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Saturday, 13 June 2015

Reminisce - A Sporting Trinity

Earlier this week I had attended my final rehab class, in a course of twelve sessions following a cardiac procedure back in February. As I was sitting at the bank of the River Thames, watching the flocks of swans, ducks and geese hanging around the water's edge in anticipation of a feed from a benevolent human, I mused over the future, the coming days, weeks, months, and years, and what could be lying ahead. I thought of retirement from my daily grind as a self-employed window cleaner, and anticipated the many occasions when I can sit by the river and blissfully watch life carrying on without a care in the world. Maybe that is a wonder about growing old, and letting the more vigorous younger generation bear the world on their shoulders, as I have done for nearly half a century.

But for me it's far from having one foot in the grave as I rose to make my way to the Leisure Centre. Behind me, at Alexander Park, something very unusual was shaping up. Rows upon rows of empty scaffolding, already set up, along with billboards and direction signs still lying on the grass waiting to be positioned accordingly, booths and other paraphernalia all testifying that just two days hence, the 25th Windsor Triathlon will have its transition centre right here. I was fortunate enough to find myself in a conversation with one of the organisers, a dear elderly fellow in his eighties, yet could pass as someone in his fifties, as he himself was an active athlete in his heyday. He told me how he got involved in setting up the facilities needed for the smooth running of the event, and how he was also involved in the 2012 London Olympics. He explained to me about the entry fee of £100 per entrant, with an already full capacity of a thousand competitors, with more triathletes "on standby" should a no-show occur on the day. Wow! With a revenue of £100,000 raised out of entry fees alone, it was of no surprise to me that the organisers could splash out on every feature and facility one can imagine, including the closing of roads to traffic during the event. 

Then he made me feel how I was left behind when he explained about the fashionable bicycles each competitor owned, nearly all running into thousands of pounds to buy, and would never be seen leaning on a lamppost in the High Street - with more of the idea of "keeping up with the Joneses" rather than just practical purposes, together with wetsuits, high performance running shoes, along with other expensive regalia to ensure that the modern triathlete is "with it" and not feeling left behind when fashion moves on. Indeed, we both came to an agreement that the Triathlon has evolved into an elitist, rich man's sport - practically all participants in highly lucrative professional careers which to them with such high salaries, competing in a Triathlon is merely "ten a penny" throughout the Summer season.

All this I could not help but reminiscence back thirty years when Triathlon, with an average entry fee of about £12, was within easy reach of Joe Public. I was a typical competitor during mid to late 1980's, very much a Mr Average man in the street. But this triple-discipline event of swimming, cycling, and running bestowed upon me the highest level of physical fitness, mental health, and as a believer, spiritual stability - all three combined - I have ever enjoyed throughout life. I recall reading the story of the birth of the sport, in Hawaii, back in October 1977 when three athletes were having a discussion in a bar to which of the three activities resulted in greater fitness - swimming, cycling, or running? Unable to draw a conclusion, a solution was conjured up - why not combine all three into one event? So the first Ironman Triathlon was held in February 1978, consisting of a 2.4 mile sea swim, immediately followed by a 112 mile cycle ride, then finished off with a 26 mile marathon run. It was won by Gordon Haller in just under twelve hours.

This event spawned many others, particularly scaled down events across America, including the Tinman, before catching on in Britain and Europe. The inaugural UK Triathlon took place in Newham, East London, in the Summer of 1984. Just less than two years later, after running half-marathons to raise funds for a charity, I was introduced to the sport in Spring 1986. This opened a door to a very exciting opportunity for physical fitness, together with the camaraderie which came with it, an almost street-party-like festive spirit as each one of us dared to stretch our bodies to extreme physical endurance. And where the fun lies was that the Triathlon was not in any school curriculum, therefore there was no regimented coaching and serious competition which characterised the mood of school participation.  And that was back then the whole object of the sport - to attract the general public to a challenge and its resulting euphoria. There were no wetsuits, each competitor had normal swimwear, which to me was a pair of shorts only, to begin with. As for bicycles, any roadworthy mount would do. For around £30 from a second-hand bicycle dealer, my first two or three triathlons were completed using such a machine. In one of the events, there was even an elderly gentleman leaving the cycle compound on an old-style traditional roadster, complete with shopping basket under the handlebars. Such was the spirit of the day.

