The Important Thing About Crossing the Finish Line

What does it mean to “win?”

My teammate Denise promised that if I don’t redefine what winning means to me, she will slap me…. so, I’d better devote this last Blog entry to that very topic.

I enjoy winning and always have. I like to do things in which I have a good chance of shining and being successful. Truth is, I rather like the spotlight… and the accolades that come from performance. Often in life, I have avoided doing things… or have quit sports, hobbies, endeavors or professional pursuits when the competition became too intense or I thought I might not win. Generally, winning has meant finishing first, diving highest, performing the best jump on the ice, or making the most clever presentation — I love to shine bright. Actually, what I really like is to shine the brightest.

In the triathlon on Sunday….. after the open water ocean swim and the bike ride along the beaches of Falmouth…. I came to the final part which was a 3 mile run up and back a bike path along the water. Throughout the preparation for this event I have assumed and even joked that I would be somewhere bringing up the rear of the pack finishing the event — and that my intention was to take it as slowly as needed just to finish. That sounded like a good thing to say, and I didn’t really think I would be at the very rear. My assumption was that as a 50 year old, even with heart disease, I would go at a slow pace and that maybe I would finish in the last 10 or 20% of the group. Surely many of the people in their 60’s and 70’s would finish behind me. That would be respectable.

As I progressed, slowly, on the running part of the race, it began to dawn on me that there didn’t seem to be many people running behind me on the trail. I began to wonder “How many people are left behind me??”

As Denise joined me (sacrificing her own finish and doing most of the running part TWICE so she could join me) it hit me that, perhaps, I was actually one of the last people of the entire 650 or so people in the competition. It was at first really hard to let that sink in — I thought that it must be wrong.

After I made the turn at the half-way point and began to head back for the final mile, it became clear to me that I was not one of the last racers…. I was actually THE last racer. I was the person that was going to be the one coming in at the very end.

Initially, my heart absolutely sank with embarrassment and shame.

It was right about then that Denise said she was going to start slapping me, and I don’t think she was kidding. And then… one by one…. my team mates began to appear, having run out to join me and to finish the race with me…. John, Lina, Kerry, Chris, Vincent, Mary, Erica…. they began to run with me…. we laughed that I was like the President with his posse of secret service, because if I paused… they paused, and when I sped up… they sped up….

My Winning Team:  Denise, Chris, John, Lina, Art, Kerry, Erica

My Winning Team: Denise, Chris, John, Lina, Art, Kerry, Erica

I could feel their tremendous joy in their own accomplishment, and even greater joy in cheering me on and sharing this last leg of the race with me. I know they knew that mixed with my laughter and exhilaration was sadness and embarrassment.

John's Brother Vincent

John's Brother Vincent

And then as the finish line came into view…. I heard the SHOUTS of my dear friend Sherman and his wife Leia. As anyone from his Co-Active Leadership community knows, there is no voice of heart-felt support quite like that of Sherman. And I realized what it meant to him to have traveled across the entire United States just to be here for THIS moment — this one moment of cheering ME on as I reached the finish line. I felt as humbled to my knees as I have ever felt in my life.

Oooohhhhh…… this isn’t about me. This was about THEM…. about bringing people together in a way that has the human spirit shine. About joining together in common pursuit of goals that seem out of reach, and supporting each other and cheering each other on, and celebrating each other’s success.

The true prize in this journey — the real WIN — was in the team that got created, the sharing of both the struggles and the victory — and in allowing others to give of themselves in big and heartfelt ways. The incredible satisfaction of witnessing that, and knowing that I had contributed to making it happen, far far far surpassed whatever satisfaction might have come from crossing the finish line with a faster “more respectable” time. That is how I define my victory in this event.

I remind myself why I started this Quest in the first place, six months ago…. I needed a structure to keep me accountable to getting into better physical shape. I wanted to lost some weight. Mainly, I wanted to see what I could learn from my heart disease, and what I could learn about shifting my lifestyle to a more healthy one.

Art and his sister Mary

Art and his sister Mary

Well…. I didn’t lose the weight I wanted (that will be my next venture) although I did get my fitness on track and have gotten into much better shape (…. and discovered the fun of boxing…).

