Over the last few days I’ve been reflecting on the human condition and why we do what we do, stimulated by three superb events over this last weekend.
First up, on Saturday my partner Anne and several friends from our Tri Club took part in the Race for Life in aid of Cancer Research. I went along to give some moral support, not least as this is a cause very close to my heart. We also have a friend who was running with her young family whilst recovering from chemotherapy and another about to undergo radiotherapy. So this was a chance to be alongside them as best we can.
It was so good to see hundreds of women, of all ages and fitness levels, mobilising their collective energy, emotions and humour. Sometimes those with cancer or their nearest family are said to be "brave" but my experience is more one of getting on with life, treatment, picking yourself up… because you're not really offered any other option to choose, bravely or otherwise.
You could also see in so many of the women at Race for Life a quiet (and not so quiet for some) resolve to enjoy being alive and active. For me this isn't about defiance (I've never felt good about the "stand up to cancer" rally cry). Nor do I think, at least in my own case, is it about denial or somehow running away from adversity or painful truths. Its a quiet, patient, alive-affirming way of being. And its how ZigZag Alive got its name and why 'Alive and Well' is on every page as a key part of helping people make new starts and reach for new heights.
And so on to the next day and the next event: the Paddle Round the Pier. Paddle Round the Pier is a big annual beach festival in Brighton. For the last two years our Tri Club has organised a 2.5km swim that goes out along and past the two iconic piers – one all brash and noisy and the other a derelict shell. With a brilliant team of Bri Tri volunteers organising everything I decided to take part to add the 2.5km to my weekly total in preparation for the big River Dart swim in September for Level Water.
There was a big swell and just getting out to the first buoy, through the high waves felt quite a challenge. I kept thinking of the advice I give to other swimmers: “get the breathing under control… bubble, bubble, breathe…” then as I got into the rhythm, “stretch, roll, tip… make every stroke count… stretch, roll, tip…”
Maybe because I’d put in a big swim the evening before and so didn’t feel any pressure to perform, just enjoy; maybe because I actually followed my own advice for once – I found I quickly got in to a great rhythm: sometimes cutting through a rolling wave, sometimes lifted up and left reaching the air rather than water, but all the time feeling like I could deal with all before me. What a life-reaffirming experience given the previous day’s mixed emotions and sombre memories.
Once the swim was done and everyone safely in, all the chat about big waves and currents behind us, Anne and I stayed on to watch a succession of homemade rafts and bizarre floating constructions set off from the beach for what’s billed as “Paddle Something Unusual”. Several didn’t make it beyond the breaking waves before tipping over. Others drifted with the tide off-course. Everyone seemed to get very wet and spend almost as much time falling in as staying on. It was so much fun – no doubt to take part in and certainly to watch.
I suppose as a coach I’d be expected to draw some reflection about being better prepared for all conditions. Or something to do with having a map and a route, maybe. Or something that floats. For me though the big reflection was simply all about having fun and enjoying stepping out of the ordinary.
So the conclusion of the rambling reflections is to have fun, look after ourselves and those around us and enjoy being alive and well.