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ROI vs. Humanity

Brian M. Carney wrote an excellent piece for the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Pedaling for a Good Cause – But Why?”  He asks the question, “People sign up and seek sponsors, who agree to donate to the charity in exchange for—what, exactly?”  He then explains how he has a clear understanding of what the donator gets when he/she purchases an item at a charity bake sale, “…in a bake sale, the buyers are receiving something of value—a cookie, a slice of carrot cake—for their money.”  Carney then proceeds to ask and then attempts to answer the riddle of, “When people ride bikes for charity, they are not giving their sponsors anything tangible.”  While Carney puzzles through and comes up with some rationales for why people donate, he ultimately concludes that, “…we all do things occasionally that make no sense.

In an effort to keep this blog post an appropriate blog post length, as opposed to a philosophy thesis, I will need to carve out my most important points and focus on them, knowing that I will need to leave many important and valid points by the wayside.  I also think that it’s important to state my bias, which is that I do solicit people once a year to contribute to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in conjunction with training that I do for a triathlon.  Lastly, I am in no way the most charitable person, most giving person or nicest person you will meet – far from it; I trend towards ROI analyses in circumstance where I might be better served avoiding that sort of activity.

With that being said, I think that people who do a strict ROI analysis will find Carney’s article spot on.  However, these people might also find the concept of giving a birthday gift equally “nonsensical.”  After all, what is the ROI on a birthday present?  What can you do with gratitude?  Can you truly quantify appreciation (and do you really want to know or interact with someone who can and does quantify appreciation)?  What can you actually do with gratitude and appreciation (both of which often have half-lives and diminishing value over time)?  Simply put, since the mathematical calculation is difficult, if not impossible to come up with, and if there was a calculation that could be had, in all likelihood the outcome would result in a negative ROI, all acts of generosity or kindness, gift giving, thoughtfulness, etc. fall into the category of “…we all do things occasionally that make no sense.”

Congratulations.  You are now a computer.  Or maybe you are Ebenezer Scrooge.  Tactical, calculating and lacking in the unique differentiator that motivates most humans.

Heart.  Connections.  Emotion.  Care.

Some of my donors donate because they are reminded that they want to support LLS, but have forgotten to do so (one supporter lost a close family member to Leukemia).  Some of my donors support me because I have done them favors in the past and have not asked for any payment and this is a way that they can repay me without paying me.  Some donors support me because they are charitable individuals looking for worthy causes to donate to, so my involvement gives it a stamp of approval of sorts.  However, I think that most of my donors donate because it is a way for them to let me know that they care about what I care about.  It’s one way (and there are many others) for them to express their support for me – at least that is the way that I take it.  I should take a moment to say that I do not hold it against anyone who does not donate or support my fundraising; support is ONLY a positive opportunity for relationships and is never the source for animosity.

I know that there are people who live their lives who measure ROI solely in dollars and cents.  There are also people who have no clue what ROI stands for or why people who ever want to measure it.  As I have said previously, I trend strongly towards the former and away from the latter.  However, I know that my life becomes far richer when I open myself up to the opportunity to live life without constantly measuring and calculating exchanges of value.

Carney does make an interesting point about fundraisers in that suffering seems to be a key element: “If I were to offer to lie on a beach in Thailand for a week for charity, I doubt I would raise much aside from a cocktail glass.”  I think that’s because you don’t need nearly as much emotional support or motivation to lie on a beach as you do to get up and train or complete one of these endurance events.  Then again, if anyone is willing to donate money to charity for me to lie on a beach, in Thailand or anywhere else, I am all ears…


Just A Second

In triathlon, for us mere mortals (in contrast to the demi-gods who finish in the top three of their age group, and the gods who finish in the top three overall) our finishing time doesn’t really matter.  As Reese Bobby said to Ricky Bobby, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”  Sure, everyone who completes a triathlon gets a finisher’s medal and there is a record of our times for our own analysis and for our friends to check out – but, generally speaking, I have found that the only person that really looks at my finishing times is me.  And I care about my finishing time.  It provides an objective commentary on my training, my effort and my execution, and it is instrumental in setting future targets and goals.

Ahh, time…

My time is not something that I focus on after a race.  My watch provides me with feedback on my training progress, or lack thereof.  It notifies me of my daily successes and failures.

