The trip was the summer between my junior and senior year of college. We drove down to North Carolina to visit my aunt for the first time in a number of years. And since my brother and I were no longer 12 and 8 (although we still act like we’re 12 and 8 whenever we’re together) we needed some more advanced options for our recreation choices.
I’m not sure how it came about, but my dad, brother and I ended up hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains and going white water rafting. It beautiful and thrilling. My dad had always taken me outdoors. Some of my earliest memories of time with my dad were on hiking trails in Western New York. But there was something about this particular experience. Something which clicked. My early college years were plagued with poor diet, inactivity and weight gain. I was able to participate in the hiking and rafting on this particular trip, but I knew I wanted more of this in my life. And so, with the help of Julie, then one of the athletic trainers at school, I started my fitness journey.
I offer that anecdote as a preface to the first of two important life lessons I learned during the month of March. Yesterday, I explained how the craziness of my schedule helped me focus my energy on what’s positive rather than the pile of crap life had thrown at me in February. Today, I offer a reflection on the two most important things I learned this month, one from my trip to Baja and one from the St. Bonaventure women’s basketball team.
Remember my goal
I was running back and forth on the beach at our camp on Isla Espiritu Santo in Baja. The beach was about a quarter mile long, if that, and I was doing my best to get in some solid training in the morning before our daily adventure in the Sea of Cortez began. It was during one of these brief running sessions that the reality began to hit me: I might not be able to do Texas Ironman 70.3 on April 1. And I started to wonder if this was a bad thing.
I love triathlon and endurance events. I love training. I love competing. I love all the ingredients which go along with training and competing. I love it because I enjoy challenging myself. I want to see what I can do. I want to keep myself moving and grooving and trying new things. I want to be outside and active and with other people who enter the world through fitness and wellness along with swimming, biking and running.
But it was during one our kayak trips that another reality came back to me. This, right here, was my goal. I remembered that trip to North Carolina many years ago. I wanted to embrace my inner athlete because I wanted to able to do things. I wanted adventure. I wanted to travel. I wanted experiences. I wanted to be outside and embracing life. I wanted to participate and not just be on the sidelines. Don’t get me wrong, being a sports reporter is cool, but I was being called to be in the action, not just write about other people’s action.
As I started doing triathlon and running events, I got caught up in different goals. I saw other people working toward podium finishes and spots in national events and wondered if I should be aiming for the same thing. I questioned my validity as an athlete at times. I thought that I should be getting different (i.e. “better”) results. At times I lost sight of what it was I really wanted. The PRs and improvement are great. They are fun and fantastic and keep training fresh and interesting and new. But I didn’t get into this game for the end result. I got into it for the challenge, to see if I could do it in the first place and then to see if I could go a bit farther. I got into it for adventure and movement and freedom. And all my triathlon training put me in the perfect spot to enjoy my adventure in Baja, to climb a mountain and kayak the Sea of Cortez and swim with sea lions. It put me in a spot where I could embrace the opportunities I felt were calling me. That, friends, is my goal.
While I’ve been covering women’s basketball for more years than I care to count at the moment, I’ve been following the story of the St. Bonaventure program closely for the last four years with special attention this year. As regular readers of this space will recall, the Bonnies soared on the national scene this year earning a national ranking, going undefeated in the Atlantic 10 conference, earning the program’s first trip to the NCAA tournament and advancing to the Sweet 16.
But what set them apart, at least for me, was their attitude. Their focus was always, always, on themselves. What could they do? What mattered to them? They didn’t think about what outsiders thought about them, even if outsiders thought good things. They knew who they were, individually and collectively, and kept their focus on that.
The Bonnies reminded me of important life lessons. I let pass any thoughts on how other people would do my job. I didn’t think about how others would cover this story. That process extended to other areas of my life, letting go ideas on how others would approach work or training or racing or relationships. Perhaps the most important lesson to present itself to me in March, loudly and in several forms, was to be myself fearlessly and fiercely.
As I move forward in my training (a half marathon and trail marathon loom over the next two months) I will keep this in mind: Trust myself. Be myself. Good stuff happens when I do that.