Recently, I lost a friend in a bicycle accident. Sally Meyerhoff was a special person, who had many gifts, and in the weeks leading to tragic death she had won the Rock N Roll Arizona Marathon, qualified for the Olympic Trials, won two triathlons overall at the Costa Rica Rev3 event, (fastest run splits for men and women), had quit her job to race and train full-time, and set a personal best for 5K.
She was coached by a good friend of mine, and her death hit him especially hard, as she was doing the training he prescribed when the accident happened. As coaches, we were faced the hard question of should we actually be doing encouraging others into this sport? Is it worth pursuing sport and especially cycling, given their dangers? How many people are looking at Sally's death and using it to justify why they don't do sport, let alone triathlon? Is sport really worth it? Sally devoted her life to it, but given her death, is it best for us to continue to pursue it? It's a valid question, and after much thought, here is my answer...
It's amazing how much sport has affected my life. I live the life of a coach, teaching sport and the pursuit of goals, connecting with athletes and meeting amazing people all the time.
As a youngster I was a troubled kid. I was always in trouble, suspended from school, fighting with peers, authority figures and parents. I was not an athlete, never pursuing athletics seriously. Once I found a fanfare for the game of basketball and dedicated myself to it, I began to see the purity of sport. Sport didn't care about my background, my problems, or my reputation. It was the fairest relationship I have ever had. The more I put into it, the more I got back. When I practiced, I got better. Like most, I fell in love with sport. It quickly became a passion.
Once I found running and committed to it, my grades improved, my relationships with peers and adults improved, my self-esteem improved, and sport brought me new opportunities. It brought me travel opportunities, helped me decide on a college, helped pay for college, kept me out of trouble, and helped define my livelihood after college and eventually brought me to my profession.
To ask me what sport has meant to me, and my existence, there is no question the role it has played and its importance of defining who I am, where I came from, and where I continue to go. How many of us can easily recognize something so important to our lifelong existence? How many things can we define as such? Probably not many.
Sally was passionate about sport because she had a similar experience. Though the irony may be that sport defined her death, there is no denying that her passion and dedication to sport defined her entire existence before that. She had a great relationship with sport, and it was important to her. She sacrificed so much in her life for it, it seems we would only diminish her and others' past existences by denying ourselves and others the opportunity of sport, despite its dangers.
If you asked someone if they could choose how to leave this life, they would likely tell you they want to die doing something they are passionate about. For many, that is sport. The fact it means so much to them, means it should mean a lot to us. If anything, it should be even more important to us, because we can recognize our limited time on earth better, and realize all we really have is what we are passionate about.
Sally wasn't the first to tragically die in a cycling accident, and sadly, she won't be the last. But the real tragedy would be letting her death overshadow all the good her passion and the pursuit of endurance sports did in her life. Now go get on your bike. Sally wouldn't want anything less.