I can remember the day as if it were yesterday. It was an extremely rainy Sunday on the May-long weekend back in 2002. It was my first-ever bike ride of the Ironman loop down in Penticton, while training for my first Ironman, taking place in August of that year.
I was nervous. Scared. Unsure. And completely filled with anxiety.
These are some of the same feelings I’ve been feeling over the past several weeks since the whole global crisis began. And, like you and all of humanity, as we navigate our way through the terrain of this very visceral experience, it’s important to remember that this is unchartered territory for all of us and it is completely expected to be feeling the way we are – whatever that may be.
I have good days and bad days – filled with moments of motivation, enthusiasm and inspiration, only to be followed with feelings of loneliness, doubt and an inner voice that’s hollering through the megaphone in my mind, “What the heck am I going to do now?”. I’m not sure what life’s been like for you but most likely, it’s been a bit of a bumpy ride.
Through the past weeks, I’ve been thinking about how I got through other challenges in my life. We’ve all had our fair share of struggle and I took some time to journal about how I tip-toed or trudged through some of the most difficult moments, experiences and seasons of my past. And one thing became very clear to me.
Finding inspiration in some form or other has been the way (the only way) I have gotten through nearly every challenge or obstacle in my life.
Inspiration has come to me in many forms – sometimes it’s through conversations with my family and friends. Other times it’s been through creating a more vivid vision, purpose or depth of meaning that I’ve been able to endure difficulties. Often, I search for words that move or inspire me. And other times, I think about what a particular challenge could make of me – what I could learn from and through the experience of overcoming it. And occasionally, I grit my teeth, dig deep and muscle through what ever it is that’s holding me back.
But on this day, way back in 2002, in the coldest, rainiest, most horrible bike ride I have ever been on (and it remains the most horrible ride to this day – nearly 20 years later and thousands of kilometres of riding), I found inspiration in watching the endless river of rain drops as they fell from the brim of my bike helmet in front of my eyes.
I began watching the weather forecast days ahead, in preparation for this epic bike ride. It was to be the very first time I would bike the Ironman loop (minus the out/back portion). The total distance was about 150km, from Penticton around to Oliver, then Osoyoos, through Keremeos and back to Penticton. The forecast was for rain. Lots of rain! The temperatures were horribly cold. I secretly hoped the ride would be cancelled for this ‘first ride of the season’ for people training for the Ironman.
Unfortunately, my hopes were not realized. The ride was still ‘a go’ and about 20 riders along with a local bike shop’s support van all drove down to Penticton for an 8:00am roll out. The rain continued to fall and everyone remained in their vehicles – and if they were like me, they were secretly still hoping for the ride to be called off and we’d just all go for coffee and a muffin somewhere!
To my dismay, this did not happen. Slowly, people began to emerge from their vehicles, with rain jackets on, getting their bikes off their car racks and getting ready to ride.
I was beyond horrified. Horrified! Being new to the sport of triathlon, I was completely shocked that anyone would even consider riding 1 km in this weather, let alone 150km that could take more than 6 hours! But they were all getting out of their cars – looking cold and wet before the ride had even begun. The last thing I wanted to do was join them, but the fear of embarrassment was greater than my fear of the cold, wet weather so I, too, found myself suiting up.
It had been quite an experience for me – signing up for the Ironman the previous August after only completing one triathlon in my life – the 2001 Apple Triathlon in Kelowna. It was a secret dream for me to complete the Ironman and upon telling a friend about my well-guarded secret dream the previous summer, he convinced me to do the Apple as a start.
Completely unaware that my life would be forever changed from that point onward, I finished the Apple Triathlon almost DEAD LAST in 362nd position…out of 374 athletes…12th last. It didn’t much matter to me that I was practically the last person to finish the race; what mattered was that I was IN it. By the end of the race, I forgot that I was the very last person out of the swim and had been escorted by a kayaker the entire way around the swim course who stayed literally 2 feet from me the entire time. (Do you know why the kayakers are there? Hmmm…yeah. Well, you are smarter than me. I had no idea. Sometimes, naivety is bliss!)
