On a warm summer day many years ago, I was playing the second baseball game of my life. I was 10-years-old, standing in right field and batting ninth for my Little League team. It was the 5th of a six inning game and a fly ball came my way. I spun in circles, shielded the sun, then threw my arm at the ball which miraculously landed in my glove.
But that wasn’t the good part.
We were losing 5-0 and the 12-year-old pitcher from the other team was throwing a perfect game. It was now the top of the 6th, our last at bat, and I was the third person up in the inning. The first two guys struck out, and now, the youngest boy on the team, me, was standing in the batter’s box ready to face the best pitcher in the league.
He reached back and threw a big fastball that flew over the catcher’s head and struck the chain link backstop with a loud clang. He stared at me as if to say, “Don’t even think about breaking up this no hitter.”
I shook nervously in the batter’s box as he flung the next pitch a foot outside for ball two. The screams were getting louder, “Come on, Mike! You can do it!” There were probably 30 fans there that day, but it felt like the World Series.
What happened next was one of those little moments in life that sticks with me whenever I face an “impossible” feat.
The league ace wound up, threw his leg high into the sky, then delivered a ferocious fastball on the inside half of the plate. Somehow I reacted with my signature inside-out-swing (think Derek Jeter) and drove the ball into right field for our team’s first hit. I’ll never forget standing on first base and looking into the bleachers. My mother was jumping with joy. Bouncing up and down, hugging anyone within her reach.
I casually tipped the bill of my helmet and smiled at mom, then scowled at the pitcher who walked back to the mound shaking his head in defeat. We lost that day, but it was the first time I realized how important it is to have someone on your side.
I’m 50 now, and there have been many athletic conquests since then, but I think it was one of my mother’s proudest moments. Until last September.
When I told her I was doing an Ironman, she kinda shrugged it off in the beginning. Over time I would casually mention some of the workouts I was doing and suggested she sign up for my blog. Slowly, but surely, she began to understand the magnitude of Ironman, and her curiosity got the best of her.
We started talking more often as the race drew near. We’d have long phone conversations where she peppered me with questions about the race, how on earth I was going to do it, and more specifically, where she was going to watch.
About a month before Ironman, mom drove an hour up the road to Madison on a scouting mission. She carried maps and took pictures of key landmarks then sent them along to me. My covert race-planning-team of one.
There’s nothing a child wants more than attention and love from their parents, and that doesn’t change just because you turn fifty. Her enthusiasm was a genuine inspiration as the Ironman walls closed in around me. I wanted her to be proud and that fueled me with confidence.
She made signs, t-shirts, and endless strategy maps. Suddenly Ironman spectating was her new hobby and everyone who knew her would get a lesson whether they liked it or not.
By the time race day arrived, there were no more questions. She knew almost everything there was to know about Ironman and all that was left was for her to remain calm and watch as her son walked the plank into Lake Monona.
She was alive and energized as she watched her son chase his dream. She hurried and waited like everyone else. Patience, followed by a burst of energy, followed by bonding with a crowd that was all pulling for the same team.
Mom was never a big sports fan and I honestly believe Ironman was her Super Bowl. It brought the entire family together and channeled love and support like any mother would want. There weren’t winners or losers, only survivors, and the more we know about life, the more we understand this as truth.
When I came down the Finisher’s Chute at Ironman, mom was standing behind the fence, bouncing with pride and joy just like she was for my Little League game that day. And I felt just like that kid again. All alone in the batter’s box, but secure and confident knowing he was loved.
Even though we live 500 miles away, I really believe Ironman helped bring us closer than ever. We talked often and those discussions were about the simple things in life. There was no mom and son, it was two friends discussing what made them happy and that has continued to this day.
I love you, mom. Happy Birthday.