He did it. After winning Wildflower Triathlon three times, breaking his foot, getting a screw put in his foot, beating his head against the wall trying unsuccessfully to rehab it with tons of pain, having the screw removed, and doing more physio than most people do in a lifetime, he raced. And he freaking won.
Just like that, a year went by. To the casual fan, it’s a great story with a happy ending. The year was probably pretty tough, one might say, but a year flies by in the grand scheme of things, and now the future looks bright. But I lived that year by Jesse’s side. It wasn’t one year. It was 365 individual days. It was 2,970 waking hours of decisions.
Decisions are the unit of measurement of the athlete. There are decisions for goals. Decisions for plans. Decisions for who to put in your inner circle. Decisions of which person to listen to when they disagree. Decisions about which thoughts you allow to rent space in your brain. Decisions for what’s true and what’s fair. Decisions to let certain things go, after deciding which things are let-go-able, and what’s not. And then there are the decisions for what to do with every hour of every day. For how to use your energy. For how much to care, or not care. How hard to push it. How much anger to feel, or pain to tolerate. How much much is too much. Or too little.
When an athlete is healthy and competing regularly, there is a natural rhythm to decisions. There is the inertia of the season to ride alongside of. A tide to swim within. Injury is an earthquake that fractures asphault roads and brings on tsunamis. For 365 days I watched Jesse make decisions with the information he had at the time, using input from his support team, navigating around road hazzards with no clear view of the horizon. And he was fucking brilliant.
The Jesse I first fell in love with was overly emotional as an athlete. Erratic. Prone to using idiotic behavior as a big F-You to the circumstances he found himself in. An injury would collapse his world, causing him to break up with me, flail in his classes, and spend copious amounts of time pounding out minor chords on the dorm basement piano. He’s grown up a lot, as one does, but in the 10 years since he broke his neck, I hadn’t seen him injured until this foot. I worried about what it would do to our family. Our business. Our marriage.
I waited at the bottom of Lynch Hill, the steep downhill concrete road that makes up the final mile of the final leg of the Wildflower Triathlon; my heart pounded violently. The announcer said Jesse was in the lead with two miles to go, and deep down I knew nothing would stop him. I walked away from the people crowding the finish line to find an open stretch of barrier where he could see Jude and me clearly before making the final turn toward victory. I wanted more than anything for him to look into my eyes. To see how proud I was, and how grateful I was for him not allowing this last year of athletic strife to erode everything else we’ve built, but instead build it with the sturdiest of stone. And when I finally saw him in the distance running toward me, the tears poured down my face. He looked at me and made a crooked smile, and touched my hand, and I felt it all, including the air he displaced running by, and I turned to watch him charging into a tunnel of screaming fans toward the finish line.
Special Thanks to all of Jesse’s sponsors who stood by him in the past year while he went through this, despite it taking way longer than anyone expected. It meant a lot to him, and to our family. The following went above and beyond and will forever be the recipient of good Fleshman/Thomas Karma: