The word epiphany in a secular sense means a sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something, an intuitive grasp of reality brought on by an event or other occurrence usually simple and/or striking. It might be an illuminating discovery, a realization or disclosure, a moment of sudden realization or insight. Simply put, an epiphany is an Aha! or Eureka!-like revelation. In short, something like, I knew I was getting old – this proves it!moment in time.
There is great variety in the nature and factors that provoke epiphanies – and most of the time the recipient of the potential lesson must be of a mind to recognize an epiphany when it presents itself.
Some of us are more attuned to and interested in our thoughts and feelings than others, inquisitive even to learn from changes that take place over time, when certain events or circumstances are experienced. Now and then, when changes are sudden, unexpected and/or very good or even quite awful, the opportunity for an epiphany is right there. It’s almost as if an epiphany is staring at a person, waiting for the light to go on and the lesson to be understandably translated to awareness.
An epiphany can take many forms, from a flash of insight clear and unmistakable to a sense of a growing reassessment, a quiet but revelatory sense that a new direction is in order, perhaps a change in job, profession, location, relationship, or even in one’s sense of ethics and values.
No doubt, we could learn a lot from inventors, patent holders, successful business owners and others in all walks of life about epiphanies from their unique experiences with this phenomenon.
Is there a test, a measure or criteria by which we can tell if a suspected epiphany is real, genuine, worthy or otherwise meaningful? We think not. If you believe some revelation or insight is epiphany worthy, it probably is. You could say the true test of a rose is it never wilts, or smells like xyz perfume or makes a man feel romantic or a woman love nature or whatever, but the fact is that a rose is a rose is a rose. Ditto an epiphany. The one you had a few days or years ago may not hold today, but if it gave you a new perspective back then, especially if you acted upon it or it changed something, it was an epiphany. Call it true or an A+ or thermonuclear epiphany as you like – that’s your choice but it was still an epiphany. There is no limit on how many we can have, or how many are too many/too few or just right, a Goldilocks amount. In short, an epiphany is more an art than a science.
In this section, we summarize a sampling of epiphanies reported by our 75-year and over triathlon champions that contributed to their successes in sports and life, beginning with the co-authors, followed by participant champions in alphabetical order.
Don Ardell – For many years, decades actually, Don was under the influence of an assumption that fit, positive and cheerful, whole foods, plant-based vegan-oriented REAL wellness promoters were unlikely candidates for risks associated with sedentary living, alcohol abuse, smoking and the like. A single comeuppance changed all that. On the next to last day of 2015, Don discovered this belief was an overly optimistic expectation. A certain event sparked an intuitive grasp a different reality, namely, that he had overestimated the power of lifestyle relative to other determinants that might affect a sudden onset of a medical problem.
On that warm evening at the end of the year 2015, Don was about to experience an epiphany during what was to be an easy twilight run along the bay in St. Petersburg, FL. Shortly into the run, Don found himself sitting on a curb, bleeding, pain free but unable to stand or comprehend why a few kindly strangers were offering assistance. Don’s epiphany sparked by this situation would come later; at the time, he was having a stroke. Soon enough, he would come to terms with the idea that not even a wellness lifestyle could guarantee a healthy old age.
The epiphany was that more attention to periodic medical checks might be a good idea. If he had seen a cardiologist during the previous two years, he would have discovered that he had atrial fibrillation, a heart arrhythmia wherein disorganized electrical signals in the heart cause the heart’s upper chambers to contract quickly and irregularly. This irregular heartbeat condition is conducive to clotting and also inhibits the heart from providing he body with the oxygen required for normal life and particularly for athletic competitions. Don now takes a prescription drug that prevents blood clots from forming that can travel to other parts of your body, thereby increasing the risk for stroke.
Don said the moral of this tale is a point he made in 1977 in his first book, High Level Wellness: An Alternative to Doctors, Drugs and Disease, Rodale Press, 1977), namely, that modern medicine is a wonderful thing but there are two problems – people expect too much of it and too little of themselves.