But more importantly, I have learned these things:

…. Triathlons (and many journeys in life) are accomplished by taking them one milestone (and, literally, one step) at a time. The important thing is to begin it — to declare it and proclaim it, and to say “Yes, you can support me…. please do…”
— Often, when the journey feels hard and uncomfortable, it is possible to slow down a bit, and keep going.
…. The journey is much more pleasant when I shift my focus away from my worry and doubt, and place it on the people around me, on the sun on my face, and the world around me.
…. Although I’m no longer sure that comfort is over-rated…. this I know absolutely: what matters is being FULLY ALIVE… and the way to do that is to say YES and put myself in the game in the first place.
…. The real essence of winning in life has nothing to do with how well I do, how I measure up compared to others, or how many points I have at the end. It does have everything to do with who I am surrounded by as I cross the finish line…. it is about the connection, joy, and human spirit that I can allow, nudge, coax, inspire in others — and, for that I will gladly have myself finish last every time.

If you are curious about the actual results, here they are: I placed 591 of the 592 people who actually finished the triathlon — I was the 1st runner-up to last, and completed the race in 1 hour 54 minutes and 39 seconds.

I want to give my heartfelt thanks to every member of the “Comfort Is Over-Rated Team” that have given me so much on this Quest — to the cheerleading squad with a very special thank you to Sherman and Leia, John’s family, and Trish and Camille. And my team of racers that joined me on this Quest: to John’s brother Vincent, to my sister Mary, to my Leadership buddies Lina, Kerry, Erica and Chris, and Denise. Finally, I don’t have adequate words to convey my gratitude to John. All I can say is that all of this is fundamentally driven by a fervent desire to LIVE, and to share that life with you always.

Love,

Art

~ by Art on July 23, 2009.

7 Responses to “The Important Thing About Crossing the Finish Line”

  1. Dear Art,
    I just had a chance to read your blog entry about crossing the Finish Line. I am so proud of you. Not only because you had the courage to start this quest or the endurance you have shown when things got tough but also, and probably more so, because of the humanness you so openly and courageously demonstrated. You are a true leader with a heart full of love and compassion who brings people together. And Yes, you do shine bright. I have truly enjoyed following your journey in this quest (in person at the classes you taught during the quest and through this blog) and have learned a great deal from it.
    Here is to Crossing The Finish Line!
    Love,
    Sibel

    P.S. Of course I have to ask now that it has been several weeks since the competition. What is next?? :))

  2. congratulations Art on ALL you accomplished and ALL you learned
    what a fantastic journey!

    best wishes

    Jeanne

  3. Dear Art,

    Congratulations on your win and accomplishments! You received gifts of deep love and support. You stayed on course. You are amazing. You are fully alive!

    Love,
    Jennet

  4. Art-
    As I jumped into the ocean yesterday, I realized among the many gifts I got from this event- (getting to know you and John and Lina and Kerry and Erica and Chris, and meeting some of your family, being reminded that a commitment to a goal with like minded people can only bring a stretch and cherished memories, leaders lead by doing and inviting, health is a multi- leveled experience, spandex is still not my true friend, its not over till its over)- I am surprised to say it was the thing I was most afraid off- swimming in the ocean- that has become a whole other way to move- and this from a personal trainer!
    Thank you Art, for your courage, strength, ability to organize with grace, generous spirt, tenacity, honesty, humor, leadership, and of course that damn white t-shirt which i will cherish.
    I request that we are all on the book cover of that best seller you will now write-
    I’m with ya Art- Love: Denise

  5. Dear Art:
    I lie here with tears in my eyes. You truly inspire me, over and over and over. I checked the results and am so impressed that you kept going for almost 2 hours (and I think actually finished one place better than you thought).
    I learned so much —- to keep going, to just try and try again, to deal with embarrassment and recover, to live in this moment and that it is so much better together than alone.
    This is about LIFE lived fully. No excuses. You embody and exemplify life and its full breadth. I am so grateful to have been part of this quest with you. I have learned so much and am on the path to true health because of YOU! Thank you.
    Love,
    Kerry

  6. Wow…I am so proud of you and inspired by you! You are the quintessential leader – wherever you go, others want to be with you and share the journey with you – including me! Here’s to staying in the race together for the long haul and doing our best to make every stride count. Thank you for holding life as precious and reminding me again of what matters.
    Love,
    John
    (P.S. Good thing I got special mention or I’d have to join Denise in slapping you :))

  7. Art,
    What an amazing writer you are. You so perfectly captured the experience of the triathlon and I’ve learned so much from YOUR Quest and all you have shared here. Thank you for inviting me to join you in this — it has been rich in learning, new friends and connection all around.
    I love you my friend!
    Lina

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