St. John Paul II: Patron saint of triathletes?

The day before Pope Francis announced the canonization date for Blessed John Paul II (April 27, 2014), I competed in my first-ever triathlon.

So after the announcement, I was thinking not only about the holy pontiff but also about my recent swim, bike and run (my body wouldn't let me forget).

Behind the starting blocks at high school and college swim meets, I often prayed to St. Joan of Arc, my confirmation saint and a woman who had enough guts and faith to take on the English army.

I fell in love with Joan after reading Mark Twain's little-known biography on the 15th-century teenage saint.

St. Joan was my go-to gal when I felt my courage waver or my muscles ache.

Yet as much as I love her, I would like to suggest that the soon-to-be St. John Paul, probably the most athletic pontiff in the history of the church, be named the patron saint of triathletes.

In a 1984 homily at the Olympic Stadium in Rome, Pope John Paul II told the assembled athletes: "Sport is the joy of life, a game, a celebration, and as such it must be properly used and … freed from excess technical perfection and professionalism, through a recovery of its free nature, its ability to strengthen bonds of friendship, to foster dialogue and openness to others."

Pope John Paul loved to swim, hike, kayak and ski. But even more importantly he understood the value of athletics and its proper place in our lives. At its best, athletics is about celebrating the beauty of being alive, of the bodies we were given, and about using self-discipline and hard work to reach our goals with humility and humor.

Pope Francis hasn't asked me yet, but St. John Paul, the patron saint of triathletes, makes perfect sense. On my next triathlon I know I'll need all the help I can get.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013