As I turn to breathe the low sun sparkles through the evergreen trees, turning the water to a prism in the palm of my hand. I can’t help but call this happiness.
It’s been about six weeks since my accident and I did my first open water swim in Donner Lake since—oddly—I was hit by a car not too far from where I swim. There’s hardly anyone in the lake tonight—just me and my teammate, Martine. No boats or jetskis to usher in the quiet end of day; just the sound of my breath, the rush of water and the quiet-loud of my thoughts.
It hasn’t been an easy six weeks but I wonder, in a way, if they have made me stronger. Or, not stronger, but filled with a new feeling of gratitude for the hours I’m able to put in and the ability I have to participate in these endurance events at all. Perhaps this is the softening that comes with age; an acceptance of the body and its specific limitations. Or perhaps I have learned, finally, the fine art of patience. Miracles are not immediate things in the world of endurance sports, but rather, the product of years of training and dedicated routine.
Years of moments like this: quiet swims, quiet rides, quiet runs; nothing really remarkable that I can point to and say to you, my reader, as if to indicate I am a champion. Instead, it’s a quiet belief (quiet like my heart—you can’t hear that, either—but I can certainly feel it) those dark track workouts at 4:45 am beneath the constellations that are turning toward an autumn sky (Orion, the warrior, returns in full view) around and around a track and not nearly as fast as the high school runners. But steady—again, like my beating heart—and the belief that I will cross many finish lines in the years to come.
The next finish line will be this weekend, Sunday, at Sugar Pine Point State Park on the West shore of Lake Tahoe in the Lake Tahoe Triathlon. It’s very much an impromptu race—an Olympic Distance Tri—but I just want to see where I am after all the changes that have happened in the past six weeks. My healed ribs, my running technique which was stripped down to its bare bones and rebuilt by my new coach, Matt Pendola of Pendola Training. My revised cycling form (no longer a masher am I; I actually pedal in circles now) and the swim, the sport I couldn’t do due to the pain in my ribs until two weeks ago—well, I know I have lost some of my speed. I just hope I haven’t lost all of it.
But it’s funny: in Donner Lake at dusk I don’t feel as though I have. And at no point does it occur to me to panic (something I used to do all the time in open water.) Instead, I feel at peace in my body as it cuts across the lake, knowing that I’ll get where I’m going.
The doubt that I’m unable to finish what I start isn’t something which haunts me much anymore. Instead, it’s been replaced by the quiet knowledge that I can.