If you are only going to read the first paragraph of this entry, here it is in a nutshell. I signed up to do Ironman for all the wrong reasons, but I am going to finish it for the right reason. To make proud the one person who has made everything in my life possible – the burrito truck lady. Ok, you are going to have to read on to find out what this entry is all about. This isn’t Twitter, folks.
Why did I sign up to do an Ironman? I am not sure exactly why but it was really foolish. When I signed up, I could neither swim a mile nor had I ever actually done any kind of triathlon – much less the hardest distance of all. It was probably a healthy blend of stupidity, boredom, ego and overconfidence that got me to believe that signing up for Ironman Switzerland was a smart idea. Plus there is a part of my brain that literally forces me to get, achieve or do whatever it might be that my mind has begun to contemplate. Once I want something, I usually get it. And I know that probably sounds cocky but there is a reason for that and that’s what this entry is about.
Here comes a story.
About 30 years ago my 20-year old mother became pregnant with me. At the time she had just finished her training as a nurse after leaving high school at the age of 16. Having kids was not at the top of her list of priorities, but my father felt very strongly about starting a family so that is how little Mario made it into this world. Two years later my father (who I loved dearly) turned out to not be the committed family man my mother had envisioned him to be which resulted in his stuff on our lawn and my mother becoming a single mom at the age of 22. Most people weren’t too excited about my mother’s choices which resulted in her quitting her job and us moving on a horse ranch somewhere in Northern Germany where my mother cleaned the stalls and I learned how to ride ponies, dogs and the neighborhood goat. When things settled down a bit, we moved back to our hometown where my mother got to experience the great joy of being a single mom while working full time. We had no car, lived in government housing and had a black and white TV the size of my iPad. But to me everything was perfect. I never missed anything, and if I was, I certainly had no clue. I was the happiest kid in the world. I am pretty sure there is no kid who played more than I did in the first five years of my life.
When it came time for me to go to elementary school, all that play time almost bit me in the ass. I was five years old and really couldn’t speak. Well, I could speak but unfortunately nobody could understand me. The German education system thought I must have some brain damage and it would be best for me to enroll in special ed school. My mother said “no way”, and I got to go to normal elementary school and then spend my afternoons at speech therapy. Turns out I didn’t have brain damage after all, but was just too preoccupied playing and never really focused on developing those muscles in my mouth that allowed for the proper pronunciation of important letters such as s,t,k and h. I know this is a long story, but there is a point that I want to make. My mother always believed in me and in my 29 years of life, I never was told that something was not possible.
Even when the odds were squarely stacked against us, I was too ignorant and optimistic to ever recognize. My mother protected me from things like negativity and pessimism which allowed me to focus on the one thing that I was really good at – follow my dreams. We never had enough money for vacation, so I spent my summer vacations with our neighbors. Once I got done with elementary school, it was decided that I was to enroll in the mid-level of our high school system. That would have meant I would have been done with school after 10th grade and would then go on to learn some profession that didn’t require college. That’s what my mom did, and that’s what she didn’t want for me. She believed in me. And while the public school system didn’t allow for me to take the collegiate high school route (the highest level of schooling), my mother took me from private school to private school until a small catholic private school 30 minutes away from my hometown agreed to take me. I was by far the worst student, protestant and expected to not last more than a year. I would have gladly failed but them catholic nuns and my dear mother wouldn’t let that happen.
When I was 12 years old I met some college student at the local soccer field who had been an exchange student in America. I went home that night and told my mother that I was going to do that. The plan was to play soccer, learn how to surf and meet lots of California girls. She said ok and four years later, I moved to Montana which is almost like California. I came back after a year, and told my mother that I didn’t want to go back to German high school but instead go to college in the US. It was going to cost $15,000 a year (college in Germany is free). My mother had some serious doubts but that didn’t stop my parents from depleting their savings (which only paid for the first semester) and hope for a miracle. Well, that miracle happened (me working as a custodian, me getting straight A’s, me getting scholarships, etc.) and now 12 years later I am still in America.
Five days from now, I am going to take on what arguably will be the biggest physical challenge of my life. I am not sure if my body is ready for it, as quite frankly I have never exercised for 13+ hours before. Come to think of it, I have never exercised for eight hours before either. But here I am – sure as hell that I am going to finish this Ironman. And that is because of my mother who always believed in me and helped instill this crazy sense of optimism.
Bad shit can happen on Sunday. My bike could break. So could my body. But my mind, my mind will be strong. No matter what happens on Sunday, I will finish. And I know my mother once again will believe in me.
But Sunday’s race isn’t about her believing in me, Sunday is about me showing to my mother that I believed her when she told me, again and again, that I can do whatever I set my mind to. I still do, now more than ever. Just with less hair.
I usually forget mother’s day. So this Sunday will be my mother’s mother’s day. That should take care of that for at least for a couple of years. Sunday is for the person who opened every door for me, and never held me back when I walked through. Sunday is for the person who I love more than life itself. And who always felt the same way about me.
See you at the finish line, Mama. Sunday is for you.