This specifically applies to my swim training, where for some reason I have been fixated on swimming 50 yards in 30 seconds or less, off the wall (no dive).  I time myself at the beginning of swim sessions, in the middle and at the end, yet somehow, every time, I look up to see the clock hit 31 seconds (at best).  Every now and then I try to convince myself that I hit the 30 second mark, but I know I am lying and I let the farce/dream fade away.

I don’t mean to say that a 31 second 50-yard freestyle is anything to be embarrassed about, and I won’t make any Olympic team if I shave a second off of my time.  I know it doesn’t really matter.

Still, that one second haunts me, teases me, laughs at me, taunts me…

It’s just a second.

Tarzan. Jane.

This past Sunday I finished a .55 mile swim in 12 minutes and 48 seconds, which I was very happy about.  Yeah, I thought I was Tarzan.

This past Tuesday night, I was brought back to earth at group swim practice.  The drill was simple: three sets of fifty yards of Tarzan swimming  (seriously, there is a stroke called Tarzan – click on the link) and fifty yards of regular ol’ freestyle.  I thought it would be no problem, especially relative to my swim on Sunday.

It took over 24 hours for me to recover from that swim workout.  Oh, how quickly I went from Tarzan to Jane.

Just in case you might be thinking that this blog post might be sexist in nature (Tarzan v. Jane, “strong man” archetype vs. “helpless woman” archetype), I want to perfectly clear that the coach, who can Tarzan-swim for days and finished the swim on Sunday in a faster time than I did, is a she.

She Tarzan. Me Jane.

Eight Tips For A Successful First Triathlon with TNT

A wise man (full disclosure, he’s my cousin) once told me that the best titles include a concrete number (eight), an allusion to some sort of insider knowledge (tips) and a goal that people want to achieve (a successful first triathlon).  Thus, the title of my blog was born.  Did the title captivate you?

Now, on to the blog…

This Sunday is the first official bike workout for the 2013 Westchester Triathlon for LLS’s Team In Training.  This is a perfect opportunity to revisit and update an old post, and cover some important advice for my teammates who are new to triathlon:

1) You will finish (if you put in the time and effort).

2) You can put in the time and effort (and no, you don’t have to train 7 days a week, or even 6, but more is better for your performance and your health).

3) There is such thing as over-doing it; stick to the coaches’ plans and guidelines (+10% max) until you have a good feeling of what your body can handle – overtraining can lead to injury that can cost you far more than the gain you think you are getting.

4) You will be astounded by your progress, though you might be frustrated by your lack of progress, at times.

5) Remember the cause, your friends on the team (old an new) and that you are changing lives while you do this.

6) DO NOT daydream or lose focus while you train – we share the road with motorists, cyclists, runners, walkers, etc., not to mention cracks in pavement, sand, gravel, uneven surfaces, etc. and it only takes a moment of distraction…

7) DO remember to dream and visualize crossing the finish line and how amazing that will feel on September 29, 2013.

8) Remember that raising funds for LLS is a central focus of TNT, and is the reason why we are a team.

With this in mind, let’s get out there, raise money, train hard and have fun!


It’s All Relative (And Not Just In West Virginia)

With apologies to Abercrombie & Fitch (and the citizens of West Virginia, who have taken issue with the use of the “It’s All Relative In West Virginia” verbiage before), my weekend was all delving into the meaning of “relative.”  Where do I start?

RELATIVE (adj. Considered in relation or in proportion to something else):

Last week I finished a sprint-distance triathlon in 1 hour and 23 minutes (and some change); this week I finished a sprint-distance triathlon in 1 hour and 15 minutes (and some change).  While an 8 minute improvement seems terrific, especially in one week, there were a number of factors that explain the differential.  For example, this week’s race had a shorter bike course by 2 miles, but it also had tight curves that slowed down the pace.  This week’s race had a longer swim course by about .1 miles, but it also had a current that aided my swim time.  Last week’s run course was longer and had a significant up-hill climb, but it was well shaded.

In short, the two races, though identical in “race class” (both were sprint triathlons), were completely different and thus comparisons should be limited.

RELATIVE (noun. A person connected by blood or marriage):

This past week, my cousin finished a 5K run in 21 minutes and 25 seconds, which is a terrific time, and finished 3rd in his age group, age 30 – 39 (which happens to be my age group, too).   My father-in-law, competing in his first triathlon ever, finished 3rd in his age group, completing the same triathlon that I did.  A big “congratulations” goes out to my cousin & father-in-law on their amazing achievements (I received no such accolades or awards)!  It is great being a part of a family that is out there competing and excelling, while having fun.


