South DakotaAlthough James is getting stronger in some regards, the enormous challenges that he is faced with each day continues to be a struggle. He has learned to focus on the task immediately before him, and not allow himself to think about anything beyond that. He has also learned that his crew is fully invested in helping him carry out the incredible feat. Still, James knows that the job is up to him. It is he who must swim every stroke, pedal every inch of the bike course, and muscle through every step of the marathon. But, at the same time, he has learned to trust those around him, and rely on the support that they are able to give.
With his Wingmen beside him, James looked at the water. He focused on the 2.4 mile swim, and mentally prepared for the familiar, excruciating pain that he knew would shoot through his right shoulder as soon as he began. He had already made up his mind to accomplish the task. He knew that he would finish it. But still, he dreaded the inevitable pain that comes each morning as he takes the plunge into the cold water -his half conscious body slowly awakening as he begins to move his aching arms and kick his tattered feet.
As the swim dragged on this morning, Casey and Aaron came to the rescue once again with an attempt to put a lighthearted spirit into the monotonous and painful aquatic feat. With the use of bungee cords and duck tape, the Wingmen attached homemade cardboard shark fins to their backs and began to swim next to James. The idea was genius, but the wilting effect of the water on the cardboard wreaked havoc on the would-be reenactment of Jaws. Instead of strong, erect dorsal fins cutting a sharp path through the water, Casey and Aaron were left with flaccid fins that resembled a scene from Free Willy – the domesticated Orca swimming with a limp dorsal fin that had arched over, rather than with a tall, strait fin like that of his wild companions.
Not only was the water an issue, but the functional component of the task proved difficult as well – Casey and Aaron attempting to swim through the water while simultaneously doing their best to hold the limp fin erect on their backs with one hand. Perhaps it was all for the best. Had they been successful it might have been too much for James , given the recent scare off of the waters of South Africa between a Great White and Professional surfer Mick Fanning. It would be a shame if in the end it was a shark-induced panic attack in an indoor swimming facility that knocked the Iron Cowboy off course.
The wind began to pick up as James transitioned from the swim onto the bike. A small group of cyclists met up and escorted him out onto a long out and back bike path. The course carved through corn fields, skirted a small brown river, and passed by a golf course and a state penitentiary. Within a couple of hours, the bike escort was fried – the beating sun and the strongest winds yet had left all but a few incapable of pulling the Iron Cowboy along at as fast a pace as he would prefer. It wasn’t their fault, it was simply a numbers game.An effective peloton is a group effort. It was never designed to be a solo feat. The strength is found in each member of the group doing everything they can to contribute to the group. It is the reason that every year, birds are able to undertake unbelievable feats of endurance, as they migrate as a group thousands of miles across the world. It wouldn’t be possible if they attempted the task on their own – the challenge is simply too great. Without everyone working together in the group, migration would be impossible. Faced with that scenario of too few birds to make up a migration team, there would be two options: adapt, or die.
The state of Hawaii is home to the rarest goose in the entire world. The Nene or Hawaiian goose descended from a small group of Canadian geese who lost their way during migration some 500,000 years ago and miraculously landed on one of the small islands. (A doubtful claim when you consider that the world is only 6000 years old) It is believed that the numbers of the small flock were too small to resume flight and successfully make it to their intended destination. It would take the work of an entire flock to successfully carry out that incredible transpacific journey. Lacking the collective strength of a complete team, the Geese had no other option than to stay where they landed.
Over the years their small gene pool has caused them to develop slightly different characteristics than their Canadian predecessors. For example, rather than say things like “Sooory” and “Abooot”, the Geese now speak a form of Hawaiin Pidgin, referring to one another as Brah, greeting one another with “Howzit?” and describing things with adjectives such as “gnarly”, “heavy”, “epic”, and “Brah! All time!” At least that’s what evolutionary biologists claim. Maybe the geese were smarter than we give them credit for. Maybe they either intentionally left their Canadian home and flew to the tropical paradise, or they really did find it by accident and realized they were on to something good. Why migrate? Why eat grass and bugs when you can grind on Spam Musubi and Loko Mokos?
