Once upon a time I had a big athletic goal.
It was to be a good enough track athlete to compete internationally. Not necessarily the Olympics, I would have been happy enough to travel for a summer on the second tier international circuit.
I knew two people who had done it, one of whom my dad had coached, and it seemed like the coolest thing ever.
Let’s just say I never competed internationally and that fact has, frankly, haunted me for most of the past 25 years. [just writing that line makes me cringe in shame. what a waste of time.]
Lately I have been digging deep – I mean really digging – trying to get to the root of that big tree of shame and perceived failure. Because I realize that deeply rooted tree has taken over my garden of happiness and has deprived all my other beautiful plants and flowers of accomplishment their well deserved time in the sun.
A couple of weeks ago I took a walk on the beach, thinking about how a goal that I once had, and didn’t meet, could influence me still, to this day. And I wondered: would my life be significantly better now if i had reached that goal?
If I had been able to travel and compete internationally, would I then have added a new goal, perhaps aiming for the Olympics?
Would I have grown tired of travel?
Or perhaps quit after an injury and been even more dejected?
No one knows.
My grandfather was a well known 3 sport athlete in Iowa. His image was used on billboards, he was featured in the local newspapers, he was a star.
Later in life he married and they moved to California. They had three children. He worked as a janitor where his kids went to school.
I wonder, was he haunted by his athletic legacy too?
Let me tell you about my dad. He was a track star in high school and went on to be on the track team at San Jose State University in the mid-60’s with the likes of Lee Evans and Tommie Smith (think 1968 Mexico City Olympics and Black Power.)
But by the age of 22 he was married and had a baby (me) and a young family to support.
I wonder, would he change all that he has now for a more successful track career as a young man?
He may have moments…but I think of all the people he has shared his love of the sport with. Being known as his daughter is an honor. Everyone he coached loves him – from slowpokes who quit the team to Olympic hopefuls.
Perhaps he did pass his weighty dreams on to me, but he also passed on a deep love of track. A sport that allowed me to meet new people, fostered my spirit of adventure, gave me a strong sense of accomplishment, gave me self discipline, taught me about hard work and goal setting and resilience, paid for some of my college tuition and – best of all – gave me dear, dear friends I am still in touch with.
As I sat on the beach, watching the waves come in around a giant piece of driftwood I realized something.
Shit can be heavy, or it can be light. I get to choose.
I no longer have to carry the heavy. The expectations. The wishes. The perceived failure.
I don’t have to give it back to anyone. I don’t have to pass it on.
I can just set it down and walk away.
I am free to watch my daughter discover her own love affair with track and “her people”. I can watch her at a track meet with nothing but love and appreciation for the legacy we have been gifted – of those who love to run, not because we have to, but because we want to.
We run not to prove anything to anyone, but because we feel at home there – on the track at dusk, alone – the sound of our feet hitting the track as essential to our lives as our very own heartbeat.
I can run simply for the joy it brings me. Only me.
And that, my friends, is light and bright and free.