Several years ago I attended a Warren Miller ski film and was awe struck. Watching these hot-dogging guys (and I do believe they were almost all guys) go schussing effortlessly through knee keep powder inspired me to decide that for my 40th birthday I would take myself heli-skiing. All I had to do was effect an exponential increase in my skill on the slopes complete with a new found ability to carve in the deeps and take big air when land suddenly failed to show up under my skis.
I also needed to save up a pot load of money as your average heli-skiing adventure runs about 5 grand. What a great idea for the newly single mother of 3 small children. It was the kind of inspiration that makes you stand up, pump your fist in the air and yell “HELL YEAH!” but not a particularly actionable one (not that I didn’t try but it was truly insane).
Fortunatly I’ve found some less glitzy, more immediate sources of inspiration. When I trained for my first marathon I trained with Team in Training and if I got cranky and didn’t think I could go the distance I would think about leukemia patients fighting for their lives, enduring chemotherapy and spending day after day hugging the porcelain goddess and praying for relief and for a cure. Up against that scenario my lousy 8 mile run didn’t seem like such a big deal. Absent the daily reminder of those who suffer I look to those who show up and go the distance.
When I finally managed to get to the pool after I got back from Peru I found one of the lanes festooned with silver and purple helium balloons tied about every 5 feet along the lane lines. I generally refer to the lane that was decorated as Frieda’s lane because every single day at 5:30 AM Frieda shows up at the pool and takes ownership of half that lane. If she isn’t there and hasn’t mentioned to anyone that she will be out of town we all worry. The balloons were there to recognize and celebrate Frieda’s 90th birthday.
Frieda started swimming in her early 60s. A few years later she went to Israel for a visit, entered a swim competition and took 10 gold medals. She has them framed and on display in her house. Frieda doesn’t just show up – she gives it her all.
She is steadfast and dedicated and as I already said, she shows up and swims at the very least every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – without fail. When we swim short course she gets 1/2 a lane to herself and I used to try to bust a move out on to the deck so I could have the other half and swim at my own pace. Fortunately for me Frieda has invited a friend who has usurped my lane of sloth. When I swim there it tends to bring out the lazy in me because I don’t have to work to keep the pace. But I digress.
When I feel the intensified gravitational pull of my bed and think about how I am more tortoise than dolphin and I just don’t want to swim I think about Freida and about how dedicated she is and about how hard she works. I think about her very late start in the sport and her early accomplishments. It makes it pretty hard to justify “I don’t feel like it”.
Sometimes I wonder why I bother swimming and running and cycling and entering organized events when I am such a no talent slow poke. I can only compete against myself because I just don’t have the athletic prowess needed to be a competitive Age Grouper. It just isn’t going to happen and so I often wonder why make the effort at all?
I do it so I’m not just another middle-aged Moms jean wearing, barrel shaped, matron, unable to climb a flight of stairs without getting winded. I do it so that today, tomorrow and when I’m 90 I can still be experiencing my vitality, not my decrepitude. I do it because not doing it feels like giving in. I do it to set achievable goals and then bask in self-satisfaction when I succeed. I do it to learn to appreciate my effort whether or not I meet my goals and to learn to stop trashing myself when I don’t. I do it to get high on myself and so I can eat pizza once in a while without freaking out about it. I do it so I can work on getting better, not older.
How about you?