Finishing the apple triathlon was a highlight for me but what followed were months of self-doubt, fear and anxiety. I signed up for the 2002 Ironman and began training. I joined a swim group, triathlon training group and found a coach. Most people were very encouraging but a few were skeptical of my lofty goal. Some people spend years training for the Ironman. And with good reason. But I was compelled to give it my best and go all-in with just one year to get ready! My self-doubt ate away at me the entire winter though. I dreaded going to the weekly swim group’s training sessions and there were times that I would drive to the pool and try to coax myself into the facility, only to remain in my car and drive right back home because I was too insecure to face my fears (not of the water but the feeling of not being good enough). And my insecurity completely got the better of me as I pedalled my way through the indoor bike training sessions (with my front tire propped up on a phone book b/c I didn’t have the snazzy plastic wheel lift that everyone else had). Yes – to say that my anxiety level was very high as the May long-weekend ride approached would be a gross understatement.
With the rain pouring down that day, I got on my bike anyway. Following the other cyclists. Feeling scared and overwhelmed. I would not be driving in that rain, let alone cycling. If the other riders were feeling daunted, they hid it well. We slowly rolled out with the van leap-frogging the group of cyclists. I was at the back – where I belonged. The first hour was awful. But once you’re wet, you’re wet…and you can’t really get more wet than that. Or so I thought. The second hour, up to Osoyoos, was not too bad but the third hour – mostly comprised of the huge climb up Richter Pass and into the rolling hills towards Keremeos was horrid. I had been crying most of the way up Richter Pass. The rain was relentless, as were my tears. The rain drops mixed with my tears on my cheeks and I was so cold that my hands felt frozen as they clenched the handlebars. I could no longer feel my feet at all. As I made it to the top of Richter Pass, the van leap-frogged ahead and back. I noticed some fog inside the van on the windows. The windows were getting steamed up from cyclists ending their ride early and hopping in the vehicle. The thought of quitting was on my mind and joining the people in the van was pulling at me more than I could take.
But something happened as I tilted my head down and began the descent from the top of Richter Pass and a river of rain drops fell in front of my eyes from my helmet like a waterfall. My eyes were looking through the river of rain drops falling in front of my face and to this day, I still don’t know why but watching the rain fall like a little waterfall from my helmet kept me from stopping. It was captivating. I began to see something in in front of me – and within me.
It was there that I found inspiration.
Actually, I’m not sure if I found inspiration or if it found me but either way, I was mesmerized. Captivated. And inspired.
It could have also been hyperthermia setting in, too. I’m not really sure.
All the way down the back side of Richter Pass and into Keremeos, I watched the rain fall in front of my eyes. Occasionally noticing that I was either passing the van or it was passing me, looking more and more full with riders and fogged up windows. And another hour went by.
As I pedalled through Keremeos, I saw the van and noticed that it looked completely full. I realized that there was likely no room left, if I quit (and for the record, I still wanted to). So I simply kept going. All the way up the mountain to Yellow Lake. And at the top, I noticed that the rain had begun to lessen. The roads were slick with rivers of water beneath my wheels but the waterfall of rain was no longer streaming down from my helmet.
For the next hour, I held on to my brakes for dear life and made my way back to Penticton. It was down hill most of the way and I was feeling stronger than I had the whole ride. Heck, I was feeling stronger than I had in the past 6 months.
Something happened out there in the rain that day. I found myself. What I was capable of. And what happens when we find inspiration or it finds us.
Perhaps the same thing can happen for us now….if continue to suit-up (with masks, gloves and antibac) and put our head down and keep pedalling through this current crisis. Rather than the river of rain falling from a bike helmet to captivate us, maybe it’s in the solitude of isolation or spending time sequestered with your family or bread making or gardening or slower pace of life or absence of ‘busy’ that waters the seeds of inspiration in our lives.
