The weather report said the sun would go down
today at 7:49 pm. And it did.
Now it is dark.
In the street there is a sporadic, somber procession.
It is a black and white picture. There is no color, no pageantry,
and no grandeur. The grace is gone and now and it is down
to gritty reality.
It is the time of The Strugglers. 11:18 pm,
Taupo, New Zealand- the 20th Anniversary Bonita Banana Ironman
The Pros are asleep. Their stomachs are full,
their muscles are massaged. Their performances are a matter
of record now. They are done. Have been for quite some time.
They finished in the sunlight in the front of cameras and
microphones racing for paychecks and trophies.
It’s easy to understand why they race.
They should race. They look like they should. Lithe and toned
and buff and tan and serious, the Pros and the other talented
athletes reap the generous gift of genetic athletic abundance,
meticulous preparation and clear-cut motivation. They are
here to kick ass. It doesn’t take a psychologist to
decode their motives. They’re athletes, and this is
the big show. It’s what they do.
The pros’ time is over. Now it is time
for The Strugglers.
There are no levels of performance for The Strugglers.
You either are or you aren’t one. If you haven’t
finished by now and you’re still out under the lights
you are a member of this vaunted fraternity, The Strugglers.
Just as the stark street lights leave either harsh illumination
or black despair for The Strugglers this is a matter of finish
or not finish, victory or defeat, do or die, pride or humiliation,
success or failure. It is all the chips on one square, all
the cards face up on the table, and all the aces have already
been dealt today. The Strugglers play high stakes with a bad
It may never have been pretty for The Strugglers.
Most of them may not be athletes in the sense that they spend
hours and hours every week training, but they line up nonetheless
to do this race. The downtrodden, the meek, the ones with
something to prove or something to defeat. Whatever it is
they bring it here and beat it into ugly submission over 140.6
miles, each one a full 5,280 feet. The Strugglers earn every
inch of every foot of every mile.
In a day so daunting and fearful they line up
on the beach as if bravely facing the gallows. A cannon sounds
the beginning of their trial and there is little known at
the onset about how matters will be resolved, except to say
it will be hard and uncomfortable and then downright painful.
That may be the most frightening part: The not knowing. Some
will find absolution, some will teeter and wobble and fall.
There will be polite acknowledgement of their ambition, but
ultimately, for The Strugglers the only thing that matters
is Finishing. It’s what they’re here for.
So for The Strugglers, this is a huge gamble.
Hero or failure. No in between.
And struggle they might, against awful odds
and distance and poor conditioning and genetic poverty, but
in bravery they are absolutely peerless. Without equal.
The Strugglers know it will not be pretty. They
know it is not a sure thing. They do not have the luxury of
prediction or past performances or experience. This is not
their aptitude. But this is their choice and their bold dream.
Imagine being sent to do something, something
beastly difficult. You know in your heart of hearts you are
not prepared, maybe not even suited for this. You know the
stares of others less brave and more envious fall heavily
on your effort. They want The Strugglers to fail. For every
Struggler who crosses the finish line it is a failure for
those who never dared try. For every Struggler who sadly and
reluctantly succumbs to the distance before the finish line
and is carried off the course it is a victory for those who
never started. They take sick pleasure in that. Shame on them.
Those who never had the courage to try have
no right to cast judgment on The Strugglers.
The Pros are comfortable and resting. But the
Strugglers have not left their sacred vigil. They soldier
on, unswerving in their oath to finish, No Matter What. People
marvel at the Pros performance, but I say The Strugglers are
the real athletes. Explorers on the terrible frontier of self-doubt,
fear and potential embarrassment on a grand scale. They bring
less to the start line and they do more. Longer, harder, more
painful: It is a different race for The Strugglers.
It is a parade really. A parade of people so
brave and tough and fearless that they don’t care if
it might not work. They bank on the fact that it could. They
don’t back away from the possibility of failure. Imagine
their performance as set against the backdrop of the very
best in the world and they are not self-conscious about their
version of the very same dance. Ask yourself, would you take
the stage at the Kennedy Center after Barishnikov or Pavoratti?
Are you that brave?
The Strugglers are.
Their performance is tedious and grinding. It
is utterly relentless in its duration. The distance, the time,
the struggle cannot be compromised. The Strugglers know this,
they accept it- embrace it even. And they never succumb. Under
the street lights, through the cool air, in filthy clothes
streaked with their own discharge of minerals and fluids and
sometimes even tears and blood.
The Strugglers do a different kind of race.
A harder one. And they are Elite. It takes longer. It is less
practiced. It seems to never end, and it does more damage.
Decode their motives if you will. But I decode
yours as trying to explain more why you didn’t try than
why they are. Instead, I respectfully suggest, salute them.
Unless you have walked with The Strugglers until midnight
on the Ironman course they stand above you in the athletic
arena. Struggle as they may, they mustered the courage to