In the Wake of Ultraman 2011

[Note: This is a post by my wife Julie Piatt.  Her perspective on our experience at Ultraman 2011.  We hope you enjoy it.]

In the Wake of Ultraman 2011

By: Julie Piatt

As Rich prepares to head out on his bike this morning for the first time since his gut wrenching decision to pull out of Ultraman 2011 just six days ago, I find a quiet moment to share some of my experience of UM2011 and of the past year preparing for it.

I am usually full of spiritual wisdom and insights.  But when Rich pulled out of the race only a few hours into Day 2, I was short on words, big on presence.  I was literally speechless and could only stand in witness and presence of the events at hand.  Up to that point, everything had been seemingly in order.  In fact, we had never before been so supported.  Every angle was covered.  Or so it seemed.  It simply never occurred to me that his body would not perform.  It had been performing in training — beyond anything we had ever seen, all year long.  Rich hadn’t been sick in over a year or more.   Three of our four children are home schooled, so we avoided the typical illnesses small children inevitably bring home from school.  And buttressed by our superfood-rich vegan diet, well let’s just say we are all uber-healthy. 

After a very trying few years, it felt as if all the energy of the universe was finally conspiring to support us so that Rich could race to his ultimate potential.  And we have been beyond grateful because it hasn’t been this way for a long time.  Point in fact, it’s been an incredible year of flow.  A year that started with Rich landing a book deal with Crown – entitled Finding Ultra, this project has allowed Rich to support the family while doing what he loves – training and writing.  Just weeks before heading out to Ultraman, Rich proudly turned in his manuscript to the publisher.  Then shifted his focus on this race.  His preparation had been stellar.  And I had no doubts that Rich would put in his all time best performance.  I had already “seen” it.   But just when you feel you have everything figured out, that’s when Divine Mother changes the game and you have to once again realize that this is not your show

That as a warrior, you serve the higher purpose and your only charge is to show up in full presence with everything you’ve got with absolutely no attachment to the outcome.  You serve the message, not the man.

Mike Field Guides Rich to a Day 1 Swim Victory

We KNOW how to do this.  We’ve been intensely trained over the past five years to handle just this kind of battle – waged predominantly on the emotional and spiritual front.  We are warriors.  We have earned this title.  A title I don’t use lightly.  A path I didn’t discover in a book, or imagine.  We have risked everything and fought tremendous odds to get to the “heart” of our souls.  To finally be living in alignment with our divine design.   And this is Rich’s design, no doubt about it.

My favorite passage of the epic Indian classic, THE RAMAYANA is one that speaks to the warrior element in all divine unions of man and woman.  I am so deeply touched by these words, I choked through tears sharing this excerpt with Rich on our wedding anniversary this past July:

Yet, she and the man to her immediate right bore a striking resemblance. Not a similarity of feature, as he did with Lakshman [his brother], but a sameness of mettle. They had both been through much the same experiences these past thirteen years, and those shared experiences had left similar scars within and without.  Like two rocks on a wild seashore, they had been battered by the same waves of time and circumstance.  And now, in their ruggedness of aspect and their mature, weathered beauty of mind and spirit, as well as face and body, they were alike.  It was a beauty chiseled out of the stony harshness of jungle living, hammered out of bone wearying work, and the constant effort to survive impossible odds, carved by thirteen long relentless years, with only their wits and survival skills left to sustain them, hardened by the constant waging of a seemingly endless war.  The watcher gazed upon her and approved yet again of Rama’s choice of mate.

Book Four of The Ramayan

“The Armies of Hannuman”

– Ashok K. Banker author

Rich Riding Strong Early in Day 1

You may be surprised to read this perspective on our lives. You may only see the “gloss” on the surface of Rich’s image in a magazine.   But any appearances of “having it easy” or “being born under a lucky star” are just one-dimensional snapshots of the surface of our life experience.  An experience that over the last few years has left us battle scarred to mark the victories.  Because of course, the truth of our family journey is far more complicated; a jagged-edge journey; multi-faceted and like all things in this world we live in, defined by polarities.  Light and dark.  Joy and tragedy.  Suffering and bliss.  Victory and defeat.  We have bled to be standing where we are both as a married couple and as a family unti — our great blessing that through the continuing fires we have emerged – and remain — intact.  A bond of togetherness we have more than earned.  And cannot be taken from us.  Because it has literally become us.  An ultimate source of power.  And true freedom.

I am not complaining.  Most people on this planet experience lives far more challenging than ours.  To be sure, we are beyond privileged and blessed.   But this is our life experience.  Divinely ordained — as is all life — it is no better nor worse than any other in creation.  In between the battles, in the moments of calm, we have experienced equally heightened joyous events and life experiences that are beyond measure.  Moments that inevitably always arrive in our darkest hour.  On the edge of destruction and loss of faith.  To show us that we are on the right path.   Experience after experience continues to arrive.  And the common thread of wisdom to be gleaned from these events? 

Let go.  Surrender and trust in the greater plan unfolding. 

I have no doubt that Rich’s “DNF” from UM2011 was yet another one of those experiences.  I so get it.  But to NOT admit that this has been at times devastatingly painful is just immature and irresponsible.

Up Volcano We Go

As he emerged from the Red Road (ironically the same place he crashed in his 2009 Ultraman effort) on Day 2, I saw him coughing up blood and he told me he was calling it.  I was speechless.  I knew that if he was saying that he could not continue, things must be dire.  Rich had spent the past year tirelessly preparing for this moment.  Every second of the past 12 months.  And every ounce of emotional, financial and spiritual energy had been wagered here.  If he was getting off his bike, then this was the truth of this moment. 

All I was thinking was, “Really, God?” 

