All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle. – St. Francis of Assisi
Even though I have run many races, I have participated in only one triathlon, a sprint.
A sprint triathlon has short swimming, biking and running legs. In the race I did, the swimming portion was 300 meters long (six laps in a pool), the biking portion of the race was 16 miles, and the running portion was five kilometers.
It was a decade ago, and going into the race I was far too confident in my abilities, especially in the biking part of the race.
At the time, I was running two or three marathons a year, so running a 5K was no issue. I also swam a mile two or three mornings each week, so a 300-meter swim was not daunting.
The bike, though…ahhh, the bike.
I do not own a road bike. I am scared to ride on the roads because of the traffic I would have to contend with. I have a mountain bike, which I occasionally ride on gravel rail trails.
I rode my mountain bike in the triathlon. I borrowed a bike helmet from a friend the day before the race.
My total preparation for the bicycle part of the race consisted of my husband pumping up the tires (they were flat because the bike was used so infrequently) and then riding to the end of our street and back, a quarter-mile.
“Ready!” I foolishly pronounced.
I am happy to report, I was first in my age group for the run, first for the swim.
And dead last for the bike part of the race.
So much time passed when I was out on the bike that my husband, concerned when course marshals began leaving their posts and returning to the race start as most bikers finished, thought I got off course and was hopelessly lost.
I finally did return from the bike race and ran the 5K running portion nearly alone.
It was a humbling experience.
Before that race, I had hopes of running longer triathlons, maybe even working my way up to a half Ironman.
A 1.2-mile swim did not seem unattainable. I was already swimming a mile before school and would only need to bump that up a little bit. The half marathon (13.1 mile) running section was easily in my sights. But the 56-mile bike ride. I couldn’t face that.
A full Ironman was beyond my comprehension. 2.4 miles of swimming, a 112-mile bike ride, followed by running a marathon (26.2 miles)? I couldn’t even imagine it.
I had run several marathons by that time. Before each one, I was careful to stay off my feet as much as possible, hydrate, rest, and fuel up. Miles of swimming and biking before running 26.2 miles was unimaginable.
Anyone who trains for and completes an Ironman has my unmitigated admiration.
Chris Nikic is a 21-year-old Special Olympian training to be the first person with Down Syndrome to complete a full Ironman.
When Chris was a youngster, he needed a walker to get around. He had open-heart surgery when he was just a baby. He is no stranger to uphill battles or hard work.
In his other aspirations, Chris is not much different than other young men. He tells Runner’s World magazine, “My dream is to buy my own house, buy my own car, [and] get a smoking hot blonde wife from Minnesota.”
Chris says that working harder in life than most people is nothing new, but “it’s being called ‘stupid’ and feeling ‘less than’ by adults and peers that have hurt the most.” The arduous work he has put in for his whole life just to be accepted has helped him prepare for the Ironman, he says.
This Ironman hopeful doesn’t want the attention or acclaim that comes with his unprecedented attempt. Instead, he welcomes the ability to connect with others, to break down barriers Special Olympians typically face.
Chris wants to show he has what it takes, even if he just gets 1% better each month – his training plan.
These days, it may seem as though we are going through a very dark time – a worldwide pandemic, an extremely contentious presidential election in the United States, rampant hatred and division, natural disasters, uncertainty, chaos.
But it is amazing how much light one candle emits.
Candles are used in church to represent Christ’s words: “I am the light of the world“. They symbolize Jesus going out among the people.
It’s good to remember to search for candles in dark times, to cup our hands around their faint glow, to protect and promote the illumination they release.
Candles come in many forms, in many shapes, colors, and sizes. Some are showy and some are subtle.
Sometimes they come in the form of a 21-year-old man with Down Syndrome.
Next weekend, Chris Nikic will step into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico near Panama City in Florida.
If he can swim 2.4 miles, bike for 112 miles, and then run a marathon all in less than 17 hours, he can officially claim the title “Ironman“.
Whether he accomplishes his goal or not, I call him amazing, ground-breaker, courageous, determined.
I call him illuminating, incandescent, a candle.
I hope Chris makes history next weekend. I hope he (eventually) gets the chance to buy his own house and car. I even hope he meets, falls in love with, and marries a smoking hot blonde from Minnesota.
More than anything, I hope Chris’ light shines on, clear and lambent.
We need to look for the candles.
You can find the places I link up here.