Whatever it is, we can find inspiration here. It will find us.
We just have to keep pedalling and stay on our bikes! I’m not sure how long this ride will last but getting into the van isn’t an option b/c there is no van here. We’ve just got to keep pedalling.
Riding back into Penticton, I remember the sound of the water whizzing and making a splash as my tires rolled through the water along the shoulder of the road. I remember not being able to feel my hands or feet. And I also remember crying – only these tears were tears of relief. Tears of letting go. Tears of joy.
The van rolled past one last time, honked it’s horn and headed for the parking lot. I remember reaching the parking lot and the van was there with people piling out of it. The few riders left on the road had also reached the parking lot ahead of me. I was the last rider out there to complete the ride that day. Some of the riders came over to me as I unclasped my frozen hands from the handle bars and began loading my bike into my car. One cyclist simply put their hand on my shoulder and gave it a pat. Another said it was the most challenging ride he had ever been on. Another rider who had come from inside the van came over and said that I was the only girl to complete the ride that day. As he walked away I heard him say, “She’s got balls.”
While I don’t have balls in the literal sense, I am certain that I began to stand taller that day.
I took off some of my wet clothes and got into my car. It was only there, safely alone, that the tears really began to fall. The somatic experience of relief and letting go of all the anxiety, fear, self-doubt and shame of not feeling good enough fell from me like the rain drops had been falling all day. This is what can happen when we find inspiration. Or it finds us. Anything and everything become possible.
Inspiration can carry us. I know it certainly carried me then and often does in my life, to this day and every day.
What is inspiration, really? Maybe it is an internal drive, motivation or state of being. Or maybe inspiration is God. Or a form of higher power. Inspiration is definitely something that fuels us when our fire flickers and begins to fade out. Whatever it is, we’ve just got to stay on our bikes. It might be raining right now in some aspects of our lives, and our hands, feet and even our spirit might be feeling frozen, but the sun is going to come out eventually and we’re going to find ourselves through the rain storm, emerging to new growth, strength, possibility and opportunity.
Another thing that helps me find inspiration are words. So much so that I have made these inspiring necklaces and bracelets. I’m often wearing a few at a time – not only because the words speak to me but because the sound that they make when they touch on my wrist or hang on my neck – the clink-clink sound is like a spark that inspires me, fuels me, reminding me to keep pedalling…and that inspiration may be hiding just around the next corner.
As we continue to experience the effects of this global crisis, it is my humble hope that you find inspiration, or it finds you, in likely or unlikely places. We are all in this together and together, we will get through this! And beyond ‘this’ is more possibility and opportunity than we can imagine or see right now. But it is there and, one day soon, we will celebrate together! So, just hold on. Just a little longer.
The photo above was taken during the bike portion of my first Ironman in Penticton, 2002. This photo was taken in my 11th Ironman in Hawaii. Sunny days are ahead – we just have to stay on our bikes and we’ll find our way there!
PS: On that rainy day years ago, I did not get into the van but no doubt about it, there have been many (MANY) times in my life, races and otherwise, where I have pulled over, gotten off my bike, sat in a heap alongside the road and waited for help, a ride and even, to be carried, when I just couldn’t make it on my own. There is no shame in riding in the van or on your bike. What matters is that we simply show up in our lives, shivering and scared, and get from the sidelines (or staying in my car) to the start line and INTO the races that only our secret dreams know of. Trust me – Inspiration is waiting for us there!
Crystal Flaman is an international keynote speaker and social entrepreneur, inspiring you to discover your dreams and the difference you can create in the world. Anything is possible. Everything is possible. Believe in your dreams. Do what you love and be fearlessly you.
If you would like to learn more information about this topic or to have Crystal share this message with your team, (on a virtual basis during the current global situation) please contact Crystal. Thank you.