December 07, 2010

Being Human(e) - Featured Writer Stephanie Hancock

Being Human(e) - Featured Writer Stephanie Hancock

So, thinking of Christmas, I decided that grumpy athletes remind me of Scrooge (before his metamorphosis). They think only of themselves and find no joy in the success of others.

Thankfully, I don’t know a lot of grumpy athletes. Most people I know are really, truly wonderful. I loved the idea in the book, “Born to Run” that the best athletes were also the best people – the most loving and inspiring. They excelled, but not at the expense of compromising their humanity. They didn’t squash people to get ahead, but pulled others along with them to the top.

I like that. I like that a goal doesn’t have to be about beating everyone else but about everyone cheering each other on to meet their own goal. I like the idea of sharing the experience, of everyone doing their best and everyone pleased with each other’s performance.

The potential problem with being the Scrooge athlete is that being better than everyone becomes his identity. He haughtily pulls inside himself, too worried about his performance to even consider cheering anyone else on. And then the inevitable happens: one day, he fails and finds himself all alone. It is devastating because he has lost – not only the race, but all the wasted time focusing on something fleeting instead of something lasting.

Something lasting…like what? Like being the best person you can. Like finding as much satisfaction in your successes as in other’s successes. Like being comfortable, adaptable, and flexible to the curve balls coming your way, bouncing back with a smile and a good heart.

Speaking of curve balls and a good heart, three weeks ago my son was teaching my five-year-old daughter to play baseball. She stood too close behind him when he swung a big, heavy metal bat…right into her nose. It moved the bridge of her nose off center, breaking the bone and breaking the skin. I ran her into the bathroom where she bent over the sink, gushing out sobs and blood. When she caught her breath long enough to speak, the first thing she said was, “It’s okay, Mom, it was an accident. He didn’t mean to. He feels really bad.”
I was floored. Her first thoughts were for her brother. After her surgery a week later (they had to wait for the swelling to subside before they could do the surgery), she woke from the anesthesia, looked at me groggily, and asked, “Am I okay?” I assured her she was. She then immediately asked if she could please call her brother at home to let him know she was okay. Again, her first thoughts were of him.

I didn’t teach her that, she came that way. She’s a loving, happy and joyful person. She’s also an incredible runner. I kid you not, that girl can run. Sometimes I’ll take my kids to the local university indoor track for some exercise when we’ve been cooped up in winter weather too long. My daughter always picks one of the college kids out and joins them in their run. She keeps up for a couple of laps, takes a breather, then finds a new running partner, bouncing from new friend to friend. And the way she runs, you’d think she was in Disneyland having the time of her life. She grins when she runs. She loves it.

She loves everything. She cares deeply for people. Her loving energy translates to beautiful running. I look at her and think of the hypothesis in “Born to Run” and I see the possibility that it is true.

I’d like to be like her. Sometimes I’m nowhere near, but sometimes I get close. I run two kinds of marathons – first, the marathon for me when I try to get my fastest time yet. When I’m running for me, it is thrilling, a real test of my stamina, a time to see what I am capable of. But it’s all about me. The fun is there, but it’s passing, sometimes followed by post-race let-down (although not as often as it used to happen). I don’t even remember what my times were or what the courses were like. For those “me” marathons, I mostly remember who was there to meet me at the finish.

Then there’s the marathon I run with my brothers. We run to simply share the journey. Two of my brothers and I take turns pushing our oldest brother, who is quadriplegic, in his racing chair. We switch every two miles, take care of each other’s needs during the 26.2 miles, and spend at least the first half laughing and talking. The second half we all kind of clam up, except for our oldest brother. He says really inspiring things like, “Think you could go any faster?” or “I don’t think we’ll get a good time, maybe we should go back to the beginning and try again,” or “Are we there yet?” He has this really evil laugh that follows such statements. He makes us not take things so seriously, and he obviously enjoys the heckling. In fact, he enjoys the whole race, while those of us pushing enjoy a lot of it…and then we enjoy the finish. My brothers are good people. To spend hours on our feet or in a wheelchair together is maybe not the most exciting thing, but it’s definitely satisfying and memorable, something we can do together, and a way to include our oldest brother in the joy of moving. And when we run, our oldest brother grins – he grins like my daughter when she runs. Good, loving people, the both of them. And good at loving the run just for the sake of the run.

I am delighted that I met my personal running goal during one of those “me” marathons. But the second kind of marathon – the “us” marathon - is the one I’m most proud of. It’s not easy pushing a grown man that long (and it takes us a l-o-n-g time), but it is so so so much fun to race together. It is quite the experience to see the delight on our big brother’s face as the crowd cheers him on and fellow racers give him the thumbs up. He becomes a part of some really great people – or perhaps they become a part of him, a really great person. Racing together does that - makes you a part of each other.
Maybe we are all part of each other, and maybe when we include each other we all become better people. Maybe we can all find joy in the journey together. Maybe we all were “born to run” (or ride or ski or swim or just move), one way or another. Hopefully we will all be out there with silly grins and wicked laughs, pulling or pushing each other along to success.

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