“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
—Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own
Last Saturday, at 7:30 a.m., hundreds of ordinary people of all ages, shapes, and types got into Lake Hefner and started swimming in 3-foot waves whipped up by 15+ mph winds from the south. After the swim, they got on their bikes and rode either 56 or 112 miles in that same relentless wind. Finally, they ran the trail along the shore of the lake for either 13.1 or 26.2 miles, still battling the forces of nature and the fatigue that overcomes even the strongest athlete.
For the thirteenth year, I had the privilege of spending the entire day at or near the finish line of the Redman Triathlon in Oklahoma City. The fastest finishers in the half-distance race (70.3 miles total) started coming across the finish line after 4.5 hours. The full-distance athletes (140.6 miles total) began arriving at around 9 hours and continued to will themselves across the line until the last participant finished 17 hours and 47 minutes after he started.
Some people completed their first iron distance race to the cheers of friends and family. Other people completed their third, fourth, or umpteenth iron distance race. One woman turned 50 this year, and she is doing 50 iron distance events in one year. I talked to people in the medical tent who crashed their bike or got dehydrated or got sick and had their day cut short after months of training and preparation. I saw people at the finish line dance, kiss the ground, cry, throw up, pass out, carry their babies, hold their children’s hands—the range of emotions and actions were limitless. What they did was hard. It was supposed to be hard. The hard is what made it great.
The athletes weren’t the only ones doing hard things. The race committee and hundreds of volunteers had been working for months to prepare the event. In the days leading up to Saturday, they built a small city at the lake and made sure they had everything the athletes would need. Many of the core volunteers had been working there for several days, and on Saturday they started long before the athletes arrived and stayed until everyone safely finished.
Every person involved had a story about their personal “hard” that made the day great. Each story was unique, but they all had two things in common:
They were the result of intentionality.
They were created in community.
These people set out to do something. They prepared, trained, sacrificed, and worked hard. These stories didn’t happen by accident or luck; they were the result of individual choices to do something hard. They also had the support of friends, family, and hundreds of people on Saturday who didn’t even know them.
Life is like that.
You can choose to float through life without purpose and miss the truly great moments, or you can live a life that’s only possible when you make hard choices and do hard things. Things like choosing to love someone who is difficult to love, choosing to give time and energy to people and causes when you don’t have either to spare, or choosing to see the world from another person’s point of view.
You can also choose to do life alone, isolated, taking credit for your accomplishments, and carrying the shame of your failures. Or you can live connected to others, humbly accept their help and their support, and participate in and share life when it is fun and when it is hard (and often it is both).
We do great things at Kimray. We do hard things, and we do them together. I am proud of that. It makes me grateful in the same way I found myself grateful to be at the finish line Saturday. Thank you for allowing me to be there and for allowing me to be here.