Ironman Becomes Iron, Woman

Many who know me, know me as an Ironman triathlete. The middle-aged woman who trained really hard, pushing myself beyond my previously imagined boundaries, to be competitive in my age group, to be invited to compete as part of the SA team at the Olympic distance world champs. Many have heard my story of becoming an Ironman, how running up that red carpet at the end of a very long day was the culmination for me of almost a year of really hard work. Many know that I did it all again the following year, with a professional coach, on an expensive triathlon bike (my mid-life crisis gift to myself!) and with more serious intent. So I’m not going to tell that story again here.

This is the story of how I found myself reflecting on my life’s journey at, of all improbable places, an ironing board!

Chatting to an old friend recently, I was reminded once again of how adamant and opinionated I must have been once upon a time. She told me that she has always remembered, and followed, my insistent advice that: “Life is far too short to spend it ironing. Shake well, hang well, fold well and be done with it!” That was my motto, and for a large part of my life, I didn’t even own an iron!

Now, life does move on, and even for the most avid anti-ironer, some of the aspects of my career require that I don the requisite “corporate clothing”. Much to my dismay, the crumpled look is no longer fashionable!

So it happened that I was poised in front of the ironing board, iron in hand, wrinkled white shirt at the ready. As I adjusted the controls and heard the satisfying shoooooosh of steam escaping, I sank into a mildly meditative state and allowed my focus to narrow to the few centimeters of fabric just below my pressing instrument.

I began to reflect on the path I had chosen. On how proud I was of the dedication, tenacity, commitment and passion I have always displayed when confronted with a challenge. On how the “will to win” is hard wired into my DNA, so quitting is almost unthinkable for me, in so many circumstances. And I really got to thinking how that sometimes gets in my way.

How sometimes I use my inner voice to push just a little something extra out of myself; and how often times that little inner voice becomes a harsh, critical and judging reminder that I could probably do a little better, that if I trained harder, was more accurate with my heart rate monitor, ate better, drank less, and a hundred other “ifs” – I might do better, be better, be more worthy…

And so I used to push harder, train longer, demand more and more and more….

Of myself. And of everyone around me. And of course, I had no time for ironing! Ironing was women’s work! And I was an IRONMAN!

Until I was pushed off my pedestal by the somewhat belated realization that I was never actually going to WIN the Olympics! That what I was pouring my whole life into had suddenly changed shape completely when I faced the very real fact that my sons were so thoroughly bored of my continued absence due to long training hours that they wanted to make alternate living arrangements.

At this point, you may wonder what point I’m making here. I want to be exceptionally clear that I do not regret a single second spent on my bike, in the pool or dam, or pounding it out on tar and trail. I loved and relished every single moment, and will be forever grateful for the opportunities and amazing people I met during my triathlon career. Indeed, I spent many a long training hour in contemplation of my life, and my soul still sings when skipping along a beautiful trail, or cleaving cleanly through the water in the dam.

My point, I guess, is that only once I had been willing to put down, and lose everything that made sense to me in the world, did I manage to get out of my own way enough to find the life that I believe was waiting for me all along. That, against all odds, I have found inexplicable joy in the gentle art of ironing; not because of the actual task at hand, but because of the quality of attention I am able to dedicate to it. The realization that sometimes, letting go and falling into the void is the only way to shake up the energy fields enough to create something totally different, something beautiful and precious.

How, when totally absorbed in the present moment, even a woman ironing can be as impressive and as inspiring as being an Ironman.

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