Incapable of transpacific migration? Nah, I think the birds knew what they were doing all along.
The point though, is that a large group working together is capable of so much more than the same number of individuals working independently. Without the best efforts of everyone involved, the progress is halted and the task is grounded. It doesn’t mean that everyone has the same capabilities; it simply means that everyone contributes what they can. That is the beauty of the peloton, or the migrating flock. Each bird or cyclist takes his turn up front – fighting through the wind, and creating a slip stream for those who follow behind. The effort of the leader decreases the energy output of the followers by as much as 30%. When the leader is no longer able to maintain the necessary pace, he simply drops to the back of the pack and rests in the slip stream of the others until it is once again his turn to pull into the wind. The collective effort allows the entire group to travel faster and more efficient than if they were each working on their own.
Such was the struggle with the South Dakota bike leg. The howling wind and the strong sun, in combination with the small group, left the cyclists spent. Within a few hours, it was they who were hoping to fall into the slip stream of James. I joined the group in the early afternoon and worked together with a couple other strong cyclists to punch a hole in the wind so that James could cover the distance but still conserve as much energy as possible for the run.
As we approached the 85 mile mark, James hit an unexpected bump in the bike path. His face grimaced as the force of the jolt sent a pounding blow to the tender region of his Netherlands. “Errr….” he snarled trying his best to stay upright, while momentarily lifting his strangled manhood – smothered under the compressive grip of his cycling bibs – off of the two small shafts of his bike seat. This particular saddle model was designed to allow blood flow into the vital male parts by allowing the rider’s gentlemen to rest on the edge of what resembles a tuning fork, rather than be split down the middle as with traditional bike seats. Although the design seemed to theoretically provide a bit of relief, in actuality, the trauma of using your Netherlands to support your entire body weight for 8 hours at a time, over the course of 7 weeks was more than James liked to think about. The lack of feeling in James’s saddle region has been the topic of conversation during many of the long bike rides over the last couple of weeks. “I seriously can’t feel anything down there.” James told me on one such occasion. “No seriously,” he continued, “I flicked it as hard as I could last time I stopped to pee and I didn’t feel a thing. Do you think that’s bad?” “Um…” I muttered, trying to imagine that what must feel like – or not feel like – but not quite knowing how to respond. “What am I going to do when this is all over?” James would invariably ask. After much discussion, James decided that he would seek a sponsored with Cialis and become rich from the commercial they would produce. It would feature highlight footage of the Iron Cowboy during the 50 day event, followed by images of James moping around aimlessly at the completion of the grueling feat. The narrator would read the final statement. “Cialis”, he would say in an overdramatic Hollywood voice, “After 50 Iroman distance triathlons, in 50 days in 50 states, we converted James Lawrence from ‘reverse cowgirl’, back into the Iron Cowboy.” Finally it would cut to a view of James in a bathtub overlooking the Salt Lake Valley, fading out of focus as the potential side effects were read at lightning speed.
I thought about the potential repercussions of the chronic blood deprivation as we rode along and wondered how it was affecting my own ‘gentlemen’ per se. I mean, I know I haven’t been on the bike nearly as much as James in the last few weeks, but I have ridden quite a bit. I stood off of the saddle for a moment and did the best I could adjust my undercarriage – swaying my hips back and forth as if that would somehow return blood flow to the sensitive, deprived areas. James must have noticed, as out of nowhere he asked, “Does your butt hurt?” a look of humor on his face. “Yeah a little bit,” I lied. It actually hurt like crazy, but I didn’t dare complain in the midst of what James was dealing with. I should have said it didn’t hurt at all, as James countered back with a sarcastic look and said, “Yeah, I bet it’s really killing you huh?” “Yeah.” I said with a laugh. “Man,” he started, “You have no idea. My freaking testicals look like two armadillos rolled up in their shells.” I laughed as I turned and glanced at the corn field beside us. I pictured the image, grimacing myself as I envisioned two round spheres, covered in thick scaly armor, bracing themselves for the torturous battering that promised to assault them.
