Ben Samit completes the swim portion of the 2016 Seaside Triathlon

Ben Samit completes the swim portion of the 2016 Seaside Triathlon

“Bring all the lovers to the fold, ‘cause no one is gonna lose their soul.” ~ Love Is My Religion, Ziggy Marley

We’ve been studying the soul.

We’ve been reading books and taking classes and looking for one soul, in particular. He belonged to my daughter and left without warning, leaving us all at a loss. He was the one who fed her soul, so that she was never hungry, and now her plate is empty, and she has no appetite.

He was a loving young man who knew that his body could feed his soul. He was a runner and a biker who had completed marathons and bike races. He loved to dance and had just started practicing yoga. He often worked out with my son, and together they had talked about entering a triathlon.

From the books and our classes, we are learning that certain souls are tied together in what are called “soul contracts”. Supposedly, we make these contracts before we are born. So the people in our lives, those we love and even those we don’t, are here with us because we’ve previously agreed upon it. It’s not anything we may ever remember, but it may be something we already know.

This is why we regard the soul of the one who left us as a brother to my son. His name was Jeffrey Paul Bart.

After he left, my son called me.

“Hey, Ma,” he said. “I’m going to enter the New York City Triathlon!”

I should not have been surprised.

My son had once thought it would be a good idea to run up the steps of the Empire State Building! It was a vertical race. I never knew there were such things, but I’ve since learned that they happen all around the world. They’re called run-ups. The sign-up for the run-up was closed, but my son had entered a lottery and somehow gotten himself a late spot. He called to let me know.

“Hey, Ma,” he said over the phone. “I’m going to run up the Empire State Building!”

We hung up, and I looked it up. I’d never even taken the elevator up, much less the steps, but apparently the Empire State building had a lot. There were 86 floors and 1,576 steps!

He started to watch online videos. Apparently, a champion vertical racer had posted videos on how best to run up the steps. There were instructions on how to grab the railings and how to swing around to the next flight. My son gave me his own instructions. I was to watch the videos, too, so that I could listen intelligently as he mapped out his strategies.

He picked a charity for those who wanted to support him and ran up the stairwells of his apartment building as practice. His doorman was in charge of the stopwatch. He conditioned further with lots of yoga.

A few short months later, he ran to the top of the Empire State Building! 

Really, I don’t know what made him decide to do that. I don’t even know if he knows. I just think he knew that he had to do it, and so he did. If I think hard enough about it, I would say that, on some level, he knew that his body, too, had the ability to feed his soul, and that his soul was hungry.

Swimming is a big part of a triathlon. In fact, it’s the very first part, and my son was never really a big swimmer. When he was little, he was so little that it took some time before he had the strength to hold his chest high enough to keep his head above water. And so it was a while before he could, and then it was never really an activity he actively pursued.  

My son began to put his plans in place for the race. He registered for the NYC TRI and signed up for a swim class. Then he chose a charity in memory of his brother Bart and bought a bike map of the city, so he would know where to go. He started running, too, and he further conditioned with lots of yoga.

I listened as he mapped out his strategies, and for months I watched as he fed his soul in the way that he knows how. He met with a run coach and sent me videos from his swim coach. He worked out his workout on either end of his work day, in the mornings and in the evenings and on the weekends, too.

The training provided my son with a purpose at a time when he was looking for his. The loss of a loved one can leave us questioning ours, and that’s why we want so badly to believe in our souls. We want to believe there’s a reason we’re here and a purpose in the company we keep. We want to know that it matters when we love someone and that our contracts with them are for keeps.

There was so much more to be done. My son acquired a wet suit and goggles and a bathing cap, and then he arranged for the bike and the shorts and the shoes. He actually borrowed the bike that inspired him to enter the race, the red one that hung in his soul brother’s place, in the home that my daughter had shared.

He learned the gears and met with the guys at the shop to learn even more, and he spoke with his brother as he rode through the city of New York.  

“Bart and I rode the streets hard,” he reported one day. “We cursed up a storm,” he said of the cars and the people who got in the way.     

And then it was time for a practice race, and his sister and I were invited along. He had signed up for a nearby triathlon in a town outside the city. He packed up his car with the bike and his things, and we booked a hotel overnight. The next morning, we were up before dawn, and we drove to the beach where he put his wet suit on.

He entered the water and swam out with the others until they became dots in the distance, blue like the color of their caps. We watched the blue dots move along the horizon and then turn toward the shore before they rose up to become people again. And we clapped for him as he came out of the sea and ran by on the beach and transitioned to the ride on his bike.

But then another rider collided with him, and he and the bike were down before they could even begin! And I have to admit that I heard him curse as he got up from the ground and fixed up the bike and then pedaled off, as if it had never happened. And we cheered him on then and did the same again as he rounded the bend in a second and final loop.   

And then it was time for the run. He stashed his bike and put on his watch as he ran, and then he was gone again. And that’s when my daughter and I walked to the finish line, so that we could greet him when he came in. And it was not too much longer before we saw him appear, a dot in the distance again. And then we heard his name in the air as he drew near, and we clapped and hollered and cheered.

“Here comes a runner with some real grit!” the announcer announced over the loud speaker. “There’s no one behind him right now. There he is! Ben Samit from New York, New York, New York!”

He blew by the finish line, and suddenly he was with us, catching his breath, elated, a little bloody from the spill on his bike. He gave us big, sweaty hugs, and we took celebratory pictures in the rising sun, and then we listened as he told us what it was like.

He said the bike ride was good, and that he still had gas in the tank after the run. But the swim, he said, was not good at all.

Although I hadn’t noticed, he told us he had entered the water but was unable to exhale his air. He wasn’t prepared for the cold temperatures and lack of visibility, and he froze right there on the spot. He almost turned back but made the decision instead to move on ahead and swim with his eyes above water. It wasn’t until the end when he headed to shore that he finally put his head in for the rest of the swim.

“Bart was definitely with me in the water,” he said.

We took so many photos of that day, but they don’t do justice to the image that remains in my mind. In the mental picture I keep, I see my son from behind. He’s in his wet suit and goggles and cap, and he’s moving into the water at the start of the race.

The day has dawned, and it freezes this moment in time. He’s hungry and ready to feed his soul.

Next up: The NYC TRI.

Jeff Bart and Ben Samit planned to do the New York City Triathlon together. To support Ben’s race in Jeff’s memory, click here. All donations go to St. Jude Children’s Hospital.