Friday, September 20, 2013

Lessons Learned from my Cousin's Life, the Ironman Race & a High School Reunion

It's been an emotional two and half weeks.

I've had a hard time making sense of recent circumstances, but through my experiences, I've emerged stronger through involuntary lessons learned.  And I suppose, those are the most powerful.

Lesson number one: Acceptance.

After an 18-month courageous battle with Leukemia, my 15-year old cousin passed peacefully in his sleep and went to Heaven.  Since his diagnosis, I've been at war in my heart trying to process why a child should ever have to endure chemotherapy, writing his own will, saying goodbye to those he loves, and trusting that he's going to a better place without any real "proof" from anyone here on earth.  And yet, throughout all of his treatment, his trials and his heartache, his only request was that we remember that he loves us.

The day before he died, I was in Madison, Wisconsin.  I had made the trek with two of my besties to see our other friend make a dream come true.  She competed in an Ironman triatholon.  Which is essentially the race of freaking awesome, real deal, could kill you in your sleep athletes.  She woke up at 4:30am on race day, was in the water by 6:30am, swam 2.4 miles, then immediately biked 112 miles, quickly changed and ran a marathon.  Some 15-hours later, we were literally screaming our asses off at the finish line watching her achieve the unachievable.

And I learned then, after an amazing day of screaming affirmations, cheers, and positive self talk to as many athletes as I could that, the Ironman is simply an analogy for's a test of the will...plain and simple.  There was no picture perfect "fit" entrant.  Because despite the name brand of your gear or the number of ripped abs on your belly, you can crash your bike, get a grueling cramp in the water, or dehydrate on the run course and then, well, you're done.  But for most of the athletes, the trick is to continually trick yourself that you can and that you will do this and then your vision eventually becomes your reality.

Lesson number two: consistent persistence pays off.

In the mix of all of this was also my 20-year high school event that many of my close friends thought was probably a waste of time, but that I was really looking forward to.  Except that my cousin's funeral had been three hours prior and I spoke at the service.  By the time I arrived to see my blast from the past friends, it became very clear.  We're all the same.  At 38-years young, most of the pretense is gone.  People are really over what street you live on, what your business card says, and how hot your partner is or isn't.  Most people showed pictures of their kids, talked about how great it felt to see Facebook come alive and how thankful they were to have a babysitter so they could actually get out of the house.

Lesson number three: we're more similar than not.

So, at the end of the day, life is really for the living.  Celebrating my cousin's life, albeit cut way too short, was an incredible reminder that we only have one life here on this earth.  And the Ironman athletes taught me that you've gotta go for it.  Regret is just silly.  Go big or go home, literally. And in the mix of it all, my high school reunion illustrated a check point, a time of reflection to ask, "How's life treating you?  Are you being kind?  Are you taking risks?  Who can you help along the way?"

The truth is that there are no black and white answers.  There are more mysteries and whys then there are certainties.  But the one absolute is that we get one go around.  Let's be willing to crash our bikes and feel some pain, because the beauty of hearing "You are an Ironman" at the finish line is so worth it.

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