Outrigger paddling: Not much glory, just personal satisfaction.


There is an old saying that “once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, and three times is a pattern.” I observed three events this summer that happened so close together that I see a pattern emerging.

Three people close to me voluntarily spent long periods of time, committed significant effort and put themselves through considerable physical distress, even pain, to achieve a personal goal. They quietly sacrificed, suffered and struggled to achieve their moment of personal success, not a glorious public event but a proud achievement celebrated without much fanfare.

Today’s world offers few examples of such delayed gratification for modest personal achievement. Perhaps that is what caught my eye, affirmed my faith and suggested a pattern. Having participated in such training efforts, I know the commitment it takes, the discipline required and the constant deferment of positive reinforcement until the big day; delayed gratification that defines these efforts. It is heroic in its modesty.

Sometimes it seems people are careering in the opposite direction. The “new”  in the news cycle is now measured in seconds, not minutes, hours or days. Many of us shout out our “successes” on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites to our audience, including a vast group of so-called friends, most of whom we’ve never met. “I had Cheerios for breakfast” we shout, as if we’ve just summited Everest. As if anyone cares.

Putting the I in iPad: Social media create narcissists.

Social media are powerful tools for communication, instant gratification. They can, however, encourage us to be narcissists. The power and convenience of Twitter provide the opportunity and sometimes the need, to share every event in our lives with the world, regardless of  their significance. We seek public affirmation of our uniqueness and we want it now, seconds after we have finished our task. We celebrate our own self-defined successes and share them with our audience conveniently available on Facebook. It is distilled instant gratification and it is powerful.

Delayed gratification stands the narcissism of instant gratification on its head. When we must work toward a far-off goal, there is little instant personal return, no fanfare for today’s action. Delayed gratification means that we labour for days, weeks, months, even years to achieve a goal that outweighs the need for gratification, adulation or affirmation.

Long sacrifice and commitment to far-off goals are all around us. The Olympics come to mind: Athletes train in relative obscurity for years in the slim hope, that they might represent their country in an event that could last only a few minutes or seconds. These athletes have an inner drive, a rare affliction. I have trouble identifying with them. The stakes and the glory are so large. The prize is more obviously worth the discipline of delayed gratification. Professional athletes provide another example of big pain for big gain.

But what of us mere mortals, we who fit workouts around real work, fix our own equipment, massage our own wounds and clean our own workout clothing? We labor in relative obscurity. We will never win an Olympic gold. What motivates us to delay gratification for long periods of time for a prize that is less obvious?

My three examples of delayed gratification are closer to home, easier for me comprehend and bear more powerful personal meaning to me. They are real people. They resonate. They form my observed pattern. They expect no glory at the end of their journey.

  •  My friend Peter is in his 70s, long past the time when we dream of Olympic gold. Peter has always worked at being fit; he won’t say but we think he has run as many marathons as his age. It came as no surprise that after two years of persistent effort, he achieved a unique personal reward for his effort. Peter was a part of a Canadian six-man team that competed in August at the Va’a World Outrigger Canoe championships in the over-60 age class. His team won a bronze medal in the 500-metre race and silver in the 1000-metres.
    There wasn’t much public glory. Two years of dedicated effort, rain or shine, cold weather or warm; Peter was out on English Bay working his outrigger drills. There was no fanfare, only his wife, Ann, to support his commitment. He did it because he chose to and because he was part of a team. That his effort delivered a bronze and a silver is wondrous. I know Peter would have been satisfied with participation medals.
  •  Last summer, my son-in-law, Chris, made the Canadian duathlon team in his age group, 40-44. After a year of training, he competed in the World Duathlon championship in Nancy, France. For

    The Canadian duathlon team in France: They pay their own way.

    someone who has seriously cycled for about two years and competed in less than a dozen duathlons, he did remarkably well. He finished in two hours and 12 minutes on a tough, technical cycle course. He was 45th overall, only 16 minutes behind the winner. Chris is a tough competitor. He has been chosen for the Canadian Triathlon team and will compete in London next fall. Each team member pays his own way. The only rewards are being a member of the Canadian team, a team uniform, the chance to compete with the best in the world, a participation medal and a ton of memories.
    That rewards two years of delayed gratification; it seems small return for a year of running, swimming and cycling long hours through considerable stress and pain.

  • Finally, my daughter, Kristen, after only three years experience road cycling, completed the Vancouver to Whistler Gran Fondo, a gruelling 122-kilometre bicycle ride with about 1,700 metres of elevation gain into the mountains to Canada’s famous ski resort. She was on her bike for six full hours. She got her first road bike only two years ago; now she is riding with serious roadies on one of the toughest gran fondos in Canada. She was just one of 6,000. She trained for six months developing her skills, strength, endurance and confidence. She is now well justified in calling herself a roadie. She has a participation medal, a completion time and a t-shirt to prove it.

These three friends achieved personal goals after months of focused training. They put in hours of effort, enduring daily pain and suffering. There was little instant gratification in what they did, other than marking another X on a calendar. What they got in return was the journey, the day-to-day character building that comes from doing something they chose to do because they chose to do it.

Delayed gratification is the antithesis of narcissism. Delayed gratification shows character. It shows discipline, commitment, focus and determination. There are thousands of these committed low-key achievers. we see them every day; they are the cyclists who may occasionally annoy us car drivers. They get no glory and achieve their goals quietly. They triumph in the day-to-day struggle of training.

In my books, they are winners and they are role models.

In the future, I will spend less time on Facebook and more time on my new road bike. It’s called sticking with the winners. It’s a pattern.