If ever you're in need of a little inspiration or feel that you need to cry, watch the Kona World Ironman Championships. Strange how watching people suffer physical agony for 8 - 17 hours can be either inspiring or tear-jerking, but baby, let me tell you, it is. Is it ever!
There are people who do these things professionally. It's their job. Imagine, swimming 3.86 km (in the ocean, with a thousand other people), biking 180.25 km, and then running 42 km - all in a row, no rest breaks, no time outs - through lava fields, under the Hawaiian sun, in strong Hawaiian breezes. Imagine doing that by choice. Of your own free will. And imagine going back to do it again next year.
Those are the pros. They have the equipment, the coaches, the teams, the sponsors behind them. They undertake these events many times in a year, and spend the rest of their time planning, preparing and training for the next one. They struggle, they suffer disappointments, have wonderful come-backs, or exciting back-to-back wins, or break impossible records of speed and endurance. Their stories are wonderful, and they certainly are inspiring.
Behind the pros come the 'age groupers'. These are 'regular' people with ordinary jobs. The reasons for going to Hawaii for the Ironman are as numerous as the entrants. Some do it because they enjoy it. Some do it for a loved one suffering with ALS or cancer or are serving a tour or of duty overseas. Some do it to prove that being blind or an amputee or a paraplegic is no reason not to do it. They may be the owner of a sports team, a naval officer, a cancer survivor, or a Catholic nun. They might be 76 years old, and here for the 17th time, or a 47 year-old couch potato who decided to change his life, here for the first time. Some stride confidently over the finish line in the middle of the pack. Some stumble in, barely conscious as daylight fades and the pack thins to a trickle. Some barely make it with only minutes to spare before the 17 hour cut-off. Some have trained at home to qualify to Kona, travel to Hawaii with all their gear and family, endure the frenzy of the starting gun, and then fail to make the swim or bike time limit, their dreams of Ironman ended too early.
Every person, whether they cross the finish line or not, is enthusiastically encouraged by the fans, the organizers, volunteers, and the other entrants. Even the serious competitors - the pros - give a word of encouragement to a rival as they pass each other, or go so far as to lend a piece of equipment when needed.
There are stories like the woman who suffered a stroke two years ago, and had to learn to walk all over again. There she was, proving to herself that she was alive and well. There was a serviceman who'd lost his leg while on duty, and decided that though he couldn't play rugby anymore, there must be something he could do, and decided to try this. A young man who's survived childhood cancer, and was also a heart transplant patient, was also there. He missed the swim deadline by 7 seconds. And the young man who'd had both legs amputated as a child because of multiple birth defects and was a gold medal Special Olympian, didn't complete the biking portion in time. Both had every reason to be proud of themselves - they'd had the gumption to take on Kona and brought everything they had on the day.
So many moving stories come out of Kona every year. If you ever have the chance to watch it, do yourself a favour: take the time, bring some kleenex, and prepare to be inspired.