As a triathlete, I am fascinated by the personal stories of other endurance sport enthusiasts.
Among my favorite stories are those told by some of the big names in our sport like Scott Tinley, Bob Babbitt, Chrissie Wellington and Mike Reilly. That last name is quite famous in the world of triathlon. Mike Reilly is also known as the “Voice of IRONMAN ®” and made popular the phrase, “You Are An IRONMAN” that many athletes hear as they cross IRONMAN finish lines all over the world. In the last couple of years he has published a book full of inspiring stories. But here is where I need to shift gears.
This post is neither about Mike Reilly nor his book. You can learn more about him in a TriRiot interview from 2016.
Instead, this post is about a 2011 book titled, “You Are An IRONMAN” written by none other than Jaques Steinberg.
YOU: “Who is Jaques Steinberg?”
ME: “I’m not quite sure.”
I do know that he is a journalist who’s biggest claim to fame before 2011 was authoring a book detailing the little known world of college admissions; New York Times best seller apparently. By the time Steinberg had authored “You Are An IRONMAN” he had completed a few triathlons, none of which could be called an IRONMAN. However, he was fascinated by several normal people who decided to take on the challenge of an IRONMAN. And not just any IRONMAN: IRONMAN Arizona 2009. Coincidentally, that was my first participation in an IRONMAN branded event.
I read “You Are An IRONMAN” as soon as it was available from the friendly Amazonians (who don’t really live in the Amazon but will ship your books for free if you pay extra).
Let me be clear. This is not a book review. If it were I would tell you that the stories are interesting, but the writing is not engaging. It’s a rapid fire treatment of who did and said what in such detail that the stories become hard to follow and remember as the author switches from one subject to the next. I can forgive him. He’s a journalist, not a playwrite. I can also forgive him, because I really don’t want to be the pot calling the kettle black.
As I was preparing to change my address from middle of nowhere North Carolina to middle of nowhere New Mexico, I came across my ten year old copy of the book and decided I should reread it. One reason is that I too competed in IRONMAN Arizona 2009. Another reason is that I personally know two of the subjects in the book, Scott and Leanne. Perhaps the biggest reason I want to read this book again is that I want to understand why someone with little to no skin in the game is so fascinated by normal people who dream of crossing an IRONMAN finish line.
Steinberg is known as an education reporter and Chief Editor of the New York Times, not a sports writer. So what qualifies him to write about triathlon? The answer is simple: curiosity. He is curious about what makes a person voluntarily push themselves to extreme physical limits for the better part of a year only to celebrate with a grueling 140.6 mile multisport race. I’ve been in the sport for 15 years and I have the same curiosity. Later this year will mark 12 years since that day in November when I and 2500 other athletes competed in IRONMAN Arizona 2009. Among those other athletes were Marty, Mike, and John, all of whom have graced the pages of this blog. Scott and Leanne were there too. Many of them have moved on from triathlon and found other challenges and adventures. But me? I’m still here swimming, biking and running. And I’m not really sure why. I just know I love it. Maybe that’s enough of a reason.
One thing that is clear from Steinberg’s writing is that he has a healthy respect for anyone who makes it to the starting line of a triathlon, let alone the finish line. He goes into such detail to show that these athletes are normal people with fears, doubts, dreams and medical conditions that are not unlike most of us. He’s basically saying, “They did it. You can too if you just take the first small step.”
Steinberg seems just as impressed by the person who simply makes that first bold move to get off the couch as he is with the IRONMAN participants. I think what he is telling us is that life is meant to be lived physically. No matter our education. No matter our social status. And no matter our economic standing, life is not fully lived unless we can do something physical. Evolution made us to be physical beings that crave the hunt and brave the elements. That’s how we survived millenia to be what we are today: organisms that can choose to be sedentary or active.
You know what I choose.
Until next time…