I was recently asked to speak to a group of high school cross country runners about running and how it has shaped my life. I really hadn't given it much thought until I was asked to speak about it. In fact, it created such a stir in me, that I felt like it was worth sharing with you.
My story goes a little something like this:
When I was 5 years old, my parents divorced. I spent the following 5 years being flown back and forth between Florida and Texas, mainly due to my mother's prison schedule. After separating from my father, she found her way into a lucrative, yet destructive lifestyle, and as a result, I spent some very crucial years without her.
When I think back to when my dad introduced me to sports, it never occurred to me until lately, that he may have pushed me exceptionally hard in this arena to help funnel my emotions, focus on excellence... and learn how to suffer.
One might think I knew how to suffer considering some of the emotional issues I had to deal with, but this was different.
When I was 8 years old, I began playing basketball. I remember my dad asking me a very pointed question. "Do you want to be good at basketball?" Well, of course my answer was, "yes."
He took my word and ran with it. That began a sporadic delve into practice at a young age, in between moves and heartache. When I turned 10, I made the decision to stay with him and focus my attention on basketball. Where I grew up, basketball was the sport. You started young and you took it seriously. I was no exception.
My dad spent hours upon hours working with me on basics, technique, drills... more drills... practice, practice, practice. He said, "You're short. You're slow. You can't jump. You have to work on balancing your weaknesses with other skills." So I became one of the best point guards in our area. There would be games that I was instructed to perform a certain task ("drive it down the middle and draw a foul"). I would attempt and fail, followed by a verbal chewing out and several trips up and down the court in tears. While I don't necessarily condone the amount pressure that he placed on me, I can appreciate the drive it instilled.
In Junior High, I ran cross country, beating our High School district champ by over a minute. Again, I was reminded that I was slow, and therefore required to work harder than the rest in order to be competitive. This meant miles and miles before and after school. It meant running when I didn't want to. Running when I was tired, upset, emotional, angry. It meant running when it was hot, cold, raining. It meant there were no excuses.
Fast forward to high school where I chose not to run cross country but instead focus only on basketball. That is, until my Junior year when I blew out my left ACL. I tried to come back and tore it again my Senior year. It was then, that running became my getaway, my exercise, my release. It was all I had left that I knew and felt good about.
It was no longer a chore that I felt obligated to do. It became a necessity. I felt like an athlete again.
The lessons I learned in running and having a father who cared enough to push me past my perceived limitations spilled over into my life. I knew how to start something and finish it. I had the confidence to face a challenge. In relationships, I could handle it when things got tough. Running taught me that even when it hurts, I don't have to give up. It taught me that reward comes with hard work. It showed me that suffering isn't always bad... that it's often the process on your way to greatness.
It helped me deal with emotional issues by being an outlet for my stress. I learned how to cope in a healthy way with things that bothered me. Running cleared my mind and spawned the creative process. I became addicted to the endorphin rush that comes after a good run.
Running taught me how to survive in the trenches when I decided to start a company. Running has given me a way to relate to my athletes as they struggle with confidence and conditioning. It has given me a voice of encouragement... because I've been there. I know how bad it hurts but I also know how good it feels when you push past that pain... when you get to the end and you look back knowing you never gave up.
Learning to suffer has been one of the many blessings of running that has shaped my life and helped keep me on the path to success. You can't just stop when you have a little pain, an obstacle, bad weather, mistakes, break ups, setbacks.
Know that redefining your limits, redefines you.
Now I teach others how to suffer... and succeed. It makes my heart soar and I'm grateful that running has been there to teach me lessons that I would never have otherwise learned.