Hand in Hand

his is the second version of my first blog as the new Head of Sport at United Learning. On secondment from the Youth Sport Trust, the first incarnation of this post was all about plans for the future my excitement at undertaking this challenging role. The theme was this, my favourite image of London 2012

Brownlee and Gomez

Alistair Brownlee and Javier Gomez

Beyond the finish line of a gruelling triathlon, Javier Gomez and Alastair Brownlee are physically ‘spent’. Flat out on the floor, exhausted, they reached out to each other with a handshake.

And that is what should happen at the end of endurance races.

For elite athletes, whether victorious or not, there is the mutual respect and admiration for fellow competitors. They understand what each other have gone through to get to this point. They empathise with the disappointment of not winning despite straining every sinew. They know that each has pushed themselves through incredibly tough training regimes to extend the limits of their performance. They are fiercely competitive against each other, yet are collaborative in pushing the boundaries of their sport and inspiring others to take up the challenge. And at the finish line they are hand in hand with their rivals.

For the rest of us who participate in triathlons and marathons, the finish is another thing entirely. It is the celebration of everything that has gone into getting you to that point. The slog of winter training. The diet. The injuries. The revised social calendars. The tiredness. The fund-raising, often for deeply personal reasons. The support of loved ones and friends who have borne this burden with you without complaint but with no thought of a medal at the end. And the doubts. Constant doubts.

Crossing the finish line should be the final extinction of those doubts. For the goal has been achieved. The sacrifices and choices have been worthwhile. Being so physically depleted, your emotions are heightened, especially when you are raising money for a cause dear to you. Crying is common, but amidst the tears there is a powerful joy that few other activities can replicate. The finish line is when hands are shaken with complete strangers with a knowing look of personal accomplishment and pride. That is all you have been dreaming of for months – getting to the finish. And at the finish you are hand in hand with your fellow participants.

And then we had the sickening events in Boston.

Amidst all of the horror and outrage of any such atrocity, in any country anytime, there will forever be an additional poignancy about the finish line in endurance events henceforth. Where there should have been scenes of celebration there were scenes of devastation. Where the finish line should have been the epicentre of joy and relief, it became the backdrop for carnage and tragedy.

So instead of using the blog to outline plans and generate excitement this week, we use it to reach out to the people of Boston; the families of everyone caught up in the outrage; and the communities of sportspeople, endurance athletes and participants alike to offer our friendship and kinship. For we are with you, hand in hand.