As I said, I wasn’t prepared for the camaraderie. But I really wasn’t prepared for what I experienced the next day as I watched a few swimming races.
I swim competitively, so I’m familiar with the grueling practices it takes to be ready on race day. I’m familiar with the feeling of complete aloneness as you stand on the block waiting for the gun to fire. I’m familiar with both the amped-up exhilaration of the event, as well as the nagging fear that all the work you’ve put in might fall a few split seconds short of your goals. I’m familiar with the setting, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw here.
Race after race, men and women missing a leg or an arm, were wheeled up to the starting blocks, and crawled on top until they could stand for the gun. Some could only sit on the edge of the pool and fall in. I thought to myself, I don’t expose myself like that.
Men and women with no legs, pulled themselves through the water, and then in complete exhaustion flopped onto the gutter at the side and dragged themselves to their wheel chair. I don’t take that much of a risk in front of others.
The last race I watched was a men’s 100-meter freestyle, two laps of a long, long pool for six men, all of whom were missing an arm. I don’t know if I could do what these men are doing. Their courage and determination were beyond description.
The gun went off, and most men dove off the blocks and made immediate headway despite their disabilities. Except for one, who was clearly struggling behind the others. And then I saw why: like the other swimmers he had only one arm; unlike any of the others, he had no legs. I actually gasped out loud and threw my hand over my mouth. That’s not a reaction I recall ever having before.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. This was a man, formerly fit enough to fight in the British Armed Forces, probably more athletic than the great majority of people, exposing his fearsome wounds and limitations, and putting them to the test. My heart pounded for him; I barely breathed; I held my hand to my mouth; and tears streamed down my face.
When you run a race and get exhausted, you can stop and catch your breath. When you’re biking and absolutely must stop, you do. But if you’re a person with only a torso and one arm, in a ten-feet-deep pool, if you stop, you sink to the bottom. We were witnessing a life-threatening endeavor.
Courage, yes. Determination, yes. But also, indescribable humility and vulnerability. A willingness to reveal to everyone who he really is. This man was grievously wounded, extremely disabled (physically anyway), and publicly exposed. His bravery brought the whole audience and every competitor to their feet in full-hearted cheers as he worked his way to the end of the race.
I filmed it on my phone, but discovered he was filmed in the same event last year with a much better camera. You can see what I saw in this clip. The whole race is less than four minutes, or you can go to the 2-minute mark to watch his solitary battle while all the other racers, finished long before, look on with admiration.
Most men fear revealing themselves to others. We cover up flaws, we ignore or deny wounds and we run from relationships or events that we suspect will involve vulnerability. We fear that if others knew the truth about us, they would no longer respect us.
The truth is almost always the opposite. When we expose our weaknesses and tender spots to other men, three things usually happen:
- Our story turns out to be very similar to that of another man who is listening— we find out we are not alone.
- We engender respect and earn trust for our courage and vulnerability.
- We are cheered on in our race.
Men, you matter. The impact of your life is so important; the consequences of your decisions are so significant. I urge you to race like the man in the story above—all out, no masks, out of the man-cave, investing great effort into those matters and those people we believe in deeply, and finding a team of like-minded men.
In I Cor. 9 Paul writes, “You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.”
“I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.” (Message)
All out. No sloppy living. No isolation. No shame. That’s the kind of living and racing I saw in the Wounded Warriors. The British swimmer didn’t come in first in time, but he was without question the star of the race, because he showed up and gave it everything he had despite grievous wounds.
Taken from Craig Glass’s blog post “Prince Harry Was the Attraction, But Not the Star.” Used with permission.