Last year, at a triathlon, I encountered a gal (JD ) who was struggling on the bike portion of an Olympic (Oly) distance. I chatted with JD, effectively talked her through the bike, and we finished the bike portion at about the same time.
During the run, it was the same: it was very hot and humid, and she was clearly dehydrated. I had plenty in the tank and could have steamrolled her, but–like the fictional would-be Naval Aviation Officer Candidate Zach Mayo–I “talked her over the wall”. At the end, JD decided to break into a sprint so she could finish ahead of me.
I thought it was tacky of her to do that, but I figured what the hey..if it makes her feel better, that’s her business. As for me, I’m man enough to enjoy a DFL*. MrsLarijani and I had a good laugh over it.
This year, JD did the Oly distance at the same tri. The conditions were better. This time, due to a schedule conflict, I opted for the Sprint distance and had a blast. It was my best triathlon execution to date.
This time, JD finished 3rd overall among the women. The kicker: her “official bike time” was better than any of the men. Her average pace was over 25 mph!
I know that course very well–it is very hilly, with a nasty half-mile climbout coming out of transition–and I know many of the athletes who did that race; some of whom are VERY elite athletes: we’re talking Boston Marathon finishers and potential qualifiers for the Ironman Word Championships in Kona.
I also know that JD is not a strong cyclist. And even if she trained very hard over the past year–and I KNOW she didn’t–there is no way in HELL she biked a 25 mph pace on that course. She couldn’t even pull that pace on a flat course such as Tri Louisville.
But that brings me to wonder: why on earth do people cheat in events like these? There was no prize money on the line. Other than some token recognition–there’s some bragging rights, but this was a small-ball event–what is there to gain? I can understand people cheating to get into the Boston Marathon, or Ironman Kona, or even fudging to get a finish that they did not earn at a large event.
But an obscure triathlon that is a fairly laid-back event where no money is on the line and people are generally training for other events?
Ultimately, JD will have to live with herself.
That day, I saw some bold people out there: several people doing their first triathlons. One gal–very obese–slogged her way through the swim, bike, and run. She was about 2 miles into her bike as I was finishing the bike. But, as I drove out after packing my gear–I saw her enjoying a casual jog into the turnaround on the run. I gave her a thumbs-up.
I don’t know her, but she has every reason to be proud of her finish.
There are analogs with the Christian life in this.
One of the things I often point out in endurance sports: you cannot afford to run someone else’s race. You are there to run YOUR race.
During this year’s race, there was a gal who passed me several times: we took turns passing each other. We did this throughout the bike and run. I wasn’t racing her; I was focused on my Garmin data and maintaining a pace I had planned. She was doing a run/walk ratio and was very methodical. She was clearly a better runner, and I suspected she was probably using me to pace her.
I didn’t care: I ran the race I trained for, and I got the finish I wanted. I would suspect she did, too.
The obese gal did the same: she was all smiles in that home stretch. She ran the race according to the rules. Sure, she was DFL, but an honest finish is a good finish. Her finisher medal counts as much as mine does.
JD, on the other hand, got some recognition out of this. But she did not play by the rules. At the end, her medal is meaningless, not even worthy for the trash.
Similarly, in the Christian life, we each have our own races. Some of us have more gifts than others, just as some athletes have better genetics than others. I have a bad back, bad lungs–from three bouts with pneumonia–and a torn rotator cuff. I accept that I am not going to be in the ranks of elite finishers any time soon. Some folks live this life with more gunning against them than others. Some inherit more baggage than others.
Your job isn’t to finish first; your job is to finish well. That you get to run that race is itself a grace from God; you didn’t earn it.
Your finish is also a product of God’s grace. Your calling is to be faithful and run that race according to the gifts you’ve been given.
Just as some athletes will cheat, you will also see “cheaters” in the Christian ranks. They are often hypocrites–they fashion an image that you see on Sunday and Wednesday, while they are completely different persons in private.
But make no mistake: as the Bible says, their sins will find them out. (I often frame it this way: your character will eventually catch up with you.)
The same is true with athletes who cheat. Just ask Lance Armstrong. Just as you can have your awards rescinded–in Lance’s case, years after collecting on the prestige and monies–you can be “disqualified” on judgment day.
I would suspect that, in the final judgment, there will be a mother lode of surprises: some of them pleasant, and others not so much.
*DFL: in the word of endurance sports, this stands for Dead Flippin’ Last. (Well, that’s the clean version.) It’s often a badge of honor in triathlon and other endurance sports, as a last-place finish is better than a DNF (Did Not Finish).