The epiphany is just that just the reverse was true leading to his stroke. Don did, in fact, expect too much of himself, too little of modern medicine. He thought a sound lifestyle would protect against the usual vulnerabilities of aging; he underestimated how remarkable modern medicine can be, when applied in a timely and appropriate fashion. Without modern medicine, this epiphany might not have been a part of this book, nor would Don.
Jack Welber – Like most if not nearly everyone else, Jack had lots of epiphanies, some better or at least more instructive than others. Most, however, have not had lasting consequences. When he reflects on aging, however, and the realities and challenges this culminating stage of life poses for all older folks seeking to live successfully as long as possible, Jack’s mind goes back to a time in the flower of youth. Unlikely as it was, he had an epiphany then that now seems more consequential than it was then.
It occurred one afternoon when he was just 21 years of age. He was sitting in a coffee shop at the Port Authority in NYC, about to say goodbye to the love of his life at the time. She was going west, to sweet adventures in the Golden State of California as a student at Stanford University; he was a member of the U.S. Army, headed to Europe. Adventures were straight ahead for Jack, too, but he was not expecting his to be sacchariferous or candy-coated and, as it turned out, they were not.
In any event, Jack didn’t think he would see her again, and her expectations were similar and, not surprisingly, that’s how it turned out. Jack said he hopes she has had a wonderful life, even better than his, which he considers quite wonderful beyond all expectations.
Jack recalled the last minutes of that occasion, holding hands moments before she boarded her bus. Here’s how he described the scene:
We were, I thought, casual and matter-of-fact about the parting, but in the last moments, during a hug and goodbye kiss, something was different. Her voice nearly broke and her eyes filled with tears, and I suddenly felt quite different about what was happening. I realized this was a consequential, unnerving time. And while it took a few minutes before I processed my thoughts, I came away with a curious but profound epiphany. Not only was this the end of a warm friendship – it was also an experience of something deeper, namely, that life would be filled with goodbyes, that not just time but existence itself is fleeting. This goodbye was more than a parting; it was an epiphany that one day, not so far off, perhaps, I would cease to exist. Of course on a superficial level, like most adults, I already knew that. This, however, was a visceral phenomenon experienced and it turned out to have staying power.
This modest epiphany from long ago made Jack more conscious of an important fact that now renders his every day a bit more special. No matter how old at this moment, to successfully age, you need to understand that existence is precarious, often random and brief. It’s up to you, to all of us, to make the most of it and experience as much connection as possible before getting to goodbye.
Participant Champions Reflect on Epiphanies
Jon Adamson – By the time he neared 40, Jon’s lifestyle was not healthy. He was working sixty hours a week, traveling constantly, drinking too much and so on. Think Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller, 1949). A friend and partner in lifestyle crime, about his age but a smoker and rather overweight, had a massive heart attack and died. It was right after a gala wedding reception. This really got his attention – he believes this was a prime example of an epiphany. He quit drinking and took up running as exercise. This was the beginning of his ever-since commitment to endurance sports. This was in 1980.
Winston Allen – Winston reported an epiphany brought on by successive medical adaptations to failed body parts. The recognition was preceded by a nagging knee problem around age 65, a concern that progressed despite temporary fixes (e.g., elastic braces, a meniscus trim and lubricant shots) to a full knee replacement. At this point, Winston realized that his athletic life henceforth would entail a series of adaptations to system breakdowns. If he continued to compete in triathlon or other competitive impact sports, the price would be more serious medical encounters, as well as markedly diminished results. It took a while, but nature’s hints in the form of overuse damages of expired body parts made clear that a life change was in order. The price to pay had risen too much; the costs of running on a non-original knee was too high. Fortunately, biking and swimming are welcome options Winston still enjoys on a regular basis.
David Arst – The epiphany that comes to David’s mind in connection with this successful aging project happened right around the time he turned 40. In an interview after a routine physical, David’s doctor asked if he knew the significance of his family history. What caught the doctor’s attention was the fact that David’s dad, uncle and brother all died young. The physician wanted to know why or how he expected to last longer.
