I have always been an athlete. I played hockey and softball, and I’ve been running since seventh grade. I participated in a kids’ triathlon when I was in elementary school. I always relied on exercise to release those endorphins … but I tri because of my dad.
My dad is my best friend and has been for a long time. He also used to be my hockey and softball coach. He knows me so well—and he knew that when I was done playing college hockey, I would need something to fill the void. He was the one who suggested that I pick up racing triathlons, so one day I decided to sign up for an IRONMAN 70.3. And I haven’t looked back!
When I was a young athlete, I learned two skills from my dad that have influenced my mindset: hard work and resilience. I watched him cross countless finish lines when I was growing up. I learned that not every race will go as planned and adjustments have to be made.
While many aspects of my relationship with my dad are tied to athletics, he has also been a mentor to me outside of the playing field (or ice sheet). He is my go-to for any question I may have about fixing things, and he generally has an answer! He also engineered the best day of my life: my wedding day. The lesson learned during this event was the process of thinking through an entire day and formulating a solid plan, calmly and strategically. The quiet intensity Dad displays in the athletic environment relates to the real world. Thanks to his example, I'm able to communicate more professionally, and I'm able to think more objectively. When bad things happen, I have learned how to adjust and move forward appropriately.
Dad also taught me that perseverance is an option and adversity is not. I saw him live up to this phrase during IRONMAN Mont Tremblant in 2016, when it was pouring down rain during the bike. He said after the race that he cannot control the weather and he just knew he had to overcome the challenge. He also always said that hard work beats talent. My work ethic has increased tenfold with his motivation.
During each IRONMAN (and most all other races) I have gone to the start with Dad. That is something unique to us. I always say, “No SAG wagon!” as I zip up his wetsuit and he puts on his cap and goggles. Finally, I give him a fist bump as he goes to enter the water. I am his right-hand man during race day. I know his anticipated finish times for each discipline, and therefore I generally head our cheering squad. But not only do I start the race with him—I finish it with him, too. I normally try to find him a few miles from the finish line because I am too anxious to stand around and wait.
At Lake Placid, I found him at Mile 22. At Mont Tremblant it was mile 25. After I make sure he is OK and I know he will make it to the finish line, I go get his bike and gear bags and wait for him to meet me after he crosses the line. I never get to see him cross the line, but I hear his name called and I get the chills. I will never forget the joy in seeing Dad making his way towards me, but I will also never forget the support he desperately needed at that time. To see him overcome the mental and physical challenge of an IRONMAN means the world to me. It showcases his strength and it is an accomplishment few can fathom. I am so very proud when he completes each and every race.
Now we are training together for IRONMAN Lake Placid, 2019, and I love it. I love working each discipline. I love working out with Dad when I can. I love swapping training stories with him. We were close before I started racing, and now we are even closer. We live in two different states, so it is always a treat to come home and plan our training schedules. I see him as my coach and rely on him for workouts and for direction.
Lake Placid is a special place for both of us because we both fell in love with it the first time we went there. My dad coached at the U19 Select Hockey camp, and it was on that trip he decided he was going to race the IRONMAN there one day. He did race IRONMAN Lake Placid in 2015 (the year of the fire on Main Street). He finished the race, but not in the time he wanted. This upcoming race will be his sixth IRONMAN and my first. It is challenging to put into words what it will mean to us to complete this race in Lake Placid because it is so special. I keep thinking about seeing him out on the course and knowing that we are both suffering and pushing through the same challenge.
I have learned a lot about my dad in doing this sport—mainly how he acquired the Zen-like mindset and patient attitude with a silent competitive intensity that comes out during a race. Training takes patience, trust and rest. It takes patience with yourself and trust in your program.
I see that applied in “real life” as well. Dad has repeatedly shown me to not get flustered or frustrated but to take it in stride, such as in a race or on a training day when something does not go as planned. He’s also taught me there is a time and place for competitive nature: race day. In this sport, more than any other I have competed in, I have learned that it is personal. I do this for me and for my personal goals. I race for myself and to make myself feel proud of my own accomplishments.
Perhaps a more important note regarding why I tri and why I am thankful for my dad is because of the mental health benefits. Of course racing triathlons has plenty of physical benefits, but it can be argued that for some athletes, the mental benefits outweigh the physical. The mental strength needed for endurance racing is greater than the physical strength needed, and I have to thank my dad for aiding my mental strength. I have seen him ready to be done, wobbly and exhausted, but his mind is steady, and he can push onward. This type of mental strength takes practice to acquire and cannot be granted to everyone. Having the physical and mental capacity to be an endurance athlete is something I can thank my dad for because of the skills he instilled in me.
Triathlons have helped keep me in a much better mindset and give me goals to work toward. And this July, I plan to find my dad and finish the race with him, so I can see him cross the finish line.
Becca Napoli, 26, lives in Wooster, Ohio, and works at Ashland University as a Graduate Admissions Representative. Her undergraduate degree (Social Studies) is from Adrian College. Becca is currently pursing a Master of Education degree from Tiffin University. Before starting triathlon, Becca was a collegiate hockey player and made the switch to triathlon thanks to the influence of her dad.