On Thursday August 22, 2016 I anxiously awoke at 4am to ready myself for the 6:38am race start. While in bed I start going over the mental list of gear, power bars, gels, drinks and other items, which I had packed the night before, and needed to complete the race. The competition started early as hundreds of athletes competed for the limited parking spots in the main village. After finding a spot I then hustle to the transition area to get organized and ready. Running shoes, helmet, towel, goggles, etc, etc. the list goes on.
Ironman 70.3 is a multiple sport, endurance race that requires long hours of preparation, a singleness of purpose and a desire to challenge one’s physical and mental limits. For the past several years, I have been training and dreaming of completing an Ironman. Today was my chance.
As I squeeze into my wet suit and make my way into the water I can’t help but reflect on what I am doing and why. I always seem to get a little pensive before I test myself. Always been that way. Whether it’s a major lecture, an important meeting or some kind of personal test, I always look inward. Recently I’ve been haunted by an obscure sense that my professional career and preparation for this race are interconnected, but can’t get clear on how. As I enter the water I become still and it all begins to make sense. You might find it odd that I would be thinking of work at a time like this, but if you know me, my passion, and my personal story, then you will understand that my career and my personal life are viscerally integrated. Both work and life are represented in the Adoption Triangle ironically the same way the Ironman requires three legs to complete.
When you train for a race that will take me about seven hours to complete, there is a lot of time in isolation to think, reflect and dream. I discovered long ago that I get most of my creative ideas and life and work epiphanies while training, particularly during a long swim.
The start horn goes off and all of us athletes run into the water for position. After the initial rush of adrenaline, I remind myself to pace myself as it is going to be a long day. I stay relaxed and feel great. I am having a terrific start to the swim and am feeling blissful. I find some open water at about the mile marker and stretch it out. I am feeling blessed for the opportunity to be competing with the other 2,300 athletes, and also grateful for how much my life has BEEN impacted by my work at Calo Programs.
As the rising sun peaks out over the horizon and through the clouds, it all comes to me. I realize during each stroke and breath that the view reminds me of an image of sun and clouds that Alex Stavros, our CEO uses to explain our Core Purpose at Calo Programs which is “To Profoundly Change Lives and Create Joy“.
In my role as a business development executive, I have to demonstrate significant versatility if I am going to successfully execute on our core purpose. Just like the Ironman that requires exceptional swimming, biking and running, any initiative I plan requires a multi-pronged approach. Executing one technique is not going to be effective. I need a multifaceted approach to achieve my goals. For example, if we launch a new program like Calo Young Adults, I can’t just open the doors and expect the professional community to refer clients. I have to dedicate myself to long hours of planning, demonstrate a deep commitment to success, challenge myself to perform beyond my current limitations and maintain a singleness of purpose in the same way the Ironman requires.
I finish the swim strong and swiftly dispose of my wetsuit to hop on my bike. It’s a hilly start, but the cool air and heavy breathing make me feel alive and connected to the world around me. This connection is something that has often eluded me throughout my life as an adopted person.
As I approach mile 20 of the 56-mile bike ride I realize I cannot feel my mid-section. Apparently, I am not getting adequate blood flow. At the same time, I have the need to use the restroom. Feels like a good time to regroup. As I peered through the slats of a hot and humid porta potty I see the other athletes wiz by me. I don’t like it. I feel detached and disconnected. Once again it feels like I am on the outside looking in. I realize that these races, my personal disclosure workshops on adoption, and my unusual approach to business development relationships help me to feel connected. Doing these things is when I feel most alive. I need to get back into the race.
The most challenging part of the race and my low point are miles 50-56 of the bike portion. My left knee begins to throb in sharp pain so I shift most of my upward pull to my right leg, essentially leaving me to finish the bike portion on one leg while navigating several steep New Hampshire hills. During those last 20 minutes I worried that my 56-year-old body was not going to let me finish.
In pain, it dawns on me that sales is hard work and often painful too. As an adoptee who is hyper-sensitive to rejection, being in sales is challenging. I face a lot of rejection which sometimes makes me want to give up and run away. There is nothing better than supporting someone in need and helping them find the right resource, but when people show little interest or doubt your integrity or don’t trust, it hurts. During that last six miles of the bike portion I am challenged to not give up. In sales you have to push through those self-doubts and find meaning, purpose, resources and passion to overcome and keep going. When I searched for both of by birth parents there were a lot of obstacles and emotions that could have stopped me, but looking inward to find the strength to carry on served me well.
I dismount the bike and hoped I would be able to run. It’s always tricky getting off the bike after four hours. The blood has to redistribute in your body so for the first couple of miles your legs are like rubber and you have to concentrate on each step to assure you don’t collapse.