David could not recall if he had much to say at the time to impress upon the doctor that his longevity outlook was much brighter than male history in the Arst clan, but he did realize then and there that lifestyle improvements were in order, not just for lasting longer but for living better, as well. The following day, he started running and doing so became a regular practice. David has been doing it ever since. This epiphany, a decision made half a lifetime ago, changed his life. He’s convinced that the realization about athleticism and related hab it patterns for good nutrition and other realms of positive living has lengthened his life. David’s avoided a number of illnesses common to other family members and, when falls ill, believes he recovers more quickly, no doubt due to a stronger, more resilient level of conditioning.
Elizabeth Brackett – Elizabeth’s 50th birthday was a major psychological turning point. She had gotten through a painful divorce, her two kids had just entered their 20’s and were about to launch and she was in a good place in her job as a correspondent for the PBS NewsHour. So much for the first half century of her life…now what about the second?
Looking ahead Elizabeth knew she wanted to maintain the active, athletic lifestyle that brought her so much satisfaction in the past. She stopped diving competitively after college and had taken up skiing and sailboat racing. She joined a gym for aerobics and tennis and started doing a little running. Still, she certainly did not think of herself as being in the kind of physical shape she enjoyed as a competitive athlete in college. As age 50 loomed, she was looking for a way to change that. About that time, she discovered triathlon.
That discovery changed her life. The satisfaction of the triathlon experience was an insight or Aha! moment that clarified for Elizabeth the need to get back into shape. Triathlon was a framework that enabled her to set realistic and achievable goals. Thereafter she watched her contemporaries bodies diminish with age while she got stronger. While Elizabeth hadn’t found a way to stop the aging process, by getting into and remaining in the best possible condition, she had slowed aging down.
Margaret Bomberg – Margaret reported that it was generally acknowledged that she had no special talents as an athlete. When classmates chose sides for kickball, field hockey and so on, whoever picked first got the right to assign her to the other side. When that option was not respected, she was picked last.
When Margaret viewed he names and accomplishments of other triathletes featured in this book, it occurred to her that readers might not find her story rich in revelations about or insights for becoming a champion. On the other hand, she thought, maybe her tale would suggest another path to fun and glory in multi-sports. For example, one lesson to gain might be that persistence pays off, especially when others fail to show up. This remark brought to mind the wisdom of Ashleigh Brilliant, author of such epigrams as I may not be perfect but parts of me are excellent. Dr. Brilliant also coined the phrase, To be the best, be the only one in your group. In triathlon, it’s even better than that, the older you get. You don’t even have to be the best in your division or age group to win a medal – just finish in the top three. If you’re old and persistent enough, that won’t be too hard, for most of the time, only one or two in the very senior groups show up. Furthermore, as often as not, you’re the only one. In that case, all you have to do is finish. Margaret added, bring a flashlight, if necessary!
Margaret’s epiphany arrived in 1999. It was sparked when she spotted a notice at a local sports club offering triathlon training. Initially, her plan was to do the training, but not to compete. She assumed the training would be fun and she’d lose weight. But, as part of the training, the group competed in events, so she went, too. That’s when the light bulb came on. At a race in Sacramento around 2000, she was amazed to note that a woman had placed first in the 65-69 year-old category. Margaret noticed she was the only one in her division! She realized that she, too, could be on that podium. In fact, given the dearth of women in her age group, Margaret could not just participate but, as she put it, Oh my, become a national or even a world champion. What a life enriching epiphany that was.
Roger Brockenbrough – Roger described an epiphany he credits to his son John, a highly talented triathlete who got him started in the sport when in his early fifties. Prior to that time, Roger had not trained vigorously or regularly, but the initial workouts in three different sports, followed by execution in putting it all together in competitive races, was simply transformative. Roger realized after one particularly successful, exciting and enjoyable event that the discipline of being a triathlete was a turning point in his aging journey. He believes this epiphany will better equip him for the mental and physical challenges to expect with the passage of time.
Susan Bradley-Cox – In 1988, a few months after her husband died, Susan traveled to Columbus, OH for an Olympic distance triathlon. At the time, the sport of triathlon was in its infancy and the event was the single qualifier for the inaugural world triathlon championship later that year in Avignon, France.