See, the advantage of being a human being is that we have the ability to adapt physiologically in response to stresses. At the same time, the problem with being a human being is that we have the ability to adapt physiologically in response to stresses. Calluses on our hands and feet provide welcome protection from the stress and strain that caused them. Calluses on other areas of our bodies…Well that’s another scenario altogether.
I stared into the wind and continued to ride at the pace James had instructed. As we reached a chewed-up piece of asphalt I pointed it out to James, but he wasn’t able to react in time. He hit the patch at full speed, the force of the bumps sending the same familiar agonizing jolt up through his saddle and into his body. “Sorry about that man.” I said, looking over my shoulder at James – a feeling of shame entering into my chest as I acknowledged the failure on my part. “It’s ok.” He responded. “Just a beating on my two biggest haters.” he continued, nonchalantly. “Your balls?” I asked, wondering why he would call them his haters. “No, not my balls.” He responded back, “My hemorrhoids.” I have two right now. I named them ******* and ******* after my two biggest haters – the two people who have been talking the most crap about me since this whole thing began.” I looked over at his playful but truthful eyes, and tried not crash from laughter as I realized he was dead serious. He looked back at me and continued, “Now when I hit a bad bump or crack in the road, I just see it as a way to punish my haters for the crap they talk”. He then bunny hopped 5 or 6 times in a row, lifting both tires off of the ground and smashing his crotch onto his seat with each impact. “Bam! Take that suckas!” he said with each jolting impact. “It’s not so bad when I think of it that way.” he said with a playful, yet painful, weary smile.
We finished the 112 miles on the bike and made it back to the transition. James sat in the grass as he ate his pre-race meal. After a bit of recovery and a change of clothes, we hit the same exact bike path but this time wearing running shoes. The run escort was almost nonexistent, so Lucy and Lily, James’ two oldest daughters joined on their bikes – a request from their tired dad as he could use the company to get him through the rest of long, tough day. Within the first hundred meters of the run, James stopped and adjusted his shorts and compression tights half a dozen times. Finally I asked, “You ok man?” “No.” he responded, “My whole body itches like crazy.” I bent down and looked closely at his legs. There was a thick red rash starting at his calves, turning into big bumpy hives as it climbed up his thighs, all the way up to his lower back. He pulled back his shorts to reveal a broad patch of small dark red dots just below his waist line. I looked at the hives and wondered what had caused them. My thoughts quickly downward spiraled from mild food allergy, to heat rash, to a skin response to an endocrine imbalance, to a full blown allergic reaction resulting in anaphylactic shock and a dead Iron Cowboy. I kept my thoughts to myself, but said, “It looks like you’re having a bit of an allergic reaction. Why don’t we make a couple of small little loops around the park and see how it goes?” James went along with it. At this point he basically does whatever his escort tells him, not having the energy to disagree or argue unless is something he is completely opposed to. We kept running and I made a quick phone call to one of the crew members, asking that they pick up a bottle of Benadryl – hoping it wouldn’t be necessary, but good to have on hand in the event that his immune system decided to wage war on it’s host and invite Jame’s respiratory system to the party as well.
The itching continued as we finished the first loop, so we headed towards the motor home and found a bottle of anti-itch cream – something James had saved from the days in New England, purchased in the event that he or any one of the crew decided to wipe with the inviting 3 leafed poison ivy plants.
