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Fringe Benefits

By Robert Kulisek

ironmanWhen I signed up a year in advance for the 2011 edition of the Louisville Ironman, I did so apprehensively with the knowledge that many sacrifices would have to be made over the course of the forthcoming twelve months. It was not so much the things I would have to give up that I was concerned about — this was my choice and I was willing to make the sacrifices necessary in order to accomplish my end goal. More so it was the knowledge that my family would have to make concessions and the impact this race would have on them, as they would be receiving none of the ancillary benefits that I would be receiving (pride, supreme sense of accomplishment, etc.).

During the course of training, and even more intensely on the day of the race, I was constantly aware of my family’s unconditional support of me in this endeavor. However, to be honest, it would not be until nearly a month after completion of the race that I would realize the positive impact it did have on them.

My five year old daughter loves to draw. One day about a month following the race, I was flipping through her drawing journal, and I came across the Ironman symbol that she had recreated from memory with the word Ironman delicately written in her unmistakable handwriting below it. I asked my wife about the drawing, assuming my daughter had done it the day of the race while she was waiting to catch a brief glimpse of me on the course. I was surprised when she said she had only recently asked her how to spell Ironman.  “You know she’s still so proud of you for finishing that race.” This brought to memory something else that my two-and-a-half year old son has been saying each morning on the way to school since the race as we would drive over the Tennessee River: “Daddy, that river you swim in for you race?” Of course it’s not the same Ohio River that I swam in for the race, but the fact that I swam in a river for Ironman has left an indelible mark on his young memory.

ironmanThere is something about this race that has left a positive impression on my family, something that I was totally unprepared for. I will spend my kids’ childhood trying to impress upon them the benefits of hard work and dedication.  I had no idea at the outset of my training that I would get to actually show them those direct benefits by way of a positive and concrete example. I tried to have my training impact their lives as little as possible by riding the trainer early in the morning before they woke up or late in the evening after they had gone to bed, swimming laps over my lunch hour, and running any chance I could get. However, the times they woke up early or got out of their beds for a drink of water, only to find daddy slogging away on the trainer, obviously did have a lasting effect on them.

And the positive impacts are not restricted to my children. My wife recently completed her first half-marathon. Is this a direct result of my accomplishment? I cannot be so self-absorbed to assume any credit for what my wife has accomplished, but it sure is a funny coincidence!

Many times during my training, I had a black cloud of guilt hanging over me, thinking about how much my family was doing to allow me to see the finishing line for Ironman Louisville 2011. When it does come now, the cloud is a little less dark knowing that my children and wife do not cringe when I tell them I have to train. More often I get the response, “Can I come too?”