over matter — I learned this watching my dad push himself despite the pain.
In endurance sports optimism is necessary — the kind of optimism that enables you to ignore the next big hill and focus on the next small step. Each leg of the race keeps getting harder and harder, so to look at the next difficulty and take it on smiling is key. Given this is not my career I try to keep it light and fun.Training sometimes feels arduous or strenuous, but I never regretted getting out of bed and doing something. These are important lessons that my dad taught me.
After I gained a certain level of experience, my dad and I began to develop a friendly competition. We would race up and down hills. Around parks. Five laps of a pool. He would always win, but the trash-talking would still ensue. This bond brought us closer together. Father and son doing triathlons together. One sharing and passing his passion down to the other.
This brings me to how awesome it was to be able to train with my dad. We usually run after school, which is something my dad did when he was a kid. Even though times have changed, that tradition still remains. I hope to be able to pass it on to my kids. I think that we all have an internalized will to maintain sound traditions and pass them on.
After a few weeks of training, I was signed up for my first triathlon.
To begin the competition, I stood on the beach of a lake, nerve wracked, next to two hundred grown men. It was 5:30 in the morning and I was up to my knees in cold water. Then I listened to the national anthem, making me feel like what I was doing was of national importance. I was out there, shivering with cold and nerves and lack of sleep, and someone fired a gun.
The gun disoriented me as I half waddled, half scampered, elbowing hairy man-arms for open water. Then I was off, swimming towards the impossibly distant buoy that marked my turn. I exited the half-mile swim and ran as fast as I could, barefoot and freezing, towards my bike. I fumbled, dripping wet, trying to mount it. Once on my bike, I found an exhilaration specific to cycling. Cycling is a natural activity for most people and time seemed to go by faster during this portion of the race.
I went through the transition zone again and switched to my running shoes. Another important part of triathlons is to transition as fast as possible, so tying my shoes quickly is something I had practiced many times before. Unlike a normal foot race, at the start of the run portion of the triathlon, my legs already felt like they were made of cement.
For me, the real competition began during the run, because now I could see each competitor as a target. No matter my position in the field, each racer was either chasing me or being chased. The running portion of the race boiled down to pain tolerance, and it was more mental than physical. One of my favorite quotes to keep from thinking about the burning feeling I had was “shut up, legs.” This was a quote from Jens Voigt, the famous German cyclist.
Then I crossed the finish line. I took a breath. At first I was calm, but then began a euphoric celebration with the other finishers. I felt like I had just discovered a community with which I had something in common. It could be that we were all blissfully insane, but I think it was really that we were all happy to have the same desire: to finish and endure a difficult race. No matter what time or place each of us achieved, the sense of accomplishment was there for all of us.
I finally felt proud to be part of a group whose initiation was an hour long multi-sport endurance race. Looking back, I remember the scrawny, impatient seven-year-old on that cold day in Montauk who thought he couldn’t do it. Now, that same kid is not only a huge fan, but also a training partner.
When Oscar wrote this article, he was a seventh-grade student at Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn, New York. He enjoys any kind of math, jazz, board games, and running.