My mind flashed to an image of some boxing movie where the coach is screaming at the athlete.  To myself I thought, “should I start yelling at him to get back on his bike?”  But that was just a fleeting moment of insanity that I let roll on by. Our crew was committed to serving Rich in every moment to the best of our ability.  If he was pulling out, then we were supporting him in that as well.

Tyler Always Ready with a Handoff

After Rich got checked out by the race doctors and urgent care – blood and body weakness likely attributable to stressed bronchial tubes in his lungs exacerbated by a viral infection and not something more serious — we were immensely relieved and beyond grateful that Rich was going to be okay. 

This would be a painful, but ultimately momentary set back, just another warrior training experience to notch in our belts and render us on our knees.

At this point, I was more concerned about Rich’s emotional state and how I could support him through his devastation.  When we arrived at our rental house in Hawi, after some moments with the children he went inside our bedroom and locked the door.  I exhaled a long yogic breath and then my son Trapper and I headed up to the Day 2 finish line at Hawi to hug the race directors Sheryl and Jane and to let them know Rich was all right.  I saw Nino Cokan, the 4th place finisher from Slovenia who gave me a big hug.  After Rich pulled out, we found his crew and gave him some of Rich’s superfood nutrition to carry him through the race.  He had somehow forgotten his.  An endearing character, Nino is right out of a movie with his classic Slovenian accent, calling Rich, “Reeechie!” which is hilarious.  Nino was so bummed for Rich and shared that this had happened to him in Australia.  It made me feel a bit better to hear about it. I didn’t know how we were going to get through this disappointment.

Compton Fueling Rich

Then something amazing happened.  When I arrived home, Rich was out of the room and he had already posted a blog about the race.  He looked balanced and good.  He showed me the countless number of emails, tweets and Facebook posts from both friends and strangers all sending love and support to him.  This was beyond anything he had ever experienced.  He was touched, humbled and amazed.  And it was all of you who lifted him up.  So to everyone who sent a tweet, a word, shared a thought, or took the time to relate an experience, we thank you.  From the bottom of our hearts.   It is those words of encouragement that make it all worthwhile and that give Rich and the woman and children behind the scenes the strength to continue. You have no idea how much it all means to us.

The question of the moment is how do we “compete” when the new energy that seems to be carrying us into the next era is one not of winning and losing, but rather one of unity, balance and cooperation?  One thing is clear.  This is not a zero sum game.  Instead, it is about simply striving to find the best inside ourselves.  Racing for nothing other than the embrace of the heart.  For the love.  Much remains to learn.  But I will say that in this world, Ultraman stands as a unique beacon of wisdom in this area.   On Day 1, when 5x champion Alexandre Ribeiro from Brazil was passing Rich near the finish line — a sight extremely painful to witness when Rich had held second position all day — I saw Alex give Rich a warm pat on the back and words of sincere encouragement to keep going.  It just melted my heart.  Ribiero is more of a champion to me because he has such a loving heart and he is the consummate gentleman.  His example in this regard continued when he spoke to Rich from the podium at the awards dinner, encouraging him back to race again in 2012.

Rich Holding 2nd on Day 1

The warrior initiate of the race this year is Michael Coughlin.  He was hit by a car 13 days prior to the race after spending 2 years in preparation for UM.  He came back from this injury to place  2nd overall with flying colors, not to mention the fastest bike splits on both Day 1 and Day 2.  He raced with so much heart and his performance was beyond remarkable. When I heard his story, it showed me the depth of his experience, the highs and the lows and it touched me deeply.  That’s the beauty of life!

As Rich’s crew captain, and life partner, I would like to offer special thanks to:

Compton Rom Bada from Ascended Health who kept us all fueled on superfood the entire time. We never ate normal food except for a big recovery JAI SEED meal I prepared up in Volcano.  And for all the laughs and new vinyl venture he dreamed up with our savant musician son Tyler, who showed tremendous heart and dedication supporting Rich to the end.

To Mike Field, Rich’s amazing paddler who broke his ear drum diving for Rich’s nutrition during the race in unparalleled dedication to the swim win for Rich.

To Todd Clark, who taught us the meaning of “JAILOHA”, in fact he created it.  He froze his arms off diving into the cooler time and time again for coconut water whenever I asked him.  Never complained.  And showed up 110%.

To Tyler Piatt our oldest son, who put Rich on his bike on day one transition and never took his heart and soul off Rich for one minute.

To Chris Lieto and his son Kaiden for showing up at the start and T1 transition, checking Rich’s bike and offering moral support and some comedy to ease the tension — something about wet suits and Jonas Colting.

To Janet and Trapper for crewing the girls.  Trapper you’ll get to run with Rich next year!

To our little girls Mathis Indigo and Jaya Blue for their radiant presence.

To all our extended families and friends far and near who supported us in so many ways.

To all the Ultraman 2011 competitors, crews and support staff.  You all are amazing warriors!

Of course to Rich, who had the courage to put himself on the line.  To go for it with everything he had.  And for his unending warrior heart.  

Ultraman Ohana — Todd, Tyler, Julie, Chris & Kaiden

And finally to Divine Mother for carrying me in this life with this amazing divine partner, soul children, extended family and loving friends where I can be of service and in support of something greater than ourselves.  For teaching me how to stand in the background & allowing me to be the strong backbone and channel of such pure creativity in each moment.  And mostly for the music coursing through my heart, soul and veins.

I’m off to record my record with my sons, Tyler and Trapper.  It’s now my turn!  Ultraman is babysitting…

Wishing you JAI – the Sanskrit term of high praise for “Victory” — in your own experience of Life!

Julie Piatt

Jai Seed

Ananda SriMati