September 09, 2005 Features & Images » Feature Story

The Vicious Circle returns 

Ironman and religion

Fresh from their success with the Collective Novel Experiment, and with two grants lining the coffers, Whistler’s Writers Group, the Vicious Circle, has confirmed CanLit leading lights Susan Musgrave, Caroline Adderson, and Brian Kaufman as workshop leaders for the annual festival and retreat to be held in Whistler from Sept. 8 to 13.

Registration for the entire five-day writing retreat is open to anyone, with 21 spaces available, in either fiction or non-fiction stream, at a price of $500 (discounted to $375 if participants arrange their own accommodation.)  Large portions of the program are also available on a drop-on basis.

Morning lectures will be presented by Ross Laird on ethical issues related to craft and tapping into your creativity, Mary Schendlinger on the how to get work published, Patti Osborne on self publishing and Rebecca Wood Barrett on pitching stories to publishers.

A detailed program, bios of all the writing mentors and presenters, and information about the pitching session, are available online. To register, or find out more about the retreat, lecturers and mentors, and readings visit the group’s newly launched website,

In anticipation of the Writers Festival, Pique Newsmagazine is showcasing four short stories written by local writers from Aug. 25 to Sept. 15. We hope you enjoy these stories and will come out and hear more local and national writers read and talk about their work.

Ironman and religion

Do I believe in God because I did Ironman? No. But do I understand why people flock to religion because I had to ride, run and swim almost everyday? Yes. My daily toils, sacrifices of time and sweat, my trying to come to terms with the sheer amount of luck and faith that goes into every race, every training day made me appreciate that there is some higher power out there. To define religion as an expression of archaic rituals carried out by blindly faithful may seem obsolete, but the daily observances that many religions follow, the confident belief of the faithful in the truth of the super-natural, strikes me as very much at home in the world of long-course triathlon. That both Ironman Athletes and the devout Christians have a tenet in common – faith. When disaster strikes, whether it be the third flat when you only brought two spares and you are 80 kilometres out of cell range, or when the largest forest fire in the last century rages through your back yard while you wait to see if they are going to start the race, faith that things will work out are paramount. Like Job, faith is tested again and again in an Ironman, yet do the athletes curse? Probably yes, but they do not turn away from their religion. Instead they follow, blindly, madly, like the flagellators of old, further down the road.

What heaven do these faithful seek? For some it is simply a finish line before midnight. For others, heaven is an invisible start line in the Pacific Ocean off Kona. Zealots? Idolaters? The Ironman symbol, its heavy human shape, is distinctly pagan looking, a false idol of a new age that demands blood and sweat sacrifices. I have met men who have sacrificed wife and children to the altar of sub-nine hours. I have also watched the lame walk 42.2 kilometres, hailed them as heroes for their determination not to quit. I have shaken my head at friends who continue through the pain of injuries that will never heal to sign up again and again trying to reach that piece of heaven called Kona. But I have also helped a woman who could not swim finish the race. A cancer survivor, mother of three, grandmother of one. This was not a woman praying to false idols for healing, nor beating herself to make it into heaven. This was a woman who was celebrating, thanking her god in her own way, by using the gift of strength that she had been given back, rejoicing in her health and body and the miracle that she was a part of. Her faith in me to teach her, her faith in God – her handing over her fate to the both of us helped her complete another miracle, learning to swim so that she could survive the tsunami that is the start of Ironman and complete her race.

Who are we and why are we? These are questions that I had a chance to contemplate many times on the rides I did leading up to Ironman Canada 2003. I learned to trust swimming in the lake. Trust what? I'm not sure. But in the murk, the bottomless gloom rays of sunshine would break through and I could let go of fears of inland sharks and Ogopogo and gain a sense of calm that let me know I would be OK. On rides in the Rockies I saw antelope in the river, marveled at the upheaval of the Earth's crust as it soared above me, purple strata visible in the rising sun and wonder at creation. Like the Lake Poets I had time to contemplate. Like the monks, meditate. Biking and running were often done alone. The repetitive motions of my legs pushing pedals carried me over vast distance where I was aware of the quiet and solitude that can be everywhere in the vast landscapes. When running I was supremely aware, the cracks in the pavement, the waves in the lake below, the different texture of rain and cold. The vast and the miniscule bringing me closer to a sense of wonder – God in the Details.

Some would say that Ironmen are addicted to the endorphins, the adrenalin. My religious experience nothing more than chemicals brought out by exercise-induced fatigue. So? The incense of my religion – clean perspiration, fresh air, trees, pollen, smoke from forest fires, rain hitting dry pavement. My feet pace out my faith like the faithful pace out a maze, following the path hoping to find God at the centre. And what do I find at the centre? Me. But not me as some might think, self-absorbed and arrogant, imagining myself as the centre of the universe, but rather me, aware of my place in the universe – insignificant, yes, but part of a greater amazing whole, struggling, fighting, breathing, living along with everyone and everything else.



Brandi Higgins is a swim coach, Ironman Canada 2003 finisher and a member of the Whistler Writers.

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