Not long afterwards, I bought a new bicycle from a catalogue, a lighter and a more faster racer, along with a lycra Trisuit. This odd-looking one-piece garment allowed me to swim, cycle and run without having to change clothing during the two transitions. But as the eighties gave way into the nineties, I saw a gradual change within the event itself. I believe it came with a few words spoken by the reigning American Ironman champion, Dave Scott, who shouted, This is not mere endurance. This is a race! Those words, I believe had changed the sport forever, separating the elite from the public, with the latter dropping away in droves, while attracting more of the super-fit. 

Competing in a Triathlon, 1987.

But as one who believes in Jesus Christ as Saviour, there was another dimension in which I perceived the Triathlon as a sport. That is as a Trinity, and therefore associating it with the Triune Godhead. Unlike the Pentathlon, the Heptathlon, and the Decathlon, where in each of the three totals up points over a set number of events that can cover several days, the Triathlon is one continuous event consisting of three distinct disciplines to complete a course, and with non-stop timing and monitoring from the marshal's stopwatch. As I see it, this Triune sport reflects the Godhead, and to add to this, three benefits are achievable - physical fitness, mental health, and spiritual wellbeing if the competitor is also alive in Christ. And I believe that back in the 1980's the Triathlon had a sense of fulfillment which, as I found out to be, not existing in any other sport I participated in. 

The Trinity! Not only is this the essence of the Godhead, but can be perceived in space and time. For example: the Past, Present, and Future are so familiar to everyone, as a length of string, a sheet of paper, and a solid brick. As with the brick, or any cuboid solid: length, width, and mass makes up the solid, and interesting enough, no matter what the cuboid is - whether a cube, a brick, a closed book, or even a piece of furniture - you can only see up to three sides regardless of from which angle it is seen from. The same applies to the circle, which circumference is always able to pass through three points making up a triangle, no matter how these points are arranged, or how far the third point is from the other two. A perfect picture of the Eternal Trinity.

But the Biblical story I have always found moving, yet could not clarify the work of the Trinity any more explicitly, is to be found in Genesis 24. Here is a story of the aged Abraham, who sends his head servant east to find a wife for his son Isaac. Abraham does the sending, the unnamed servant goes on a journey, and eventually ends up at Laban's house, who is related to Abraham. Laban has a sister, Rebekah, whom the unnamed servant pleads for her to journey home with him. She was willing to go, and becomes the bride of Abraham's son Isaac. That is how God calls us. The Father sends the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin, and to bring us to the Son, Jesus Christ. After cleansing us and giving us eternal life, one day we will be the Bride who will be joined to the Son as well as being in the presence of the Father himself. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, like Abraham's servant, leading us to Jesus Christ, at the Father's command. It is such a beautiful story on how the whole Trinity is involved with our redemption.

This is just one of many Biblical stories which as connections with the Trinity, but to me, this one is my favourite. As with the Triathlon, this is tied with the Triune Godhead as well, and perhaps unlike most of my fellow competitors, the sport has added an extra dimension which, I think, only a true believer in Jesus Christ as Saviour can perceive. 


  1. Running the race, with the Holy Spirit as our instructor and guide, is the most beautiful experience, with the most treasured prize at the end of the race that anyone could ever attain.

  2. Dear Frank,
    I love how you tied the Trinity in with the Triathalon -- despite my fascination with the Trinity, I never thought of the sporting event in this way. What a beautiful application of body, mind and spirit to honoring Him! Your reference to the story of Abraham seeking a bride for Rebekah is also beautifully on point. Thanks so much for the excellent post.
    I pray that your recuperation is going well. God bless,

  3. Unfortunately, as you point out, the commercialization of the Triathalon has forced out the average person by raising the price of entering above the means of those who need it most. In much the same way, we often place unjustified demands on people that cause them to give up on becoming a Christian or serving God.