"I used to believe making an Olympic Team was going to define my running career, until I didn’t make one, 4 times. I wondered what more is there in running than simply success measured by a number or a place? It’s who we become striving to be our best. For me its sharing the journey from start to finish with all the messy in between. It means leaving a mark on the sport in wherever my passion lies. Even if it’s a different path than how most people are doing it, my mom likes to say, “Stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.” Stephanie Bruce, American long-distance runner
I was lucky enough to come across this quote by Stephanie Bruce right when I needed it. It resonated with me so much as a runner, athlete, mom, woman, and just overall human being. We all have goals & hopes & dreams for our futures - ways we envision our lives going and how we think things "are supposed to be." But sometimes, if we cling too tightly to how we think things "should” be, we run the risk of missing out on SO many other possibilities of how things "could" be.
Sports can absolutely be about winning, times, places, scores…but they can also impact and contribute to ours and others’ lives in SO MANY OTHER WAYS, ways in which we might not have known or pictured...and ways which we might entirely miss out on if we become too narrowly focused on our own (often short-sighted) vision of things.
As a personal anecdote, recently, I decided to start training again. After a “brief” 10-year+ hiatus 🙄, my hope was to see what I might be able to accomplish in the all-mighty Master’s division. My plan was to start training again at age 40. But then...the pandemic hit & all my supposed newfound freedom vanished. So, I shifted my sights to age 41. But then...apparently a year of so much stress & sitting & staring at my computer for work wreaked havoc on my already out-of-practice and now mom-of-two-kids body and a nagging injury interfered with my plan yet again. A year of rehab - consisting of PT, chiro, sports massage, and mind-numbing exercises and stretches - & I was finally feeling back on track, ready again now at the ripe age of 42. This time though I was feeling more fit, strong, focused, surrounded by some great camaraderie, and feeling encouraged by some great workouts. I entered my 1st race - which I thought of as more of a lets-see-how-this-goes training run - since 2011. It was a far cry from the times I used to run but, running just under 7 min pace in my 40s had me feeling pretty damn happy & hopeful. Until, again...a serious of unfortunate events...another injury…& feeling back at square one. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit how devastating this felt to me at the time & what it did to my mood for a bit. I had goals, dammit! Times I "should be hitting," races I was "supposed to be running." My hopes of finally "feeling like a runner" again and being able to "contribute to my sport” once again felt like they had vanished. Was I even a runner again if I wasn’t racing? Can you be part of a sport if you are no longer competing or even on a team?
This quote by Stephanie Bruce- who by the way is a 38 yo mom (of 2 sons born 15 mths apart!) with diastasis recti, Celiac disease & a congenital heart condition - reminded me that sports can be SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT. Sure, our contribution for a period of time can be defined by the times we’ve run, the places we’ve come in, the points we’ve scored - but that comes to an end at some point in time for EVERY SINGLE ATHLETE no matter what the age or level. And sadly, we've been seeing more & more of the devastating effects that can occur when athletes are unprepared for this “ending,” don’t know how to translate what they have learned into other areas of their lives,or have little else they identify with besides their success as a competitive athlete.
So, if you are involved in the world of sports or athletics in any capacity, can you begin trying to imagine what ELSE it means to be "an athlete" outside of the competition? What other ways are there to contribute through sport besides just as a competitor? If you are an athlete yourself, could you maybe one day become a coach....and if you are a coach, rather than coaching at a costly, private youth sports league that attracts mainly privileged families, could you find a way to help coach under-served, at-risk populations? (Side note, my cousin Chris Serrao has found a way to do this through the NYPD Police Athletic League and it is nothing short of inspiring). Can you use your platform as an elite athlete to raise awareness of or provide resources for a cause you are passionate about? Can you enter races or competitions that benefit a worthy cause (or create one of your own)? Can you find a way to connect with, help or use whatever expertise you have to help address the mental health crisis effecting so many of our young athletes today? Could you focus on the process, experience, relationships built, & lessons learned through sport rather than just the final outcome?
Stephanie Bruce reminded me that there are so many ways we can leave our mark as an athlete - & these can morph & grow & change throughout our lifespans...if we let them. If we cling too tightly to our one set plan or strict set of goals, we might lose sight of this & miss out on SO many other things the world of sport has to teach, offer & contribute. I am constantly changing & adjusting what it means for me, personally, to be "an athlete". It's not always easy (or voluntary) and it's oftentimes pretty humbling, but I can honestly say I don't know if I'd be the person I am, in the career I am in, or have had the privilege of getting to meet & connect with & learn from all the amazing people I have, if I had clung so tightly to my original plans and followed so rigidly along the path I thought I was "supposed to” go down when I first started out.