"I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet." -- Author Unknown
The ache this morning tried very hard to stop me.
It was also a scheduled "rest day," but when you spend eight hours at a time in airline seats and concourse bars rather than on the trail something has got to give; I didn't want it to be my belt. So the plan, at least what I told Suzanne over dinner yesterday evening, was to get in at least thirty minutes of easy running.
It's amazing how the good intentions (made of exactly the same materials as the pathway to the infernal regions) of the night before transform themselves temporarily into the excuses of the morning after. It would have been so simple to turn on the coffee pot, crawl back to bed and grab an extra ninety minutes of slumber. Like my old coach used to say, "one excuse is as good as another if you don't want to do something badly enough."
But then, I had a vision of a young man I met last weekend. He was making his way up to the public beach in Belle Isle, an island in the Detroit River, smack dab in between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario. As if the three local ladies in full burqa on a mid-eighty degree afternoon weren't enough to make me think less about the slightly hot sand between my toes, this guy was coming up the sidewalk from the parking lot in full triathlon wetsuit.
Using nothing but his bare hands.
He was one of about 70 paratriathletes racing an International Triathlon Union race, with the intent of qualifying for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games.
I prepared for my assignment by watching some of the swimming and track and field events from the ParaPan American Games on my internet television channel stream. Suzanne sat and had a beer with me as I watched late into the evening. She said she found many of the athletes to be inspirational and asked me whether I felt the same.
I told her "no" then, and after this weekend I would more likely use the term "humbling."
I'm swim-challenged at best, so watching an athlete who has limited muscle strength, paralysis, congenital deformity or limb loss swim about half a mile as fast as or faster than me is enough to bring on a sense of humility. Right to the ragged edge of humiliation. Top that with the ability to flat-out boogie, like I saw two of the US PT4 athletes (lack of or loss of a limb, in the case of these guys, lower) during the warm-up session on race morning. They were moving at probably a five-minute per mile pace through the transition area.
The Team GB athlete standing next to me said something along the lines of, "save it for the race, mate." My reply was, "no different than the last rep of a track workout." The running segment of the triathlon was no easy jog for the Australians, Canadians, the Dane, the Frenchman, the Irish, Moroccan, Mexicans, or the Spaniards; they were all going hammer-and-tongs. When Rio slots are up for grabs you might as well go all out.
No, I would not call paratriathletes "inspirational." Most all of them are funny as hell and very approachable. Independent to a fault, as evidenced by the PT1 (hand-cranked cycle/wheelchair) athlete who literally hoisted himself from his handcycle to literally hammer into specifications a misaligned part during gear check the day prior to the race. Appreciative, no doubt, of the smart people who design and build the adaptive devices which enable them to race and get around. But pedal a bike with one leg, as at least three athletes did...or steer - on a fairly technical course - with one arm, as I saw a Brazilian athlete do? At 40-plus kilometers an hour?
I'm not inspired. I'm flat-out humbled.
But you can't "broad-brush stroke," because there are too many variables in the background - the circumstances behind the limitation - that make them the way they are. I will say that at the highest levels of competition they are comparable to the completely able-bodied athlete.
But when it comes to that certain, er, as my father used to say, "bad-[blank] in three easy lessons" quality, the ability to endure, adapt, adjust and overcome...that might be where the inspiration comes for me. And perhaps the ability to summarily invalidate any excuse, outside of injury, illness or rest day, for not getting in a workout.
So I did four and-a-half miles and felt much better about myself. And my shoes.