Lessons from My Son

wild abandon (aka disco queen)
wild abandon (aka disco queen) (Photo credit: lunita lu)

People really are amazing.  I love seeing what others can do.  Sometimes I will watch someone and think, wow, she is really strong.  Or smart.  Or courageous.  Or kind.  Or bold.  Or tough.  Or all of the above.  It is really cool.  Particularly if I know that person.  Why?  Because I know she is an ordinary person like me.  If she can do it, maybe I can too.  So it is amazing and inspiring.   Then there are the times your own child blows you away.  It is incredible and in fact, there really are no adequate words to describe the impact.

I was lucky enough to have that happen to me last weekend.  I want to share it with my fellow Salties because I not only like good stories, I also believe we can learn a lot from those that amaze us.

This weekend, my eleven year old son James did the IronKids Madison triathlon.  He is an athletic kid and a pretty seasoned runner.  He has done 2 triathlons in the past, but he is not a triathlete.  He hated the first tri he did two years ago.  Last year, he did the same IronKids event and sort-of enjoyed it, but really, really struggled on the swim.  He isn’t a swimmer.  He’s not on the swim team and he doesn’t take lessons.  Of course he loves going to the pool with his brother and his buddies, but they aren’t exactly doing laps or getting into top swim shape.


So when I mentioned the fact that IronKids was this weekend, I fully expected both of my boys to say they weren’t interested.  Instead, they’d want to have sleepovers, stay up late and sleep in instead of get up super early to do a triathlon.   I know I would have.  My youngest son immediately declined.  Nope, Mom, I can’t do that swim (he was getting bumped up to the intermediate level).  I agreed it wasn’t a good idea.  But then James piped in:  “I definitely want to do it.”

Wait – what?  I quickly reminded  him of how hard the swim was for him last year.  And this year, it was in a lake.  He didn’t care.  “I am stronger now, Mom, I can do it.  I’m in.”  Um, okay.  He is strong and that attitude is hard to argue with.  I also know he’d never say he was in if he didn’t believe it.  So, I was on board.  But I suggested they go to the lake and practice swimming there.  They did – twice.  All week, James was jazzed about his race and it was contagious.  He readily went to bed early Friday night and popped out of bed bright and early Saturday morning.  We set off on our half hour drive and the first thing he said to me was, “Mom – what if I can’t do the swim?”  I said, “Nonsense.  No talking like that now, you wanted to do this.  You have to get your head in the game.  You need a goal.

He told me his goal was that he didn’t want to drown.  I told him that was a terrible goal.  Negative goals are useless and can quickly turn into self-fulfilling prophecies.  I explained that to him and suggested he switch his goal to “swim strong” or “finish the swim calm.”  We talked a lot about strategy – it didn’t matter if people passed him – he just needed to get it done.  No one wins on the swim.  Just do it.  We also talked about his mental game because he and I both know negativity/anxiety can quickly ruin the best races.  I gave him some tips and he shared some great ones with me.  I won’t bore you with the details, but our 30 minute discussion was priceless and I was so impressed by him.

We got to the race and ran into my friend Stephanie who was volunteering and had just conquered her first Ironman (WOOT) this spring.  She gave James some words of wisdom re the swim – relax and get it done.  We then watched the senior division kids (ages 12-15) go off.  Now understand, this isn’t a casual race / fun run where kids are faking it through.  I am not dissing the casual runner, triathlete, but this is the real deal – particularly with the older kids.  The athletes had ridiculously fancy bikes and gear and were swimming like pros.  They were incredible.  And it started getting to James a little.  About 30 minutes before his race, he started to panic.  Thank goodness he quickly chilled out with a little redirection from mom.  Even better, his dad and his brother arrived.  He had told me he wanted them there and when they arrived, all was suddenly better.  He didn’t even interact with them, but having them there instantly injected him with confidence.  As soon as they arrived and said hello, he took off to the starting area.

Goofing off pre-race

He quickly made a couple of friends.  He was goofing off and looked nice and relaxed.  To keep the event safe, the swimmers went off one at a time.  James had strategically positioned himself toward the back so it was a while before he hit the water.  When he finally entered the water, he looked nice and calm.  He paused a couple of times during the swim to get his breath – but championed on.  When I saw him running out of the finishing area, I couldn’t have been prouder.  He was right: he could do it.  He DID it.  He was strong, he nailed his mental game and he got it done.

As he ran through the transition chute,  James looked super determined.  He was very fast in the transition area too.  Unlike last year, he wasn’t questioning himself or dilly-dallying – he was here to race!  I screamed at him “Way to Go J-Man” and I was surprised to hear my own voice.  It was unfamiliar and cracking with emotion.

Before I knew it, he was on the bike.  They had 2 two-mile loops.  He had watched the senior division do it and he knew the route – he just had to go.  Both times I saw him, he looked so strong and focused.  Again I screamed my head off at him and heard a mother’s voice filled with pride, fear and amazement all at once.

