It’s been a month since I found myself having a brutal conversation with myself. It was one of those rambling, self-loathing, silent types of self-talks you can hold while smiling at others as they walk by.
It was about 4 p.m., it was 95 degrees, and I had already swum 2.4 miles, ridden my bike 112 miles, and run 18 miles with another 8.2 miles to go.
I was competing in Ironman St. George, arguably the most difficult Ironman course in the world. I’ve been a competitive Ironman triathlete for years and I was having one of the worst races of my career.
At mile 18 of the marathon, my legs began to have some very severe pain that I’ve not experienced before.
Unable to continue my run, I slowed to a walk, knowing this was going to destroy my chances for a top finish in my age group. That’s when I began to tell myself stuff like,
“How could you let this happen?”
“This is what losers do.”
For 10 years I’ve been competing in Ironman competitions and at nearly all of the races I’ve been given the privilege to speak at local events called “IronPrayer.”
The purpose of these gatherings is to pray together, give encouragement to other athletes, and help others understand the ironic metaphor that a race plays in life — which the Bible describes as a “life of faith” (see Hebrews 12:1-2).
As a pastor experienced in both racing and living by faith, the message I had given just days before was nearly lost on me. It was a message about looking at others, seeing their struggles and meeting their needs. It was the mission of God through Jesus, which was given to us when our Lord said,
“You will do greater things…” (John 14:12).
Along the race course there are aid stations. These oases are fully stocked with water, sports drinks, food, even medical supplies. And they can provide shelter if necessary.
The aid stations are there to keep the racers moving forward – forward toward the finish! And it was here I realized that Compassion changes everything!
As I walked toward the next aid station, I saw a small boy, perhaps 5 or 6 years old, standing at the front of the station. He was holding two sponges, one in each of his tiny hands. The sponges were soaked in cold water for the athletes to squeeze onto their heads to cool the body. The child’s voice was tiny:
As I grabbed both sponges and looked up, I saw another little girl holding out a cup of water. I grabbed it too … and suddenly realized that my race had already been won! But were it not for these children I might not have realized it.
Several months prior to the race, I joined Team Compassion so I could use the platform of my Ironman race to raise support and awareness among friends and family for Compassion’s Medical Assistance Fund.
The Medical Assistance Fund helps provide medical care for children with extraordinary needs who cannot otherwise get such care. I had raised a good amount of money. So when I realized that these little children at the aid station were taking care of my needs, I was humbled and reminded of the reason I was out there in the first place!
I stopped thinking about myself, my pain and my disappointment and started thinking about those who are really struggling. Those who, without the help of others handing them a little aid along the way, may never make it to the finish.
I learned an important lesson that day. One that I had been teaching but hadn’t fully understood. As my focus changed from myself to others, I found my sorrow turning to joy.
As I stopped listening to the negative talk in my head, I began to hear the encouragement of those around me …
“Go Team Compassion!”
From other racers:
“You with Compassion?”
When I’d nod yes, they’d exclaim,
“That’s so cool!”
and they’d give me a thumbs up as they ran by.
Yes, I learned an important lesson that day which I hope will never be lost on me again.
Compassion changes everything.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Perkins is a 10-time finisher of the Ironman, including the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. A Compassion sponsor and Advocate, Dan lives in San Jose, Calif. with his wife, Joy, where he serves as lead pastor at Twin Oaks Church.
Read more about Dan’s Ironman at danperkins.blogs.com.