I’ve been excited for a while about Jennifer Garrison Brownell’s book Swim Bike Run Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon and Caught My Breath. Jennifer is a member of that strange tribe many of us have: people we’ve known for years, but only online. As pastor/bloggers, we were both charter members of RevGalBlogPals, and she also was kind enough to visit some friends of mine who found themselves in the hospital out in Portland. I can always count on her for wit and wisdom wrapped up in a beautiful turn of phrase, and she provided abundantly in her book.
Triathlons have interested and scared me for years. As a recreational runner I have 33% of the puzzle, but the other two hurdles always seemed insurmountable. I get seasick in the pool–the POOL–without the right food in my stomach. And cycling? I have a heavy hybrid bike and a mental block about the intricacies of shifting. (Growing up in flat-as-a-pancake Houston, gears were for recreational purposes only.) I admired my tri friends but never seriously considered joining their ranks.
Then I got injured, and biking and swimming became my only options. I am learning to make friends with my gear shift. And I can swim more than a mile without dizziness if I scarf down some good protein beforehand.
Meanwhile, Jennifer kindly sent me her book when it came out. I’d intended to contact her and beg for an advanced review copy and never got around to it. But of course, it came at the right time, when I’d just begun to think “Maybe I could do a triathlon.” But you don’t need to be interested in that event, or even any of the three sub-sports, to be drawn to this book. Because the book is about love and family; it’s about our beautiful finite bodies in all their strength and limitation; it’s about where we feel alive and where we feel fear, and the intersections between them.
Jennifer’s book has three interconnected threads:
- a memoir of growing up, marrying a “seriously disabled man” (her words–Jeff has a form of muscular dystrophy), caring for him, and raising a son with him
- a reflection on training for her first sprint triathlon–moving from someone who was never an athlete to taking on the training and mental conditioning required to prepare for a race
- the experience of the triathlon itself.
Part of what’s neat about a triathlon is how different the three sports are. Jennifer exploits these differences by dividing her book into Swim, Ride and Run, weaving in pieces of her story that are connected to the skills required for each. Swim touches on the grace required to move with fluidity and let the water carry you. Ride explores the effort involved in keeping the up and down motion going no matter what–and what it means to coast sometimes. And Run is a practice of pure endurance–but also joy, because the finish line is in sight!
I dog-eared a lot of this book, which is a high compliment. I will often underline and star passages in books, but sometimes when a book feels especially precious to me, I can’t bring myself to sully it with a pen. This is one of those books.
Thank you for your words, Jennifer! And thanks in part to your story, I’m doing this on Mother’s Day.