4 Lessons Triathlons Teach You about Life

[L]ast January, I shared that one of my 2012 goals was to train and complete in the multisport world of triathlon. I’ve been a runner for years, but as you might have read in my earlier post, Learning to Swim, my swimming skills were less than adequate for triathlon competitions. After several years of being tired of going to the gym and the inspiration of my good friend, Scott Rigsby (the first below-the-knee double amputee to complete the Ironman World Championship in Kona) I decided I needed a new challenge to push me mentally, physically and spiritually. Whether or not you consider yourself an athlete, an artist, a follower of Christ, or someone who is just interested in living well, there are plenty of things triathlons can teach you about life. Read on…

Click here to watch a funny video of Joey’s son mocking his running shorts.

Just this past weekend, I competed in the ITU World Championship in San Diego. Don’t be confused. I wasn’t in the elite world championship competing with the guys vying for a spot on the 2012 USA Olympic team. I raced in the sprint division (750m swim, 16.5k bike, 5k run) and let me tell you, this course was a lot more difficult than my first triathlon. Every race is an opportunity to learn something new. For example…

1. You Can Go Farther Than You Think You Can: When I first started training for triathlons, my biggest challenge was the swim. I have swam all my life, but with the wrong technique. Before I started taking swimming lessons, I could have never imagined swimming a mile in the ocean. But with the right technique and a commitment to learning the correct skills, I soon learned I could go much further than I thought I could. Believe me, there have been days when everything inside of me is screaming, “You’re done! You’re finished! Stop now…you can’t go any further!” When the monkeys in my mind are screaming at me to quit, I do my best Dory-impersonation “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”

You may be facing significant challenges right now–physical, relational, financial, or work-related–that are telling you to just quit. But I do know that many of life’s most important lessons are learned when we don’t quit. You can go much farther than you think you can. Lean into God, your family or friends for support. James 1 tells us that the testing of our faith develops perseverance to make us mature and complete. You CAN go farther than you think you can!

2. Fear Is Not Your Enemy: For years, whenever I’d see a photo of a triathlon swim-start with hundreds of people thrashing next to each other, I’d say, “Oh that looks fun…getting kicked in the face and drowning!” So you can imagine how I felt moments before my first race. The butterflies in my stomach were the size of vultures. My last will and testament had been signed…

Actually, I was nervous and a bit fearful about what it would be like swimming in the maelstrom all around me, but I have learned to not make fear my enemy. Whenever you take on a new challenge, fear is to be expected. In the right perspective, fear is a warning system that cautions us to pay attention. Stay alert. Know what’s going on around you. We have to let fear have its right place, but if it starts to shout too loud, we also need to tell it to shut its yap.

3. Ask Questions & Be Teachable: I’m curious by nature (ask my wife!) and I like to take on new challenges, so when it comes to learning anything new, it’s extremely important to ask questions and be teachable. Asking questions and being teachable applies to every dimension of your life. I’m a firm believer that whenever we stop learning, that’s when we start dying. Whether it’s changing a bike tire, learning a new skill at work, taking on a new diet, or letting go of your pride by asking for help, asking questions and being teachable will get you closer to your goal than going it alone.

4. Perseverance Rewards Those Who Stick With It: In our world of quick fixes and immediate gratification, perseverance is often underrated as slow, stodgy labor. Perseverance reveals our true character and what we’re really made of. Ask any successful person and they will tell you that there is no such thing as overnight success. Perseverance comes from the things you and I don’t hear talked about much today: character, discipline, work ethic, and a commitment to staying on task when no one else is looking.

For the past two and a half years, I’ve been working on one of the most difficult writing projects I’ve ever completed. My new book, Create: Transforming Stories of Art, Life & Faith is a video-enhanced ebook showcasing video, artwork and essays from 21 artists. I participated in the beta-test of a new online platform and as elegant as this new software is, the process of creation has required more perseverance on a project than ever before. Dealing with software bugs, losing data, re-uploading video four times and having to learn new technologies have tested my patience, my perseverance, and my willingness to creatively solve problems before I hurl my computer through my office window. In essence, my character has been tested. (But I can now say it’s been worth the effort…we won a Best Design award out of 500 ebooks!)

All this to say, I’m glad I’m doing triathlons now. On many a day when I’ve been tired and discouraged, I’ve had to let go of the problem in front of me and tell myself to go for a run. You don’t need to be doing triathlons to take a break and get perspective. For whatever creative challenge you’re facing, take some time to step away. Go for a walk. Pray about it. Invite God to show you what you’re not seeing. Talk to a friend. You just may find the perspective you need which will give you the perseverance to take the next step. That’s all perseverance really is…just taking the next step.

Questions: What challenge are you facing right now that requires perseverance? What will help you go farther than you think you can?

I’d love your comments and questions.

I’d also like to invite you to check out my new book, Create: Transforming Stories of Art, Life & Faith. It’s filled with incredible essays, artwork and video from 21 artists from across the country. Purchase your copy today and receive a free copy of my book, The Longing: Embracing the Deepest Truth of Who You Are.

Your purchase supports The Grove Center for the Arts & Media by providing retreat scholarships for artists.



Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, snarky or off-topic.