Yup, things look a little different around here. Last night, I rode into a headwind that made me get out of the saddle to hold 12-13 MPH, and while I was catching the poor bloke up the road (who maintained a solid 11.5-12.5 MPH for a good ten minutes, the strongman), I thought for the countleth time Why? This question was purely a rhetorical one, since I was enjoying myself. 30 MPH headwind, machine-sharp light, the only thing missing was rain. The enjoyment, of course, only lasted until I got to the turnaround to begin the truly joyous 27.5 miles back with the wind. But I got to thinking about the geniuses over at BKW, who have turned the term PRO into an industry wide term. What does it mean? Pedraig can say it far better than I, so read on there. In short, though, PRO is what the big guys do. Jens Voight, Eddy Merckx, Lance Armstrong, Steve Prefontaine, Mark Allen, Dave Scott, Faris Al-Sultan, Paula Radcliffe, Deena Kastor, Rebecca Wellons and Lynn Bessette, Natasha Badmann, Chrissy Wellington, Paula Newby-Fraser, Michael Phelps, and newly crowned Kona Champ Craig Alexander are all PRO with three capital letters. What does it mean to be PRO? Your training and your carriage are perfect. What does it take to be PRO? Good god, quite a bit, and the sacrifices aren't yours alone. When I was fifteen, and reading science fiction non-stop under the covers, Neal Stephenson pointed out the fantasy that "Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad." No PRO got to where he or she was/is on the burliness of his or her own bootstraps. Coaches, family members, spouses, companies all contributed their time, love, and, in most cases, cash, to the dubious experiment of one person's athletic ego. The PRO was born. I'm not knocking it. Very few could get there on his own. It takes a huge ego and and a vast amount of humility to accept the help of others in the aggrandizement of self.
But what about the others who toil just below the PROS out there, who are good but not quite good enough, who don't have the heart to toss job and family to the wind in the pursuit of something so ephemeral as sport? Call them the pros, and there are 10 for every PRO in every sport. I'm going to try to refocus this blog on the pro, those of us who fall between the amateur and the PRO, the ones that get dusted by the big guys, but would walk away with every local race into which he or she dropped. Who are we? You probably don't know our names, outside of our local circles, but once or twice a year we have flashes of PRO-like brilliance, and we live on these moments. For me, it was outsplitting the Eagleman 70.3 field by three minutes on the bike. My friend and teammate Janda teeters right on the edge of pro and PRO, putting up great results all year long, one sneaker on the podium of triathlon's biggest events. New friend Kevin Lisska throws down a huge day and comes in 8th at the Long Course World Championships in Holland. My other teammate Will Ronco comes in 5th at Lake Placid. Do you know these names? Probably not. As one spectator at Newfoundland said to me: "You're a pro?! Would I have heard of you?" The answer, for most of us pros, is a resounding no.
We know most of each other, although there are a lot of pros out there. We're the guys that age-groupers like to gripe about when they say there are too many pros in triathlon. But there's a good community, and we say hello at the race briefings in the time-honored way of close competitors: we grunt, and look around, and ask how training is going, and say we're glad to see each other again, and what races we've got on the horizon. We say little to each other during the race, but a lot afterward.
What are the PROS like? Well, not too different, besides the blessings of genetics, time, and fortune. For the most part they are great people: generous of their time and kindness. I get the honor of sharing a coach with Craig Alexander (that's about all we share), and so get to bounce ideas off of him now and then. He couldn't be kinder or more supportive. Richie Cunningham is the quietest guy I've ever met to wield such a nasty SBR combination. Many of you probably know Karen Smyers, due to her generosity of spirit. After my first race as a pro (in which I came in last), she only had the nicest things to say to me.
The sign that now occupies the title shot of this blog sums up the prolife to me: you do your best and then deal with what comes along. I race next in Clearwater, 12 days from now. Lots of prep to finish, lots of dreaming to be done. Who knows, I may be PRo on that day...
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