The pain was minimal, but shaky none-the-less. I navigated out of transition after slugging down as much energy gel and Gatorade I could tolerate. As I approached the first water station of the run my legs cramped. I was angry. I had hydrated days leading up to the race and throughout the bike race, and it wasn’t the most humid of days. Why was I cramping? Uh…. I hobbled to the station and downed water, more Gatorade and grabbed a handful of pretzels to try and get some salt into my body. For the next couple of miles, cramps were my constant companion. I knew from a previous Olympic level triathlon that they would eventually subside if I stretched, was patient and took my time. In sales, I try to understand, and attune to the needs of my professional relationships in the same way I attune to my body in order to achieve the desired outcome.
Another similarity between the Ironman race and sales is that we need the support of others. If it wasn’t for hundreds of volunteers nurturing the athletes via cold sponges, water hoses and cheering your name it would have been much harder to succeed. In business it takes a cohesive team to come together to accomplish great things. In other words, I can’t sell a program that doesn’t deliver quality outcomes or exceptional treatment. It takes herculean efforts of the clinical department, canine, neurotherapies and all of our other teammates working in harmony to be successful.
With the support of everyone the cramps subside and I slide into a decent running rhythm for miles 3-10. The crowds were great. Because we had personalized bibs people called your name. “Thomas, you’re doing great”, “Keep going Thomas” yelled the on lookers. Those people probably don’t realize it, but each time I heard my name, my heart grew wings and it propelled me to push deeper and maintain my drive to the finish line. In many ways they were supplying me with the unconditional acceptance, the second step in Calo Program’s proprietary clinical model, that most of us adopted people need to be successful. It felt heartwarming even if it was a passing stranger. We are all part of the Ironman Family.
As is the case in sales and marketing, just when I think everything is stable the market hits me with an unexpected turn of events. At around mile 10, just when I think I have it locked up and I am going to finish, I cramp up really bad. Not just in my legs, but also in my groin. At this point in the race I am only 3 miles from crossing the finish line. This was supposed to be one of the single most rewarding moments in my life. I was not going to be denied. I yelled out loud at my muscles, “Cut the crap, I have been good to you. I have eaten good food, trained religiously for years, dropped 17 pounds for this race and hydrated the crap out of you. Stop it! Stop it! Cut it out!”, and they did, the cramping stopped…. I couldn’t help but think how stupid I sounded to my fellow racers, but who cares I was going to finish this race.
The final three miles were painful. Although I was generally able to keep the cramps at bay I could only run so fast. My energy and mind were good, but as I reached my anaerobic threshold my legs would only let me go so fast. If I pushed to a more normal pace they threatened to cramp up again. So, in the same philosophy we employ at Calo Programs, “Seek to Understand before trying to be Understood”, I listened to my body tell me what it needed so it would take me home rather than push my agenda and fail. I use that philosophy every day in my business affairs and it has been very kind to me.
I can hear the announcer now. I am almost limping because I have blisters. It’s more shuffling now than running, but I know I am going to make it. No more water, no more ice under my hat to keep me cool, no more gel or energy beans. Just me against this one last hill. I can hear the announcer calling out names and the cheering crowd getting bigger. I come around the corner and it’s the homestretch and I can see the finish line.
Whenever I set a goal that requires personal sacrifice and a long term commitment, and come to the realization that I am going to succeed, I am overcome with emotion. It overtakes me like a wave and I expect it to be a happy emotion, but for some reason it’s a deep sense of sadness. I still don’t know exactly what it is, but I suspect it lives at the core of my person because it’s at those times that I feel real. I feel alive. I feel connected. Ultimately, I experience Joy in the sadness. I experience the Joy we talk about at Calo.
I remember back in high school when we won the football state championship. The crowds swarmed the field jumping for joy and patting me on the back, but I didn’t feel anything. I intuitively made my way back to the bus expecting everyone to follow, but to my dismay I realized I was alone. I sat there staring back at the crowd in the same way I gazed through the slots at the athletes whizzing by me earlier in the day on their bikes, I was on the outside looking in. I was disconnected. I was numb. Like then, I made my way back to the cheering crowds and did my best to celebrate our achievement.
During these times I am reminded of a quote from the new age author Hugh Prather, whose work underscored the importance of gentleness, forgiveness, and loyalty that has stuck with me throughout the years, “Sometimes it’s better to travel than it is to arrive”.
Well, I crossed the finish line at 6:56:38 about 4 minutes under my goal of seven hours. This time it feels great. I collapse under my station next to my bike and immediately text my wife and kids to let them know I survived and I loved them. As the final minutes tick away before I return to the real world I reflect one last time on the experience and the Holy Trinity that was my seminal event and realize this time it’s different. It was great to travel, but it is even better to arrive.