My friend Jason can suffer better than anyone I know. It is actually a beautiful thing to witness. I observed him at Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico lose over seven minutes with a flat on the bike and proceed to run angry with a willingness to suffer completely on the run and, as a result, make up the time he lost and get back in the race. Being able to hurt at that next level is an art. Few are willing to take suffering to that next level.
I am a triathlete. I swim, bike, and run. I have friends and relatives that think I’m nuts. OK, there are those that think I should be committed because they think I can’t possibly be having fun. They see pictures of me on the course, steel determination in my eyes, sweat drenched, grimaced face and think I’m bonkers.
To them I am touched. Truth is, I’m having the time of my life. There are few times in my life when I am in complete control of my time and what I am doing. During a triathlon or race I am in complete harmony with my mind and body. Triathlon is that rare moment in time for me when I am at peace with my soul.
Most people that look at pictures of my races or that have seen me on the course remark that I look the same each time.
I have been described as a zombie. My fellow triathletes and runners usually remark to me after a race that they saw me on the course and tried to yell at me or get my attention to no avail. Simply put, triathlon or running enables me to retreat into “my zone”. In my zone I am focused on myself. It is my “selfish” time. There are moments during a race when you could transplant me in Africa and I wouldn’t know. I am simply focused at that moment on the narrow circle around me: “my zone”. In these moments, I am enjoying the “punishment”.
I had a coworker come up to me the other day while I was getting coffee and ask me why I put myself through it. Why the hours of training? Why the pain when I could most certainly be doing something “enjoyable”?
I could think of no answer that he would understand. For most, it doesn’t make sense that pain can be enjoyable. Most people cannot process that thought because most people are not willing to hurt to that next level for results.
My answer became something I thought was funny. Since I wanted to preempt more questions, I replied, “Yeah, I’m Irish and I’m Catholic, and as Catholics we believe we are all sinners. Because I am Irish and a sinner I simply think I deserve the punishment, so that’s why I do triathlon. It’s my penance”.
He walked away scratching his head. After he walked away I began to actually think about what I said and realized there was a lot of truth in my statement. OK, the obvious truth is that I AM Irish and yes, I AM Catholic. But I began to actually think about the penance. To get to that next level, whether in a triathlon or in life, you have to be willing to apply the penance of suffering. Pain is what we pay when we move to a new level. Suffering is what we spend to achieve a goal.
To put this into context, you must realize that growth involves pain. We are born, and through that process, there is pain. We live life, and through life’s experiences, we experience pain. Love, loss, divorce, disease, job loss, disappointment and eventually our own death; all of these involve pain. Pain exposes our weaknesses. It strips us bare. We build upon each of these experiences. They make us who we are. Through the application and willingness to absorb pain, we can become something new.
I once said pain becomes the life of a triathlete. It does not have to be a negative. In fact, since becoming a triathlete, I believe I have become a better person, friend, and husband. The pain has molded me into something new. I have learned to accept the pain — in triathlon and in life — and “enjoy” the suffering as a tool and opportunity for improvement.
I greatly admire the ability to suffer to achieve a goal. I know of no one that does it better than my friend Jason. I aspire to the beauty of suffering that he applies at each race. I am not there yet. I may never truly be there, but I am a work in progress.
Love Gently Live Justly Race Hard
Stephen Ruffin lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee with his wife Karen. They have two grown children. Stephen and his wife embrace the multi-sport lifestyle. Stephen is a Boston Marathon qualifier, Ironman, and All World Athlete. He is avid about the sport of triathlon and credits the sport with reclaiming his health. He is sponsored by TriBike Transport and competes on Team TBT.
He can be reached on his Linkedin page under: Steve Ruffin. Or you can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org