When I was a kid, I felt like I could do anything I set my mind to. School came easily to me, and while I was not athletic, I didn't really care to do anything in the sports realm so it wasn't an issue. I think the first time I remember wanting to do something and not being able to do it was in 7th grade when I tried out for cheerleading and not being selected. I sobbed and sobbed. And I never tried out for cheerleading again.
Unfortunately, that moment started me on a dangerous path. If I couldn't do something right away, I just didn't try again.
I can't do this.
It didn't bother me, honestly. There are things that everyone cannot do in this life, after all. Right? No big deal.
Life continued on from 7th grade, as it does for everyone. I continued on through high school and college. I graduated both, and worked part-time jobs and had friends and lived my life. I didn't dwell on the cheerleading thing. It was just a simple fact of life: "I wanted to be a cheerleader but I couldn't do it."
In college, I was studying to be a teacher - because I wanted to change lives. I loved young children and wanted to reach them from their earliest years because I felt like that was when I could impact their lives the most. My college advisor told me I was too smart to be a teacher. I should be an accountant, since I was working in banking and enjoyed it. I was shocked and dismayed. I got through my practicums and student teaching semesters and learned so much about education and children and teaching and I still loved it. I met and married my husband and joined him in another state where the job market for teachers was much more precarious. I applied, interviewed, and got rejected. I finally got hired in a daycare center making 50 cents more than minimum wage because I had a college degree. I had graduated cum laude and scored in the top percentages on my Praxis (teacher exams). Working in the day care center was not at all enjoyable. I took my knowledge of education and development theory and tried to make changes in my classroom, and I lasted only 2 months.
I can't do this. I took a job in a credit union, which I loved, and never looked back at teaching.
When I got pregnant with my son a short time later, I decided that I wanted to stay home with him for at least 6 months to a year (after my daycare experience). I worked part-time in the evenings to save money to allow this to happen. We moved to yet another state where the job market was better for teachers but they wouldn't recognize my out-of-state teaching licenses from 2 neighboring states. I was paying back my student loans on my husband's tiny income and the savings we had built up while I was pregnant. So it made economic sense for me to stay home as long as possible.
Besides, our son was challenging. He cried. All the time. Hours and hours of crying. I'd lived 24 years of a life where things I tried to do came easily to me. I was facing something new - I'd never been around newborns before. I'm an only child! I did what I had always done with new situations - I read and researched. "What to Expect the First Year" - the title was so promising but all it did was add to my disappointment and anxiety. What I was supposed to expect each month was clearly laid out in the book. But my baby didn't do it.
I can't do this.
Except that I had to. Because he needed me to. Because he's my son and if I don't, who will? What daycare would hold him all day while he cried? I joined a group for Stay At Home moms so I could share my experiences with folks who would understand. Except they didn't. Because their babies weren't like mine. Their babies ate and slept and smiled and played. Mine didn't sleep. As our babies grew into toddlers and became mobile, theirs played nearby while they moms talked. Mine ran away. As the toddlers grew older, moms got pregnant with their new babies. I had miscarriages.
I can't do this.
We had our 2nd baby about a year after all of my friends did. And she was so much different than her brother. But he was only more difficult and his behavior more perplexing. I wasn't able to tend to her as much because I was still trying to make sure he didn't run away or hurt himself when he would fling himself into the walls. The doctors said he just needed time. And I needed a parenting class. The folks at church gave me books to read. Playgroup friends stopped inviting us over. I put my son in preschool so they could teach him to behave. They had about as much luck as I did.
With my 2nd baby, I was determined to do everything right this time. So I wouldn't mess up this 2nd baby like I obviously had the first one. I was going to breastfeed her and carry her in the sling so she wouldn't cry so much. Breastfeeding lasted a week - partly due to bad information from the doctor - and partly because it was hard. And since it was hard, it must mean that I can't do it. So I didn't. I got out the bottles and spent the next year hiding that fact in shame.
I can't do this.
I could go on and on for the next few years, but I think you're probably getting the point. The thing I didn't realize at the time was that I was internalizing this sense of failure. It was ALL ME. I suck. I can't do this. And instead of trying to figure out how to do something that was hard, I just gave up. Because things had come so easy to me when I was younger, I had never learned to persevere in the face of adversity. All I knew was that if things didn't go right the first time, something MUST be wrong and that wrong thing must be ME!
