Choose to live a sporting life that means something, urges triathlon coach Steve Trew
One day, whether you’re ready or not, it will all come to an end. There will be no more early morning wake-up calls, no more sunrise drives to races, no more counting down the minutes, hours or days.
No more soggy energy bars, no more slightly too warm energy drinks. No more panic-pumping tyres, panic-tightening bars and stem. No more pounding heart, racing pulse, sweaty brow. No more aching legs, cramping muscles, knotted back. No more thinking “I can’t go on” (but you did anyway).
All the race clothing, shoes, wetsuits, goggles and bikes you’ve collected over the years will no longer be material to who you are. Scuffed saddle and greasy bar tape will disappear, along with the damp cycle shoes with a little too much road grit in the cleats.
Whether you raced well or badly will be forgotten, the races will belong to others. Your wins and losses, instant fame and instant glory will matter not one tiny bit. The trophies, medals, vouchers, race photos, finishing certificates will be as a ship that once passed this way. But no more.
Did any of it matter?
It will not matter whether you won, lost, finished or didn’t finish. Your disappointment or anger or fear or hurt will all finally disappear. All those hopes and ambitions, all the planning and training diaries, year-long race plans and to-do lists will have grown dusty and deserted. They – like you – will have run their course.
First, second or third, top 10 or top 20, qualifying for the team… all those targets and marks that once seemed so important will drift away to nothingness. It won’t matter what your background was, how you came into the sport, how you progressed in the sport. It won’t matter whether you looked good, whether you looked bad, if you had the latest race suits (all the gear and no idea) or raced in bargain-shop buys, whether you cruised through a race or struggled to finish. It won’t matter if you raced for a team or raced just for yourself. It won’t even matter if you raced as an age-grouper or an elite athlete.
So what will matter? How will the value of your days in triathlon be measured?
What will matter is not what races you won, but how you won. Not what races you lost, but how you lost. Not what you took out of training and racing, but what you gave back in training and racing. What will matter is not how others admired you, but how you dealt with that admiration. Not that others asked you for autographs, but that you gave that autograph with a smile.
Leaving a legacy
What will matter is not that you won, but the legacy you left from that victory.
What will matter is not what you learned from the athletes you raced against, but what you taught those athletes.
What will matter is that you were magnanimous in victory and excuse-free in defeat.
What will matter is that every stroke you placed and pressed, every pedal you pushed and lifted, every step you stumbled and sprinted was given with everything you possessed, with no holding back.
What will matter is not how or when you stop racing. But by how fellow athletes will feel a loss when you’re no longer racing.
What will matter is not your memories, but the memories of those against whom you competed.
What will matter is how long you will be remembered, not only as an athlete but more as a person, by what you did and how you did it.
What will matter is not how good an athlete you were, but how good you were to other athletes and other people you were lucky enough to meet in this sport.
Less your competence. More your character. Every single thing you did, whether it was of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice, that made others’ lives better and richer for knowing you. To make them say about you, “He always made me feel good”. Dare to say it: to make them want to be – just a little bit – like you. What will matter is that you made a difference to other athletes’ lives, to their races, their memories.
Living a sporting life like that doesn’t happen by accident. It’s something you choose to do, something you consciously make happen. You choose the life you lead, you choose the life you make for yourself. Choose to live a life that matters.