When I was in college, I was approached by a classmate who asked me to join the Japanese Student Association. She went on to say that she had recently joined and that the group could really use “nissei leadership” (“nissei” refers to the second generation Japanese person, who were born in another country, of people born in Japan).
I looked at her and told her I was not interested. This is not to say that I am not proud; I just felt that I had no need to associate myself with people solely based on their ethnicity.
And so when triathlons came into my life, I bear the badge proudly to this day because it is something I relate to.
One of the things that I love about the sport is that everyone must suffer the same. And yes, there are the dickheads that just toot their own flutes about their wattage levels, how much they can do and belittle everyone else. But there is that one part of triathlons, especially in the longer distances, that brings out the very best in people. There is an internal struggle with demons and it is a story that everyone can relate to because their struggles are the same. The only difference is that there are those who believe the demons.
In my first sprint triathlon, I had a small group of seven friends who waited for me to cross the finish line. And even though I was the very last one to arrive, they cheered just as loudly as if they were in a stadium filled with people. I remember sobbing because I had invested so much emotion into the training. When I had finally looked up, I saw that the finish line that I had just passed was already dismantled and the barriers were loaded into trucks.
Since then, there have been things I had experienced in triathlons that have made me believe in kindness and respect, washing away the jadedness I had come to harbor. They reminded me that an act of humanity is the greatest gift you can give to another person. Because you see them as what they are: your equal.
In my jaunt on becoming a triathlete, I remember I was in a 10k race. As my feet hit the asphalt, I heard a distinct sound; a sort of clanking tap. I looked up to see a man with a prosthetic leg run by. I don’t suppose I would have been alone in thinking, “I’ll be damned if I let a one-legged man beat me” and I sped up, passing him. I happily ran on when I heard that tell-tale tapping as he ran past a second time. I then began a story in my head: Fumiko, the one-handed woman (I had wrist surgery years back and was in a cast for nearly two months) is met by her arch-rival, the One-Legged Man.
‘Oh no you don’t,’ I thought and ran past again. But I wasn’t fit enough and I was passed by the One-Legged Man, who finished the race ahead of me.
I later found out the name of my arch rival: Ruben Grande. We eventually became friends and I would accompany him on his runs during IM competitions, screaming for him to go on.
Most who do Ironmans hope to one day do Kona, which is the World Championship of Ironman triathlons and is held in Hawaii. Earlier this year, Ruben won a slot to do Kona and I followed his progress. He was lucky enough to have someone write a fantastic post on it, with pictures to boot.
For those of you who aren’t in the know, there are all sorts of lengths for your typical triathlon. The 140.6 Ironman (which is the full length; the number refers to the miles you do in total in all three disciplines) consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run. Depending on the course, they can give you 17 hours to finish, which means you start at 7:00 am and the final cut-off is at midnight.
It is possible that we are not quite right in the head. Perhaps. But there is something settling and humbling about being pitted against all your afflictions and fears only to realize that the only adversity that ever existed were the ones you yourself had placed.
I am a triathlete. The colors of my flag reflect the light of my soul and I will never know how to be “normal” because being “normal” will be a matter of your concern, not mine.
I just am.