On The Shoulders Of Giants
Written by: Jordan Rapp
Date: Mon Aug 13 2012
I know from experience that everyone out there who has a blue wristband has a story about their journey thatís equally improbable and amazing and hard to believe. Ironman is incredible. And itís made incredible by all of you - the athletes that decide to undertake and endure the challenges of race day - like heat and humidity that make you wish for nothing more than to go stand inside a freezer for a really, really long time. But getting to the starting line is often just as - if not more - difficult than getting to the finish line, although there were times when I wasnít sure those switchbacks in Riverside Park were ever going to end. "Youíre telling me I have to turn around and run the other way AGAIN?"
When I last gave one of these speeches, I used it to test whether or not my idea for the commencement address that I was going to give at my high school was any good. In that commencement address, I also talked about something that I did not talk about at the awards banquet that seemed to be well received, so this is my chance to use that speech as a test for what I say to you all today. I told the graduating seniors that beyond whatever they might do to achieve their goals, they needed two other things to be successful - luck and other peopleís help. And I said they should make sure not to mistake one for the other, especially not mistaking someone elseís help for luck. Sir Isaac Newton says it more eloquently in his classic quotation, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."
We all stood on the shoulders of a giant army of volunteers and spectators yesterday. And we stood on the shoulders of the giants in our lives just to get there. My wife, who - in addition to being the mother of a thirteen month old (which is why sheís not here today) - also has to deal with a spouse whose job it is to totally exhaust himself most days, is my giant. So are my parents, who - after watching me play numerous lacrosse matches in high school in Riverside Park - got to see me finish an Ironman there yesterday. We all race Ironman on our own. We all had to get ourselves from that barge in the Hudson to that finish line in the park using nothing but our own bodies, and - on a day as hard as yesterday and a course as relentlessly difficult as this one - we needed a lot willpower too. When I first saw the fast swim time, I thought, "maybe Iíll break 8 hours." Then, on that second trip back into that headwind on the bike, I revised my goal to, "maybe Iíll just try and set a best time." And, then, after making the trip to the first turnaround at about 3.75 miles into Palisades Park, I revised my goal again to, "maybe Iíll just worry about actually finishing." I donít think ice has ever been so magical and holy.
But even though we are responsible for getting ourselves from start to finish by swimming, biking, running (and WALKING some stairs), we do not race Ironman alone. And THAT is what makes Ironman truly special. We are given the chance by others to see what we ourselves are capable of; sometimes it ends with a finisherís medal and sometimes, unfortunately, it does not. But however it ends, it always begins the same way - with a single athlete - surrounded by 2500 of their closest totally insane friends - getting ready to do something remarkable by standing on the shoulders of giants.
I hope no one takes this as diminishing their own achievement in any way. It does not. It enhances what we all achieved. Because what we achieved we achieved together. My day was possible because of you. And I hope that - in some small way - I might have helped to make your day possible a little bit as well. But all of our days were possible because of someone else. The aid station volunteer who ran that extra step to get us another cup of coke. Or the understanding spouse who accepted, more than just once or twice, that we needed - really needed - to disappear on our bikes for the entire day in training. How do we thank them? In some ways, we can never really thank them appropriately. But in many other ways, I think we already have. Weíve thanked them by being brave enough to risk standing on that start line. And weíve thanked them by pushing our bodies and our minds and our limits. Weíve thanked them by doing something amazing. Weíve thanked them by giving everything just to hear four simple words. YOU. ARE. AN. IRONMAN.
We all need to be proud of what weíve done. And we need to be proud to have had so much help along the way. Because the memories we have may be our own. But itís the memories we share that I think make us human. And I donít think Iíve ever felt anything that makes me more human than doing an Ironman. It makes me feel alive. And it makes me feel - more than anything else Iíve found - like Iím part of something larger. Because I shared what Iím lucky enough to do for a living with all of you. And you are kind enough to share what you do with me. And we all share it with the people in our lives that our most special to us. We share it with the giants who are kind enough to let us stand on their shoulders, so that we might see farther than we could on our own. Far enough, perhaps, to see the limits of what is truly possible.
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Jordan Rapp responds to Elizabeth Weil's portrait of the Ironman XC (eXecutive Challenge) program written for Bloomberg's online BusinessWeek.com. She argues the program is about status; Rapp argues it's still about self-discovery. 12.17.12
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Jordan Rapp's 2015 Ironman Mont-Tremblant awards speech. A riff on Nietzsche's idea that, "He who has a why to live can bear almost any how." Adapted for Ironman and the idea of a, "why to race." 8.20.15
After posting my speech following Ironman Canada 2011 here, I was stunned by the reception it received. While I can't promise to fill my own shoes, I hope this resonates with at least some of you. 5.21.12