Team sports weren’t for me.
I didn’t compete again for a decade.
Inspired by my brother, I picked up triathlon.
I biked to work through the winter months in New York, swam at Brooklyn College after teaching, ran with the Roadrunners led by an aging postal worker.
I competed in my first event in Tampa/St. Pete’s on a used bike that wouldn’t shift off the middle ring.
A month later, I completed the Eagleman half Ironman in Cambridge, Maryland, in about five hours.
Years later, I took on the full Ironman in Panama City Beach, Florida. It was November: an icy wind blew strong and the cold sand hurt our bare feet at the start. A swimmer was pulled from the water when his heart gave out in the chop.
Six months of training in Nicaragua’s gentle humidity set me up poorly for a long day against these unexpected challenges.
I finished in 11:31:11.
My main competitors, in a field of 2200, were the conditions, myself, and sibling rivalry.
*Continued from previous: reflections on legacies and how they’re passed down. Parts I, II, III, & IV below:
I. Coach had me crouch at the plate.
Draw walks. That was the idea. I did as I was told.
The older boys in the line-up would hit me home.
I finished the season small and compact but lacking hand-eye coordination.
The Little League coach, who piloted F-16s with the Air National Guard, had trained me to shrug pitches.
But shouldn’t he have had me reaching for the stars?
A few seasons of that and I tried out for middle school ball with bleak prospects.
II. My father ran bread routes for Wonder most mornings.
He delayed the deliveries to throw me curves and fastballs when tryouts came around.
He zeroed my hands and eyes, quickened my bat to the rawhide in the pre-dawn twilight.
Confident still in the afternoon, I showed for tryouts with a quick bat and hit high, arcing flies far past right field.
The coach, who also was a customer on my paper route, made me second string on a team that went 9-0.
He needn’t have bothered. Why tire his ragged arm on me at the end of batting practice when he had a team of hitters?
I finished the season 0 for 12.
III. I tried out for high school ball the following year.
I hit longer, straighter flies than I had at tryouts the year before.
The coach—who slept on a basement bed in the very apartment where I delivered my middle school coach’s newspaper—already knew the story.
‘He’ll hit in tryouts. Goose-egg during the season.’
Rated beneath even freshman team standards, I wandered from baseball.
I took up track. The coach asked what I was interested in.
‘Pole vault,’ I said, feeling adventurous. ‘Or something like that.’
‘There is nothing else like pole vault.’
IV. There was nothing like pole vault.
Our equipment was flawed: old fiberglass poles with no give.
Coach knew nothing about it and left us to our own devices. Half a dozen guys tried.
Sprint hard as we might, the pole didn’t budge. We climbed it like pillaging savages.
Between stints climbing the pole—8 feet, 9 feet, 10 feet—and landing on the mats we dragged up from the shed, I was cajoled into running the 5,000: 3.1 miles. The distance didn’t bother me so much as the drudgery of going round the track 13 times.
I threw shot put and javelin, but my heart wasn’t in it.
Looking for adventure, I wanted to pole vault—or something like that. And there was nothing else like it.
Senior year I slashed a tendon in my thumb on a champagne bottle while celebrating New Years with friends. I had my arm in a cast until spring. No pole vaulting for me.
My final high school glory, Cross Country co-captain, had already passed me by.
I wore the letter only because our best runners had already burned out.
Ironman image © Grand Panama Beach Resort