Saturday, April 7, 2012

Why Do The Ironman? Part 1

Where's Whally? My name on my Finisher's tee-shirt for Ironman Lanzarote 2011.
I have been asked this question many times; and I am always enthusiastic about answering, as my responses are mildly different each time.

There is really no simple answer to this persistent question.

Some of my listeners (from the laiety) may think I am crazy; I am sure some may even question my sanity (or lack of it). After all, it is perceived as a grueling, physical challenge comprising 3.8K of swimming, 180K of riding, and then completing a full 42.195K marathon. Now, what would possess a sane and normal person ‘to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes’? As my wise mother stated, time and again, to me: 'Isn't there a better to rest your weary bones?' Later, I would realise fully what she meant - such is the allure of wisdom and insight.

I recall that in the early 1980’s, when I was in secondary school, I was tuned in to my favourite sports program ‘The ABC Wide World of Sports’. What I saw changed my paradigm about sports, my life, and my perception about humankind (okay, in those days, I thought about ‘mankind’). The image was powerful and dense, albeit subtle and almost meaningless. The short report was about the Ironman triathlon in Hawaii. The most vivid image was during the marathon where people jogged into the night, some walking, and some limping. The sight of struggling athletes braving to beat the deadline was immensely powerful, and emotional for me. I daresay I shed a few tears, as the imagery I saw was painful, poignant and possessing. I let this experience simmer in my mind for several decades. I would never have thought of attempting this challenge, let alone a full marathon or a 2.4-mile swim in the open-sea (God forbid, I saw ‘Jaws’ and would never commit to swimming in the ocean at any time in deep waters) or ride four times the widest length of Singapore.

I spent the early part of my adulthood, participating in the ‘sport’ of bodybuilding. I was risking my life, heaving chunks of iron-plates, and listening to heavy-metal music to hype myself up for my next set of bench-press or full-squats. I was surrounded by self-indulgent, narcissistic, body-worshipping bodybuilders who posed their muscles before spit-polished mirrors in gymnasiums with strategically-positioned lighting. In spite of anabolic-steroid induced muscle-heads around me, I managed to earn three bronzes and one silver medal on the national level, qualify for the national B-squad, and be utterly disappointed by the level of pharmaceutical-dependent cheats that held top-rostrum. I may have been na├»ve when I took up the sport as a natural bodybuilder, so after four futile attempts at the first-place, I decided to retire and seek new pastures for my creative outlets.

Corporate life lured me soon after my stint as a trade journalist, so I swapped pen-and-notepad for whiteboard-markers-and-notebook (actually, we had laptops then). I was involved in my company’s sports and recreation club, ran track for them (would you believe in my non-pet event, 4X400m), assist in setting up their first in-house gym, and then synergistically collaborated to secure bronze and silver awards for the National Health Awards. Meanwhile, my blood-pressure was holding court at normal, while my cholesterol and triglycerides levels were accumulating.

It was in 2001, when I met my colleague (and, subsequently, triathlon coach) that he planted his idea of sporting lifestyle in me…
(To be continued tomorrow)

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