Susan earned a place on the U.S. triathlon team by winning her division. Susan’s epiphany was that this sport, the friends she met associated with the required training, travel and racing – this new avocation would henceforth enrich an already satisfying life and career.
Eileen Croissant – Eileen could not recall any epiphanies. She could not recall any sudden manifestations or perceptions that revealed the essential nature or meaning of something. She reported being too busy to even recognize an epiphany, if she had one. Eileen added: However, henceforth I will be on the lookout for an illuminating discovery, realization or disclosure. Sounds like fun.
Ken Fleischhacker – In 1985, well past his formative years and all the way through college, military service and a profession, Ken found himself in a hospital being tested for a suspected brain tumor. Not surprisingly, Ken found this situation unsettling, to put it mildly. However, looking back, he views the week-long experience as a Eureka!-like event, an epiphany that reformed his worldview. The likelihood that he had a brain tumor, that he would probably die, made Ken realize how fragile life is and how important, therefore, it is to live life in accord with who you are and wish to further become.
In Ken’s words, he would henceforth dance to my music, march to my own drum. At this time, he decided to exhibit individualism at work, take new directions in his personal life and focus on being a good husband, as well as more of a committed athlete. Ken cultivated other interests, as well, such as home improvements and gardening. He wants to be a positive influence for others, even while liberating his non-conformist inclinations towards free expression – always in a kindly manner.
Pat Fossum – Pat lives on what she treasures as a beautiful lake in Montgomery, AL where she enjoyed open water swimming for many years, a routine that provided both exercise and a sense of peace. She participated in over 100 triathlons; she enjoyed doing so very much.
Pat suffered a stroke in 2011. This affected the entirety of her left side, her speech, fine motor skills and balance. She had to rebuild her body. She reported being at a loss as to where or how to begin a recovery or comeback, until an epiphany-like recognition that water would be her rehabilitation environment, therapy and path to rebuilding her body.
Pat feels proud of having identified her problems, solutions and activities to overcome all challenges.
Bruce Hildreth – Bruce’s athletic endeavors in early and mid-adulthood were for the sake of thrills. Endurance was not the primary goal. He retired at 59 and undertook adventures cruising aboard his boat. However, a life of cruising requires a diligent effort to be active, so his activity level slipped, eventually he decided to sell the boat and return to land-based life.
One epiphany might have been the timely recall of parental advice to choose your friends wisely. If you want sit around, drink beer and get fat, you know where to find that crowd. Bruce said, fortunately, I favored friends from the several running clubs around around the area, so activities embraced in pursuit of the next thrill were usually associated with exercise.
Roger Little – Roger responded to this question by saying that he never experienced an epiphany but would certainly welcome one. He asked,
Where should I look for it? While running? Swimming? Biking? Working? Or, just plain hanging out?
Roger said, I suppose it depends upon which of life’s sectors in which you’re looking. Let me first try work since I have just started a new investment firm. I’ll watch for an epiphany for my next investment.
Dwight Lundell – Dwight does not think he’s ever had a real epiphany, but reported that while taking care of people with heart disease, he observed that most were quite sedentary. This created a resolve, which might be a first cousin of an epiphany, to address the therapeutic effects of exercise more aggressively. This insight also led him to become more active personally in order to extend the time he might have to enjoy his family.
Sharon Roggenbuck – Sharon suggested that the only event in her life she could identify as an epiphany would be her realization that she could run at around age 40. Once that was clear, being active became much easier. The discovery changed her life.
Lockett Wood – Lockett did not respond to the inquiry.
Bill Ziering – Bill said he just fell into the path toward successful aging. No radical effort on his part was necessary, other than choosing the right lineage. In his family, the man-folks didn’t pass over before nearing or reaching the century mark. He was steered into the medical field, since most of his progeny were doctors – aided and abetted by his Jewish mom who couldn’t have survived without traipsing the neighborhood hailing, my son the doctor. He also assumed that once he donned a stethoscope, the AMA would have run him out of town were he not the very model of health.