Dear Triathlon

By Ross Hartley | Feb. 14, 2019, 9 a.m. (ET)
Dear Triathlon,

For the last 13 years, we have been faithful friends. We’ve shared adventures all over, both good and bad. You have introduced me to some of my best friends and taught me cardinal life lessons. What started out as a challenge has now become a lifestyle.

I think it is best to start at the beginning as it is always easier to connect the dots looking backwards, not forward. My first triathlon memory comes from when I was just eight years old.  My dad was competing in a sprint triathlon, and I remember waking up early and playing on the beach as we cheered him on.  Later in the day, my family and I were watching the news and we saw my dad running as a part of the coverage of the race.  Another memory being my dad finishing training runs early on weekend mornings and being soaked with sweat and chasing me, my brother and mom around trying to give us a sweaty hug.

Fast forward eight years later, after swimming on a local summer league swim team and competing on the high school cross country team, I was primed to meet you. I had two role models who were actively involved in the sport of triathlon. With the help of my high school Health teacher, I joined the local YMCA and began doing swim workouts. My cross-country coach was also competing in triathlons and I remember stories of his races and being very intrigued. He even let me borrow his bike for my first race. With the help of these two men, I signed up for my first triathlon. I had a blast and have been hooked ever since!

I had great role models who introduced me to you, triathlon. I hope that I have lived up to the example that they set and am paying it forward to others.

What I enjoy and appreciate the most about you is that you are a great analogy for life. The habits and mindset it takes to be successful in triathlon are the same that are required for success in life. Three big life lessons that you have taught me are: humility, a life operating system, and the power of habits.

1.) Humility. Relishing in moments when I was firing on all cylinders, but also knowing that it's when I wasn't that I became stronger, kinder, wiser. You showed me that every mountain top has a valley on either side. The climbs out of the valleys were filled with it not working out as planned and falling on my face. These climbs were the best teachers of humility.  With these climbs came the lesson to not equate a delay of consequences with no consequences. Sometimes I trained really hard for a specific race and it went far from planned; but that preparation led to a great race down the road.

With this building of humility came an acquired self-confidence. You showed me that the best way to acquire self-confidence is to do exactly what you are afraid to do. Taking action leads to more actions. Opportunities multiply as they are chased. A lesson I learned by taking action.

Finally, I learned from you that there is always going to be someone somewhere better than me. Recognizing and embracing this fact to not compete against others, rather compete against the best version of myself. Focusing on training and racing the best race I was possible of because that’s all I can control. My best training with my best attitude with my best effort. The real goal in life being to be better than the person you were yesterday.

2.) Stoicism: A lesson, mindset, and life operating system you taught me. Stoicism is a philosophy that is best described as the Serenity Prayer in action. The ability to recognize and act (or not act) on those things one can (or cannot control). Again, another lesson learned from falling on my face in races, training, and life.

Part of this is an equation that rules life: Event + Response determines the Outcome. E+R=O. An event happens in our life and our response to it determines the outcome. We have no control over the event but what we do control is our response which then influences the outcome. That outcome then becomes the next event that we must respond to. This equation continually builds on itself so that it plays out in both the microscopic and macroscopic view of our lives to ultimately determine our success and happiness. The response piece, the R, represents what we can control in life- which are our effort, actions, and attitude. Every desired Outcome in life has a required Response. The bigger the desired Outcome, the more difficult and longer it will take to give the required Response.

3.) The Power of Habit. The key to being great at the big things is to be great at the little things. A great tomorrow is made by doing the small things great today. The best chocolate chip cookies are always made from the best ingredients.

Another word for these little things in life is habits. To do what others can’t, you must consistently and repeatedly do what others don’t. By daily doing things/acting exceptionally different than the majority, you thus make yourself extraordinary and in the minority. Consistently repeated, this purposeful extraordinary behavior creates the habit of excellence. Talent is a gift, Greatness is a choice.

You taught me to recognize and embrace the fact that one’s daily habits are completely under their own control. Getting really good at the little things leads to being really good at the big things. Small, consistent efforts that are on the edge of one’s current capabilities, purposefully planned, and well-paced over a long period of time give you the best chance for big and heroic outcomes.  Energy and persistence conquer all things.

And now looking ahead, I am excited to share how awesome you are, triathlon, with others as a USA Triathlon Ambassador and Coach. Who knows what the next 13 years will bring.