So how do I stack up?  My 5k run times for the past 2 weeks were 25 minutes and 24 minutes, but those run times were put up after I swam and biked as hard as I could for well over 50 minutes.  I also was 35 minutes faster than my father-in-law, but this was his first triathlon, and I am almost 30 years younger than he is.  So how do I stack up against my family?  How are my results relative to my relatives’?


In my opinion, each race and each race result is a unique data point that does not need to be compared to any other.  Sure, there are many places in life where comparisons are inevitable, necessary and valuable.  However, when it comes to amateur races and times, there are so many unique variables and factors (weather, tides, hydration, pre-race sleep, course differences, etc.) that each race needs to be analyzed on its own.  Frankly, I analyze my performance against, well, what I think my performance could have or should have been on that specific day.  To do otherwise, in my opinion, would be trivial and time consuming.  There are some places where heavy analyses with weighting, trends, factors, etc. need to be utilized, and where the results will have real value.  This is not the place.


Personally, I measure my performance strictly against my own potential.  Ok, maybe I compare a little bit – I am human.  But, I spend 99% of my mental energy on the fact that I really enjoyed both of sprint triathlons that I just did.  Sure, I would have liked to have run a little faster in both races and biked a little faster this past Sunday, but the sun was out, the weather was great and I had a blast.

Sometimes we need to stop worrying about the comparisons, enjoy our accomplishments and revel in the here and now.

Oh (co-) Captain! My (co-) Captain!

Oh Captain! My Captain! is a poem written in 1865 by Walt Whitman about the death of Abraham Lincoln.  Being the troglodyte that I am, I learned about the poem when I watched the movie Dead Poets Society.  I must have been absent that day that we were studying it in English class.

Well, I am no Abraham Lincoln, nor am I Robin Williams, but this year I am co-captain of Skippy’s Team.  What that means is that I will be annoying 20 intrepid souls who will all hate me by Sunday, September 29, 2013; but, they will all finish an Olympic triathlon (.92 mile swim, 25 mile bike, 6.2 mile run) and raise a ton of money to help find a cure for cancer.

So, in this, my first blog of the season, I am going to pass along some “gear” advice and information for their (and your) use.  There is still time to join the team!

GOGGLES: Some people are looking for goggle suggestions.  While there is no single “right answer” or “right source” many ST members use Aqua-sphere Kayenne goggles, based on their comfort and good field of vision.  Tinted vs. clear lenses is up to you.  I have attached a link to so that you can see what the goggles look like.  If you have a pair that you like already there is no need to buy another pair.

TRI SHORTS: You swim in them – they dry quickly, bike in them – they have a pad in them, and run in them – the pad is small enough so that you can run comfortably.  While you can get swim shorts, bike shorts and tri shorts, separately, I prefer to have 3 pairs of tri shorts so I can grab a pair and go (you DO NOT want to swim in bike shorts – you will get to experience what it feels like to swim in a pair of Huggies diapers).  My recommendation is that you purchase these somewhere where you can try on or return the product to make sure the fit is right for you.  There are a variety of brands and styles to choose from.

On the totally optional, but interesting front in terms of tri-wear, I want to cover compression tri shorts and tri suits.

Compression Tri Shorts: These shorts are designed to keep blood flowing and minimize muscle vibration, which I have found to help a bit when I am training and a bunch in terms of minimizing pain and discomfort (muscle ache) after training.  I find them especially helpful when I run.  They are a bit more expensive and they fit tighter than the average pair of tri shorts.  There are a variety of brands and styles to choose from and, again, my recommendation is that you purchase these somewhere where you can try on/return the product to make sure the fit is right for you.

Tri Suits (Especially for the ladies): This combines tri shorts and a tri top into a single product.  Some people love ’em, some people hate ’em.  What might be of interest to the ladies (and guys) is the fact that tri suits are built for swimming and they are more “modest” than traditional bathing suits.  Now, I am not saying that you and your body are not beautiful, nor am I suggesting that you need to cover up your body – I am just offering up information that you can use or discard as you see fit.  Once again, my recommendation is that you purchase these somewhere where you can try on/return the product to make sure the fit is right.  Tri suits come with compression and without compression shorts, and there are a variety of brands and styles to choose from.

