Apples and Trees

During the final days of March Madness, I drafted the first lines of what would eventually become MamaTriDOc. Taking advantage of a train ride into Chicago, I keyed the first few lines while seated next to biggest on our way to a big city sleepover.


As the less-than-scenic views of northern Indiana passed by, he turned his attention to my computer and quietly read the words on the screen. When he asked why I was writing this, I explained that people from work and the gym had heard about the race in Sweden with Team USA and encouraged me to share the details of my training and racing. On reading what had become a detailed athletic biography, he was inspired to share his own triathlon story in hopes that it would inspire other kids to “tri.”

My name is Jack Henry Potgieter.   My first triathlon was at Rockford High School when I was 6. I was very nervous but my mom told me to stay calm. The swim was tough. The bike was fun because my school is close to home, so sometimes I bike to and from school. The run was fun because I like to run a lot. Even though I didn’t win, at the end I was happy that I tried.

 My first triathlon gave me a little experience, so on my second try the next year I knew how to do it a little better. Even though I am not that good at swimming, I still was the second out of the water. My bike has gears so I used the fastest gear. Since I am very fast, the run felt like I was running to school. I won my age group in my second triathlon!

 I think my third triathlon will be like the second one, but I think I will be better at swimming because I will practice. I think I will come in at least third place or better.

Simple, to the point and reflective – I appreciated his writing and immediately taken back to those two hot July days when he and middlest joined in the triathlon fun. While the race registration was my doing, the enthusiasm for the event was all their own. They had the same nervous energy as they set up transition, checked out the course and nervously awaited the start as is felt by triathletes at every level of competition. Their pure enjoyment through each of the three disciplines, however, was a sentiment unique to their experience. Without concern for clock, place or competitors, they simply embraced the opportunity to participate.

When I am competing, I draw on a variety of thoughts for encouragement that vary depending on my feeling during that particular moment of the race.  At times these are aggressive thoughts of pushing harder, faster turnover, increased cadence, higher gear or catching that next person. In other circumstances they are consoling phrases noting that I am more than halfway, breathing has eased, the hill is almost done or that person who passed by was not in my age group. Consistently, however, I draw on thoughts of gratitude and appreciation for the physical ability to start; for the capacity to race thanks to the support and sacrifice of my family; for the opportunity to encourage health through fitness for my children and patients and it is these reflections that get me through the toughest segments of every event, that help me find another gear when I thought I none remained. Pairing this with the vision of biggest and middlest gleefully making their way through the swim, bike and run, I am equipped with all I need to conquer the chop, hills and heat of future triathlons.

Commonality of interest for my kids extends beyond my primary sport – I have been (most pleasantly) surprised to see them devise interval workouts at home, combining laps on stairs and push-ups for time, lifting tiny weights at the gym a desire to play cello that has out-paced my capacity for lessons and the nose-in-book pose often held by biggest is eerily familiar to my own childhood tendencies of anti-social dinnertime. Given that my boys are doppelgangers of their dad, I appreciate seeing myself in these facets of their behavior and personality. Even more so, I am grateful for the reflection in their experience of the delight in opportunity and simple joy of participation, rekindling my passion and bolstering my own enthusiasm for these long-familiar activities.


While it is oft said, and indeed seemingly true, the apple does not fall far from the tree. It must be equally acknowledged that it is through the fruit that the orchard is renewed. As anticipation builds towards the marquee events of my own racing season, my dedication to training for the events is undoubtedly strengthened by the shared enthusiasm of my children. I can’t wait to support them on their course with as much passion as I carry along my own. May veteran experience encourage novice effort and original energy renew enduring enthusiasm and our interests shared become mutually enhancing.

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