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I’ve always like the word “aloha” despite its ambiguity. A word that means both hello and good bye should bug me. After all, when people in Kona meet me and say “aloha,” are they saying “hello and welcome” or “are they saying “kiss your scrawny butt good bye, haole?” (“Haole” is a Hawaiian word that once meant “foreigner” but now just means “Caucasian.”) I think that I will know which but coming from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, does not well equip me to divine cultural or linguistic subtlety.

It used to be that whenever I met someone who qualified for Kona, I did not so much respect them as revere them. They had ascended to an altar before which I only knelt. They had entered an altogether higher realm to which I could only aspire. Strangely, now that I, too, have qualified, I feel much the same about my fellow qualifiers – and much the same about me. In fact, if anything, I feel more vulnerable now that the only people with whom I will race will be Kona qualifiers.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel better for having qualified – more so a year ago than now. A year ago, I could enjoy my accomplishment without any immediately impending need to prove myself all over again.

I think that I am very much the same person I was before accomplishing a big goal, qualifying for Kona. I achieved the goal but it did not transform me. In many respects, this shares the way I have felt when achieving other goals like graduating from high school, college or graduate school, getting a job, getting married or having a baby. (Make that observe someone near and dear to me having a baby.) In each case, my life improved but I did not really change. So it goes with this hobby accomplishment.

My goal was never to race or finish Kona. My goal was to qualify for Kona and then to ease into Kailua Bay along with 1,800 or so of the best Ironman triathletes in the world. I could picture the deep blue sky and the low, rising orange sun. I desperately wanted to scan the tense faces of the men and women around me and, for a brief moment, to count myself as their peer. Of course, that peerage ends quickly and we spread out along a 140.6 mile course, finishing in order from one to 1,800.

As the year has gone by, I have adjusted my view and looked beyond Kailua Bay, beyond the swim turnaround, onto the bike, riding along the lava fields and running on a hot black strip of asphalt back into town as the sun goes down into the shimmering Pacific Ocean. The vision now is of a sweeping turn onto Ali’i Drive with the sound of the finish area in the distance.

If I make it to that turn and become a Kona finisher, not just a Kona qualifier, I know that I will feel better but I don’t think that I will be any different.

Aloha

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