I spent this weekend in Arizona with friends, volunteering and losing sleep at the Ironman in Tempe. It was a pretty amazing weekend and deserves a photo-filled blog post, but one five-minute incident basically summed up the way I’ve been trying to live my life for the past three years: “Life is short; live it.” I’d almost forgotten the incident until last night, when I was procrastinating my run (in the dark, on wet roads, with a cranky leg) and I came across this Facebook post I had written exactly two years earlier:
At 6 a.m. Monday, I was one of 30 volunteers who were registering people for next year’s Ironman Arizona. This event is so popular that it sells out 2,500+ spots before registration even opens online. The current year’s athletes can register on Saturday, and then volunteers can register Monday — all 4,200 volunteers. Do the math and you can see that, if every volunteer wanted a spot, they wouldn’t all get one. That doesn’t happen, since many volunteers work multiple shifts (me), don’t register at all (me), are kids, etc. But you never know. And triathletes are notoriously Type A. The result: People camped out hours before registration opened. As in, 10 p.m. the previous night before the race even ended. But then they got kicked out by police who enforced a “no camping” ordinance. People returned as early as 2 a.m., and by 4 a.m. the line was hundreds of people deep.
As a volunteer, I sat behind one of 30 computers, registering people who were funneled through a line to the next open computer. I entered their ID, credit card and basic information into the computer, usually making small talk while I typed and they nervously waited. They were excited, anxious and a bit worried about the task of training for 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and 26.2 miles of running. Many cheered when they obsessively checked their email and saw the confirmation.
But one man was different. He had waited in line for at least an hour, but when he stepped up to my table he became the only person that day to ask me this question: “What if I can’t do it? Is there a refund policy for medical conditions?” I showed him the policy: He could request a partial refund of $150 by a certain date. The actual registration fee is $700, plus a $42 fee. “So it’s basically a $600 loss,” he said.
He told me that he has had respiratory troubles his entire life, and they limit his physical activity, though he did complete a half-Ironman this year. He was still tightly gripping his ID and credit card, rather than eagerly handing them to me.
I looked up at this man who was about my age, looking him straight in the eyes. I didn’t want to make the decision for him, because this was his moment (and his money). But I did ask a couple questions: Had he volunteered in part so he could get a registration spot? Yes, he answered. Had he just stood in line in the dark for over an hour? Yes, he answered. And then I asked him the one question that helps me make decisions: What would he regret more?
The man took a breath, looked at me, and gave me his credit card. I entered the information and told him I was about to click on the registration button. He nodded. And with that, he had made his decision. I congratulated him, and I mentioned that I’ve beaten doctors’ predictions. I told him I have friends with medical problems who have succeeded. I told him that, because he knows he has this trouble, he also knows what to battle. And I wished him luck.
I don’t remember his name, which I really regret, but as he walked away I had a good feeling. I will never know if he makes it to the finish line, or even to the start line, of Ironman Arizona 2014. But I do know that he would have been kicking himself if he hadn’t registered. Now he has the chance to keep moving forward without regrets. We should all be so lucky to be in that position.
“Live your life so that you don’t regret the things that could have been.”