Updated: Apr 21, 2022
Many of you reading this may already be aware that it was on this day in 2003 that the Columbia shuttle disintegrated over Texas just 16 minutes from landing at Kennedy Space Center. The shuttle's tiles had been damaged on take off. There was suspicion at NASA that the damage had occurred and might be catastrophic. And so NASA waited for their return, hoping for the best. The decision was made to not inform the crew as there was nothing that could be done.
Now, I am certain, even without knowledge of the tile damage during takeoff, the crew was already aware of how dangerous it was to reenter the earth's atmosphere at a speed that had them only 16 minutes away from the coast of Florida when they were above Texas.
A number of years ago, a good friend and mentor shared an account that had been shared with him by one of the folks at NASA. He said what they realized after the full post-tragedy investigation was that the flight was doomed from launch. The findings showed that the damage that had happened during liftoff was so substantial that there was no way that the Columbia and its crew could survive reentry into earth's atmosphere.
In March of 2020, my son came home from school for Spring Break. He never went back to in-person learning. My wife's office went to remote working and strictly limited access to the office. Races were postponed and canceled. Officials, athletes, race directors, and race operations people used to being on the road for much of the year found themselves at home…waiting. For many, a pervading sense of doom became a norm. Uncertainty, the primary enemy of endurance athletes, became the very air we all breathed. By the end of 2020 and into early 2021, we, tentatively at first, began to return to racing. We took precautions and tried to stay safe as we once again gathered in groups larger than an immediate household.
The facts tell us that the crew of Columbia was doomed from launch. A devastating fate sealed by foam-damaged tiles. Would it have been better to have informed the crew? Perhaps. When the pandemic hit in full force, there was no end in sight, so many of us learned how to live a new way in light of drastically changed societal circumstances. We reflected and reevaluated what mattered most. We changed behaviors and set completely different goals for ourselves than ever before. The world in 2022 remains drastically different than it was in 2019.
My friend who related the story about Columbia's inevitable fate had a point to his recounting. We should live every day as if it might be our last. There is hope for us ahead. Today might be our last day. Life itself is an endurance event, but it is something that can be embraced. The idea of carpe diem has perhaps been overused. However, it is still worthy of embracing. I think the crew of Columbia would agree.
Coach Mark Turner (aka Coach MarkT) is a Houston, Texas Metro area based Coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II and Paratriathlon Certified Coach, IRONMAN University Certified Coach,VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and Mental Strengths Performance Coach. Coach MarkT absolutely loves coaching and helping the athletes achieve their dreams. MarkT is also a US Veteran having served in the United States Marine Corps. He is a graduate of the University of Houston Honors College with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science. In addition to endurance sports, his interests include history, science fiction, and cooking. He can be reached at markt@teamMPI.com.