My assignment was to write a story about women who took up competitive sports later in life — women who didn’t play in high school or college but in their 30s or beyond started to compete athletically.
That brought me to Sue. We sat down to chat about her running career — how she became a junior college All-American in track at the age of 40 and how she was starting to feel more like a runner again as she continued her remission after battling breast cancer.
It was only a few days later when she sent me an email inviting me to come and run with her.
At this point, I was in my second year of endurance sports training and had started to prepare for my first marathon. I could use the company. So I joined her one early morning, a bit afraid to be honest. I was not much of a runner. I certainly was not fast and running in Chestnut Ridge Park, known for some monster hills, was completely intimidating. But Sue was welcoming. She told me not to worry, that it’s just a slow fun, run.
The run through the cold and darkness of Chestnut Ridge was challenging. But Sue was so encouraging. It was my first time running with someone else and I loved it.
And thus began my friendship with Sue.
Today is her birthday, which is one of the reasons which brings me to reflect on our friendship.
There were many things I was searching for when I finally took the leap to try endurance sports, one of them being new friends. I craved people to connect with whom I shared not only a common interest, but a spirit and passion and desire to live our lives as fully as possibly. More to the point, I sick of the bullshit and drama with other friends. As I was searching for authenticity, love and power in my own life, I wanted to surround myself with people who had those qualities.
The universe introduced me to Sue. My circle of friends whom share the same passion for life as I, has widened. In one tradition it’s called building your tribe — your circle, your family, your support system if you will. The tribe is filled with purposefully, meaningful relationships which thrive on mutual respect and care and concern. And when you finally create your own tribe, the power that flows back and forth is incredible.
I find it difficult to label someone your “best friend” because really, how do you define it? Perhaps some people do have that absolute one go-to person, the person joined to them at the hip. I have a closer inner circle instead of one person. And Sue is definitely part of that inner circle.
She is a wealth of information on running. She helps me devise routes for my workouts and has introduced me to new races. But the athletic world is more than just about a place where exercise. This is the arena which serves as the metaphor for the rest of my life — the safe place in which I learn my life lessons, where I play with my strength and where I can face my doubts and demons. She has been there every step of the way through my process.
And I can not thank her enough.
When you find friends who fit your tribe, you don’t necessarily needs years to develop a connection. Sue already knows what I’m feeling during a workout. And she knows me. She knows when to get in my face and when to order me to back off and relax. She knows my biggest obstacle is my confidence.
My latest lesson with Sue came during this week’s track workout. After a warmup, my schedule called for me to run nine 400-meter sprints with a two-minute rest in between each. The indoor track is not a regulation size, so it’s smaller and a bit more crowded, even in the early morning hours. I was learning not only how to pace myself for the sprints, but also how to cut tangents on the course.
This idea scared me. After all, I didn’t want to bump other people, or force them to move, or bother their workout in any way.
And Sue set me straight.
“This is your workout,” she told me. “You have just as much right to take your space as anyone else. Don’t worry about anyone else. They will move. They will take care of themselves. You go out there and do your workout.”
Take my space. A lot like using my power which Swim Master Greg discussed with me earlier in the week.
Sometimes we are so concerned about not upsetting others, that we forget to live our own truth, live our own authenticity. As author Marianne Williamson wrote, “Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened abut shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. …. as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
Sue’s light has helped draw me forward, has given me permission to live big, to play big, to run big. It’s my hope I can pay that forward for someone else.