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Secrets of Success

Lessons from the Iron Girls

On Sunday, August 19, I awoke at 4:30 a.m. to prepare for a triathlon. Those who read these columns know that is not unusual. I am a dedicated triathlete, summertime is the racing season, and these races all start quite early.

What made this particular Sunday different was I was not racing—my wife Nancy and daughter Jane were. My job was to act as chauffeur and cheerleader. After watching me race and finish countless times, I was on the sidelines for this one. My wife and daughter would be the focus.

The story, what I learned, and how those lessons can be applied is this month’s offering.

The Story

The race Nancy and Jane chose is a sprint distance triathlon called Iron Girl. Jane is 13 so swimming; riding a bike and running are part of her job description. Nancy is – not 13. She is a runner but had not been on a bike in years. In addition, she and water have never been the best of friends. After deciding to race she asked if I would help her prepare and I enthusiastically agreed.

My supporting role began a month before the event in the hills and lake around our house outside of Lake Placid, NY.

If you haven’t ridden a bike in years, 17.5 miles on a hilly course might as well be 175 miles. Addressing that problem became our first order of business. Nancy inherited my old bike and we were off for our first ride. As I am constantly in training, my body is used to bike rides of at least two hours in length and not less than 25- 30 miles. Often the distances need to be much longer.

Nancy’s first rides were going to be more on the order of 20-30 minutes and 5-10 miles. The highlight of her first ride was getting her shoelace tangled in the pedal and having the bike fall on top of her. “Everyone falls in the beginning,” I explained. Not that she found that a particularly comforting insight, as she lay on her back under the bike like some helpless turtle.

(“This is going to be a long month.” I remember thinking.)

The fall was really the last of her problems. In short order, riding a bike came back to her. The miles became longer, the hills became steeper and her confidence along with her fitness increased at an extremely rapid rate.

This left the swim. Six tenths of a mile, over 1,100 yards to be exact. Nancy could swim sidestroke, breaststroke and backstroke- but not the crawl. Realizing we needed adult supervision, I found a coach for her. With no time to learn a new stroke, it was decided the three strokes would do.

I measure my swim workouts in thousands of yards. Our goal with Nancy was to get her comfortable swimming at least 550 yards. My swim workouts began to be “different.” I would put on my wetsuit, go into the lake and swim beside her as I talked Nancy through her paces. My coaching consisted of “Everybody is scared in the beginning.” and “You look great!”

Fast forward to race day. A somewhat sleepless night has given way to an overcast day. My job is to get my girls up and out the door, park the car at the race site, and get them to the start of their swimming heats.

Once the race began, my duties included waiting for each of them to come out of the water, screaming like crazy as they transitioned to their bikes, yelling like a maniac as they returned from the bike to begin the run and losing my mind as they crossed the finish line.

We all did our jobs and Sunday August 19, Nancy and Jane became Iron Girls!

What I Learned

How many of us really know the time and effort others put into our lives? I would suggest most of have no idea the sacrifices others make on our behalf. I know when it came to this particular Sunday and the weeks leading up to the race, I learned an awful lot about selflessness and being other centered.

I had a glimpse what it took to support me in my training.

I got a small taste of what it must be like when I was away from home for hours training.

I began to see what it must be like dealing with my pre-race anxiety and my nonstop post race “war stories.”

I learned what it was like to have a non-racing goal on race day.

I experienced what it felt like to stand around for hours while the racers raced.

I gained a new appreciation of how it felt waiting for the few seconds when you would pick your loved one out of the crowd in order to offer ten seconds of encouragement.

Most importantly I was able to fully appreciate how inadequate a simple “thank you” is for all the support I had received in my races.

How You Can Apply These Lessons

When Nancy and I would train, I rode and swam at a slower pace and worked out for shorter periods of time. That was because the workouts were not for me. I was altering my routine to serve her needs.

The next time a coworker, subordinate or family member asks you to take time to listen to them try stopping and thinking about their needs rather than reacting because of the preoccupation you are having with your needs. Most likely you will be asked to temporarily stop what you are doing to meet their need at the expense of your own.

The next time you are in the middle of your “whatever” and someone asks for help, avoid the temptation to tell them you’re busy. Stop and help them just because they asked.

Try this exercise:

In the next five minutes pick up the phone, send an email or go over to someone and thank them for:

Their patience with you recently.

Helping you.

Listening to you.

Doing something they do on a regular basis for which they seldom get recognition or appreciation.

Then see how you feel.

Serving others will not only warm your heart it will brighten another’s day. Strive to begin spending a part of each day in a state of thankfulness and gratitude. Vow to tell others what they really mean to you.

You’ll be amazed at the rewards.

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