Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Worthwhile"? A ramble.

This comment on Are We There Yet? got me all riled up today:

"Personally I'd get a life and stop the pointless running, cycling etc. Try travel. Or living. Or voluntary service overseas.

Much more worthwhile uses of the short time you have on the planet than endlessly sweating your way around the city, breathing in rubbish from cars as you go.

But that's just me - I've always found sport utterly without point and not even remotely pleasant."

While I recognise that the poster has the right to his or her own opinion about sports, I reacted to the suggestion that my hobby is objectively and unequivocally less valuable to me than travelling, and that it is somehow not "living" (I have no issue at all with the fairly uncontroversial proposition that triathlon is less worthwhile than volunteer service overseas) and, although I commented on Ann's original post, I wanted to explore it further here.

I think the first point is that triathlon is not mutually inconsistent with travelling, "living" (whatever that's supposed to mean) and other activities. Of course, every hour I spend training is an hour I could spend doing something else. But realistically, if I didn't spend those hours training, I'd probably be shopping, drinking, reading, internetting or on the couch. I certainly wouldn't be travelling or volunteering overseas for an hour every morning before work, because that would make getting to work by 8:30 a bit tricky. Having said that, triathlon has made it harder to pursue other hobbies; to learn languages, salsa dancing or thai cooking; to attend plays and poetry readings, and even (in my case) to learn to drive.

But when what we're talking about is a hobby, who's to say which is "better"? Sure, learning French would make it easier to get around France. But being fit means I can climb a mountain while I'm there. Thai cooking would be grand; but the fruits of my labour would be so much less satsfying if I wasn't devouring them at the end of a good day's training. Renovating my hypothetical future home would be a very sensible, grown up, way to spend a shit load of money in the hope of realising some tax free capital gains, but I'm just not convinced that I'd find it as personally satisfying as a 4 hour ride.

But, let's say my own enjoyment isn't enough. Personal satisfaction =/= "worthwhile". Fair enough- that's a philosophical inter-generational debate I can't really be fagged getting into right now. Let's start with personal improvement. It is simply undeniable that triathlon has made me a better person, or at least made me more self-aware of my (significant) personal shortcomings. There's nothing like a petty tantrum over a shitty race result, or a husband who says "well, that was a good recovery ride" after three hours of fucking torture, to demonstrate that you're not as grown up as you think you are. On the other hand, there's nothing quite like going from someone who was scared to roll down a smooth anthill on a bike, to someone who can navigate the Okareka loop in her drops. From someone who squealed and panicked after riding a mountain bike over a stone to someone who..well, someone who is getting there, more and more every day. I haven't had a chance to see yet what this means for me in the rest of my life, but I don't think anyone would disagree that having faith in yourself is kinda handy.

OK, so we're still all about me. Is there anything about my tri training that benefits others? Directly- Phil, and my hypothetical future babies will benefit from having a fit, healthy, personally satisfied wife and mother. Others I know have been exposed to my hobby, and in some cases, this has led to them experiencing all of the personal satisfation I described above. Phil is a perfect example of that. Indirectly? I may be less of a burden on the health care system, and the environment, although in the latter case I doubt it (in fact, I'm probably hurting the country, because if I didn't have triathlon as a hobby, I would spend 10 hours every day earning money for a big corporate law firm, and I'd pay more taxes...) More indirectly? Well, my participation in triathlon events is an increase in quantity demanded, which leads to an increase quantity supplied, which is good for all the other triathletes. And oh- all of that extra money I spend is contributing a fair amount to the tax pot through others...

Next, to think about "living". I've assumed that what the commenter meant was "having a life", rather than simply existing and continuing to breathe. In my view, that means living life to the fullest, doing those things that make you feel alive. So let's reflect about triathlon, and "living", with the following few thoughts in mind:

Having the fitness to share your grandfather's 80th birthday mountain climb with him. Bobbing up and down in your wetsuit in Wellington Harbour on a sunny summer's evening. Looking out over the city and the Hutt from the top of Mt Vic, and seeing the snowy Rimutakas and Orongorongos in the distance. Holding onto the Pencarrow Lighthouse for dear life in 130kph gusts. Twisting and turning down a mountain bike path in a battle against the sun. Getting muddy. Getting wet. Falling down, and getting back up. Meeting new friends, and celebrating their triumphs with them.

If that's not life.... What is?

Right now- time to train. Off the the Parnell Baths!


Phillip said...

And a particularly worthwhile ramble that was.

Bravo =)

Andrew is getting fit said...

Damn straight!

Britt said...

Well said!

E-Speed said...

Agree with you 100%

Westy said...

Awesome ramble Kate... Inspiring!
I think it is always healthy to question what we do. I see many people get into the sport and totally loose focus on why they got into the sport in the first place... it virtually becomes like a second job... but as you stated, when you stop and have a think what we get out the sport it is an amazing lifestyle... and what else would you be doing... sitting on the couch or playing golf... which is sh**! :-)

Racharoo said...

What they said. Props to Granddad, and to you. I have never considered your sporty adventures an alternative to 'living'! Quite the opposite.