Using Hardships as Opportunities

I remember the moment like it was yesterday.  I was lined up with thousands others.  It was dark, cold, and I had a growing pit in my stomach.  My heart was racing as I braced for something I knew would be incredibly painful.  “I made a mistake.  What was I thinking?  I shouldn’t be here.”  I was lined up to run my first marathon.  As if running for 26.2 miles straight wasn’t bad enough, I had an injured IT band.  I forced myself not to run for 3 weeks before the race, in hopes that my IT band would heal.  I had no idea if it had or not.  What happens if I get 2 miles in again and I have to stop??  I’d be over the bridge and into Canada by then.  I’d be in another country by myself.  I was completely panicked.  

The shot signaling the start of the marathon went off.  It was time to compete! A switch inside me flipped, and I transformed from scared newbie to experienced competitor (despite having NO experience actually running a marathon).  This was a different “Monica”… the side of me that doesn’t “need” anyone else.  The “I got this, get out of my way” Monica.  It’s every man for himself!  Teams only slow you down.  If you want to win, you gotta do it alone!  I was doing great…. zig-zagging around the “fools” that were already walking.  What were they doing in a 26 mile race??  We weren’t even 1 mile in yet!! 

I felt great.  This was going to be fun!  I was confident. I had my favorite music playing.  I was in the zone.  That is, until a little past 1 mile in…

That familiar IT band pain shot through my leg.  Shit.  My arrogance quickly retreated in fear.  What do I do?  Do I stop before I cross the bridge to Canada?  I had to make a decision quick – I was already starting to run up the ramp to the bridge.  But I couldn’t stop.  I trained 10 months for this day!  I can’t throw it all away.  Maybe if I keep running, it will go away.  As I continued running, the pain intensified.  I was over the bridge into Canada and about to go through the tunnel to crossover back into Detroit.  My only hope at that point was that my leg would just go numb from the pain.  This was going to be a long, painful race.  I was only 6 miles into the 26.2 miles, and my leg was already asking “are we there yet”.

I was finally through the tunnel from Canada, and back into Detroit.  I was miserable.  I was pissed.  I just wanted to break down crying and quit.  I still had that “awesome” mindset of every man for himself… especially now!  I was in real pain, so I had to look out for ME, no one else!  I continued on, still running. 

I always give myself little goals in races, usually by picking someone I think I can run past, running past them, and then slowing my pace for a while, until I pick the next person to pass.  I’m competing with EVERYONE… whether they know it or not!  Everyone is on the “other team”.  I looked ahead and found a man over 6’ tall and running pretty slow.  He was my next “victim” to pass.  I started increasing my speed, and before I knew it, I had passed him.  Piece of cake.  As I was focusing on my next victim, I looked, and HE was passing ME!  ANNOYING!!  So I continued again, gaining speed, and passed him AGAIN.  “That’ll show him”, I thought to myself.  A few minutes later he DID IT AGAIN!  What was wrong with this guy??  I was really starting to get pissed.  So, I sped up to pass him again, and this time, he wouldn’t let me.  He continued running side by side next to me, not letting me pass him.  I had gone from a 10:00 minute pace to a 7:30 pass, and he was still, right there next to me!  My anger was searing.  I turned my head to give him a “what the hell’s wrong with you” look, and instead, I was met with a smile, and a “how’s it going?” 

Inside, I was thinking, “I’ll tell you how it’s going!  I’m in PAIN, I’m miserable, I just want this dumb race to be over! And the one satisfaction I could have in passing YOU, you’ve RUINED and taken away from me!” But instead, I blurted out something like… “I’m actually really struggling… my IT band is injured, and I’m in a ton of pain… I was trying to get my mind past the pain by focusing on passing you, but it doesn’t look like you’re going to let that happen!”  I laughed as I said it, because it was all starting to sound a little ridiculous to me… and I couldn’t believe I actually said that out loud!  He laughed too saying that he was doing the EXACT SAME THING with me!  In races he would give himself the same goals of trying to blow past people, and then move on to the next person.  It’s how he kept motivated for long runs.  We were cracking up at that point.  What are the odds?  We looked at each other and decided, “let’s run together!”  So that’s exactly what we did!

For the next 10 miles or so, we talked about life, work, our pain, and whatever else came to mind.  In those miles, I was truly humbled.  And NOT in the way that people misuse the word… you know where they accomplish some amazing feat and the accolades come pouring in… and they say, “I’m so HUMBLED by all your support”  Let’s just be real.  You’re NOT humbled in that moment. If anything, your pride is through the roof!  LOL… anyway, I digress…

I was truly HUMBLED in that moment… my arrogance got checked… you know, like in the NHL where a player is checked into the boards and is left as a crumbling heap on the ice wondering what the hell just happened.  Yep, that was me.  I started the race with the mindset that everyone was against me, and it’s every man for himself!  And now I had totally forgotten about the pain in my leg, and was enjoying running alongside this man… my teammate… NOT my competitor.  How much more enjoyable this race was once I realized we were all in this together!

Eventually, I let him run ahead of me, because I knew I was slowing him down.  We wished each other the best, and said goodbye.  I went on to finish the entire 26.2 miles. 

I never got to thank him for the lesson he taught me that day.  I’m sure he didn’t even realize it.  Would I have finished the race without him?  Absolutely.  I’m not the kind to quit.  But the experience of those 26 miles was SO much better when I learned to switch my viewpoint from one of “every man for himself” to one of “we’re all in this together”. 

After the race was over, I had screwed up my IT band so bad, that I couldn’t run for almost 6 months.  Yet, looking back, I’m so thankful for that injury.  Sure, the pain was miserable, but the lessons I learned that day, almost 9 years ago, I will carry with me my entire life.  And for THAT, I’m thankful.  I wouldn’t change a thing.  I wouldn’t even take the pain away if I could.  It was BECAUSE of the pain, that I was forced to learn a bigger and life-changing lesson… one that I’m realizing I can apply to the times we’re going through today…

As I write this, I can’t help but to think of the lessons I learned that day and how they can be applied to the state of our world as we face COVID-19.  When people are scared, panicked, and in pain, the natural response is to flip the switch to “fight or flight”… every man for himself.  Ironically, that’s the worst thing we can do.  How much better could this be if we realized we’re all on the same team?  This virus doesn’t discriminate.  It doesn’t care if you’re a liberal or conservative, a millennial or Gen X, rich or poor.  It’s leveled us ALL.  And just like my first marathon, we know we’re going to go through A LOT more before things get better, it’s going to be painful at times, and it’s going to be scary.  But what if we stopped focusing on our pain and started focusing on our “teammates” all around us?  What if we took our eyes off ourselves and how this has affected us and instead focused on the opportunities we can gain from this experience, especially as it relates to building the relationships with those around us?  There’s so much beauty that could come from it.

That’s exactly why we created our 19 day competition at Catalyst CrossFit.  Yes, we’re raising money for those affected by COVID-19, which is awesome in and of itself!  But the heart of it is to bring people together to focus on the OPPORTUNITIES instead of the pain… to help us all realize that our neighbors, our community, our world… they’re our teammates, not our competitors.  We can’t control the fact that COVID-19 exists, but we CAN control how we respond to it.  Why not take this bad situation and use it for good?  I hope you all can join us in our 19 day challenge!  The link is below.  It starts April 1st and is only $5 to register.  Let’s use this as opportunity to fight TOGETHER, choosing to focus on bettering ourselves, our relationships with others, and the world!  Viruses are contagious, but so is positivity and love.  Let’s not be overcome with evil.  Instead, let’s overcome evil with good!


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