James stood in the doorway of the motor home, obstructed from view, as I grabbed the tube of cream and squeezed a large portion into my hand. Aaron and Casey looked on, doing their best to block the gaze of any unsuspected onlooker. James looked up in no particular direction, as if using every ounce of energy he could muster to not crumble into an all out nervous breakdown. All of the accumulative fatigue from the previous 6 weeks and now this – a full marathon yet to run, racked by the overwhelming urge to rip the itchy, welted skin off of his entire body. James took long focused breaths as he dropped his running shorts around his knees and I proceeded to rub anti-itch cream from his lower back southward, all the way to the backs of his thighs. In my mind it was no different than putting diaper cream on a baby – definitely not the highlight of my day, but at times a necessary responsibility. In an instant the awkward mood was broken as a woman appeared from behind the side of the motor home and peered around the door, her eyes slowly registering the scene before her, but not before the message she had sent from her brain had exited her mouth. “Is this the sign up for the Junior football league?” she asked. Casey and Aaron’s eyes jumped up and met those of the startled woman. I craned my head around, trying to make sense of what I had just heard, still rubbing anti-itch cream all over Jame’s butt – his shorts still around his knees. The woman’s question lingered in the silent air. James didn’t even react. Casey and Aaron stood there motionless for an instant. I froze as well, my hands still rubbing the cream. Finally, Casey broke the silence to the woman’s question, with a matter-of-fact answer, “Yes ma’am.”
It turned out that while sitting in the grass eating dinner, James had been bitten by a bunch of Chiggers – a type of Mite from the family Trombiculidae. The anti-itch rub down seemed to do the trick, and within a couple of miles, the itching had stopped and the Iron Cowboy was moving along at a good pace, still escorted by his two eldest daughters.They enjoyed the time riding beside their superhero father, with the exception of one brief moment…
Just as James was finishing up his 12th mile, a huge burst of gas emerged from his backside, promising death and destruction upon any and all within its reach. At that very moment, both Lily and Lucy happen to be riding directly within the wake. James had made no reaction, nor did he think about the repercussions of the noxious fumes, until an instant later when we heard a loud crashing noise. We turned around to find that both girls had crashed their bikes and lay laughing in the tall grass on the side of the path. The crash was likely unrelated to the flatulence of the Iron Cowboy, but the sequence of events made it hard to stay upright as laughter seemed to infect everyone who had witnessed the event.
A large group showed up for the 5k and many stuck around for the rest of the Marathon. It was a huge help to the tired cowboy after a hard, lonely day. As easy as James makes this look, day in and day out, the struggle is still real. It is said that every superhero needs a villain, and although the Iron Cowboy may appear to some to be a superhero, he is only human. He doesn’t need any villains, what he needs is support and encouragement. He has committed to reaching this seemingly impossible goal, and although I sincerely believe he could still accomplish the task with only the support of his family and crew, it is still much easier with the help of the hundreds and thousands who have shown up along the way and do what they can to keep the Cowboy moving down the long, unforgiving path.
We are no different than James -we need one another. Just like a peloton, or a flock of migrating birds, we can accomplish so much more if we help each other along this path we call life. It doesn’t matter who is the strongest or who is the weakest. What is important is that we all do as much as we can. If all of us do what is within our reach, collectively that will be enough. We are in this together. So help one another. Encourage others. Help them to believe in themselves. That is called building faith. That is what angels do. Angels build up others and help them to see their potential. They find strengths in others and point it out. They sincerely complement the virtuous and noble and beautiful attributes they see in others. Demons do the opposite. They destroy faith. They make people doubt their abilities. They highlight deficiencies and exploit weaknesses. They focus on the ugly, and the weak and weary.
Be an angel to someone, not a demon.
There are already too many demons because it so easy to be one. It only brings about ruin, sadness, doubt and destruction. It makes someone’s already difficult task, more difficult. Don’t do it anymore. Stop talking crap about people. It hurts. It makes them feel bad. It makes them doubt themselves and it makes them doubt others. We’re all susceptible to that kind of pain, even Iron Cowboys. It doesn’t help anything or anybody. It doesn’t make you stronger, it only shows that you are weak. It will bring about nothing good. All you will get out of it in the end is a hollow empty feeling, and possibly a hemorrhoid named after you. So stop. Just be nice instead.