Lyles: Why can’t leaders be more like triathletes?
By Dick Lyles
It is always fascinating to get a glimpse into one of the many subcultures people have created around the world. During this past month I’ve been exposed to a growing subculture that is both vibrant and fascinating. More than catching a glimpse, I was totally immersed on two separate occasions in an arena that reminded me that there are truly wondrous aspects of the human spirit we too easily forget if we focus only on the political problems of the day and those who create them.
Three weeks ago I attended the first-ever Lake Tahoe Ironman competition. It is arguably the toughest Ironman course in the world. Although the distances are the same as any other Ironman competition — a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride, and finishing with a 26-mile run — because of both the altitude and the mountainous terrain to run and bike through, it takes about an hour longer to complete than most courses.
The swim started at 6:30 a.m. after a couple of inches of snow had fallen in the surrounding mountains the previous night. While awaiting the start, most of the athletes stood in the 60-degree water because it was warmer than the 32-degree air temperature. When they finished the marathon nine to 10 hours later, the temperature was in the mid-70s with the afternoon sun beating down in full force. More than 2,000 participants started the race. Less than 1,600 finished.
Then this past weekend I went to Kona for the World Ironman Championships. The times were faster in an environment that was the opposite of Lake Tahoe. The temperature hovered in the mid-80s, with not even a wisp of a breeze, and the humidity hovered around 80 percent. We were there to watch the female professional race comprised of the top 37 women out of the 300 elite professionals from around the world. They earn the right to compete by winning points through placing among the top handful of competitors at various races throughout the year. Those competing at Kona are thus the top 10 percent of triathletes in the world. Eight of the 37 did not finish because the grueling conditions. Once again, of the more than 2,000 overall event participants from around the world, several hundred did not finish. And these were the best in the world at every level, having had to qualify to participate.
We were there because our daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Lyles, decided to pursue a career as a professional triathlete last year at age 34 after having two kids. Many pros have successful careers without ever winning a race. But during her first year she won her first ever pro-level competition in Wisconsin while setting the course record for the marathon. Later she won a half Ironman at Boise, and finished fifth in the European Ironman Championships in Frankfurt in July, where she was the top American finisher. At Lake Tahoe she was again the top American finisher, with a podium finish behind three Europeans. She finished 16th at Kona and was sixth among American women.
It has been both inspiring and informative watching Liz pursue her dreams in this arena. But it has been equally as exciting to see the thousands of devoted followers of triathlon who embrace an amazing work ethic, tremendous respect for themselves and others, and work hard to breathe life into their passion. Wouldn’t it be great if our elected representatives in Washington and Sacramento showed even a hint of this ethic, personal responsibility and respect for others?
Lyles, a Poway resident, is a business/management consultant and best-selling author. Reader comments are encouraged.
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