If you’ve been around me any length of time at all, you’ve heard me wax sentimental about what I consider my greatest running adventure: West Coast Trail in a day. Don’t worry, this blog is not yet another recount of Best Run Ever! This is about something far more monumental: Opposition. You’re going to run what? That’s crazy. You know that’s crazy, right? Don’t be foolish. You can’t do it. You can’t do it. Four words I’ll never forget.
I’d spent my whole life dreaming of being an athlete. I was never a bad athlete, just meh. On every team, I got picked about mid-way through the line. I was the calculated risk: she’s hit and miss, could go either way, but she’s got spunk. I remember track try-outs in Junior High. They needed a girl on javelin. Sure! I threw it without a clue what I was doing, set a new record. I made the team! Yeah!! …I was never able to replicate that one magnificent throw; in fact, every throw after that one landed illegally: every one. I should have warned them that this was normal for me. Hit and miss.
So, when I started running, I assumed that I would make up in enthusiasm for what I lacked in performance. I worked my way up to a comfortably average pace and happily finished races in the middle of the pack like a good middle child. Really, it’s the least risky place. No pressure, no exposure.
What I didn’t expect was what I like to call the Rule of Returns: consistency over time. As I dedicated myself year after year to improving as a runner, I started getting faster than mid-pack. Wait, what? Why are there less people around me? Why am I passing you? Are you sick? Okay, this is awkward..and cool! People can see me. How do I look? (Truth: There is no runner on earth who looks good while running unless they’re a meme.)
Soon, age category podiums began to call out my name. The first time, I was so excited that I turned around, popped my running skirt and flashed the crowd. True story. Did you know that people only need nanoseconds of shock recovery to find the camera button on their phones? Haste and Regret are old pals of mine. Still, hard work, consistently applied over time, had paid off. Impulsive expression retreated in the face of pride and reward.
When I was invited to join the Best Run Ever, I had no doubt I could do it. 80 kilometres in one day through a rain forest? Sure! I mean, why would they invite me if they doubted my ability? Their invitation was all the permission I needed to reach beyond my grasp.
And that is when, for the first time, I heard the words “not possible”‘ – shockingly, by the same athletes with whom I had just shared the podium (sorry about that, good thing I wore undies, right?). So, when they looked at me with disbelief and informed me that I would fail, I’ll never forget how that felt. You might as well have shot Santa in front of a five-year-old, or stolen all the Easter Bunny’s eggs. Sheryl, you are being foolish and you’re going to get yourself hurt. How dare they? How dare they.
This experience – an arrow to the heart – was far more meaningful than the adventure. Here’s why. It was the first time I was attempting something that was beyond my natural abilities. (See above: not an athlete.) Second, it was the first time someone had told me I was going to fail. (Don’t ever tell someone they are going to fail, not even if they can’t swim and are blowing air into a garbage bag to use as a flotation device across a tidal ocean channel – also a true story.) Third, it was a sign of things to come.
See, the really good lessons in life are often the hard lessons that prepare us for even better, harder lessons. They teach us the importance of believing in ourselves even when others d
on’t. There will always be crabs in a bucket, trying to pull us back down. Stay with us! Safety in numbers! We know this group, we know this place. Until the bucket gets poured into boiling water and you become a romantic dinner for two at a restaurant with an ocean view. To live is to have brand new eyes: of ourselves, of our potential, of the unknown. The risk is the reward.