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After that Valentine’s Day, Michelle and I began to spend a lot more time with each other. We went to a lot of meetings together, we went on runs together .... and we ate a lot of ice cream together. If I’m not mistaken, your body turns alcohol into sugar....so Michelle and I filled that hole with ice cream….lots of it.

 

Somewhere around 2001…I actually spent time at both the University of Wisconsin and Penn State learning how to make ice cream on a commercial scale ....and for that summer Michelle and I would make ice cream all week at my house and then sell it on the square in Decatur on the weekends. It was a total blast.

 

Due to our substantial ice cream intake....Michelle and I were forced to increase our workout schedule and to mix things up a bit….we began to participate in small distance triathlons. Eventually, after being inspired by two lines in a speech given by Bob E. at a recovery conference, I completed my first long distance triathlon.... it took me 13 hours, 8 minutes and 17 seconds. Unfortunately, Michelle was not there to see it.

 

You can take the alcohol out of a drunken fool....but that just leaves you with a fool. I broke up with Michelle three times (she would tell you it was more) during the first few years we dated....and one of those times was around September 2001....in looking back, I also withheld telling her I loved her for almost the entire time we dated. I don’t have a reasonable explanation....age....immaturity.....maybe fear....definitely selfishness.

 

Somehow the voices that occupied my brain at that time helped me develop the idea that this is how you determine if you are in love with someone: If someone calls and offers you two tickets to a baseball game and you would rather take your buddy than the person you are dating....than you are not in love.

 

For the record, I do not suggest anyone use this methodology to assess their current relationship....I can now see that a few flaws might exist within Joel’s “Love Detector” analysis....thanks, in no small part, to Michelle’s help.

 

I’ve heard it said, that behind every good man is an even better (stronger) woman…I’ll speak for myself….but, yep….most definitely true. Was true back then, was true when life knocked the wind out of me later in sobriety .... and is still very true today.

 

My mother was a strong woman too. She grew up in a small town in Iowa..her father was a drunk….and not a nice one. She grew up fast and helped raise her brothers and sisters. As I was growing up, my mom just did whatever needed to be done…when we needed new furniture, my mom tore apart the old furniture and reupholstered it....Halloween costumes….we always had the best …homemade….ones in the neighborhood....need money….she started her own catering business.…within months she was catering every flight for every corporate jet for every major company in Atlanta....Coca-Cola, Bellsouth , Fuqua, IBM….all out of the kitchen in our home. No matter what it was.....She simply found a way to get it done. All of my creativity and complete disregard for limits comes from my mother.

 

The first time I told Michelle that I loved her was on October 5th 2002. I was sure of it....I was in love with her. I knew it. The most recent time I told her was this morning.

 

On October 12th Michelle and I hopped on a plane to the Big Island of Hawaii. Earlier in the year, my name was selected in a lottery to participate in the 2002 Ironman Championship in Kona, Hawaii (I could never qualify on my own). Every year the Ironman picks about 250 people.....common folks.…to participate alongside all of the pro athletes and individual qualifiers from that year.…and I was lucky enough to get a golden ticket. I took the opportunity very seriously….and of course Michelle helped all the way. When possible…..we swam together, biked together and ran together….truth be told....she was actually far faster than me. Training was hard …and for a less than average athlete like myself…training became like a full time job. There were days that I just couldn’t eat another banana, drink another Powerade or swim another lap.…there were hours upon hours a day during training where I floated between listening to Tom Petty on my Walkman (yes cassette tape) and the crazy voices in my head. Some days I was so tired that it was hard to just get out of bed…much less go run.

 

Michelle and my mother are examples of two very strong women in my life…but there are also others.…there is one other female in particular who has motivated me every day…every hill, every lap and every track practice. Seems like maybe in my junior or senior year in high school a young girl in the grade below me was in a car accident and became paralyzed from the waist down. I wasn’t necessarily close friends with the girl at the time…probably more friends of friends than anything. But occasionally we would talk and what I remember about her the most.…is that she had a smile that killed....would totally light up any room. She was an athlete of some kind....but I can’t even really remember what sport she played....doesn’t matter. I think about her strength a lot and a lot of days it got me started, kept me going or got me over the next hill. For more than two decades now, I’ve heard this person’s voice in my head while I train. I have seen her from time to time since we graduated.…she’s married…family ....just a semi normal life like the rest of us. Now I could never claim to know what it’s like to be someone else…. we all have our own life experiences that shape and mold who we are….but what I think I know about Maura…. is that life gave her a pretty tough punch in the gut.…and she took it….and then she got back up….and her smile is still the brightest in the room. Often times.…Life can be more about the getting back up.

 

I think people can do anything they want to do in life. In my experience.…You become a product of the people you surround yourself with…. It’s impossible not to.

 

On a crazy stormy day in Kona....I competed in ….and finished the 2002 Ironman World Championship in 13 hours 28 minutes and some change....just ahead of Sister Madona Buder a 70 year old nun who, then, was competing in her 20th or so Ironman.…and this time….Michelle was there to see it.

 

To my mom....Thank you for breaking the chain....it takes generations….I love you

 

To Michelle....Thank you….I’m still not sure why you were so tired in Hawaii….:-)…oh yeah....I love you!

 

To Maura....Thank you for everything you’ve said to motivate me in the last 20 years....you’re relentless.…tomorrow’s race is for you! I love you.

 

Stay Tuned….or Don’t

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