Leap Year Day is the anniversary of my father's funeral, and we buried him twenty years ago. As my brother Dan said, it's hard to believe it's been twenty years.
The thing is, my father died too young. He was only 53 years old. The tragic part of his death at that age is that it wasn't a car accident, or a terrible disease, or some sudden calamity. What's tragic is that maybe it didn't have to happen, that maybe his heart didn't have to give out that night. Which, you know - I understand sounds a little harsh, but I don't mean it that way. He not only didn't take care of himself, in a lot of ways it was almost like he almost took pride in his unhealthy way of life. I can't remember him ever eating a green vegetable, he ate fatty meats and sugary candies almost exclusively, he smoked, and he didn't exercise. It's not a moral judgment, I'm just saying that if you live like that then it would almost be a surprise to live longer than 53 years.
He did always say that it was better to enjoy a short life than hate a long one. And I am about 150% behind that sentiment. At least he didn't die miserable and deprived, which is doing better than a lot of people.
Anyway, I am not entirely blind to our strong family history of heart disease and stroke. I suppose either one or both of those will come for me in the end, and maybe that end is at age 53 or even 43 for me, who knows? But I'd like to delay the day as long as possible. In addition to not dying too young, I'd like to not be physically miserable as I get older. A body will get old and break down, that's for sure, but it sure would be great to not have any joints replaced before retirement age, you know?
So my father's been dead for twenty years but my grandfather's still alive at age 93. (I'm pretty sure it's 93 now. Maybe 92.) My grampa always says he'd rather wear out than rust out, and those are words to live by, I think, if you want to be not-miserable.
When people ask me why I'm doing this, my general answer is that I'm doing it because it's slightly insane, which appeals to me. But the real answer, the bigger answer is: I do this kind of thing because my father died at age 53. And there are two thoughts that spring from that serve to motivate me:
1. I don't want to die in my 50s. I don't want to be sick or disabled or bedridden then, either. I can't control everything, but I can do my best to make those things less likely. I can make my heart stronger, my cholesterol levels picture-perfect, my blood pressure numbers a thing that nurse practitioners marvel at. I can try to take some weight off my joints and keep my bones strong. I can work hard to keep a healthy body as healthy as it can be for as long as I can. But I got lazy over the last year, in my workouts, and I stopped challenging myself somewhere along the line. Which was so stupid. It's a gift, a strong and healthy body. It's this amazing gift that you're so lucky to have. And you never realize it until you see the strength and the health gone from someone. I think of the people who we're raising money for, people fighting cancer with every bit of their strength, and all I can think is what a disgrace it would be to not take this fully functioning body of mine and let it be everything it was built to be.
2. There are very few people who can say in the end that they've lived long enough. Everyone knows that life is too short. And then on top of it, you really don't ever know how short. You never know how much time you have before your number's up - or before something beyond your control, like cancer or stroke or whatever, will take all your most glorious opportunities away. And there are so many times in my life when I've seen something or heard about something and thought God, wouldn't it be awesome to do that? To be the kind of person who does that? So when Team In Training came and spoke about marathons and half-marathons and century rides, I found myself with that spectator mindset again - how amazing, to do that sort of thing. How awesome it would be to do that. But life really is too short to just assume that one day maybe you'll do something awesome. There's no reason to only sit back and admire the idea. There's no reason not to just step forward and become the awesome. In most cases, the only thing stopping you is yourself. And the only reason you're stopping yourself is because you've forgotten how short life can be. I don't intend to ever forget it.
So there you go. It might even be my motto: Become The Awesome Before It's Too Late. That's why I'm doing this and I won't back out or give up. Awesome doesn't give up. Sometimes Awesome makes lame excuses and eats too much pizza, but Awesome always regrets it and does better next time. Because Awesome is - you guessed it - totally awesome.
And now Awesome needs to sleep. I will be missing this weekend's training (first outdoor ride!) because I'm off to Atlanta for a business trip. But I will do the torturous core exercises we were given, in my hotel room, and I will feel sorry for my teammates out in the cold on Saturday. :-)