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An Unexpected Dream

No one can schedule finding a dream. It’s not like a business plan where you sit down, clarify the goals, find the meaning behind it, flush out the strategy and then launch. A dream is like a car accident in its sudden and unexpected entry into your life but with an impact of supremely positive ramifications.

You see something that puts a lasso around your attention. You hear a story about someone’s amazing exploits and you say, “I want to know that. I want to experience that myself”.

And you know it’s a dream because it suddenly gives you amnesia about anything you are doing that feels ordinary and repetitive that dulls your spirit. You feel the ever-increasing magnetic pull of a force and a direction to pursue that has no rhyme or reason why it’s calling you. You only know you must turn and go in its direction.

One of those dreams happened for me in late February, 1982. I was casually watching ABC’s weekly broadcast of the only real sports program at that time. It was called “Wide World of Sports”. I was listening to one of the great sports announcers of all time Jim McKay make the call on the IRONMAN from Hawaii. I didn’t even know what an “Ironman” was in that moment. It looked crazy. The distances sounded otherworldly.

Yet the competitors didn’t seem to have extraordinary physical gifts, at least on the outside. They weren’t giants like I saw on a football field. Those racing didn’t have extremely specialized bodies like the gymnasts in the Olympics. They looked kind of like, well, me…nondescript, not too big, not too small, some muscles yes but not so much that it looked freaky.

What gave them the drive and energy to pursue this? What was their dream?

I couldn’t wrap my brain around how they kept going hour after hour. I was a swimmer as a kid, so for me a very long race was anything over about two-minutes!

This was 140.6 miles and it had to all be done in one day! At first I was watching with half attention while I cleaned stuff up around my living room. Then I stopped cleaning and realized I was completely glues to the television set.

What drove them? What were they experiencing in those long lonely hours battling a part of themselves that I am sure wanted to just quit and go sit on the beach? How did they dull the call to quit in the extreme conditions they were racing under? I couldn’t take my eyes off of it!

A dream wasn’t born that day though. It took about two weeks for the images from the 1982 IRONMAN to filter down into a part of me that was immune from being influenced by logic. It was a deep inner place that either lies dormant, or gets woken up and ignites a spark, then a flame and then turns into an undeniable light showing me a direction I must go in even if I have no idea where the path will lead me or what lies at the end of it.

That place had been dormant for a couple of years. It’s the place of my dreams. My life was fairly directionless at that time. I was twenty-four years old. I’d graduated from university two years earlier. But I was lost. I felt even further from finding what to grab hold of for a profession than at any other time in my life.

And then it happened. The place of my dreams, the one that had been dormant, cracked open. Watching IRONMAN deciphered the code to my place of dreams and inserted itself. I knew I had to go to Hawaii and see if I could be one of those people who could cross the IRONMAN finish line.

It no longer seemed important that I didn’t have a lifetime career plan in place. I was making enough money lifeguarding on the beaches in San Diego to survive. But I had something no amount of money could buy. I had a dream…cross the IRONMAN finish line!

You likely know a lot about what happened after that. Because of that single dream I found a career and direction that had been eluding me. I raced professionally for fifteen seasons, won many races and learned priceless lessons about life along the way.

Because of the sport I met people of fame like Michael Jordon and Muhammad Ali. I met people whose names I’ll never know but who showed me so much kindness I’ll always remember their handshake and their smile. I traveled to countries all over the globe. Those journeys taught me the richness in the diversity of life that exists in nature and in cultures that is precious and must never be lost.

Because of the sport I met my spiritual teacher Brant Secunda, who was the driving force that enabled me to win Six IRONMAN Triathlon World Championship titles. Because of the sport I have a son, Mats, who is now twenty-four years old himself! And it all started because of an unexpected accident where I was sideswiped watching the emotion, the drama and the shear joy of ordinary people doing something truly extraordinary at the IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii.

What’s your dream for 2018?

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