1. Relating to or characterized by competition.
“Having or displaying a strong desire to be more successful than others.”
2. As good as or better than others of a comparable nature.
Synonyms: ruthless, aggressive, fierce, ambitious, zealous, keen, pushy, combative, aggressive
I enjoyed my time as a competitive athlete. One who was, “As good as or better than others of a comparable nature.” When I lost my ability to do well in comparison to my peers I floundered. What is the point of racing if one finishes near the bottom rather than toward the top? I mean, racing is a competition after-all.
Mine has been a difficult fall from grace that left me wondering, “Why bother?” Lacking the ability to produce laudable results I was left with no desire to race, no desire to be humiliated, no desire to finish one-hundred-ninety-eighth out of two-hundred-twenty-four men. My loss of the ability to do well in comparison to my peers played havoc with my competitive drive and self-esteem.
I’ve since, as Marine Sergeant Thomas “Gunny” Highway demanded, learned to improvise, adapt and overcome. I’m not happy with my mediocrity, I’m resigned to it. I may never again do well, but I won’t quit. Boo-hoo-hoo.
Jack Lowdermilk, my senior by three years and coworker, is competitive under both definitions. He retains the ability to perform in the ninetieth percentile of his peers and going fast pleases him. So does winning, but we won’t hold that against him!
Like many of my age peers Jack was more of a runner than a cyclist before the years of pounding caught up to him. At sixty years of age Jack had never done a triathlon. I mentioned that my wife Patricia, aka the goddess Durga, and I were racing Raleigh’s Triangle Triathlon on July fourteenth and Jack showed some interest; he just didn’t know if he was ready to swim 750 meters.
I vacillated with him. In my salad days swimming was my weak-suit (Running is now, but I digress.) and I know the out-right fear that accompanies an open-water swim by the uninitiated and untrained. About two weeks before race day Jack tells me, “I did it. I’m signed up for the triathlon.”
I congratulated and encouraged and upon learning that Jack, despite fast times in a swimming pool, had never done an open water swim invited him to accompany Durga and me to nearby Jordan Lake for some open water work. Jack was appreciative and fast. He also came to understand my coaching concerning the need to occasionally sight while swimming open-water; a valuable lesson whether one is in-it-to-win-it or just wants to reach shore safely.
After our swim in Jordan Lake I said, “Jack, you are going to have an age-group podium finish. You may even win your age group.”
Jack’s response was a Southern-gentleman’s born-and-bred look of disbelief, but I knew he left Jordan Lake more comfortable and determined than he’d entered it. Saturday morning arrived, and we three vintage citizens converged at Raleigh’s Harris County Park along with an additional three-hundred-plus triathletes.
I spied Jack, his head swiveling in obvious search mode, so I raised my arms over my head and swung them back and forth widely. My semaphore worked, and Jack made his way to Durga’s spot on the bike rack where we greeted one another.
“Hey,” he said after preliminaries, “guess what? I was talking to the guy who’s racked next to me and he said he knew me.” I immediately figured that the man whose bike was adjacent to Jack’s was a CSH customer, the bike shop where we both work, but Jack soon corrected my misunderstanding. “He looked up everybody’s names in our age group and wrote ’em all down. This must be a very big deal for him.”
I found Jack’s surprise at the competitive nature of his bike-rack neighbor ironic as Jack feels the same way, he’s just more circumspect. We three walked over to Jack’s bicycle and I asked Jack when he was going to spread his gear out. “What do you mean?” he responded. I looked from him to his bike and the sack that held his triathlon accoutrements and back again.
“Your gear? Your shoes and such? You’re not going to put your shoes in the pedals and slip into them that way are you?”
“No. I’ll do it here.”
“Then you need to spread your things out. I’d hate for you to come in second in your age group because you took five minutes in transition rather than two. Let’s organize your stuff!”
I kibitzed some as I “helped” Jack organize his things, something Jack is used to from me, and another man good-naturedly joined in. Jack’s age-group, rack-adjacent neighbor was a bit aggressive and condescending in his unsolicited suggestions concerning how Jack should set up his area and I saw Jack visibly stiffen at the man’s suggestions.
I had Jack lay out his cycling shoes, socks, (SOCKS! In a sprint!?) sunglasses and running shoes in a logical fashion and instructed him to mount his $600 Garmin bike computer to his bike, something he was, “Planning to do after the swim to keep it from getting stolen.” I laughed.
“Jack, Jack, Jack. Do it now,” I said as he fumbled to mount the Garmin. “It’s not that we’re all so trustworthy, it’s just that there’s better stuff to steal,” I added with a wink.
He complied. The only exception being that while he allowed me to separate his socks- yes, he had them balled together- he insisted on tucking them into his shoes rather than laying them on top, an action that gave Jack priceless peace of mind but would likely cause only a second or two of delay.
The Triangle Triathlon follows a time-trial or single-file into the water format. Competitors are asked to line up according to their swimming abilities. I bid Jack goodbye and good luck as he positioned himself among the first fifty or sixty racers, kissed Durga as she settled in around the hundredth racer mark and I made my way towards the back of the queue. To again reference another Clint Eastwood character, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
The lead racers were well out of the water before I began my swim, and the fastest riders had completed fifteen of the eighteen-mile, convoluted, two-180-degree-turn, lovely, North Carolina, rural-road course by the time I’d ridden three. I never saw Jack, but I saw Durga three times, twice on the bike course and once as we high-fived during a pass-by on the run. I was slow, but I was having fun on an unseasonably cool day.
Both Jack and Durga awaited me at the finish. Jack, looking concerned, asked me if I was okay as I accepted the water Durga handed me and walked away. I nodded, Durga, accustomed to my routine as we’ve been racing together since 1986, said, “He’s fine. He just needs to walk some.” She was right, I did.
Jack did not win his age group, but he took second place, a great victory for a neophyte. His race time was half-an-hour less than mine, but I beat him in two areas. Yep, the transitions! I even deigned to pull on a jersey and bike gloves, something I rarely do for a sprint.
Durga missed a third-place age-group finish by seconds. I believe I came in dead last. I’m confident that with just a little training Jack will become well known as an age group competitor in the area. He was surprised by the “rubbery-leg” feeling one gets when transitioning from swim to bike and again from bike to run; to say nothing of his abysmal transition times. Jack’s a competitor and I wish him well.
Me? I’ll keep at it. Just save a little post-race pizza for us slow pokes, won’t you?