A purpose greater than myself helps me to push on after a disappointing race.
Kona 2012 didn’t go as planned. I had prepared perfectly for the race, I was in amazing form and had implemented new training techniques that I thought would take me to another title in Hawaii. My season in Europe was exceptional, and in mid-July I ran away with another world championship in Spain. That win gave me the confidence that my training was on track for success in October.
On race day I was empty, and the event was over before it began. I sat confused and flat in my house after the race. My kids were running around laughing and screaming, tanned from a day in the sun. As I sat there trying to work out what went wrong, what mistakes we could have made in the preparation, what had left me so weak and soft in the race, I tried to laugh and just be normal for them.
I put on a brave face, but my mind was elsewhere, and I guess it was easy to see.
My eldest daughter, Tahlia, sat down next to me, threw her arms around me, and in her soft, innocent voice said, “Dad, don’t be sad!”
I looked at her and smiled, realizing I had been lost in a chasm of my thoughts. “Darling, Dad is not sad! I am just disappointed. That’s all! I can be better, and that makes Dad disappointed!”
Tahlia looked at me a little confused and then said with some purpose, “Well, Dad, maybe that was your today best! That doesn’t mean your tomorrow best can’t be better than your today best! Be the best you can be today, Dad. And then tomorrow be the best you can be tomorrow. When you do that, you will be the best dad you can be, and that’s the most important thing.”
I was shocked! She absolutely floored me. When did my 8-year-old get so philosophical? I looked at her so proudly, shaking my head in a moment of realization and disbelief. I smiled and replied, “Darling, you’re 100 percent right. When did you get so clever? Who told you that?”
“You did, Dad! You told me that Nanny would tell you that all the time when you were a little boy!”
And with that reply, I just smiled. Here my 8-year-old daughter gave me the lesson I had been trying to teach her my entire life. I just smiled with contentment that the message had gotten through. At that moment the entire thought of my race was completely gone. It just seemed so insignificant. For the first time in a long time I realized that this sport had given me more than just victories and defeats. It had given me a foundation and a purpose in life that enabled me to teach my kids the principles that were taught to me by my parents. It was one of those moments you have as a parent that just feels really good.
My mother, Theresa Lily McCormack, lost her battle with breast cancer in 1999. Right at the beginning of my successes as a professional athlete, mum saw me win my first world championship in 1997. She lost her battle with the disease in less than four months. I was devastated, and throughout my entire career as an athlete, I always felt hollow with the fact that my mother never got to see all the things I went on to achieve—all my dreams and hopes that we had talked about many times as I grew up. She never got to meet my amazing wife, nor her three beautiful grandchildren. Breast cancer robbed all of us of that, and at 53 years of age my mother was gone before her time. It was not fair.
After my first win in Kona 2007, my wife and I decided to begin racing the rest of my career in honor of my mum. We decided that for the rest of my career, we would travel and race as a family. At every place we visit we would try to raise money and awareness for breast cancer in her name. We called our project “Miles for Mum.” I would donate prize money, do corporate talks and initiate programs that would help us meet our goal.
My mother was alive for 19,455 days and we decided that it would be our mission to try and raise $140.60 for each day (totaling $2,735,373), remembering how much I had endured in 140.6 miles. This was our new race! Through this objective we would let our kids learn about their grandmother, and we would do something bigger than ourselves. This is how the MaccaNow family foundation started, and over the next four years we raised and donated more than $1.2 million.
When I reflect on this year’s race, I realize that this sport is driven by so many who are inspired by things greater than just crossing the finish line. Looking at the groups of people racing this year for the Challenged Athletes Foundation, or Chris Lieto and his More Than Sport Foundation, brought a smile to my face. We are all looking for reasons to push on—that one reason why we get up in the morning and set tough, arduous goals like racing an Ironman. But the positive outcome of this and the influence it brings is immeasurable. It is more than you!
That decision my wife and I made in 2007 has led me many places. People ask me when I will retire as a professional, and I know in my heart when that will be. I like to meet all the goals I set, and we have a big one left.
A message my mum taught me as a boy was amazingly conveyed to my own daughter. This sport has given me that, and I am truly blessed for it. I might not have won the race again in 2012, but I did all right! The only way to put it is exactly how my daughter put it: “I did the best I could do today. I will try to make my tomorrow best even better.” That’s a nice way of looking at everything.