Time to run!

When he finished the bike, I knew he’d rock on the run.  It was only a mile.  He was tired and it was almost 90 degrees, but this is his sport.  As he came up the run chute, I saw his face.  He was once again determined, strong, bold, awesome.  When he sprinted across the finish line, I almost burst into tears.  I was so proud.  Never before have I seen my child so determined and strong and amazing.  I didn’t think he’d be in, but he nailed it.  More than nailed it: He conquered his fear.  And he rocked.  When we got home, we saw that he also PRed by 12 minutes.  Given his time last year was 42:57 and this year it was 30:57, that is nothing short of spectacular.  I was (and am) so amazed by him.


Not only did my son amaze me, he also reminded me of a few very important things:

(1)  Believe in yourself.  Just because something is hard or you struggled with it in the past does NOT mean you can’t do it.  You may not be a pro, you may not be the best.  But who cares?  You don’t have to be.  So don’t listen to the naysayers, even if it is your best friend, mom or husband. If you believe you can do it and you want to do it – DO IT.  Sometimes putting yourself out there can open whole a new world.

(2) Practice.  If you want to do it, get out there and practice so you can do it well.  [James only went to the lake twice, but he got out there and did it once he decided to go – HINT: get on this earlier next year, Mom!]

(3) Get fired up about your race!  You chose to do it, so get excited.  Make it a part of you  and enjoy the ride!

(4) Talk to people who care about you.  Tell them why you are going to rock it and what your goals are.  Also tell them your deepest fears.  They will boost you when you need it.  Make sure they come to your goal race too.  You will want them there.

(5)  Set positive goals – NOT negative goals.  Enough said.

(6) Watch others do what you are attempting.  We watched the senior kids go off and it was great.  Their course was longer, but the same route.  So watching the seniors, James could easily see what he was getting into, how far the swim was, where he had to cross the timing mat, where transitions were, where he had to turn into for the bike finish.  If you are running your first 5k, 10k, marathon – go volunteer or cheer someone else on first.   You can learn an awful lot watching others do your race.  This will give you confidence and make you more prepared.

(7)  It’s okay to get scared.  This isn’t easy.  But race nerves are good.  However, if they lock in on you, consciously reassure yourself and block them out.  Repeat #4 above as needed.

(8)  Make some new friends.  Even if only a friend for a few minutes, you can meet some amazing people when you are with people in your circumstances.  Chat up the folks next to you at the starting line.  It will comfort you and it is fun!

(9)  Don’t give up.  Don’t ever give up.  (Hat tip to Jimmy V.)  Put your game face on and keep it on all the way through the finish.  It IS hard.  But that is why you are there.  Get out there and get it done.

(10)  Smile at the end and feel the pride you earned.  Most people have a hard time doing all of these steps, let alone doing them all in one morning.  Smile really big when you cross that line, because you are awesome.  You are inspiring someone.  I guarantee it.

Mindi is a serial marathoner. She is a private practice attorney, wife and mom of two awesome (and super fast) boys, ages 12 and 14. She coaches Girls on the Run and is a big advocate of youth running.

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  1. I love this post! James and I had the same initial goal for our tri swims 🙂 I was really nervous for mine, but having my husband and my mom and even my father-in-law there to cheer me on with signs and shouts gave be the biggest boost. My overall goal was to finish strong, and I was able to finish with a smile before bursting into tears with pride. I wish I saw this post before my race– these were the top 10 things I wound up trying to keep in mind as I got closer to race day.

  2. Awesome – way to go, James! And way to go Minty Mom for encouraging him even though you were concerned he might not have a good time. It’s really tough for parents to ride that line, I think, and this really gives others a good example of how you can encourage your children without pushing them.

    I hope all the kids with the fancy bikes can say the same thing about their moms and dads!

    1. Thank you! It really is a hard line to ride and I think about that all the time – I don’t want to push my boys too hard, but I definitely want them to work hard, do their best and feel the accomplishment when they reach their goal. That said, I always laugh because the IronKids rules/instructions have an admonishment for parents not to be obnoxious and you always run into one or two that are super intense and screaming at their kids (this is of course true for all kids sporting events – wrestling is particularly crazy).

    1. Thanks MG! I hope your girls are dedicated and determined too! It is honestly one of my favorite things in life to watch kids set goals and smash them (whatever they may be).

  3. I love this!! Makes me look forward to the days when my little toddler is a big boy. I cherish these almost-baby days but am excited about doing things like this and seeing him grow.

    1. I always loved the baby/toddler ages too, but it is so amazing watching your child bloom into who they are and what they can be! I think it is a shame when parents say, I wish they could stay 6 weeks or 2 years forever because it really gets better and better every day. (They say that ends for a while in teenage-hood, but I am purposefully remaining in denial of that proposition). 🙂