Friday, December 30, 2011

A large serving of reality, but please hold the excuses

It's the holidays, and everyone wants them to be perfect. But in reality, they cannot always be quintessential, simply because the truth is that life will still go on despite presents and parties.

I remember working as a news journalist at The Morning Call when the publisher decided that the paper would now be printed on Christmas. Why? "Well, news doesn't stop for holidays," Gary Shorts announced. Well, neither does life.

And so maybe this has made me a bit more of a realist when it comes to the holidays. In fact, I always worked Christmas in the newsroom. I wasn't sure why until one year, a photographer - who just happened to be Jewish - walked by me on the morning of Dec. 25th and said: "Isn't it great? Just us Jews working together..." It was then that I looked around, realizing that the skeletal staff for the day was Tobias working the desk, the Fishers shooting film, Halperin manning the photo desk, and Youngwood and me making up the reporting staff.

Only problem: I wasn't a Jew, although someone in management thought I was.

Still, I welcomed the double-and-a-half pay of roughly $50 an hour. But the real gift was the opportunity to realize that, yes, news -- and life -- does not stop for holidays, as sacred as they may be, because I still had to cover fires, deaths, and suffering on Christmas.

And so this year, as one of my former student-athletes writes from his hospital bed while undergoing his third round of chemotherapy for leukemia at Hershey Medical Center, I remain amazed by the number of "grown-ups" who blog and post about their "difficult" situations during the holidays.

"It sucks to have a sinus infection on the holidays. This screws up my training. Bleh..."

"I'm exhausted from my kids, and I have too much going on..."

"I cannot seem to get out of bed to run... What can I do to motivate myself?"


Due to social networking, I am always surrounded by folks who run, bike, and swim. But sadly, I consistently trip over adult athletes either dishing excuses or seeking elixers.

Meanwhile an 18-year-old college freshman -- a competitive swimmer who has gone to states and knocks down a mile of freestyle in under 18 minutes -- sits in a hospital bed over Christmas break and apologizes for not being able to respond to phone calls and emails because the latest round of chemo has caused him to vomit, has depleted his energy, has left him with no desire to eat for his taste buds have burned out.

And as he fights for his own life, he still pulls for a 19-year-old Penn State student involved in a serious car accident, writing: "Gaby, McKean's had enough this year, I know you can pull through. Please stay strong."

So you pray that at 18, he can focus on his own strength until he writes this two days later: "An amazing PSU student passed away earlier this week, her dream was to trend on twitter; help make her last dream come true: RT #FlyHighGaby."

I saw this just an hour after I read the obituary of the 30-year-old mother who died in the hospital while giving birth to her second child the day after Christmas. Her death notice appeared next to the one marking the passing of a 17-month-old toddler whose parents wanted readers to know that Gaven "loved life, music, Elmo and Sponge Bob."

The truth is that there are too many adult athletes who become so self-absorbed in attempting to define (or perhaps defend) themselves that they use insignificant burps, such as a lapse in training or an achy ankle, as a chance to whine about the so-called complexities of life.

They allow the title of "runner," "cyclist," or "triathlete" to come before so many more things as they search for quick answers on how to motivate themselves, not realizing that motivation is truly intrinisic, that no one embraces a 4:30 a.m. run in 20-degree weather, that running until you feel the urge to vomit can be the reward of a tough tempo, that the majority of us were not born with the genetic gift of natural athletic prowess.

They want easy answers, and there aren't any.

And so when a well-educated person asked me this week for advice on how to write a blog so that he/she could be held accountable to a running plan, I had nothing to offer. If you haven't figured out how to be accountable to yourself in your 30s, blogging about it isn't going to make a difference.

Instead, what you really need to do is to belly up to a large serving of reality, open wide, and ask yourself: "Am I really facing adversity or suffering from a case of self-absorption?"

Learn that you are fortunate to have lived long enough to have loved or to have married, to have traveled, to have given birth, to have gained a career. Learn that there are people who are suffering more than your bad ankle, more than your asthma, more than your lack of motivation or lack of sleep during a hectic holiday week.

