Sunday, October 4, 2009

Who inspires you?

As fall racing season begins, there is a lot of buzz about getting a "PR" (personal record), local 5 and 10K's around town, and some major marathons coming up across the country. Recently, I was lucky enough to be able to go to Collierville to see my nephews compete in a local kids triathlon. Last year my oldest nephew Tommy competed for the first time, and would be racing again this year. His little brother Matthew is an amazing athlete, and was going to compete for the first time this year at 5 years old, even though you were technically supposed to be 7 to be able to race (Matthew could easily pass for a 7 year old, as he was taller than most 8 year old kids). I am very proud of all five of my nephews, and love seeing each one find their own path...but this race in particular struck a chord with me last year. The annual triathlon is held in honor of a swim coach that was also a triathlete and tragically killed when he was hit by a car while he was cycling, and it draws over 200 kids in Collierville as a fundraiser in his memory.It is a very large race, and I have to imagine it can be extremely intimidating to a small child who has never done anything like it before.
Last year, Tommy was 7 and had no formal training in swimming. He had taught himself to swim, and was very good, but he didn't have the technical guidance that a swim coach would have provided. He has always excelled in everything he's done (he finished the entire Harry Potter series by 2nd grade), and he's always been an excellent athlete. On the day of the race, we walked into the natatorium and there were kids everywhere. The pool had 20 lanes, a separate warm up pool and diving pool, bleachers for the audience, and people packed in so tight you could hardly move. Kids had their swim caps and racing bathing suits on, and clearly most of them had experience being on a swim team. The transition area was filled with expensive bikes that would rival an adult race transition area, and Tommy had a typical bike for a 7 year old boy who liked to ride bikes with his friends. Tommy got his ankle chip and number painted on his arm, his transition area set up, and was ready to go, never complaining that the other kids had "racing bikes", or that he was going to swim against kids that were on a swim team when he was taught himself to swim in their backyard pool. My sister and I were even somewhat intimidated by how serious this event was, and a little worried about how Tommy would do. When they finally got to his age group, he filed in line to his lane and was ready to go, just like the rest of the kids. I vividly remember watching him swim and thinking about how he's never done a triathlon before, he's definitely never competed in a swimming, running OR a biking race, and here he is with 200+ other kids, not scared at all. He went on to finish an AMAZING race, and I was so unbelievably proud of him when he came across the finish line. As soon as he finished I gave him a huge hug, told him he did great, and asked him if he had fun...his reply? "Yea Aunt A. I think I won, and I've never even done a triathlon before!" I'm not an outwardly emotional person but I got choked up trying to talk to him because I was so proud of him at that moment I couldn't even find the words to tell him. I had to leave from the race to head back to Atlanta, and I thought about that one sentence he said after he finished for pretty much my entire drive. Then I started thinking... I am 31, and I want to do something I've never done before, something that's a pretty big challenge, and I want to be as proud of myself after completing it as Tommy was after his race. So I signed up for a half marathon two days later with my friend Stephanie. When I crossed the finish line six weeks later, I was in tears because I was so proud of myself for running that race, and so amazed that a 7 year old inspired me to do something I never thought I would do.
If I didn't get injured, I would have gone on to finish 7 half marathons this year. I had to pull out of my last 2, so it looks like I will finish 2009 with 5 medals from an event I would have never even thought about if Tommy hadn't reminded me how great it can feel to do something you've never done before, and challenge yourself to do something outside of your everyday routine.
This year the event was even bigger, with more kids, fancier bikes, and faster racing swim suits. Tommy started swimming competitively this past fall, so we weren't worried about him at all. Matthew is a tall 5 year old, but he's still only we were all a bit concerned that he'd get scared when it came time to race. We set up their transition areas, got their timing chips and numbers on them, and got them all ready to go. Tommy went first, and swam in the same lane he swam in last year. He was AWESOME, and the first one out of the pool. He did great on the bike, and as he came back to transition to run gave his grandpa (my dad) a high five as he ran through the chute. When he crossed the finish line I was again more proud of him than words could even express. I gave him a hug and tried to say "I am so proud of you" and couldn't even get all the words out before I had a huge lump in my throat.
Matthew went after Tommy, and as he was led to his lane he looked like he was walking the plank. The poor guy looked petrified....but he still walked to his lane. He was the tallest kid in his group, but looked SO young in the face. As soon as the official blew the horn, he jumped into the pool-and as all the kids took off swimming, he stayed behind. He started to cry a little, but we were all standing along the lane, and we told him it was okay to get out of the pool and not race this year. He could watch and cheer his fellow racers on. That's exactly what he did, and he was able to be at the finish line when Tommy crossed. Matthew didn't end up competing, but I was equally proud of him. He had his racing swim suit on, his bike ready, and his timing chip on, and we have no doubt he physically could have done the race. He got a little scared in the end, and didn't, but what was most important was that he TRIED. In the end, he was just too young to compete with kids a full two years older than him, but he got dressed that morning, he sat with the other kids waiting for almost two hours, and he did his best. I can imagine that sitting with kids all 7 and older for almost two hours before the race was pretty intimidating for a 5 year old. The most important thing Matthew did that day was try, and I am so proud of him for it. He still has two years before he would be competing with kids his own age, and I have no doubt he will "dominate" (Matthews favorite word) when his time comes to race with his own age group. It reminds me of the quote from John Bigham, "The miracle is not that I finished, the miracle is that I had the courage to start". Matthew had the courage to start, and I am so proud of him.
I think its interesting that what inspires us to do things sometimes comes from places we never expected. If you asked me before the race last year, I'd say I was inspired by all different things, different people, and different experiences. I wouldn't have guessed my nephew would inspire me to take up a new hobby (I say hobby because I run half marathons for fun), which has allowed me to meet an entire new group of amazing athletes, and rekindle some old friendships through training and racing together. This year Matthew inspired me to try something new, even if I'm not totally sure about it, or may be a little scared by it. If it doesn't work out, that's okay...but at least I know I tried, instead of selling myself short by not even making an attempt. So, I think my next challenge my be a full marathon. I've never been a 'runner', and I love the half marathon distance-but instead of wondering if I could do a full one, I am going to sign up and give it my best shot. I love the quote, "There will be days you don't think you can run a marathon. There will be a lifetime of knowing you have" and I want to know that I have.
So, what or who inspires you? What has challenged you to do something different in your life? I'd be interested to hear readers' comments on this topic, because I find every answer equally fascinating.