Free Chicken

by Anthony Stephens
August 15, 201
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This is not meant to be a “Yea, Me” article. There is definitely some ‘free chicken’ (i.e. good information that sets you up for success in ‘Army-speak’). Nonetheless, I am not un-proud of completing, by the grace of God, the 140.6 miles of Ironman Lake Placid in about 15 hours. Here is the ‘free chicken’: it was a spiritual and practical journey and I learned some lessons that I would like to share below. These came from the many angelos (Greek for “messengers”) that were placed in my journey.

  • Race as if you are always on camera:  A long time ago I started running triathlons in a route that went through my parish. I met many enthusiastic supporters who were friends and parishioners en route and for their sake, I did not want to be seen not “trying.” It wasn’t so much that I cared what they thought, but I wanted to do my best as a member of their community. Take away: if you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for the team – though the team loves you regardless.
  • Always say “Thank you”: This is key. Recovering Alcoholics, and others of the Twelve Step community talk about an attitude of gratitude. I was told to thank volunteers, which I did profusely. More importantly, at regular increments (transitions, hill tops, waypoints), I prayerfully thanked God. It’s true that at the race’s finish I was so smoked that I forgot how to make the sign of the cross, but every time I remembered to be thankful, it produced a great neurochemical blast, which acted as a natural pain killer and euphoric.
  • Start slowly: My game plan was to go flat out for as long as possible. Coaches and sages said this was a rotten idea, so I didn’t. I started slowly at each new stage and gradually built up pace. In the Army we call this: crawl, walk, run. It worked – personal best!
  • Tolerate slow progress: I am primarily a runner, and marathons used to be my main thing. This started with learning that my blood pressure was a bit high. Distance running motivated me to set a goal and exercise to it. Fifteen years ago, at age 43, I couldn’t run a bath without getting out of breath. I learned any degree of going forward is better than going backwards, and going backwards can show how to go forwards better. Going forwards or backwards is always better than quitting. My run at IMLP was slooo-ow. However, when my son, my coach, and a few other supporters cheered me on, my pace picked up. Running slowly still gets you there and is not an indication to give up.

These are analogs for life’s trials and tribulations: losing weight, overcoming injury or disability, getting through grief, upgrading to healthy, non-violent, relationships and many more.

It’s ‘free chicken’. Bon appetit!

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Anthony Stephens, PhD has served as a staff psychotherapist with the Lutheran Counseling Center since 2000. He continues to see clients in the Paul Qualben Center in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He also serves in the New York Army National Guard as a major in the Chaplain Corps.

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