By the Desire to Achieve

I recently heard a quote from the always controversial Ayn Rand that reads, “A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.”  

I rolled this statement over in my mind for a moment. Having spent so much time at racing events lately, I have seen plenty of creative people motivated by the desire to beat others.  So I wasn’t totally convinced.

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Last weekend we sponsored our first ever triathlon with Leon’s “World’s Fastest” Triathlon in Hammond, IN.  I had never really understood the allure of a triathlon.  You wake up early to swim in usually cold, crowded water; then you peel off the wetsuit that has inconveniently suctioned itself to your body in order to hop on a bike for a chilling bike ride; then you take your now jellowy legs to the road for a lung-wrenching run?  It’s all very impressive, but I have to say, I could think of more enjoyable ways to spend my day!

Sunday began with the buzz of nervous excitement as a chilling cold front swept through the gray morning.  Across the arena, the multitudes of sleek-bodied wetsuits chatted as they went about their preparatory rituals.

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A hush fell over the crowd with the unfurling of a giant American flag, and two dozen competitors rushed in to cling reverently to its edges.  A pure voice rang out, “Oh say can you see…” and the crowd was still.

The calm before the storm.

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As the ceremony drew to a close, they all donned fluorescent swim caps and arranged themselves according to color, lining the docks of Wolf Lake.  When they entered the water, group by group, they looked like brigades entering  battle. I shivered as I watched them go.

While they were gone I whipped up a tasty breakfast burrito and ate it. I chatted with a few people about the weather and asked them who they were here cheering on. I spent some time at transition to snap photos of people as they rushed in and out, trading in wetsuits for bicycles, bicycles for running shoes, each time looking a bit more exhausted than before.

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And then I waited, marveling at the fact that those competitors who had left the dock a couple hours ago were still out there hustling.  The crowd gathered around the finish line when word traveled that the winner was near.

He approached the finish line at a sprint, and as he crossed over it to a reception of cheering spectators and reporters, his chest heaved in accomplishment.  

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More runners followed him across the threshold, and with each new arrival, another series of handshakes and hands clapping on backs and congratulatory hugs.  

With each runner to join the crowd on the other side, the fervor in the winner’s circle grew to almost spiritual proportions.  In relief and joy they heaved a collective exaltation.  Caught up in the energy, the warmth, the epic, palpable feeling of achievement, I felt almost, dare I say, jealous?

Here, in a competition against self–against one’s own limits–was the very spirit of achievement.  Every triathlete’s face glowed with it, whether they were first, or 800th, because they had battled. They had finished the race.

I wasn’t surprised then, when the very last person to finish the race, arriving hours after the winner, came across smiling, greeted by a roar of cheering.  

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