Monday, April 7, 2008

Triathlon 2020

Ever wonder what triathlons will be like in the future?

i had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of it over the weekend at the first ever tri-kids, superbly organised by mejar kalam and gang. (thank you everybody for making it such a memorable race for the kids and parents alike)

the race was divided into 3 main age categories: group A 5-8, Group B 9-11, Group C 12-15

on the menu:
Group A 5-8: swim 50m, bike 500m, run 100m
Group B 9-11: swim 250m, bike 1.4km, run 800m
Group C 12-15: swim 350m, bike 4.2km, run 1.6km

while all the contestants, except for the kids in the oldest category, were about or below 4ft tall their courage surpassed their built and height. of course it helped that most of them had triathlete parents.

here were some highlights of the day:
1. azwar's Group A daughter came in a full pink gear complete with matching pink bike. the bike had a little box at the rear which i suspect is for keeping powergels. i also suspect that if i'm still in business in 2020, she'll be a hard contender to miss and i may not hold the title "ironman in pink" for very long.
2. ishsal's Group B daughter had just learned to pedal her bike the thursday before the event (in true style of her father's, who completed his first ever 2km swim 10 days before IM 2008)
3. abu's Group A daughter was one of the smaller and possibly the youngest participant. she wasn't last so by that virtue, i say she can kick some serious ass!
4. both arif's Group A sons finished 2nd and 3rd. the younger one come in ahead of his brother, 2 years his senior (not very true to their proud dad's style of finishing)
5. mejar kalam had a Group A son and two Group C sons. one of the Group C sons finished dead last but in true ironman style and spirit.

but the moments weren't always cheerful.

admittedly i am not a parent. but i do have my own and i would say to a certain extend, all parents are the same. they all want the same things:
1. a happy healthy child
2. a child that makes them proud
3. a child that achieves and excels in everything they do

of course the list is longer depending on the parent but the above three seems to be the most popular and while points 1 & 2 are relatively easy to define, and obtain (especially for my parents who thinks that me being a self earner and never been to jail has made them proud) point 3 is a little fuzzy.

point 3 is fuzzy because parents often cannot distinguish whether a child is excelling in something the child wants to do, or something the parent wants the child to do. and i see that in a lot of parents whether they are new ones around my age or old ones like my peers' parents.

a simple example: how many of us can say with confidence that our parents did not compare us to our cousins/friends/siblings when we were growing up?

the topic whether it's "why can't you study more, like your cousin?" or "why can't you behave and dress better, look at your best friend" or whatever, is irrelevant. the point here is, as a parent, do they say this because it's what the child wants to be or do they say this because they feel that's how their child should be?

again, i'm not a parent so i may actually be very ignorant in this topic. i apologise in advance before continuing what i think are my inner thoughts.

here's what i think.

i think all parents are competitive. the moment they have a child, the child automatically carries the weight of their parents' pressure to excel.

many disguise this pressure by saying "what's wrong with having hopes for my child?". some say "a child is like a canvas, you have to paint it and mold it and make the best of it". some insist "i do not want my child to live how i have. i've learnt my mistakes and why would i let my child feel the same pain when i know how to control or avoid it?". and the most popular one i've heard "my child can do it. he/she has the potential but he/she is just not wanting to push for it"

don't get me wrong as i thread on thin ice here. i believe each parent has the right to the above and any other statements of why they don't see how they children can't be successful. when i am a parent, i would probably have the same hopes and dreams.

but, however we justify it or put it into a philosophy, it all translates into one thing for the child: parental pressure.

and parental pressure was alive and well last weekend...

i saw one young girl and at least two of the older girls breaking down as they crossed the finishing line. and these older girls were not 'dead last' qualities. they were strong from start to finish.

the first girl who cried was in Group A. she had finished last. her sweet mom was there to comfort her and i overheard her telling her daughter to stop crying.

however, when i passed i asked why she was crying, the mother said "she's tired". now, that, i found strange. it's either the mother had no idea the mental stress of competing in a triathlon, whatever the distance, or she didn't want to say "the race got the better of my child". was she too competitive or did she feel that i was a stranger and deserved no intimate information of her daughter's condition. either way i gave the girl a big smile and said "hey, don't cry. you're a triathlete! i saw you and you were awesome!". the mother gave a big smile after that and said "yes! you were great out there!".

i think she's a great mom. one with hopes yet gentleness when the child feels defeated. one with enough privacy for her child, just in case others made the situation worst by comparing yet, to join in the encouragement to make her child feel better.

other parents were not as gracious.

the heat of the competition for the oldest group was very high... and the pressure from parents comparing their children, even higher.

i must admit i was very impress by what the older age group could do. their swim stokes were incredibly smooth, running into transition for the bike and blasting through the 1.6km run leg.

but my blood boiled as i hear parents adding pressure while their children raced. from shouting the number of laps left at the edge of the pool, to "pick up your bike quick", to "why did you stop your bike short of the transition? they've already said you could go nearer"

as we watched the older children run two loops around the field a particular set of mothers were bantering each other at the expense of their own children. comments like "she started the run first but look my son is catching up" and the other replies "we'll see, it's only their first lap". then later a sarcastic "see? see? my daughter's slowing down. there goes her race."

and it made me feel sorry for the boy who won the Group C race as his mother was more interested to know why he came back from the bike late than to congratulate him on his victory.

the leading girl crossed the line second with tears in her eyes. her mother immediately went to her side and although they were way out of ear shot, i have a good feeling the daughter's getting some sort of pressure talk about you did good but you could have been better.

and i know this because shen has similar parents. she used to tell me of how nothing is ever good enough for her father and how his comments always centered around the message "is that all you could do?" no matter what she achieved academically or athletically. it was only after 4 years in triathlon when she started bringing home prizes that her parents acknowledge that she's actually, in their own words "not bad at what you do".

i really felt for that girl that came in second and i actually felt a lump in my throat watching her look defeated although coming in second in her category. children her age should be enjoying themselves not feeling the weight of the world and definitely not that of her, to my personal opinion, under achieving mother.

perhaps i should bite my tongue as i wasn't there to hear everything her mother had to say. i hope i am wrong about the mother. i hope she gave comfort and encouragement. i hope the girl cried because of mental or physical pressures of the race and not of parental pressure.

honestly though, i think if my child was doing her first triathlon, i would hope for her to excel. but more importantly, i would want her to have fun. hope to excel, want to have fun.

i think arif shares my sentiments because we had this conversation after the race where i chaperoned his eldest son:
arif: did shafeeq come in last?
senn: er... not sure, i wasn't paying attention
arif: hmmmm
senn: actually, i don't think so
arif: you sure?
senn: i think so... why, does it matter if he did?
arif:... emm... i guess not

while i believe arif secretly hoped his two boys would excel, he ensured they had fun above victory. unofficially, and based on assumption and memory, we took a guess that shaqeel came in 3rd and shafeeq came in 5th. even with these placings arif showed his boys that he was ecstatic about them toughing it out and finishing so you can imagine how on-top-of-the-world he felt when the official placing was 2nd and 3rd!

and that, along with the 'privacy mother' is how it should be.

or perhaps this is exactly where future triathletes and tryathletes seed from. chances are if the parent applies constant pressure, a child will excel and become a successful triathlete (or it may back fire and the child shrugs the sport all together). chances are if the parent is a 'hippie' about the race results, the child may end up being a tryathlete (or then again, build enough confidence and love for the sport to excel in their own right)

whichever way the scale tips, i think it is safe to say:
have all the hopes and dreams you want for your children but let them lead the way without your pressures and do your victory dance in private when your child excels because the victory while shared, belongs solely to your children.