In a few short weeks, Tom and I will be traveling to Augusta so he can participate in the Augusta Ironman 70.3. On Jan. 1, 2021, we shared “goals” for the year (not resolutions, because who keeps those?) and he shared a bucket list thing would be to complete a 70.3 Ironman. Not being up on triathlons, I had no idea what that meant but I knew enough to know that it would be challenging (and also something I’d never desire to do with him). I’ll never forget watching ABC’s Wide World of Sports as a child and seeing a man defecate himself while trying to cross the finish line.

Why in the world would THIS be a bucket list item for anyone????

Regardless of my questioning the sanity of such an event, I want(ed) to be supportive so I volunteered to be a part of this in any way he needed.

He suggested that during this training, I accompany him via kayak on his 1.2-mile open water swim. (Who knew that the “Canoeing” class I took in college would actually come into use 30 years later!?!?)

When we first started the training in late April, during our swims, there would be a lot of chit-chat. Some lamenting on his part (otherwise known as whining), some stellar coaching on mine (note sarcasm).

“Yes, you can do this.”

“Yes, I know this is hard . . . well, actually I don’t because I can’t imagine doing this but I’m pretty sure they didn’t name it Ironman/Ironwoman for nothing.”

“Ok, I hear you. This sucks right now . . . but it’s only going to suck worse if you don’t just shut up and swim. So quit talking, quit complaining, and just do this! Shut up and swim!”

That was not my most stellar moment of coaching. But, I knew he had it in him if he’d just dig deep, focus, and swim.

Thursday morning at 7 am he was in the water, swimming away to the mile marker. However, unlike months ago, this time, there were no comments. No lamenting, no whining that he couldn’t do it. He simply swam. I told him it looked like a different man in the water from when he first started. A completely different man!

Why? How did that transformation happen?

Because from the beginning of the year when he decided this was his path, he was fully vested and he participated.

Nothing changed by his sitting on the couch watching swimmers on YouTube.

It changed by his getting in the water, time and time again, even when it was the LAST thing he wanted to do. It changed because he’s probably consumed multiple gallons of Lake Norman, but the bottom line is – he participated.

There is something to be said for being “all in.” For participating. Not just in triathlons but in life.

For some reason, over the thousands of years that religion has existed, we’ve moved from the participatory idea and towards being observers of faith. Recently, however, there is a newfound emphasis on the participatory understanding of God.

We are actually a part of something more than we are observing something or just “believing in” something. We are IN IT! We are participating, running the race! Roughly before 800 BCE, most people connected to God through myth, poetry, dance, music, and nature. Although the world was a violent place and people focused on survival, they also knew they belonged to something bigger than themselves. Something powerful, cosmic, and meaningful! They experienced the supernatural (God) everywhere. Theologian Owen Barfield called this, “original participation.” (Richard Rohr, Participation is the Only Way).

In today’s culture, we are moving back toward participating and not just observing. People want to be a part of something, not just “watchers on the sideline.”

It is when we participate, that we find ourselves transformed.

While I’ll not be joining any Ironman/Ironwoman community ever, I will say that watching the transformation that has happened of and within Tom over the past 9 months is inspiring and it makes me want to find my “thing” to participate in. Some of the staff and I are contemplating doing a 5k together (which I said I’d NEVER do!) That’s my goal for 2022 . . . the flattest 5k in America and not to finish last.

In Augusta in a few weeks, my participation will include yelling, hopefully, a cowbell if I find one, and wearing a specially made shirt that says, “Just shut up and swim!” (Affirmation at its finest!)

It will be a powerful day for all those who race and for those who love them while they do it.

Participation is an important thing.

I’d ask us all to look within ourselves and see if we are observers in this thing called faith, or have we moved to participation?

Participation changes things. Maybe we can all find our way to participating.

Grace and Peace,