Thursday, June 28, 2012
6th grade physical fitness test in gym class. My once a year dose of public humiliation whether I needed it or not. I had to make it 4 times around the cones at opposite ends of the gym. My goal, the 50 yard dash. My heart was shaking, everyone is watching me, waiting for their turn to get this over with. Gym teacher shouted GO!.. My reluctant legs were on the move. I could feel the stares as my belly bounced and jiggled with each step. I could feel their taunts inside. With each lap, the anxiety grew, my eyes were growing wet with tears of shame. I knew what they were thinking. It isn't easy being the only boy in 6th grade that needs a bra. I could see kids whispering, easy to do when everything was not a blur of speed. Last lap, almost over. My legs were shaking, unstable, ready to give out. My knees buckled and I hit the floor. An inglorious face plant in front of the entire 6th grade student body.
Laughter, pain, embarrassment. My face was hot. I wanted to crawl in a hole and disappear. I wanted to die rather than endure the cruelty that I knew was going to follow. I hate gym class. I hate sports. I hate being compared to others and seeing myself for what I am, weak, inferior, and incapable.
That day, I became a quitter. My parents tried in vain to get me into sports. Soccer, football, baseball. Most of the time I sat on the bench because I didn't meet weight requirements. I never got to play because the fat kid on the team is a liability and parents don't want their team to lose because the fat kid can't perform. It was so easy to quit. What reason do I even have to show up for practice? Why should I challenge myself? Food is my friend. No need to impress and it is all satisfaction. A ready made sanctuary for a pre-teen with self image problems.
Life marches on...
38 years old.
It was night. Each house I passed, most lights were out except for a gentle glow of a computer or television in the living room window. Running is a fast way to burn a few calories..heaven knows I need to. Even after losing 50 pounds, I was still 345. Walking was no longer enough. My weight loss allowed me to move easier and walking was getting old. My face was burned hot and was flushed. My legs were quivering and unstable. Everything ached. The goal was set, my will, resolute. I will make it to the next mailbox. I had already set a new record of 5 phone poles and now my world revolved with laser like focus on just making it to the next milestone. Bragging rights would soon be mine.
Mailbox came and went. Keep going Robert.
One solitary light pole about 50 yards away was my next target. My spectators?, A cloud of bugs swarming in a lazy, disinterested manner around the light. No cheering, shouts of encouragement, no throbbing finish-line music. Nonetheless, my finish line was coming. That pole, for an instant of time became my focus, my world, all that was important to me was tied up around that splinter filled goal.
I had to dig deep, I had to want this more than I wanted to quit. More than I wanted to return to a comfortable state of good enough. There was something out there I was reaching for in my heart. To find my inner champion. To finally believe that this time I wouldn't quit, that I have the courage to start and the will to finish.
Today, I would do it. I would run further than I had ever gone before.
Finish line crossed.
Not a moment too soon, my legs were shaking so badly I almost gave out but I made it. My new distance personal best? I ran a little less than a quarter mile without stopping. My belly hurt from the bouncing just like gym class but this time things were different. This time, a sense of accomplishment and not shame. I was totally alone in a sleepy neighborhood but the feelings were just the same as if I crossed the line in front of a thousand screaming spectators. I walked to catch my breath so I could call my friend and share the news. I was almost beside myself with excitement.
That night in 2008, a runner was born. Not because I won a race, I couldn't even fit into any of the gear that being a runner would require. Trying to do so would be like stuffing 10 pounds of jello into a 5 pound bag. I stood there in my sopping wet cotton shirt beaming with pride. You see, being a runner is a matter of heart. It isn't how you look, how fast you are, or how far you can go. It isn't about finishing first. It's a matter of you versus you. It's about a life of commitment, of dedication to personal excellence. There is a calling from within that beckons me to overcome discomfort, to see what I can do, how far can I go. It always reaches forth and strives for personal best. To be a runner is to earn our own self respect. It's about finding the strength to see it through.
Courage is courage no matter the distance. It's about finding the courage to start and the will to finish.
For me to write about running is the articulation of passion. No activity has been so instrumental in bringing about lasting change. To run is to put freedom into practice, each footfall is like hands applauding a job well done.
I grew to hate gym class and sports because they highlighted my weaknesses. I grew to love running because it highlighted my strengths. Lets face it, its hard work getting started, but for every challenge met, there is a sense of affirmation that money cannot buy. The are many rewards that await those who will stick it out, work through the issues and see it through.
Some may start their running journey by desiring to do a marathon. Not me. It started by making it to the next phone pole, the next mailbox. I'm pretty sure that is the case for the 99% of the mortals like me who will read this.
This series of blogs that I am dedicating myself to write is my story and lessons learned. It is my hope that through this, someone else might find the courage to start and the will to finish. To know the joy that finishing what seems impossible will bring. Whether you find yourself struggling to believe that you can finish your first 5k or feel the inner calling to the marathon, I hope that somehow I can spark some hope to go just a little farther and in doing so, reach your goals.
Like the last series, when this is finished, it will be available in Ebook (PDF) format.