Thursday, December 31, 2009

Toronto Ink


Over the past year or so I've been waffling on the whole Ironman tattoo issue. Alex was always very certain that he would get the M Dot on his right (passing) calf. I started out also certain that I would bear the mark of my journey for all to see as I passed them in races. Gradually, however, I began to change my mind.

In a way my decision process on this has mirrored my triathlon and fitness journey. There is no doubt in my mind that when I started I was not necessarily doing all this for myself, as much as to reach some very tangible goals that would be apparent to people who, in my life, had been too dismissive of my abilities. I wanted to get fit for sure, I remembered what that had felt like when I was in my twenties and really missed the easy physicality of walking for hours, lifting heavy things, and even just dancing at a wedding. Fitness is freedom and as I became less fit I got stuck in a smaller and smaller box of what I could do on a daily basis. I'm not much for boxes.

The funny thing is, the ones who I wanted to watch, well, they weren't looking. The journey then became a struggle to let them go from my life and fill the void that was left once their criticism was gone. That was hard. Those holes were accustomed to being filled with negativity and disdain and I found myself filling them back up that way. Especially during swim starts. But negativity and disdain weigh an awful lot and that all just made me sink in the water and lag behind on the bike and run. I always thought I was outrunning my demons but, in actuality, I was carrying them with me.

If Ironman was going to happen, well, I had to get lighter and freer and the engine for the journey had to be me.

The next stage involved anything and everything to banish anxiety from my life - no caffeine, 12 weeks of therapy, no speaking to others before races... But, I missed chocolate and pre-race camaraderie; I liked my therapist very much but it cut into training time.

It worked, however, I could get through swim portions with a mixture of backstroke and freestyle with a relatively happy brain. It was great to get out of the water with the majority of racers rather than at the back of the back of the pack. Races were much less lonely.

Still, however, it was a little bit about externalities. I hadn't yet totally finished the journey to training and racing just for me.

This past summer, however, Ironman training took me to that place. These races are selfish. When you are training you are completely self involved with how the workout is going, what you've been eating, how much sleep you are getting. Even doing the sessions with Alex I will say that we were by and large in our own worlds. Spending so much time in my own head, watching my own progress gave me a good look at my strengths and a real appreciation for my tenacity.

Which brings me back to the tattoo. By the summer I knew I wasn't going to get one. I didn't need to. The journey was mine, the glory was mine, the satisfaction was entirely for myself. When I crossed that finish line I knew then that there was nothing I could ever not handle. No tattoo, nothing external for other's consumption was required.

So, five weeks later, why am I getting a shoulder M Dot? It was actually something Alex had said a couple weeks ago. We had gone out for dinner and the waitress had this very beautiful cherry blossom tattoo on her forearm. Alex had asked where she got it as he had reached a significant life goal and wanted a tattoo to commemorate it.

I've been mulling that over the past few weeks and realize that the idea of a tattoo to remind me of where I came from and how far I went is perfect. It's not something that I will ever regret - I will never regret Ironman Arizona, nor Ironmans still to come. My right shoulder will always remind me of what I can accomplish, and of the lifestyle I want for the rest of my life. If anyone asks what it is I will tell them and hopefully pass on a vision of life as one only of potential not of limitation.

And, as lovely as the cherry blossoms were they didn't commemorate anything other than a love of cherry blossoms, tattoo as art form only. If you want to permanently mark your body with art, well, art is fundamental to humanity so I really can't fault that in the least but, when I'm old, getting my diapers changed I rather tell whoever is doing that that the symbol on my shoulder represents a life long journey to fitness and mental health than to say that one summer, I really was into cherry blossoms.

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