26.2 A SERIES
Everyone has dreams. Since I was about 16 years old, one of mine has been to run a marathon. When I cross the finish line in NYC on November 5th, I’ll likely do so with a recorded time of between 4 and 5 hours. In reality though, it will have taken me much longer to get there. There are things inside and outside of us that bring us closer to our dreams. There are also things that delay us, that push us so far away from our goals they are sometimes out of sight. If we are lucky, little by little, we are often able to transform those stumbling blocks into building blocks–they become the foundation for our strength, resilience, and ultimate determination. This series aims to uncover my long journey. Each week, I’ll share the people, places, and things that have brought me to the place I am at today, and that I hope will carry me from the starting line in Staten Island, to the finish line in Central Park. Mile by mile–this, is my 26.2.
Miles 17 & 18- To my Heroes, the Superstars and the Joe Schmoes
There are less than 450 active players in the National Basketball Association. 7.4 billion people in the world, and less than 450 get the chance to play basketball at the very highest level.
Ever watch an NBA draft? If you’re not a hoops junkie you probably pass, but there is more going on there than young men becoming millionaires. I like to watch it because there are only so many opportunities to witness people’s dreams coming true right in front of them. A lot of us look at professional athletes as almost superhuman. It’s true, they can do a lot of things that we can’t. Many of them have the ability to do things with ease that others could never achieve with years and years of practice. Their talent has many of us forgetting or maybe not even realizing the hard work and determination it takes for them to get to that ultimate level, much less, succeed in it.
I love sports–they have always been a part of my life whether I’ve played them or settled in as a spectator as I’ve gotten older. As an adult, witnessing LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeat the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Championship is probably one of my favorite and most inspiring sports moments. The Cavs were not supposed to win. In what became a 7 game series, they were down 3-1, which meant they had to defeat the 2015 champions and clear frontrunners in 3 games in a row to lift that trophy at the end. Coming back from that deficit had never been done before. For me what made this feat such an inspiration was one man–LeBron James.
Of course basketball is a team sport. Everyone has to do their part in order to have real success. But if you watched that 7 game series, you know that James’ performance could go down as one of the most impressive in all of NBA history. He carried the Cavaliers like I had never seen a team carried. He was all over the court. While most players excel at one thing–shooting, or scoring off the dribble, or rebounding, James was the best in all of it. He made threes, he beat people off the dribble for easy dunks and lay-ins, he rebounded on both ends of the floor, he blocked shots, he guarded every position, he dove on the ground for loose balls. You could see his willingness to sacrifice his body on almost every single possession. Yes he is built athletically like almost no one else in the world. Yes he is a once in a generation talent. But what you see most in watching that series is the culmination of everything he had worked for his entire life. He had arrived at his biggest moment up to that point–determined to win the championship he had promised his hometown, but down to a truthfully superior opponent. What I saw in every game was James throwing his teammates on his back and clawing his way up a seemingly unscalable mountain. I teared up each time after they won games 5 and 6. I flat out cried as they nabbed the championship in game 7. As I watched James himself lie face down on the court sobbing, I thought about how it must feel to have accomplished something that everyone in the world said he couldn’t. There on the floor, with his humanity splayed out for all to see, I thought about how much self-doubt he had to push through to arrive at that moment–how many times he had to keep it moving and go on to try to win the next play, when things seemed hopeless.
I’ve played this moment over again several times in my mind (and on Youtube). It inspires me because I think it shows what we have in common with these superstar athletes. Sure, talent cannot be changed–we have it, or we don’t. But GRIT is something we all have the ability to grow inside of us. Grit is a part of the human spirit–it’s not selective. If you want it, you can have it. Grit is why I am equally inspired by LeBron James–and the little guy–the seemingly un-athletic man or woman getting out there and pushing themselves to do things they’re not even sure they can.
I’m motivated by the couch to 5kers who run through insecurities, self doubt, and uncertainty. All of these people get me up in the morning. They get me to the gym and they get me up tough hills. Their grit cultivates my grit and revs my desire not to be fast–but to be the most tenacious runner I can be. I get out on the road knowing that what I lack in athletic ability can be made up for with perseverance. I’ve learned this from both professional athletes and regular people. LeBron James used to be a pretty terrible outside shooter. Pundits and opponents would say, “Just make him shoot three’s, if you take away the inside, you can beat him.” People said this for years. And what was James’ response? He got better at shooting from the outside. This wasn’t God-given talent–we saw him struggle with it for a long time. This was hours and hours in the gym during the off season and in practices between games. His improvement has been clearly attributable to hard work, repetition, and commitment. What it took for him to get better at shooting is the same thing it takes for Joe Schmo to conquer that 5k. It’s time, it’s a willingness to dedicate oneself to the goal, and it’s a belief in hard work and an insistence that we have the ability to improve ourselves.
Miles 17 & 18 go to all the athletes that inspire me everyday. I’m in awe of you talent, but I’m indebted to and taught by your tenacity. Some runners say you hit the wall at 20 miles–others say it comes a bit earlier. In case it does for me, I’ll have all you superstars in my head, reminding me that this is where I need to have courage–that this is where my strength of character needs to show up. This, is where I’ll use that grit.
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