Tomorrow morning, I'll get to participate in a yearly tradition in our Master's swimming group: the year in 50's (fortunately, we cheat a bit and do 107 fifties, not 2007!). It's a big challenge (we do them on an interval of :45!!), and a long ways to swim, but full of good company and the knowledge that we're all still here, still swimming, a year later than the last time we got together to do this crazy thing. All over the city and the world as well, groups of cyclists and runners, walkers, scuba divers, unicyclists, snowboarders, skydivers, and members of every other sport out there will be doing something similar: challenging themselves to take that sport one step further, get up on New Year's morning and do something just a little bit harder than you would choose to do on your own. I've participated in a few of these rituals: "chilly hilly" rides, midnight scuba dives, and probably the most dangerous: hungover skydiving. And tomorrow I'll also participate in the Virtual Tri-Geek Challenge triathlon as well. Upon reflection, I think what it all boils down to is a way to shout "I'm alive" in a big, bold way. To state with our bodies that we're still here, still kicking, still celebrating our ability to move our bodies, smile, talk with our friends, give ourselves a kick in the butt.
This year, there will be a face missing from our New Year's lineup at the swimming pool though. A friend, Jane, was struck by a logging truck on a bike ride with friends in late May. She was an Ironwoman extraordinaire, qualifying for Kona many times over, and someone who helped me many times with training tips and advice in preparing for my first Ironman. She was also a gifted scientist whose papers on nutrition and passion for her work were beneficial to so many people. But more than anything I remember about her, it's her smile that sticks with me. Like the Cheshire Cat, it's the one thing left when all else has disappeared. I will miss hearing her jokes and laughter as we get ready in the lanes, and hearing her stories in the hot tub afterwords. The road she was killed on is one I ride on regularly, and the many times I've passed that one spot on the road this summer have brought her to my mind, as well as the dangers that all of us who cycle on roads with trucks and cars face.
So as I'm swimming tomorrow, I'll be remembering Jane, and wishing her well on her journey, wherever she might be. Her death underlines the fact that what we have is today, now, this moment. The hand entering the water, the head turning to breathe, the smiles with friends at the end of the lane, that's what will exist on New Year's morning. Since we don't know if we will be here tomorrow, we must celebrate the fact that we are here today. And that's what I will be doing. I am here.