Thursday, September 12, 2013

Without Limits

It's remarkable that I wrote so much yesterday and forgot to conclude with something that I've thought a lot about lately during my long bike rides (some of my best thinking occurs on the bike).  There was a movie about Steve Prefontaine called "Without Limits".  Recently, Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington wrote a book called "A Life Without Limits".  Thinking about my blog from yesterday and my life, that truly is the mindset that I've always had.  There are no limits to what you can dream of.  A couple of years ago, after completing the hardest ironman in the history of the sport (2012 Ironman St. George), I told my wife that now I didn't need to do another ironman and I didn't need to try to get to Kona.  Kona, by the way, for those of you who don't know, is the birthplace of Ironman.  It's also the place where, in 1982, Julie Moss crawled across the finish line to come in second, mind you, after being passed within sight of the finish line (there's a message there as well, isn't there?).  To get to Kona, you have to qualify (or you can get in through a lottery).  Almost every triathlete dreams of going to Kona.

So, it didn't take long after my comment to my wife, which she didn't believe anyway, that I began thinking about doing another ironman.  That's when I signed up for Ironman Lake Tahoe.  The dreaming about Kona began somewhat later, after doing the California 70.3 (half ironman).  I finished about 30th in my age group, which is about my norm (usually right in the top 20-25% of my age group).  To qualify for Kona, you have to literally be at the top of your age group in an ironman race.  I happened to look at the times for those in the next age group, the one I was just a year away from (55-59, by the way).  My time would have placed me 7th.  Hmmm, I don't have as many people to leapfrog over to get to the top.  So, I started looking at ironman times in the 55-59 year old age group and lo and behold, I found the same thing.  I could start dreaming again!

What stood out to me about Chrissie Wellington was not that she never lost an ironman race.  It was what she did before she became a triathlete that really stuck.  She had always pursued her dreams, taking jobs that she was passionate about, trying to make a difference, even at a young age.  In her mind, there were no limits to what she could do!  To some, this might seem to be foolish, naive, idealistic, or even cocky.  To me, it was courageous.  Steve Prefontaine's story was similar.  He pushed himself to his limits and he became an Olympian (he didn't medal, but that's part of the point).

As parents, my wife and I have always encouraged our children to follow their dreams.  They have both done some remarkable things already in their lives and we couldn't be prouder of them.  We've always wanted them to be passionate about the things they do, and their talents have always shone through in those areas that they passionately embrace.  At the same time, we've never held up "success" as the carrot for their happiness and satisfaction.  With life, as in triathlon, it's all about the effort.  That's something I learned from my father, who has always given everything he does, everything he has.  He clearly instilled that in me.  The fact that he tried out for the Washington Senators in the 1950's meant far more to me than whether he made the team.  I don't know if I've ever told him that, so now I have.

A big part of my drive has always been to make a difference.  There is no where that shows through more than my life as a Geriatrician.  I want seniors to get the best possible health care.  It drives me crazy to see the way our health care system treats seniors, especially the more frail amongst them.  I used to think that getting to the top of the ladder was the only way to effect change.  I'm not so sure about that anymore.  If I were in charge of the Medicare Program itself, could I make the difference that I would want to make?  I'm not so sure about that.  I ran two health care businesses.  We did great things and did a lot of good.  The system is still broken.  So, I keep looking for ways to make the system better.  I've said that if Egypt could have a revolution via social media, perhaps we can change the way geriatric care is delivered through social media as well.  I recently saw that the position of Surgeon General is available.  No one's called me.  Could someone like me, with a passion for the care of the frail elderly that knows no bounds, make a difference in that position?  I guess I still haven't stopped dreaming...

When my father had his aneurysm repair and bypass surgery over a decade ago, I looked at myself (having had gained almost 20 pounds at the time), and realized that I needed to stay healthy through exercise.  It's what I've always preached to my patients.  Triathlon became my method of doing that.  Being a goal oriented person, it wasn't long before completing an ironman was back in the picture.  I had originally promised myself to do an ironman when I turned 40, but I was running a company and traveling and really didn't have the time (I'm still amazed at those who do this).  I wasn't about to let turning 50 go by without achieving this goal.  And hence, the inaugural Ironman St. George in 2010, became my inaugural Ironman.  But, doing one wasn't enough, so I did 2011 and 2012.  Now, Ironman Lake Tahoe beckons.  I've learned that I still have room to improve.  At the age of 54, that concept has it's limitations, but the goal of being competitive in ones age group knows no bounds.  Time isn't a limiter at that point...I can compete into my 90's, and there are many who now do.  They are my heroes.

I've wondered a bit, but I hope that my message is clear.  Don't put limits on yourself.  Don't stress over the results. in the moment...enjoy the journey.

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