As news of the tri begins to spread through St. Mary's, I think it's important to talk about the personal connection. Eugene is a small city where everyone knows everyone, it seems. Back East, it seems that no one quite got what the strength of this project is yet. If I'm not doing this with a team of hundreds like last year, why do I bother doing this?
You see, triathlons are fun, and they amuse me. The training is good for me- it gives me a good reason to get fit and it's really nice that my "tight pants" are getting looser and looser. I am terribly vain, you must have noticed. I am also a glutton for punishment and even more so for ice cream. The pain and the punishment mean I get more ice cream. Ow-ow-win-win. And I get to go places in Oregon that take some people years to get to. So far, I've swum in two gorgeous lakes and run and hiked up both Buttes in Eugene. And did I mention the Oregon lakes, which are so sparkly crystal clear and clean? I see fishies! It's like sushi, before it's in the rice. (In Long Island Sound, I usually slapped crabs before I actually saw them, freaking me out and annoying the crab. And jellyfish are scary.)
But triathlons, to me, wouldn't be as much fun if I weren't somehow helping other people. I could just spend the money and go race and have fun, and I'll certainly do a few of those races.
But Nation's? Come on. It's the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I had just started Seminary. Hearing the sonic booms of the fighter jets arriving over DC and smelling the burning Pentagon and gathering with the Seminary community and standing in line at the hospitals or making sandwiches for the rescue workers... that changed how my class formed. We really became a class that knew how to experience tragedy and rebuild lives. Going back to DC 10 years after the attacks brings that full circle. I know all the Lathams (VTS 2004) won't be there, but Alexandria is my spiritual home. Going "home" on the 10th anniversary is special. My home is rebuilt.
And we get to help real people in this one. Last year, it was personal. As my friend Ben fought for his life against lymphoma, his wife Sarah and I had a real reason to team up for Team in Training. The tri gave us all something positive to focus on even as Ben endured chemo and Sarah faced the fear of losing the love of her life. My family donated because we lost a patriarch, Saverio Bagioni, to lymphoma. That was personal. I will totally do another Team in Training event... but I want to do one with Sarah as my teammate again, and this year, she and Ben are enjoying Year 1 of remission.
So the real people this time? Well, when I served as a police chaplain to Alexandria and later Arlington Police Departments, I worked with people who carried guns for a living. I had a bulletproof vest, too. It's hot and heavy. I've seen my guys put themselves in harm's way to keep other people safer. I volunteered each year I lived there with the National Police Week Concerns of Police Survivors conference. I still remember a NYC officer who came the first year after 9/11, and he was just all anger and vitriol. Five years later, he was still coming back, but he had ridden the Police Unity Tour that year, and we had this amazing conversation where he shared that helping other people helped him remember why he'd become a cop at all.
He had become a cop because he could help people by keeping them safe. He felt that he could enforce the law and that it could be good and beneficial to humanity. He felt he could make a more fair and just world for his family. Five years later, he hadn't forgotten the pain of his friend dying on 9/11... but he had learned to let the good he was trying to do outweigh the bad he had suffered. Five years later, he was again filled with joy and glad to be a cop, and ready to go and do good in the world.
That's the sort of thing that COPS could do for people.
Here in Eugene, that's a very, very important group for our Police Department and for one family in particular. I won't say too much about their story just yet, but if you live in Oregon, you know who I am talking about. We can help COPS help them. I've seen people go through this sort of loss before, and I have huge hope for their future.
COPS helps the real people I've been privileged to work with as a police chaplain. Doing something like a triathlon? That's a fun thing for me. And yes, it helps me feel a little more secure knowing that I can keep up with the people I serve if I need to. Besides, trust me- as a priest, I fight the eternal war against Potluck Gut. (And St. Mary's... wow, AWESOME potlucks! Home smoked salmon! Raw cuisine cheesecake! Tres de Leches! All the occasions for cake!) But doing THIS tri would just not mean as much if I wasn't teaming up with people to actually help this world be a better, more peaceful place. Doing THIS tri, THIS year, helps me in some small way to help the healing of a broken world after tragedy. It's a driving force of what I heard in my call to the priesthood- to help the healing of a broken world.
So yeah, this year, it is also very personal and it strikes close to home.