Lessons in fearlessness and moxie

It was almost obscene the way I jumped up and down, grabbed Sue’s shirt and pointed. Look! There was Kathrine Switzer. The Kathrine Swtizer. The woman who broke open distance running for an entire gender. A true trailblazer. A role model. An icon. And she was standing in the hallway of this  Florida hotel, working the St. Petersburg Women’s Running Half Marathon expo. I was doing my best to hide my giddiness but likely failed. Big time. I talked with Switzer for a bit and she autographed my race bib, telling me to start slow and finish strong. It’s advice that’s good for distance running. And it’s advice that’s good for life.

Trying to hide my awe next to Kathrine Switzer.

That November trip came to mind this week as I was following Kathryn Bertine, writer and cyclist extraordinaire. A dual citizen of the U.S. and St. Kitts and Nevis, she has been cycling for the the later for several years and on a quest to qualify both her adopted country and herself for the Olympics while helping to grow the sport of women’s cycling. To qualify her small country for a spot in the Olympics, Bertine needs to accumulate points from the international cycling federation (UCI). She was in decent shape to take a shot at cracking the top 100 and earning a spot for London. But as she detailed in her story on espnW, Bertine received news that the UCI was taking away her points because in one race they deemed there weren’t enough quality cyclists and in another race the powers that be missed a results-filing deadline. BOOM! Those Olympic dreams were exploded right in front of her.

And how did Bertine respond?

I argued. I fought. I got nowhere with the UCI. Then, I did what anyone does when a dream is rendered nearly impossible. I cried. Dry heaved. Cried some more. Wallowed in the disappointment. And then I did what any athlete does when they hear the world “nearly.” I used it to rebuild. Nearly impossible is not the same as impossible. 

Reading those words made me want to get on my trainer that minute and start pedaling away myself. This is what we do. We feel our disappointment, then we use it rebuild. We create another story for ourselves. We find a way through our heartache. I wanted to pedal right with Bertine as she began the arduous path of trying to regain her points, to reconstruct the details of her dream. And then I bolted to my bedroom dresser and started shifting through my hair ties, finding the trio I bought at the expo from Kathrine Switzer. The hair ties have a thin metal band with her trademarked “Marathon Woman” imprinted on the outside. On the inside it reads “Fearless.”

Yes! This is what I need. I’m already questioning the limits I’ve created for myself, limits so ingrained as daily habits and beliefs that I don’t even realize they exist. As I peel back those limiting thoughts, I replace them with new ones. I am fearless. I have moxie. OK, maybe I need to fake being fearless and having moxie for a while. But I know it’s there. Switzer and Bertine, in essence, have shown me as much. Nearly impossible, after all, is not the same as impossible.

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