September 9, 2011 tawheeler Sacrificing Productivity For Love

Ironman Story:

Sometimes we have to sacrifice productivity to love people. Let me explain. The Ironman my wife and I entered was my wife’s dream rather than mine. I was joining her at an event that I was thrilled to be able to do myself but would not have done, had it not been my wife’s ambition. I learned a lot from the experience, about discipline, commitment, perseverance, and trust. A little background might help to explain what I mean. A couple days prior to the race I had been invited to speak at a Rotary Club meeting nearby and decided to talk about love (as I am defining it biblically). As a result I mentioned the upcoming race and said success would be defined by how my wife did in the race, rather than how I did. In fact, I actually said if I didn’t finish the race but she did, that would still be okay. I remember hearing the words that I was speaking and for the first time I really understood what I was saying – in fact, to my chagrin it almost brought me to tears because I really was doing this for my wife. Anyway, we left for Couer d’Alene the day after I spoke and that night one of my relatives (on my brothers side of the family), Michael Hoch, who is a multiple Ironman finisher sent me an email out of the blue that said, “Remember the race does not start till mile 80 on the bike.” Kate and I read that email without completely understanding it, but we kept it in mind. So race day arrives and we go through our readiness routine, eating what we needed to, hitting Don’s John for the last time, donning our wet suits, and “voila” we end up on the beach ready for the start. However, this morning was different than most races – I was rushed. The line I was in to go the bathroom was unusually slow and without going into details, it was just different. I did not have the time I typically have to see where we would be swimming and for the first time in any race I was wearing earplugs (because the water was so cold and ear plugs can help keep your equilibrium in tact). As a result I could hardly hear any answers to my questions about the buoys I saw in the distance and the exact course for the swim (its fairly obvious to follow the crowd but I still like to be prepared and visualize the swim first since it is more difficult to see the course in the water). Anyway, I could not hear anything between the loud music and the earplugs and I was a bit flustered.


So, we prayed together and then “boom” the cannon goes off and all of the 2200+ participants of the 2010 CDA Ironman plunge into the 58-degree water! I was immediately in a crowd of swimmers but managing fairly well considering all the feet that were kicking fiercely around me. I swam for about a quarter mile before a thought came to my mind, out of the blue, about whether my “chip” had been activated or not (remember, I was in a rush). If you have been to or in a recent race you probably know the chip is what you wear (on your ankle in triathlons) during the race so the officials can track the progress of the contestant. Typically you walk over a mat and hear the beep from your chip indicating it is activated and they know you are starting (like running races). No “chip,” no time – in other words, you are disqualified if you are not wearing an activated chip. Well, I didn’t remember doing that (walking over a mat) because Kate and I took a short cut to the beach since we were rushed. So I swam over to a volunteer who was on a kayak and asked him whether that was okay or not. I didn’t get the assurance I thought I would. In fact, the volunteer told me I needed to go back (to activate my chip). So…. I, stunned and reluctantly, (but unwilling to risk an entire day racing to find out they had no record of me) turned around and swam back to shore on the inside of the approaching swimmers (while stopping and asking other volunteers along the way and hearing the same advice). As I said, I had swum about a 1/4 mile, if not more, before turning around. Now I am the only person swimming the wrong way, in an Ironman!

Second Start

Sixteen minutes after the start of the race, I am in a panic and back on shore trying to find someone from the Ironman crew to point me to the place I needed to go to activate my chip (like a seal squealing for help – that is what I must have looked like in a full wet suit including a cap), while the other 2261 racers were busy swimming (in the right direction). Then “poof,” as quickly as the doubt about the chip hit me, I thought about it rationally for a moment and realized while all of the volunteers meant well they were mistaken and my chip had been activated when I crossed over the wall to the beach since they had activation “mats” all along the wall. I was fine and my worries disappeared as quickly as they had come. I wondered what I had been thinking (and what the volunteers had been thinking as well)! I ran back into the water all by myself 16 minutes after the race had started (and after having swam about a half mile)! I was not happy, to say the least. And, as a Christian who had constantly prayed for this race I was now asking God, in my mind (as I swam),

“What is up with that little escapade?! Aren’t you supposed to be helping me here? We have been praying and praying and praying for a great race, a strong race, and a fast one for months and here I am swimming backwards, longer than anyone else and starting 16 minutes behind everyone else!!!!! Help me please! Where are you?”

Saying I was frustrated was an understatement! Now cold, tired, alone, and 16 minutes back I heard that small little voice inside my head say, “You will know why that ‘escapade’ happened later in the day. Don’t worry, just swim!” I immediately had a peace, settled back into swimming and chuckled a bit because I had another thought – I was behind my wife Kate. I didn’t know what was coming but I did know that had this not have happened, I may have never seen Kate in the race (we are typically about the same pace but it depends on the day which of us is faster). Regardless, this put me behind her. I transitioned to the bike without incident and began the 112-mile ride.

Mile 80

I caught Kate just after mile 80 on the bike, just when we had entered the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Mountains for the second time (2 loops of 56 miles each). And she was all cramped up (inside and out) and about out of gas – when I showed up. In fact, although she would not have quit (I know my wife) she said she was ready to walk her bike. But I showed up, then, at the very time she wanted to quit, and at the very time Michael had told us the race really started! I am sure he had no idea of the prophetic words of his email but we now did. I stayed by her side up and down the mountains, all the way to the finish of the bike. Then we ran the marathon together – all of it. We did not walk except when drinking water at the aid stations while many of the other racers did. As I was running I was thinking about what I had said at the Rotary Club meeting – this was my wife’s dream and I was simply there to help her accomplish it. It was not about me. As Christians, we also saw the greatness of our God – a God interested enough in us to help us accomplish that dream together. There are many more details that make this story even more remarkable, but the point was in order for my wife to live out her dream, I had to give up my own plans to help out. And in doing so, I lived out my dream as well, to love my wife. I know, its just a race, but it still manages to make a significant point – we need to have faith in God, choose His way and use His strength over our own. Funny too, that is the story found in the movie “Chariots of Fire” staring Ian Charleson as the runner, Eric Liddell, a true to life Scottish athlete, missionary and winner of the Men’s 400 meter race in the 1924 Olympics held in Paris. This is what he said,

Eric Liddell: “I want to compare faith to running in a race. It’s hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape – especially if you’ve got a bet on it. But how long does that last? You go home. Maybe your dinner’s burnt. Maybe you haven’t got a job. So who am I to say, ‘Believe, have faith,’ in the face of life’s realities? I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, ‘Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.’ If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.”

Thomas Wheeler