2017 Ski to Sea Race Thoughts: The importance of being DFL.
The 2017 edition of Ski to Sea is done and dusted. Some were victorious in the obvious ways; a podium finish and the deep satisfaction that comes from hard work and teamwork paying off. Others found victory in smaller, less obvious ways. A personal record, beating a rival or maybe just finishing the damn thing sans swim and not letting your team down. Hopes wildly exceeded for some and ego's crushed for others. In other words, it was another great race.
Most of our local paddling talent gets snapped up by the fast teams, and as paddlers we have the distinct glory of knowing that anyone we pass or catch out on the final leg of the day is one better overall placing for the team. And then we get to charge up the beach in front of a roaring crowd to ring the bell with your teammates and celebrate the moment. It is a magical moment for everyone from the dedicated elite to the "dedicated-for-a-day" to revel in.
Our two teams for Boomer's Drive-In took both the overall victory and division wins in a race that isn't even remotely casual or easy to win. Despite a happy-go-lucky veneer, people train hard and they race harder as the local pecking order and social status for an entire year to come hangs in the balance. Serious, serious stuff for us athlete types.
At the awards ceremony our teams gathered together and shook hands and thanked each other for all the work and effort that had come to a great result. As the crowds faded I savored last moments of a warm pre-summer day and watched my daughter play on the beach.
And then I heard the bell ring one last time.
I turned around and noticed a man stagger by in his paddling kit, drenched in sweat from the punishing heat. His team was nowhere to be seen and no one was cheering his finish or high-fiving in joy. The finish line was empty and so was he. More importantly, he was D.F.L....
D.F.L. stands for "Dead. Fucking. Last." It is not a place of honor or cheer. Like the zebra that runs just a little bit slower than the rest of us and gets eaten up, we all know it has to happen but we're thankful it wasn't us.
As he collected his belongings and tried to track down his teammates, I wondered empathetically what that moment must feel like as I held my first place plaque. I asked myself if I would show up and race if I knew it would be my day to be DFL? In that moment I realized that his commitment to do so despite the exhaustion and humiliation was the contrast that creates the context for my own success and validation (however petty). Without him being that guy, there is no me or anyone else getting to be that guy.
It humbled me and I made up my mind to go shake his hand and thank him for racing. And when I turned around, he had slipped away into the crowd and was gone.
Race you another day, Zebra.