My thoughts raced as fast as my nervous eyes as they darted from one bib number to the next. What did I do and why on earth did I think that I could actually do this? Why am I here? Clearly I am not meant for this and everyone knows it; this is the singular most absurd thing I have ever done. Some look with kindness, some look pity, some with borderline disgust, some with shock, and some of the Old Hickory Lake 2009 Triathlon racers hold their own anxieties far too deeply to care about the other participants.
My own anxieties were pretty deeply held on their own account, and I was full of fear that morning seven years ago when I stood at the edge of Old Hickory Lake with 365 other people who were all Speedo clad and full of intensity. We all foolishly, I had decided, assumed that this was a good idea to train for months only to wake up at the crack of dawn to swim, bike, and run, and I was silently cursing my friend with whom I was doing this relay triathlon. Two years before she had done her first triathlon; in her enthusiasm and general, constant excitement, she agreed to be my relay partner on this triathlon. Without her, I wouldn’t have been standing here at the edge of a lake, with 400 meters and 300 people ahead of me on that bright summer morning; I briefly hated her for making me be so brave.
Bravery is the worst.
The moment before jumping into a lake with four buoys, that surely must be marking out more than the intended 400 meters, around which you must swim is a moment brimming with terror. Once submerged into the cool lake water of the Old Hickory with hundreds of other swimmers around, this terror becomes bravery, but bravery is the worst.
Bravery is the worst because it constantly propels you forward; one cannot decide to turn fear into bravery without being forever changed. When I jumped in that lake I had to keep swimming; it was slow and exhausting, and I was quite sure that I would never see the shore again. When I finally emerged and tagged my partner as she began the next leg of the triathlon, I was still sure that I didn’t belong here. I was still sure that there is no way that I could have done this thing that is reserved for a different kind of person, someone who has more courage and more strength, someone who would actually wear Speedo, perhaps. Emerging from the waters of that old lake, I realized the person I was all along and became the person I was always meant to be, someone who is brave, even though bravery is the worst.
Many things in my life from the past seven years can be traced back to the bravery that found me in that moment at the edge of Old Hickory Lake. We’re often so convinced that we understand our own limitations and abilities that we never allow ourselves to be fully known or realized. That day at the edge of the lake I realized that there is something within me that continues to push forward when no way seems obvious; I realized that fear is allowed to speak, but never louder than the courage, and I realized that I could never be the same again if I chose to jump.