Reflections on service

This morning it was back to the pool for a swim workout. After yesterday’s long run, I was feeling pretty excited about my training and looking forward to the 2100 yards of drills and swimming I would knock out in the early hours.

While counting laps and embracing the meditative state that can come through swimming, I thought about today’s celebrations of Martin Luther King Jr. It has become a day to embrace service along with a day to think about race. Both thoughts came to my mind as I worked my paddles and pull buoy.

First came the thought of the swim gap and Cullen Jones. His story is inspirational and historically significant as few African-American swimmers have had successful Olympic careers. The statistics provided by the USA Swimming Foundation and the Make  Splash Program are eye-popping. In ethnically-diverse communities drowning rates are two to three times higher than the national average.

A story this past September on Real Sports with Bryant Gumble talked about the swim gap, its historical roots and what Jones and his pubic service efforts are trying to do. Learning to swim isn’t just about competition — it’s about saving lives.

While Jones is using his gold medal from the Beijing Olympics to help create more learn to swim programs across the United States, I started to think about my own relationship to service.

Sometimes service feels like it needs to correspond to the mantra, “Go big or go home.” If you’re not doing something grande or large or socially significant, then does it really count? Then again, who defines what is “socially significant” in the first place?

The earthquake crisis in Haiti brings another aspect of service to this day of reflection on the topic. Most of us want to rush to help, and certainly donating to reputable relief organizations is one way to offer assistance to those who need it most right now.

But how can we be of service in our daily lives? It’s not just about the big acts or showing up in times of disasters. If we define service as every day acts of kindness — shoveling out a neighbor’s driveway or giving a friend in need a call — we start to create a better world for ourselves and those around us. And it spreads.

For my part in extending my service commitment, I’ve decided to make it a point to volunteer at least one race a year (if not more). And I’m already on the volunteer schedule for the Beast of Burden 100 miler — the winter ultra race to be held next month in Lockport. I’m taking a late-night shift because (a) I thought it would be fun, (b) it might provide some of the most interesting stories of the event and (c) it’s probably when people most need a bit of encouragement, help or zaniness to help them through the event.

Is it changing the world? Well, it’s not like I’m bringing a water supply system to a village in Africa or brokering hunger relief or peace efforts. But is reaching out in my world. And if we all did a little bit of that, what we could with what we have, where we are, the world would respond in kind.

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