In November of last year, for reasons beyond my comprehension, I decided that I was going to try and do a triathlon. That rash decision was a direct result of me being shown up big time by my little brother Tyson. He had just finished a full Ironman triathlon, and made it look easy.
As has been well documented in this blog, competition among us brothers has always been, and will probably always be, in the forefront of our relationships. Let’s at least try and call it “healthy competition”. We push each other to be better. Or, we push ourselves to try to be as good as the other guy. This triathlon thing though….?
Last time I wrote about this, I described the initial attempts I had made in the swimming pool. These initial forays trying to swim didn’t go smoothly. They instead made me feel more like I was in that Gravity movie with George Clooney and was spinning out of control in a punctured space suit, hurtling and cartwheeling towards the black abyss of outer space. Tyson had warned me about that and kept saying that I would eventually get it. But it wasn’t happening very quickly.
When trying to swim the right way, or trying to emulate the way the real swimmers do it, you have to alternate breathing by turning your head either left or right, while you are pulling your way through the water. All this while your head is probably halfway submerged in the water. The official way to do this is during every third stroke. Thats how they teach it on youtube anyway, and thats where I learn to do everything.
If I wanted to be a good swimmer, I was supposed to take a stroke with my right, left, then quickly inhale a breath while turning my head to the left on the third stroke. I was then supposed to repeat and alternate ad nauseam until I either passed out, drowned, or made it to the other side of the pool. The pros make it look easy, but its not. Its not, because swimming is a very “aerobic” exercise in a very anaerobic (underwater) environment.
For the first several months I made small improvements. I went from an initial limit of around 100 meters, to being able to go to almost 400 meters without stopping to perform life saving measures. That may seem nice, but when you consider the length of the swim on a “half” ironman triathlon is 1.2 miles or 1,930 meters it puts a damper on your excitement. It makes you feel like you have to clean the entire bathroom with only a toothbrush, and only using your teeth. Not pretty. I started to see myself as being the only one needing to swim with Dora the Explorer arm floaties during the triathlon.
I was pretty discouraged, I couldn’t seem to be able to build up enough endurance to even sniff what I was supposed to be able to do. I would go to the pool almost every single day, and the same thing would happen. I’d swim 450 meters, nearly pass out, get nauseous, and see stars for the next 3 hours while I recovered on the couch (which was not exactly getting me prepared to bike for 3 hours, then run for an hour and a half immediately after I swam).
It was about this time that a timely phone call to Tyson changed everything. We were talking about techniques and things, and he passively mentioned that he took a breath every other stroke, not every third. I decided to try out this super secret, highly advanced technique of breathing more often instead of tempting death and nearly drowning each time I entered the pool. It turned out that breathing more often was a good idea. Funny. So I guess if you’re suffocating under water, breathing more often is helpful. Why didn’t I think of that?
The next time I went to the pool, I tried it. I took off, and took a nice deep breath every other stroke, and kept going. I passed my old record of 500 meters, and kept going. I passed 750 meters and kept going, then 900, and all the way to 1000 meters. I stopped only because I had to pinch myself and make sure it was real. It was. I shook my head and wondered again why I hadn’t previously thought of breathing more when I was out of breath. It was just that simple.
The next day, I decided to see just how far I could go, and made it to 2000 meters without stopping. I just laughed at myself to think that such a simple change had made such a drastic improvement in what I was doing. I decided that every “how to swim” video on youtube should have Pearl Jam singing the theme song, “Just Breathe”.
As I contemplated this improvement, and as I was swimming for those longer training days in the pool, I kept thinking about how much better my life was now that I had a steady supply of oxygen, or breath. I thought about the similarities of having enough “breath” in all the aspects of my life. I thought about the significance of spending one day a week concentrating as much as possible on the good things in life, my Savior, and the gospel. It reminded me of how Sundays, and everyday really, could be that breath of fresh air.
Sometimes its easy to get caught up in trying to do to much of our everyday stuff, that we seldom take the time to spiritually breathe. We are here on this planet for a purpose. That purpose is not to make the most money, have the best toys, or be the most successful in our chosen field. We are here to learn to be like God.
He puts us here for that reason alone.
As I have been through my daily, weekly and yearly routines, I have been guilty of trying to tough it out for too long without taking a breath. I have struggled to make it even a few hundred meters before I felt like I couldn’t keep going. I was seemingly doing the right things, I just wasn’t “breathing” often enough.
Our physical bodies need oxygen to survive and function. Our spirits also need constant spiritual oxygen for nourishment. When its continuous, it feeds us in a way that enables us to continue progressing and we become stronger and stronger. We become a smoother swimmer so to speak. We feel more comfortable, excited, and familiar with our purpose on earth. If we go too long without it, we tend to struggle, and sometimes find ourselves on the couch seeing stars.
Every day I should be breathing in the lessons taught in the scriptures, praying, and thinking about my real purpose on this planet, and taking in big deep breaths with my spirit. It makes a difference. If I do it daily, as the “professional swimmers” have counseled us to do, I will have plenty of spiritual oxygen for endurance.
Breathing gives us life. It sustains our mortal lives, but the frequent breathing in of spiritual oxygen is just as critical to our spiritual survival and endurance. After all, thats really the hard part, enduring to the end.
“The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life.”