No one wants to hear trivial excuses.

These pretexts are nothing more than an annoying waste of time and a cry for attention. Instead, make it your resolution to learn to shut up, push yourself past comfort, and enjoy the fortunate ride you've been given--because not everyone can.

Because somewhere someone else has it far worse than your lack of motivation brought on by a plate of cookies or a long day of visiting relatives. There's someone who would gladly switch places with you.

Somewhere, there's an 18-year-old standout athlete -- and many more like him -- who learned early on that life is more than a record time in the pool. Life is temporary, precious. As he plods through treatment that has left him weakened, tired and vulnerable, he wishes for those "easy" days of swimming several miles twice a day that left him not nearly as exhausted as this training plan called "Leukemia."

A lot of grown, healthy adults with a lot of excuses can learn a lot from a kid whose time could end too soon.

I pray I'm wrong. Stay strong, buddy, stay strong.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Honey Badger

I love my friend Kristin's recent posting on Facebook: Swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, run 26.2 miles -- NEVER question my commitment.

One of my commitments in life is to do as much as I can for myself and not rely on other people to do things for me. Do I ask for help? Certainly, but only after contemplating my options and thinking about a course of action to solving my dilemma or scoping out a situation.

So when someone recently asked me a question -- through an email sent through a phone (infer: tech savvy) -- that could be answered by a two-second Google search, it took everything within my power to not be a Honey Badger.

I wanted to reply: "You are a professional with college degrees asking me a question through email on your phone... can you not figure this out on your own? What is wrong with you?"

Honestly, people: Do the legwork yourself. You have to invest the time to reap the reward. You cannot truly appreciate things if they are given to you without some blood, sweat or tears. OK, maybe that's a little dramatic. But you have to at least invest the two seconds of time and then do a little research.

Speaking of blood, sweat, and tears makes me think of the person who wants to be a "marathoner" but doesn't want to run four days a week, who doesn't want to run a few 20 milers, who simply doesn't want to train yet still wants to put a 26.2-mile sticker on the car after walking a marathon.


You should've been in pain a few times during training. You should've sweated so much over 16 weeks that feral cats ran away. You should've worn through two pairs of shoes before earning the right to cry at the finish because you left all you had on the course physically and emotionally because you sacrificed time away from the comforts of the couch. But you didn't.

One of my favorite mantras is: "If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail." And so if you are too too lazy and you fail again? Well, Honey Badger don't give a crap because Honey Badger told you so.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

And so this is Christmas.

We climbed the mountain. We conquered the tree. But not before we honored its life until the axe took her down. Oh, Christmas tree...

December has arrived

Today marks our annual pilgrimage to chop down the tree at Crystal Spring Christmas Tree Farm, which last year was selected as the official provider of the holiday tree at the White House. We've been heading up the mountain in Carbon County for a few years, despite the infusion of cars from New York and New Jersey where, I guess, they don't grow fir trees.

But of course, the trickiest part of this rite involves not the hike with two young girls, nor the impasse that I will most likely make as I debate whether the 9-foot fraser fir before me is the one to be sacrificed. No, the hairiest decision will be where to move my bike that is currently perched upon my trainer.

Can it stay in the library with the tree, as it did last year?

No. I concede that I was selfish, although we did move it out of sight on Christmas Eve.

Can I mount it in the cellar, with its dust and cobwebs?

No. My allergies will revolt.

Can I place it in the master bedroom, in front of the 40-inch television and right next to the bed?

Well. Sometimes we all need to make sacrifices.

I'm no Martha Stewart, so there is shall sit, totally ruining the feng shui that I've attempted to master.

Spatial complexities aside, I look forward to riding in a new spot, particularly as we buckle down for weather that simply is not suitable for my liking, particularly when I'm moving at 17 miles per hour. Instead, I am actually anticipating the holidays as a way to reboot my current state of fitness, which has been slowed down as I recovered from my Ironman and began a rebuilding program. Hopefully there are other aspects of my life that I can rebuild as well.