Back in high school I had a track coach who, at the end of season, made us all line up and one by one tell him if we intended to run again the next year. See, at our school, track was the one sport that anyone could sign up for without a try-out, take the class, train & earn a PE credit. That end of season line up had become the coaches way of discouraging people from “using” track as a PE substitute. We all knew in back when we elected to take the class that we’d be facing coach in the spring for that face to face.
I remember so clearly my nerves as I prepared to tell him that despite discovering that I was a decent runner, despite earning a spot on the JV team at every meet of the season & despite massive PR improvements in my first season running, despite all that – I would not be coming back next year.
I had my speech all ready to go. I had made Varsity Cheer and that would be a big time commitment. I planned to use the elective hour to take more art classes, which would serve me well on my path towards the college degree I planned to pursue, fashion design. I felt that despite enjoying the training and team, it was something I could continue on my own.
And I remember so clearly his response: “If you quit track, I guarantee you will never run again another day in your life. Mark my words. You are making a mistake.”
While I was prepared for him to be disappointed, that certainly was not the reaction I expected. Looking back, I am pretty sure he thought it would make me reevaluate my decision and remain on the team.
But it was one of those moments that I think back on and can still feel my blood boil. How dare he presume to know what I will or will not do. That may be true of others he had come across, but he didn’t know ME.
And friends, over the last 20 years since that conversation, I have run. A lot. I ran the rest of HS and often made a point of crossing paths with the track team during my run. I ran in college to explore my new city and get some time to clear my head. I ran in NYC through Central Park after work. I ran along the Hudson pushing a double Bugaboo stroller and two little ones. I ran pregnant. I ran to shed baby weight.
And while I have had plenty of stretches of time when I did not run, I always seem to find my way back to the pavement.
And each time I face that first run back I hear those words and think “you were wrong Coach”. Each time I push to add another half mile to the run, I hear those words and think “still proving you wrong Coach”. Each time I looked at the back hill in Central Park and thought maybe I’d just walk the hill, I thought “nope, Coach doesn’t get to win”.
Friends, for me, there is nothing more motivating that someone telling me that I can’t do something. And while that surface lesson is certainly displayed in this story, there is something deeper that I have realized.
Coach has likely long since forgotten that one cheerleader who ran JV one season. But I learned something important from that life experience. I learned that I can listen to what the world thinks of me & let it effect how I see myself or I can ignore the outside voices, listen to my own heart and be who I know I am.
And every time I run, it’s a reminder, what the world thinks of me is not what matters. What I know to be true in my heart is what matters.
It’s a lesson that I hope I am passing along to my little ones, especially as my daughters quickly approach middle school and then high school. I know that they will have to find that voice within their own hearts which says “nope, you were wrong Coach. I know myself better than you”. And I know they will need that voice to stand up for what is right, to resist the pressures of being a teen and young adult, to make decisions for themselves and not because someone else tells them they should do something.
And I hope that each time I share my voice… each time I speak up for the person who isn’t able to speak for themselves… each time I choose integrity… each time I choose to show up as me, pure and simple… each time, I hope that they are seeing their mother say “it doesn’t matter what the world thinks – you just have to be you.” Pure & simple… Just be you…
PS: Hop on over to this post for my favorite work-out gear.