I wrote before about my friend, Mary, starting the Everglades Challenge on March 1. Friday, March 7, I drove Mary’s truck down to Key Largo to pick her and her boat up at the race finish. I’m incredibly glad to have been able to meet Mary at the finish, but I’m glad that I went on this trip for other reasons as well.
Being at the finish line for this race has given me a lot to think about. It’s made me think about:
-what is important in life and how that is different for everyone.
-how we need to follow our dreams, no matter what.
-how we should support our friends and loved ones’ dreams.
For Mary, this race was important. She has wanted to do it for a long time. With the race comes intense sleep deprivation, dehydration, chafing, insane insect bites, and interactions with wildlife. Mary got hit in the face with a fish, but only screamed because she thought it was a crocodile! She had hallucinations about ship wrecks, ghost kayakers, and lab gloves (you know the Masters degree is really getting to her!). The first day of the race Mary had problems with her seat that caused her intense pain. Upon pulling into the first check point, she could barely communicate with her fellow paddlers and wasn’t understanding what they were saying to her. She almost quit at that point. After the race she had ugly rashes from the salt in her clothes rubbing against her skin. She had tangles in her hair that took hours to get out. (She broke a comb in the endeavor! ) She faced two storm fronts with winds reaching speeds of up to 40 mph. (Never forget that she was in a kayak.) At one point the clouds were swirling overhead, and there was nowhere to go if a waterspout formed. She (and her paddling mates) could have died.
I don’t truly understand why Mary would want to do this race because of those things. I understand wanting to challenge yourself, after all that is part of the living daringly life style! But I don’t understand the want to challenge your body and mind to the extremes that Mary and the other Water Tribe folks do. I don’t understand being willing to die in the interest of fully living.
But she didn’t just describe pain and fear. She also described extreme beauty. There was a calm night where the water perfectly reflected the stars and you could see the curvature of the Earth. There were bioluminescent waves crashing in the storm. There was the camaraderie and bonding of complete strangers (in some cases) coming together with this common interest and risking their lives to complete this goal.
For some reason the beauty doesn’t balance the pain in my mind… Within 12-hours of finishing the race, Mary wanted to go paddling again which was incredible to me. But it doesn’t matter that I don’t understand. What is important to Mary doesn’t have to be important to me. It is obvious that a 300-mile kayak race is a really big goal, and it is important to my friend. The rest is details.
With that I am glad that Mary and the Water Tribe do what they do. We need people who live big dreams! Throughout this weekend I couldn’t help but be inspired by all of the people who participated in the race, or contributed their time so that others could do so. These are normal people who hold 9-to-5 jobs, or are retired. I met engineers, school teachers, students, lawn maintenance workers, etc… There were father-daughter teams, father-son, husband-wife, etc… While participants tended to be older, there was a mix of old and young. There was also a mix of those who were physically fit, and those who had a bit of flab. There were those who have been kayaking for many years and those who had only begun a few years before.
All of these people reminded me that we can live our dreams no matter what! We can start right now. We don’t have to be the “perfect” weight. We aren’t too old. We can have a family and a job. We can make so many excuses about why we can’t live our dreams that we become our own worst enemy. When you see all of these perfect people finish this race, you realize that you can meet your goals too. Your goal probably doesn’t involve completing a 300-mile kayak race, so your chances of surviving it are already higher!!
I strongly think that people should strive for their dreams. With that, we often can’t do it alone. I drove Mary to the launch site. I drove her truck to pick her and her boat up at the finish line. Though I feel like I did such a small thing (I really feel that way. If Mary thanks me one more time, I’m going to punch her. ), the reality is if she couldn’t find someone to do that she wouldn’t have been able to complete the race. In fact, two years ago Mary trained for the race, but she had to skip it because she could not find shore support. Perhaps this year she would have found someone beside me, perhaps not…
The idea that Mary could have accomplished her dream two years ago bothers me. We travel across country for weddings. We make time to celebrate birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, and a host of other life events. This race was at that level for Mary. I do recognize that we can’t always be physically present for our friends, yet two years ago no one stepped up to help her accomplish her dream. I’m not sure what the right answer is to that issue, but who knows what additional goals she would have met by now if she’d done the race then!
(Perhaps in the future I’ll write a post about the role friends play in the lives of those without partners. I’d certainly love to see some comments on this topic.)
I’m so incredibly proud of my friend for finishing this race and for even attempting it in the first place! I’m grateful for her paddling mates for taking care of my friend, encouraging her, and watching out for her. I’m grateful to all of the people who went to the launch to see Mary off. I’m grateful to have met some cool Water Tribe people, and to have heard some of their amazing stories.
Mary’s already talking about doing the race again next year. First she’s planning on circumnavigating Florida this Fall. No biggie… I’m looking forward to helping my friend accomplish her next big adventure, and I can’t wait to read the book!