When I was a freshman in high school, I had a horribly difficult experience in Spanish class. I was placed in a sophomore advance class (yes, yes, overachiever...) but was ill-prepared too take on the challenge. My professor, Mr. Tom Gray, dubbed himself "El Tigre" and prowled around the room practicing his Socratic teaching style. Each morning he would ask, in a threatening and comical tone, "Do you have any last words...in English…before we begin?"
It was a painful school year, but I learned more in that one class than I had in six year I'd been in Spanish classes.
For my college essay, I wrote piece that described how, despite my daily fears of being singled out and failing to answer the question correctly (oh, the horror!), I learned to choose trust over fright, and try to find my way.
“Just when it looked as though the world was about to implode, Mr. Gray gave a comical smile and remarked in our familiar dialect, I know it’s hard to learn a new language. But trust me, one day my drilling will pay off.” Out of half hearted faith and sheer terror, I trusted the lanky man. As the year progressed, I started noticing that he was sticking to his end of the deal. I began to catch some of his bulleted phrases, shooting some of my own answers back at him." - - excerpt from the essayADULT LIFE
I was lying in bed the night before Ironman Coeur d'Alene, and I was paralyzed with fear. Chris had dropped me off at my hotel, and I knew the next time I'd see him, we'd be driving to the start line. All I had left to do was to wait out 9pm to 3am in fear. I could not fathom the distance. I could not grasp that my 6-hr brick training had prepared me for workout that could last between 12-17 hours. The longest race, to that date, was my ultramarathon - and that was just under 10 hrs. Where was I going to find the strength the give that much more?
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. - Ambrose RedmoonAs athletes, we put ourselves into situations that pit us against "Overwhelming Obstacle X" frequently. Call it your first marathon, your first Ironman, your first 5K or your first bike ride. Call it an open water swim, or the open water swim washing machine. The mountain. The sharp descent on the bike. The tiny voice in the back of your head that tells you that you shouldn't be there. Everyone else belongs, but you.
After a couple of minutes lying in that hotel bed staring at motivational quotes and messages from my friends, I became very lucid. I realized that I was living a moment of facing my fear. I was feeling the fear, and I had the recognition to talk it down. Many times, I think, we don't realize that we have overcome something great until we are gifted hindsight. I was lucky enough to have an in-the-moment this-is-scary realization. It's awe-some ... I was in awe. And then, I slept.
And in the morning, I smiled. I swam, ran, biked, and smiled more. I enjoyed the 140.6 miles of defeating that doubt. And, as Redmoon so eloquently says, courage is not the absence of fear - we are never going to be without the fear of SOMETHING. There will always be monsters in the closet in the back of your mind. Sometimes they are in your face. But the recognition and realization that there are things - confidence, support, a mission, a dream, the potential for greatness - that are so very much more than the fear itself, is the victory. That is what courage is. That is what success is.
May your road wind you away from facing many of your fears ... but not too many. The Spanish language is beautiful. The views of Hayden Lake, Idaho are magic. The storm before the sunset is what gives the sky its color. Your list of what-if's and if-only's will be accomplished if you choose it see them through, but they will be all the more brilliant if they are shaded and toned with a touch of fear.