After disciplined training, my sprint (short) triathlon in June 2013 should have been fairly straightforward. Instead, it turned out to be a wakeup call, a positive one.
My story isn’t exactly that straightforward, however. In 2004, I had a clogged artery, which was treated with stents and medication. I heard about the risk of the stents coming loose and causing sudden heart attack and even death, but the risk reduces over time. As I learned much later, I had facts to support this belief. The term “Very Late Stent Thrombosis” starts at year 3. By the time you reach nine years or more, it didn’t seem a possibility at all.
I never stopped exercising, and in 2013 I picked up swimming and biking in order to do a short or sprint triathlon with friends. The training went very well. But all of the sudden four days before the race, I started to get very nervous. My anxiety focused on swimming, the weak leg in my athletic triad, which also included running and biking. What if the water is too cold? Plus, the wetsuit that I rented sure felt uncomfortable.
After all that worrying, the swim portion went okay. I followed the race director’s advice – there are six buoys – just take the race one buoy at a time. Fortunately, due a heat wave earlier that week, the water was warm enough. A cool front the day before led to a beautiful early June day, and I made it through.
On the first hill off the bike ride, I didn’t feel my usual energy. In fact, I had a heaviness in my midsection that I never felt before. But I kept persisting. I then felt lousy during the run portion. I did finish, but later that day I went to the emergency room. I was treated for a heart attack. I became one of those statistics about very late stent thrombosis. This causes an extremely serious health situation. I felt like crap both emotionally and physically. It took a month to feel myself again and five more months for a very gradual return to exercise.
Over the next year or so, I realized that something was happening that was very unusual for me: I became happier. How could that be? Well, the heart attack was a wakeup call. I now see three positive benefits:
The first is CONTROL – One can try to anticipate, worry, and plan so as to control an outcome that one wants. I’ve tried to control my whole life. I used to get mad (and I still do). But now when something not good and unexpected comes out of the blue, I am just as likely to accept as to fight it. After all, I know now what it’s like to upend the people around me with something totally unexpected. Letting go of the control is difficult, but I enjoy doing so.
The second lesson is the most surprising – this was the first thing in 54 years that happened to me that was really bad. After something like this happens, it feels easier to address everything else. I feel like I’ve been part of a club of people who have faced adversity. Somehow, I stand taller when I walk into a room of people. I label this RESILIENCE because it’s a popular self-help word today.
Last and most important is PASSION. I am a pragmatic, efficient person. Had my friend not suggested that I do this race, I certainly would not have spent $600 on a road bike. But if I hadn’t done this race, I would never have picked up bike riding. Bike riding is a big passion for me. And so while biking was connected to one of the worst events in my life, it’s made a real difference in my life to have something that offers strenuous activity, scenery, and camaraderie. With each ride being an adventure that I select and savor, often with new friends, this has been a quantum leap forward in my quality of life.
The three themes are lack of control, passion and resilience. How do they fit together? The answer came to me – where else – on a bike ride.
The next time something happens that I can’t control, I can use passion and resilience to get through it.
In the gloomy weeks after my heart attack, one of the things that kept me going was the idea of getting back on my bike. Nearly seven years and 16,000 miles later, it’s been a great ride – literally and for my frame of mind. Writing for Thrive Global helps me reflect on my message to the world: how one can turn something bad into something good. By writing this article, I hope that at least one person will do just a little better with resilience, control or passion.