Recently, Brenda and I were at a party. We knew everyone with the exception of one person. It wasn’t a large gathering. During the course of the festivities I overheard, “…triathlete…one of the best in the world…..Ironman.” The heads of those having the conversation were pointed, bobbing and nudging in my direction. Without doubt, I was the only person at the party that had ever done a triathlon. So, I assumed they were talking about me.
Admittedly, I was never one of the best triathletes in the world – not even close. I was just good enough to have earned a spot on the 2007 USA Team to the Long Course Duathlon World Championship and was lucky enough to have raced the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii in 2008. But, one of the best multi-sport athletes – never.
Long course triathlons and duathlons are hard. The short course races are hard. At least for me, they all seemed hard. My goals regarding triathlons were simple: 1) Come out of the water under my own power, 2) Don’t crash on my bike, and 3) Don’t finish last in the run. Aside from that I trusted my training to get me through the event. Hearing the misconception I was one of the best was a laugh.
To be fair, I did win or place in the top three finishers at about a third of all the triathlons where I competed in my age group. Of those finishes the races were never the long ones.
Of course, the guests at the party might not have been talking about me. I assumed they were since I was the only person present to have done any triathlon. Today, at nearly 62 years old, I have little desire to do another 140.6-mile triathlon. Short triathlons and any duathlon distance aren’t a problem aside from the conflict with archery tournaments. Still, a 140.6-mile race at any age is a really hard race. And having done my share of triathlons, another of the longest distance races is off my list of things to do before I die.
As hard as a full distance Ironman or Ultra distance triathlon is those events are not the toughest races in my memory. Three others stand out: the Tokyo Marathon, the Mt. Evans Ascent, and a cycling race of 120 miles where I only had one water bottle for the entire race. I don’t recall the name of the cycling race, I do recall the suffering. I also remember an Australian, Phil Anderson, won. Anderson is also the first Australian to wear the Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France.
Here’s the thing, I had never mentioned to any of the people at the party even the word triathlon. After Brenda and I left I asked her if she’d ever mentioned to anyone that I’d been a triathlete. She said, “I might have – I brag about you all the time.” She might have mentioned it, but she was teasing me when she said she brags about me all the time. So, I will further assume she’d mentioned, at some point, to someone in attendance I’d done some triathlons.
Here’s another thing, only the host, who is an elite shooter, tried to engage into a conversation about archery with me. He does this all the time in order to bring the conversation back to his shooting. Folks that shoot firearms do this to me a lot. If I’ve met anyone that has ever shot trap, skeet, a pistol or rifle in competition and they learned I shoot a bow, it is like a switch has been flicked in their brains. That shooter immediately wants to regale their experiences and offer advice. They are also quick to add how many guns they own, how much they paid for them, and share their regrets about the guns they sold. (For the record I own a pistol, a shotgun, two rifles, an air gun, and two BB guns.)
I don’t mind firearm shooters offering advice. At times, the advice is good. Thus far in my archery career, I think folks that shoot firearms are more open with advice than folks that shoot bows. At least in my circles.
Beyond the host’s initial mentioning archery that led to a dissertation on shooting, archery never came up in any ‘party’ conversation. That got me to thinking of how rarely archery comes up in conversation among my friends that aren’t archers. It could be me, since I rarely bring up the topic. Or perhaps, Brenda doesn’t brag enough about my shooting skills.
The last time I tried to have a conversation about archery was while having dinner with Brenda and a friend in Brevard, NC. I was there to compete in an USA Archery Sanctioned 18-meter indoor tournament. The tournament was in Columbus, NC and we’d camped in Brevard a short distance away. That enabled me to shoot and Brenda and I to visit our good friend, Ken.
Having dinner with Brenda and Ken I mentioned the competition, which I’d won. In return I got a polite congratulations from Ken and no leading questions that might have moved the topic forward. It was an exciting event that I’d won by 1-point. My attempt to explain the result led to two pairs of glazed over eyes. I might as well have been talking about curling to the Southern dinner guests. It wasn’t that I wanted to impress either of them with the win. I wanted them to appreciate the close finish of the competition.
Over the Christmas holiday I spent some time with my brother, Chris, in Savannah. He’s an avid outdoorsman. During bow season he hunts with a PSE bow. Our archery conversation went like this: Chris, ” So, you’re shooting the pro class now?” Me, “Yes” Then the topic moved onto how he and his buddies accidentally burned down their hunting camper at their club. Certainly, more exciting.
Many of the same folks that don’t talk about archery will engage me into hours of conversation about running, cycling or triathlon. Swimming isn’t such a major topic. But, archery, aside from anyone that might be an archer remains seemingly off-limits for social conversation. Heck even some of the archers I shoot with or against prefer to talk about well – fishing.
Considering non-archery people, I think the reason no one seems interested is a general lack of understanding about the sport. Whereas the public can find cycling, swimming, running, and triathlon on television, archery isn’t a TV sport. Strange when there are 18 million adults that participate in archery and only 1.3 million triathletes in the US. When considering the vast difference, 18 million to 1.3 million, it could be that generally sports like triathlon create an illusion where anyone can compete and finish a life altering challenge.
That’s true, anyone can compete in triathlon. Every year people die trying to complete a triathlon. I am unaware of anyone dying during an archery tournament. It wouldn’t be a shock to learn someone has died during an archery tournament. Some of the archers I’ve seen at tournaments look like they might die any minute. On the other hand, enough people died during triathlons to have produced medical manuscripts of investigation on the subject.
Aside from that the top non- archery athletes are often amazingly fit. People fantasize about being fit. Fans see an elite triathlete (swimmer, runner or cyclist) and want to be that fit or look like the elite athlete being admired. In archery being fit helps but from observation it is not a requirement. The image of the soft, dumpy elite athlete isn’t sexy. Archery doesn’t have a super fit hero admire. Unless you consider Jennifer Lawrence of the Hunger Games, who is not dumpy, not an elite athlete, not really an archer, but is admired. Lawrence plays a fictional character, Natniss Everdeen, who shoots a bow in a movie, and is a hero to many young girls. Also, their catalyst into archery.
Beyond all of this, none of the sports listed here are really close to being the most popular. The top three sports, by popularity in the US are: football, baseball, then basketball. Football lineman could be considered dumpy. Probably an opinion best kept silent should an aggressive pro lineman be within earshot at a party.
I don’t expect archery to become a topic of conversation like football, baseball, or basketball. Despite it’s current lower ranking of conversational appeal, it is clear archery is gaining popularity (only not in my social circles.) Thanks, Katniss.
For me, I anticipate archery remaining a rarely selected conversation topic of choice at parties. Actually, the most frequent conversation that comes my way are those wherein the primary audience (me) hears a recitation of the speakers medical ailments. Unless, of course, the speaker has ever shot trap.