3 years after #2 arrived, baby #3 made her arrival as well. Now, I had learned my lesson and I did everything 'right' during her pregnancy and when she was born. I had developed diabetes early in her pregnancy, so I ate right and exercised and had a natural childbirth! I breastfed her (for 2 and a half YEARS, because I guess that made up for the others, huh?? LOL). I also started homeschooling shortly after she was born because my son was having a horrible time in Kindergarten. And I was a teacher after all, so surely I could do it.
OK, so you're reading all of this and you're asking yourself what this has to do with running and triathlon. When am I going to get to the point?? I'm almost there... don't give up now!
So now I'm 30 years old with 3 children (2 of whom are not acting like all the other kids I know). I'm homeschooling. We are still living on one salary. Things are hard. By the time I'm 35, I have two children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. By the time I'm 36 1/2, we have added Epilepsy to our list of stuff that we're dealing with. I remember that afternoon driving home from the EEG with Austin, and then having the doctor calling us frantically to tell us that numerous seizures had been recorded on the EEG. All I could think was:
I can't do this.
And then hours later, that fateful message from my friend asking me to run a half marathon with her in 18 months. My dad's response was "You can't do that!" Even though I had said it to myself so many times over the years, in my wearied state, I didn't see that. In fact, I was GOING to do this.
And, as you all know by now, I did do it. I did a 5K, then a 10K, and then that glorious half marathon. And more of them afterwards. And a sprint triathlon. And I got so hooked on the feeling that I could actually DO something that was hard when everything else in my life was spiraling out of control that I had to just keep moving on and on and on.
The marathon was next, of course. That's just how things go. Up and up and on and on. Everything had gone so smoothly in my 3 years of racing and training that I just took it for granted. Until I got injured while training for the marathon. I ran the first marathon I had signed up for, walked the half of the next one, and walked/ran the Goofy Challenge. And then I decided that, when it comes to marathons:
I can't do this.
Back to the old mentality. If it's hard, if it doesn't just happen and come easy, then I obviously can't do it. It didn't even dawn on me that I had fallen back into that way of thinking. It had been such a part of me for my whole life that I never realized that my whole thought process was wrong!
I recovered from that injury - slowly and steadily. I learned better how to balance my family's needs and my own need to prove to myself that I am worthy and not a failure at everything I try. I trained for and completed a Half Ironman last year. And in that time, I not only worked out my body - I worked out my mind. The hours spent swimming, biking, and running allowed me the time to reflect and to pray and to let God show me exactly where I had been wrong.
But the very best part of this journey for the last 3.5 years has been what I have been able to pass on to my children. That just because things are hard doesn't mean you can't do them. That it is the process of DOING that is the important part. It is in those hard moments that you are developing the character of the person you are becoming. And you are developing compassion towards others who are struggling because you have struggled. And if you cannot do it that first time it doesn't mean you give up and stop trying.
And that, my friends, is why I am trying for Marathon Maniacs again this year. Back in 2011 when it didn't happen, I assumed that I couldn't do it. And I accepted that as fact. But in these interim years, I have learned that I do not have to accept that as fact. That I can keep trying. I can keep training. I can keep on enduring. And if I try again and I fail it will teach me new lessons for the NEXT time I try. Because you just can't give up.
And that little baby who wouldn't stop crying? Who would run away and fling himself into the walls? Who would scream if we took a different driving route to church? Who cried when "ea" said /ee/ as well as /eh/? Who would one day learn something and the next day could not remember it? Who had a 10 minute long convulsive seizure shortly after my first Marathon Maniacs qualifying attempt?
He's graduating from our homeschool next month. He has been working third shift stocking shelves at a grocery store for the last 10 months so he can pay his car insurance and save up for music school. He works all night, does his lessons in the mornings, then goes to sleep and does it all again. On Sundays, he works all night and then goes to play drums at his church for free. And despite having every single reason in the world to throw his hands in the air and scream at the top of his lungs, "I CAN'T DO THIS!", he keeps going. He has shown me that in all of the times that I thought I was failing him, and all of the times I thought he would be better off with anyone but me as his mom, that God knew exactly what He was doing when he placed that little guy into my life. And I am blessed beyond measure for it.
There will come times in all of our lives when we look at our circumstances and we think, "I can't do this." Trust me when I tell you that that is a LIE. It is in those moments when you think you are failing the worst that you are the most powerful - IF you DO. NOT. GIVE. UP.
So please don't give up. Don't give up in running. Don't give up in triathlon. Don't give up with your children. Don't give up with your spouse. Don't give up with your parents. If you fall, it's OK to be frustrated and mad. Have some chocolate. It really helps. Cry and scream if you must. But then, get back up - brush yourself off - and give it another shot!
I can do this. So can you!