Triathlon: The Pursuit of a Plastic Trophy

Let's face it: You don't get an award for creating an exceptional Excel spreadsheet at work. No one puts a hefty medal around your neck when your PowerPoint presentation is completed. Your boss does not take a podium shot with you when your sales exceed those of your co-workers.

But enter your first triathlon and suddenly you are a weekend superstar. You finish a local sprint triathlon and score a three-inch high plastic trophy! You see ranked results, beaming finish line photos and Facebook posts with over 100 likes and comments calling you a rock star. The endorphins that flood your brain and the resulting feelings of euphoria are intoxicating.

And thus begins the cycle of triathlon addiction.

To those outside the world of triathlon, our obsession with the sport can seem, well, silly. I have alienated more than one innocent bystander at a dinner party by describing--in too much detail--my preparations for an upcoming long course triathlon.

However, for those of us within the sport, triathlon is anything but silly. The all-consuming nature of our "hobby" prompts us to miss social engagements, spend a great deal of our discretionary income on gear and gadgets, sacrifice sleep and partake in exhausting activities during our non-work hours.

Plastic or Priceless?

What is it about that three-inch plastic trophy that hooks and ultimately drives us?

In reality, a trophy is just a symbol, which by definition, "stands for something else, especially a material object representing something abstract."

For me, all of the finish line symbolism celebrates where the sport has taken me personally. It demonstrates that in six years of sobriety, I have overcome a 17-year addiction to alcohol and emerged as a much healthier, more goal-oriented, focused and driven version of myself.

For others, the three-inch trophy may signify overcoming a wide range of adversity: surviving cancer, carrying on after the profound loss of a loved one, achieving a weight loss goal or overcoming a traumatic injury. The finisher medal might acknowledge the major accomplishment of getting off the couch and learning how swim, bike and run as an aging and out-of-shape adult. The ranked results can validate our efforts and document our improvements, even when our name appears at the bottom of our age group.

The French philosopher Albert Camus said, "There is scarcely any passion without struggle." The passion that we triathletes feel for our beloved sport is the direct result of what we have overcome in order to participate in it. Nothing about triathlon is easy.

The Pursuit of Meaning

The IRONMAN motto, "Anything is Possible," resonates with so many triathletes because it gives us hope that we can overcome a life situation, survive a hardship or rise from mediocrity to accomplish something significant.

The very pursuit of the finish line, with all its symbolism, is a pursuit of meaning.

Some may snicker at our triathlon desires and goals, and others may guffaw at our excitement over a three-inch plastic trophy. But perhaps it is the rest of the world that needs to learn a lesson from our sport.

And by that, I mean our bosses need to start taking podium shots in the conference room when we exceed the sales of our colleagues.

Betsy Langan, MSW is a grant writer and women's health advocate who resides in Key West, Florida. Addicted to the sport of triathlon, she has completed over 65 swim, bike and/or run events in the past five years, crossing the finish line in a vertical position 98.9% of the time. Betsy is an IRONMAN Certified Coach who loves to share her passion with those just starting out in the sport. She can be reached at

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