There is a lot more in terms of gear, but I think this is a good start!

Feel free to add comments and ask questions, below.

True Love

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, a day when express our love to others.  Flowers, cards, romantic, teddy bears, trinkets, and more are the currency that are most oft relied upon on Valentine’s Day.  But, let’s be honest, Valentine’s Day embodies a small portion of what true love is, and should be.  Sure, fun, romance and gifts are important aspects of a loving relationship.  However, on the day after Valentine’s Day, the day when the balloons deflate, in the hours when many roses begin to wilt, and during the moments when we realize that all the delicious chocolate we ate has left us is an extra pound that we need to shed, I want to talk about True Love.

Valentine’s Day and love is often symbolized by a “heart” – a very sanitized, de-veined, non-anatomically correct, bloodless and incorrectly symmetrical heart.  As we all know, the heart’s function is to pump blood through our bodies at just the right rate and just the right rhythm.  It is a monotonous, repetitive and crucial job.  We can live without our tonsils, spleen, portions of our liver and intestines, but we need a fully functioning heart (whether it’s our own, mechanically enhanced or someone else’s).  The 24/7/365 constant beating of a heart, the commitment that our heart provides to us, and the way our heart responds to our needs during times of stress is the essence of love.  Consistency, commitment and providing for the needs of others.

This leads me to an email sent to me by a reader, Cameron Von St. James, about how he and his wife persevered through cancer (I am publising his email with his permission).   Cameron’s intention was definitely not to discuss the topic of love.  However, I believe that his story is a love story.  We all need to read to know and learn from Caeron about the commitment and selflessness that are the bedrocks of True Love.  Than you for sharing, Cameron

How my Wife and I Persevered Through Cancer

My wife has said more than once that she can’t imagine what I endured following her mesothelioma diagnosis. I’ll admit now that it was a very difficult time for me, as her husband and caregiver. I hope that by sharing some of our story, we can help another family currently struggling through a battle with cancer today.

Just three months prior to finding out that my wife had cancer, we welcomed Lily into the world. She was our first and only child, and we couldn’t  have been more thrilled to be new parents. The future of our new little family looked bright and happy, but just a few short months later, all of that joy would be ripped away from us. My wife and I were told by her doctor that she had mesothelioma, a rare and very deadly form of cancer. Our lives were shattered.

Where was my mind at this time? Overwhelmed. Angry. Fearful. On the verge of a breakdown. But there were choices to be made, decisions to be sorted. The doctor began going over our treatment choices. And so it began, months making decisions with my wife and our family while I was totally and completely devastated.

At first, my anger overwhelmed me. I frequently lashed out at others with profanity for no reason at all. Fortunately, with the passing of time, my emotions subdued. I realized I had to be strong for my family. I took on the role of rock and caregiver. Once the shock of the diagnosis wore off (if it ever really does) the to-do lists showed up. Work and travel arrangements, caring for my daughter, tending to our pets, arranging medical appointments for my wife, the list seemed to never end. I learned to prioritize, which helped, but only to a point. I realized that I couldn’t do everything on my own, no matter how hard I tried. Once I realized this and let go of my pride, I began accepting the many, generous offers of help from our family and friends. After that, our lives became much easier.

Lily was flown to South Dakota to stay with my wife’s parents while we trekked to Boston, where Heather would undergo surgery. Following the operation, Heather joined Lily at her parents’ in South Dakota, in order to recover and prepare for further mesothelioma treatment, which would include chemotherapy and radiation. Unfortunately, I had to remain at home to continue to work and take care of the house. Over the next two months, I would be able to see my wife and daughter only one time.

I can remember one Friday after work, driving through the night for eleven hours during a snowstorm to see my family. I slept in the car that night, in the hopes that the roads would be cleared enough to continue in a few hours. I arrived Saturday morning, exhausted, and was able to spend the rest of the day with my family before making the trip back on Sunday to be at work on Monday morning. Was it worth it? You bet. It was a lot of travel for a few short hours with them, but it was worth every second.

I am happy to say that today, Heather is healthy and thriving, and has been cancer free for six years. Family, commitment, and learning to take help where it’s given have all allowed me to recognize how to let go, and accept help and love when it comes. I hope that by sharing our story of success over cancer, we can help another family currently battling today.

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