Two years ago to the day of Ironman Arizona, I put my PhD to good use as a counselor at an Inheritance of Hope (IOH) Legacy Retreat in New York City. IOH is a nonprofit organization that serves young families who have a parent facing a terminal illness. Retreats help shape a legacy and create lasting, unforgettable memories for families. It is an experience that changes everyone, sick or not sick, families or counselors. Retreats provide humbling lessons on perspective taking, recognition of life treasures, and intentionality with our children. We shouldn’t wait until we are sick to start doing these things—I remind myself of this daily and can always be better. So, it was IOH’s influence that led me to make a decision to spend a little extra money to coordinate a special trip for my 9-year old daughter, Shea, to watch her mom race Ironman Arizona on November 20th.
Shea witnessed her mom go through a bumpy year—a bad bike crash with deep skin abrasions and elbow repairs, a freak back injury, personal ups/downs, and a slashed race calendar. She worried, I reassured. “Are you going to crash again?” “Are you going to be safe this time?” “Why can’t you just ride on your trainer?” The questions were difficult to answer staring into her caring eyes, and to be honest, they made me a bit apprehensive to get back out on my bike. The consistent lesson this season through it all—when you fall, you get back up. Submit, learn, and keep moving forward. The magic exists in the struggle. Press on and be courageous, little Shea. As we know, saying it and seeing it yield entirely different outcomes—hearing it is often ignored, but seeing it gets tucked away in her little back pocket for her own future use. If all went to plan, Ironman Arizona would be a tangible lesson of determination, fortitude, and resilience. Flights made, bags packed, it was full steam ahead for living IOH’s mission of intentionality and legacy formation.
With timely and uncanny coincidence, my church’s sermon (just last weekend), discussed this quote by John Maxwell:
“If you are successful, it becomes possible for you to leave an inheritance for others. But if you desire to create a legacy, then you need to leave something in others. When you think unselfishly and invest in others, you gain the opportunity to create a legacy that will outlive you.” -John Maxwell
My best efforts to positively influence my daughter certainly didn’t backfire with a poor race result, mechanical, or an unfortunate DNF. In fact, the entire mother/daughter experience was extremely memorable and we bonded with joyful laughter, rich 9 year old conversation, and endless hugs. However, my influence certainly wasn’t the weekend’s most important take away lesson. Shea would learn about a priceless legacy by observing a fellow athlete’s distinct behaviors during race weekend. I don’t know this athlete well personally, but I do know that her behaviors are not isolated incidents. They are commonplace. This athlete actively invested (and invests) in others through her kindness and humility. Shea observed the MOTHER of all lessons—she learned how to win with grace and witnessed what it truly means to be a winner. She observed and internalized true kindness and selflessness—not from her mom, but from the race favorite and eventual winner, Meredith Kessler. It is the following impactful memories that will be tucked away in her back pocket for future use.
As any triathlete knows, race morning is hectic. We are all in our own heads, double/triple checking everything, and preparing our body and mind for a full day of hefty exertion. At 6:30am, all of the pro men were in the water with 4 minutes until their gun time and pro women starting 5 minutes behind. As my toes touched the water to make my jump into the cold 65F Tempe Town Lake, the Star Spangled Banner began. I could hear the sweet singing voice of a brave young girl—maybe 10 years old—attempting a courageous solo effort at the anthem. I personally felt suddenly interrupted and was antsy to just carry on with my own preparations. I resisted my impatient urge to jump in and instead stayed still for this moment. Midway through the song, the girl hesitated. She stopped singing. She fumbled on her words. The crowd was left silently wondering whether she would be able to continue, and for her own sake, we certainly wanted her push through. She did regroup and was able to finish. At the end, the crowd cheered loudly and without much thought, I continued my warm up.
A few days after arriving home, my husband, daughter, and I were reminiscing about the race and the little girl’s experience came up. My daughter connected with this brave girl. Shea watched her closely since she is learning to play the guitar and is striving to be a MUCH better version of Taylor Swift someday :-). Then I was told that after the anthem, the first (and only) person to console this girl was Meredith—the pre-race favorite who was about to defend her title for the third time. Why wasn’t Meredith in the water preparing for the day’s fight? Why didn’t she remain consumed in the same bubble her competitors existed in race morning? I clarified this gesture with Meredith to make sure she was the person my daughter observed. Meredith replied via message,
“As for the little love who sang the SSB – what a gem! I was standing at the entrance of the stairs about 5 feet from her while she sang and of course my heart sank when she made the mistake!! She still FINISHED it with GUSTO which I so loved and she didn’t let it get the best of her! All I did was walk over and gave her a high five and a side squeeze and told her that she sang beautifully and that I was even more impressed with her ability to not melt under pressure and RISE through the adversity in that very short moment!”
