Hillary and Maik got married yesterday, in a ceremony that was uniquely theirs, and with a reception that was even more tailored to their lifestyle. Dinner consisted entirely of vegan food and was followed up by a coffee cart. The celebrant has finished multiple Ironmans and gave a speech which was as sweet as it was whimsical. Eva, the new pup, was delightfully well behaved and one of the highlights of the procession. And of course the day started with a 22 mile circle of Palos Verdes on foot which about 10 of us enjoyed as much or maybe even more than the post-wedding shenanigans. It was Hillary and it was Maik, all rolled into one fun filled day.
A few words about Hillary to start things off. I met her while racing triathlon, and we found a common space to share as soon as we figured out each other. We both love many of the same things, particularly with respect to how we approach sports. And yet there are plenty of differences, areas where one of us can contribute more to the growth in the other. This has become a great source of learning for me, from Hillary I have learned a ton about training plans, coaching, racing, nutrition, goal setting, and diving into life with vigorous intensity. She is an clearly defined extrovert, which balances my introverted personality well and makes interactions with her a constant stream of distractions and new experiences. Hillary took me to my first so-cal yoga class in Encinitas, after a long run we shared together, and introduced me to a place I wound up returning to many years later, after a failed engagement, as a means to restore my soul and become addicted to yet another endeavor.
Hillary spent a number of weeks, years ago, camping out in one of my bedrooms, training with friends, and setting an example for me of what the life of a professional athlete looks like. I remember loaning her my truck for some reason, I forget why, but since I could run to work I really didn't need it. After a couple of days, it looked more like her truck than mine, complete with clothes piles and coffee stains. Eventually, at Hillary's suggestion (and with a bit of help from David Lipke in August 2010) I started drinking coffee myself. Now my car could be mistaken for hers if based solely on the contents and mess, were it not for the absence of a bicycle or at least some grease stains. My life has been enriched by knowing Hillary, and by all of the people I have met through her and the experiences I've had following her.
I first met Maik after the OC half marathon where I ran with Hillary in some silly attempt to chase a meaningless PR. Cameron, Hillary's sister, ran that day as well, so the two Biscay sisters, Maik and I met up for post-race salads. At first I was confused by Maik, so quiet and soft spoken, a man who surrendered to the nickname "CAT" and even embraced it. How did this man measure up to my dear friend? How would he balance her and keep her under control if she considered him her pet?
It wasn't until I experienced Ultraman and then paid a visit to their home in Tucson for an extended weekend that I really started to understand the man Maik is. Yes, he is indeed soft spoken, but the German can swear up a storm too. And while he is not obnoxious nor forceful with his words towards the woman he loves, he is no doormat either, he simply explains his point of view pleasantly and calmly, often with a wit and a twist of humor. He is an incredible athlete, capable of swimming with Hillary (which is something few men can do) and able to ride and run like the wind. But none of the athletic capabilities really matter all that much. Heinz, Maik's father, reminded us that what is truly important is the attitude of "where you go, I go" which is woven into the fabric of their union. What makes Maik truly special is how he treats everyone and especially how gracefully he takes care of his Madame. There are precious few models of the modern gentleman for the rest of us to reach towards. Most men would feel threatened by the male friends of their fiance, but Mikey embraced me as Hillary's friend from the moment he met me, needing no qualifications, no proof of intentions, just pure, instant, understanding and acceptance.
Men have let women down so much in the past 20 years, with affairs, abuse, and self centered behavior that it now feels like many women are starting to catch up and follow suit, leaving otherwise comfortable marriages in tatters to chase moments of newness and excitement. The result is a society which cultivates more and more self-absorbed independents. As counterpoint, Maik is a traditionalist, coming from a family that believes in the word "forever" and demonstrates it with 40 years of marriage. I have no question that Maik will take care of Hillary for the rest of his life, as long as she allows him to. And I have no question that he will do so with grace and endless concern and appreciation for her unique brilliance. Maik fills in the gaps, the spaces where Hillary still has room to grow, predominantly around organization and cleanliness. He is the perfect choice of a rational mind for a long term companion and lover. In retrospect, my surprise with Maik when I first met him was not based on who Maik is, but on the maturity of Hillary's decision to pick him. And it really should not have been any sort of surprise, because Hillary can read people as well as anyone I've ever met.
Hillary's family is more than just a family, much more. Her mother still shares her life with her 2 sorority sisters, the 3 couples have a bond that seems to extend beyond their lifetimes even while in the midst of it. There are extended relatives that fill in the colors that shaped Hillary's life. Cameron, Hilary's sister, subtly goes about her running and work with the same passion and intensity only in a slightly more precise manner, truly earning her nickname of "Mini" with the same mannerisms, smile, and warmth, only delivered with just a touch of additional composure. Rich, Hillary's father, gave such a fantastic summary of what lead Hillary to the point she is at today, complete with all of the seemingly haphazard decision making along the way, off notes written on a yellow legal paper that looked more like the a placemat from the kiddie table than actual words for a wedding night speech. Then there is the extended circle of friends, from the Grangers, the Corbins, and the Kesslers, all setting examples of happiness through marriage and endurance sports. The long list keeps going, on and on, each friend is a series of stories that could fill a week. Within Hillary's circle, significant life accomplishments can be handed out like dollar bills at a strip club, each personal story begets another story until the theme of each evening can only be summed up as "wow." The overachievers, when combined into a small space, will one-up the other until someone gets hurt or the clock expires. There is no backing down or crying uncle in this croud, especially not with any attempts at self embarrassment. Watching everyone interact in a crowded room, the quantity of energy becomes overwhelming at times, as if watching a big day at Mavericks except only if one could imagine the foam that would be created if 20 waves all crashed into each other at the same time.
In a world permeated with breakups, both the predictable ones and the unexpected ones, the two weddings of 2011 give me a beacon of hope for the future. Hope that good choices, strong families, and people who truly desire to be together can survive as a couple for the rest of their lives, against the odds that most marriages fall victim to. Mike and Sarah, Hillary and Maik, together have become a collective example of the M word and what it means for 2011 and beyond. It is a different animal than it once was, the necessity of being married no longer exists, and with it some of the incentive has left as well. The opportunity to get married now presents itself as a means of self expression much more so than it ever was, and yet the meaning behind marriage, the fundamental willingness to be together forever, to share a life, and to support and encourage each other, is the permanent foundation which so many of us have given up on. I am so grateful to have these friends, setting this example, for me to learn from and work towards.
I don't, a Newsweek article from 2010, was the source of some of the pessimism about marriage indicated above.