Saturday, August 10, 2013

How my ego got my skull smashed in last month!

Every now and then life hands you (ok, me) a perfectly poetic lesson.

Such was the case this past month. I was preparing to go to Hawaii for a few weeks of Spartan Race work, and received a phone call from Joe Distefano, the head of Spartan's SGX Group Training certification program. He'd heard that he and I were going to be in Honolulu at the same time and asked if I would be attending the Saturday workout, at which we expected 300+ eager new Hawaiian  Spartan Racers to attend.

"I sure will Joe! Looking forward to it!!"

All packed and heading out the door the Thursday morning I was departing, I saw my three Death Race Finisher skulls sitting on the shelf in my foyer. "I had better bring these!" I thought to myself. "Joe may want to introduce me as a Death Race Finisher [and I can flash these to show just how truly fucking awesome I really am - bracketed because I don't think I actually formulated this latter part of the thought, but am now acknowledging it was very much behind my motivation]"

These are just the Summer skull (middle) and Winter skull (right).
The Team one is not in this pic. On the left is a vodka bottle that
seemed to 
complement the others nicely.

Now that I am being honest with myself, even my keeping my skulls prominently displayed in my foyer, such that one cannot possibly enter my home without having to ask about them, is ridiculous in itself. How many times have I told the story??? Stories, actually, as they must hear about all of the races!!! Let's not even mention my countless Facebook entries. And here is yet another blog post about my Death Race skulls...

But bear with me - this one is about to go sideways FAST!

When I landed in Honolulu I was wiped from a long travel day. After a quick dinner, I went straight to sleep. Waking early - still on Eastern Standard Time - I jogged down to the beach to watch the sunrise. Then, when I got back to the house where I was staying, I started to unpack my duffel bag.

What. The. Fuck???
The very first thing I saw was my Summer 2011 skull, that I had stuffed into the bag at home. And it was broken in half! Actually, after pulling out the biggest piece, I realized the next half was broken in half again. In fact, the pieces got smaller and smaller until it became obvious that this was never going completely back together again. And, as I gathered the bits, assessing the odds of salvaging my prize to some degree of recognizability, I noticed that several of them were much lighter in colour. 

"Oh no, you have to be joking!" 

Yes, my Winter 2012 trophy had sustained significant damage of its own! While the skull portion was intact, half of the face was missing, with the jaw bone shattered and scattered. 

"Ok, self," I said to (of course) myself, "There is clearly a lesson in this somewhere!"

"Learn how to pack better?? ... Um, obviously! But there is something more important here for you. And here is a clue. It is about your SELF, not your skulls."

For now, though, I had other things to do, so I set these crumbled crania aside, making a mental note to buy some Crazy Glue as soon as possible.

Days passed without my giving my splintered swag another thought. Later in the week, when it came time to move from the house to a hotel, I gathered up all the pieces and tossed them in a plastic bag, stuffing that back into the duffel again.

That night the kids joined me for the next 11 days (a sublime experience all around) and on the way in from the airport I told them about my mutilated momentos. We were all three laughing heartily, none of us seeing the situation as particularly tragic.

And, I started wondering how it could be that these symbols of some of my "greatest" successes could suddenly seem so unimportant to me.

I think I finally have it all figured out. That first skull was earned at a time when I was really struggling to regain my footing in my life. It was an enormous turning point - and served as a psychological lifeline. Thus, I inflated its significance to myself rather, well, significantly. Several months later, adding its winter sibling to the shelf poured fresh fuel on this engorging ego trip. Understandable, yes, and I'm not beating myself up over it - but an ego trip nonetheless. Then, when I failed to earn the coveted award in Summer 2012, I (out of emotional necessity) started convincing myself that "the skull really isn't what is important". And, at first, this was just lip-service, but now I know that is actually absolutely true. 

Let's be clear ... we are talking about here are some very inexpensive, novelty skulls, Made in China, and written on with a Sharpie marker. This is the precious cargo that arrived annihilated. What were not destroyed are the myriad memories of my arduous adventures in the mountains, rivers, forests, ponds of Pittsfield, VT. What remain entirely unscathed are the robust friendships I have forged along the way. Undiminished are the invaluable lessons I learned about myself, and about life, through the highs and the lows of this insane and arbitrary Death Race experience. 

Those smashed-in skulls are part of my past, which is already established, but they have no bearing whatsoever on my future. In fact, I can travel lighter without them! And, when needing a quick ego stroke, it's not like I don't have pictures aplenty ;) 

So, having still not bothered to buy any Crazy Glue, I think I may just leave them sitting in smithereens, in a bag... in a drawer... in my shed.

P.S. You may remember that I packed THREE skulls. My 2012 Team Death Race skull survived the trip almost entirely intact. Which is quite wonderful actually, as it is the one that should, and does, mean the most to me. Having won that race alongside three phenomenal friends, it is not nearly as much about me and way more about a great group of "Old Dudes" somehow finding a second wind an an extra gear at just the right time :)

"Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
~ Tennyson (Ulysses)


  1. A good story JD. It reminds me that we in fact live many lives in our lifetime, with each adding to the next, until in the end we have lived our we call our life. Cheers!