Sarah Groff races with love, gratitude

Nils Nilsen

Olympic triathlete Sarah Groff wishes every athlete -- regardless of level -- a sense of fulfillment at the finish line.

"Sarah, you said that before the last race, too, but this is not about fun," said Anja, my German friend and fellow triathlete. She wasn't kidding -- in fact, the tone of her voice said quite the opposite. I had just told her to have fun, mere moments before our race started in Madrid, and she wasn't impressed.

In some ways, I suppose she was right. Most people wouldn't consider the next two hours fun -- not close to it. Ahead of us stood a swim so physical it would make a UFC fighter cringe, a leg-burning bike ride with a huge hill and a high risk of crashing, and finally, a 10-kilometer run in which seeing white spots and wanting to collapse at the finish line is not uncommon. Not exactly on par with a couple of hours at the amusement park or a relaxing stroll on the beach.

While "have fun" was probably not the most accurate words of encouragement I could offer my fellow competitors, the traditional "good luck" message would fall short as well.

Luck is a component of our racing, and I certainly don't want to see anyone's race end because of something outside their control, like a flat tire or a bike crash (which do happen). But luck doesn't take into account all the physical and mental elements of our performances that are well within our control. Luck has nothing to do with how hard we push ourselves when we start to hurt, how we take risks when we try to win, or with how we handle the unexpected because there are always surprises out there.

Although it's more complicated, and it took me months to verbalize it, this is what I meant to say to Anja and the other competitors that day in Spain: "May you have a race that gives you some sort of fulfillment." That says it better.

We all have different definitions of racing, especially why we do it and what we enjoy about it. For novice triathletes, the goal may be finishing the race -- simply going the distance. For competitive athletes, the goal may be chasing a world record or digging hard for a personal record or making it atop the podium. Our end goals vary, but the contentment we get from a focused, honest effort is universal. A satisfying race is one that reflects your motivation, and when that happens, you can see that your effort meant something. It's true even if you don't achieve what you came out to achieve that day.

Now it's your turn to get out there to train and race with a goal in mind. Enjoy the process itself, and push beyond your expectations because you'll probably surprise yourself. Find satisfaction in your effort and your endeavor, no matter the outcome. If you're ready, you'll get more out of it. Always race with love for your sport and with gratitude in your heart. May no bad luck keep you from having the race you deserve!

Having a little bit of fun along the way isn't such a bad thing, either -- just don't tell Anja.

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