Stop for a second and think about this. This little girl likely had no idea who Meredith was and was likely too flustered to think about the relevance of the gesture. From what little bits I have observed about Meredith, she would deny any deserved attention attached to it. To Meredith, in this critical life moment for this girl, kindness was normal behavior. Meredith put her own high level race needs aside—now three minutes before the gun—and unselfishly LIFTED her up for singing beautifully and for “the ability to RISE through adversity.” No selfies taken, no intention of developing a ‘brand’, and no self-promoting tweets about it. Just pure unselfish kindness. Beautiful. Could I please get Meredith on my team?!
Fast forward to the awards ceremony. The race happened and Meredith dominated. Her swim punished and her blazing bike led her to a convincing win. My friends and husband left early, so I was sitting there alone with Shea—exhausted, moving uncomfortably :-), yet elated at my own race result. The “Voice of Ironman”, Mike Reilly, called up the top 10 pro men followed by the top 10 pro women. Winners, Lionel Sanders and Meredith Kessler, took turns with their acceptance speeches.
In her 59th Ironman, Meredith has won enough of them to know that she needs to be prepared. Unfolding 2-3 pages of notes, Meredith didn’t care how long it would take to convey her important words. She took her time to eloquently connect with the talented age-groupers, pros, and their families like I’ve never heard before. She gave them (us) hope, inspiration, and used honesty and grace to convey the point that Ironmans aren’t easy and we fail just as many times as we succeed. Her speech didn’t end by acknowledging her own incredible accomplishment. Starting with the top 3 pro men, then detailing 10th place to 2nd place pro female, Meredith thoughtfully described each one of her competitors. She warmheartedly detailed what she values and admires in each of us. Once again, she lifted US up, in a time where it was her turn to shine. She’s the role model’s role model.
After the awards ceremony, I asked Shea, “What did you notice about Meredith’s speech?” Immediately, without hesitation, Shea said, “She didn’t talk about herself a single time. She was just really kind to everyone.”
More than the wonderful and traditionally valued sporting traits of being strong, resilient, courageous, relentless, and spirited are the words that mean the most to me: “Be kind.” I say these words everyday as I drop my kids off curbside at their school. PEOPLE, this election cycle was a killer as a parent to hit home the ‘be kind’ cause…I’ll just stop there. In sport, we don’t think about this quality much, but I don’t think there is a more admired trait when we do see it. Putting ourselves aside, without an agenda, and exhibiting refreshing true kindness and grace.
As for my race, I think I did well. I achieved my goals—a sub 5 hour bike, and a sub 3 hour run. Good stuff. Results are here. For those who like details, I woke up at 4:30am, and during the race I consumed 17 gels, one half banana (by mistake-I thought I grabbed a gel ), and drank plenty of fluids. Seriously, though, my Ironman Arizona race does matter to me—it holds a very special place after a tough year and I loved sharing every moment with my family, friends, and coach. But Meredith’s developing legacy, character, leadership, and winning ways are what truly matter in sport—teaching the precious gift of ‘winning’ to my wide eyed, life absorbing little girl and everyone else around her. I’m truly grateful that Shea’s back pocket (and her moms) is replete of classy MBK skills. Meredith may want to kill me for drawing this attention, but it may not be possible, she swims strongly away from me in races. MBK, thank you.
Lastly, Meredith has a new book entitled, “Life of a Triathlete, Race Preparation”. I haven’t even ordered it yet, but I DO know without having read it that it will be an inspiring WINNER of a book. Order it immediately, if not sooner!
Big congratulations to Yvonne (2nd) and Malindi (3rd, IM Debut!), and to all athletes who spent the day together in Tempe, Arizona on November 20th. A race to remember!
MASSIVE thank you to my very special sponsors who have been with me through it all this year. LOVE LOCAL. GO LOCAL.
Now…off season and R & R before a full charge for 2017!
Thank you for reading.
MORE memories of the weekend: