Who or what inspires you? What makes you jump out of bed in the morning, ready to start the day? If you’re an athlete, where do you find your motivation to get that workout in on those inevitable days when it’s the last thing you feel like doing? When life kicks you in the gut, where do you find your resilience to see it through and come out on the other side? When you’re having a perfectly normal day, is there anything that moves you to kick it up another notch? At the end of a grueling race, whatever that race may be, from where do you “dig deep” to unearth that last surge of power to propel you to the finish line and then beyond?
Faith? Others? Yourself?
For me, it’s a combination of all of the above and in the end I think it comes down to relationships; people connecting with and inspiring one another, whether they are aware of it or not. A reciprocal relationship with some, an anonymous dynamic with others, and ultimately a responsibility to find within ourselves the will to keep moving forward.
At least that’s my take on it.
Here are a few people who inspire me; maybe they’ll do the same for you…
My friend Janine bought me a shirt while I was in the midst of my recent journey. It was my birthday present and she said that this particular shirt reminded her of me. I was touched when I saw it. It says “Never Give Up.” When I looked up the story behind this shirt with the mantra I had already subscribed to as Janine was aware, I was moved and inspired by the story of Jessie Joy Rees and the Never Ever Give Up (NEGU) Foundation. Jessie fought two brain tumors in ten months and ultimately “became an angel” on January 5th of this year at the age of twelve. Her desire was that all kids fighting cancer would find the strength to “Never Ever Give Up.” As a result, the NEGU Foundation was born and is still quite active. The shirt was part of a fundraiser for the foundation; I was so moved by this gesture and the shirt has a place of high honor in my closet. I wear it when I need inspiration and I think of Jessie and the kids she inspires when I do. You can read all about Jessie and her Joy Jars for kids who are fighting cancer at the above website.
Brenden Nichols is 19 years old. He was salutatorian of his high school class in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and planned to become a neurosurgeon. He started his path towards that goal in the fall of 2011 at Carroll College in Montana. On October 15th, on his way back to college after a brief break, he was the victim of a serious car accident which resulted in a collapsed lung, broken neck and ribs, a traumatic brain injury, and rendered him in a coma for nearly four months. In just a few seconds, his life was violently propelled into the world of neurology, the very subject he was preparing to study, but not in the way he expected.
But he has undeniable courage. He has shattered every dismal medical prediction. He digs deep within himself to find his inspiration to move forward. He has to. He is learning to speak, walk, and function again. He is limited to a few words at a time which are not clear to most around him except his family. He has the most amazingly supportive and loving family. His dad is his constant companion, translating Brenden’s words so that we can communicate with him. His spirit and positive attitude are palpable but you know there is a voice in there screaming to be released. He is learning to release that frustration by writing his story and thoughts despite his self-described “shaky hands.”
Brenden has also had a dream of becoming an Ironman and is passionate about triathlon. He finished his first sprint triathlon this past July; a team effort resulting in a first place podium win! On days when I feel like I can move a muscle, I remember that Brenden would give anything to make his muscles do what he wants them to do.
More on Brenden later but for now, you can follow him on his Facebook page.
My cousin is a mom, wife, school counselor, teacher, runner, constant cheerleader, party coordinator extraordinaire and the list goes on. But beyond that, in the midst of what is already a more-than-full plate, she still finds the time to encourage those around her in a way that she knows will inspire them. It’s never the same from one person to the next. She possesses an uncanny ability to target exactly what will encourage someone, and she does it; no matter how busy she is. She does things quietly and behind the scenes and doesn’t need or want recognition; my favorite kind of person. She receives awards for her efforts and each time, people comment that they had “no idea she did that too!” She’ll put a great deal of effort into the most thoughtful and creative gift for someone and you wonder how in the world she had time to do that. Below is a photo taken at a party she recently threw for me. She truly thinks of everything. If someone in her life is struggling with anything, you can bet she is quietly in the mix somewhere making a difference for that person. I’m convinced she is holding out on us and hiding a twin sister who shares the duties incognito. Or she just never sleeps. She has her own blog where she shares her running adventures. When I think I have too much on my plate, I think of Smarty.
My mom led by example. She had no idea that her actions would teach me to always get back up again, no matter how many times I may fall. There is no fanfare for her; no news story, medal, or video documenting any deed of any kind. But her actions have left an indelible mark on the world. And yet, she was simply living her life, doing what she felt was the best she could do, completely unaware that she was inspiring others. She is my hero.
Sister Madonna Buder; a truly unbelievable woman. I had the privilege of seeing her finish Ironman Canada a few days ago.
This faith-inspired woman completed her first Ironman race in 1985 at the age of 55. That’s right; you do the math. She finished yet another Ironman race this past weekend at the young and spry age of 82!! You should have seen that crowd cheering her on all day long. I volunteered in coveted spot all day; I was in the transition area where athletes mounted and later dismounted their bikes, and then began their run. That meant I got to see every one of my friends at each of these spots and run with some for a short distance as they began their marathon; and I proudly added Sister Madonna as well. She doesn’t know me, but you just cannot help but erupt with emotion every time you see her out there. There is nothing like it. At the end of her race, before the huge crowd began to see her approach, I heard one spectator yell out as he unexpectedly saw her running past him, “Sister Madonna!! Are you KIDDING ME?!! That is so freaking awesome!”
And it was.
She is a local hero here in Spokane. The Iron Nun has her own Wikipedia page, where they have already added her latest accomplishment of finishing Ironman Canada last weekend, noting that she will once again be competing in Kona this year. I’m still shaking my head.
When I am tempted to say “I’m getting too old for this,” for any reason, I think of Sister Madonna. Unless we’re talking about staying up past my bedtime.
I watched friends and strangers persevere last weekend. I was inspired by those who are considered average athletes as they strived to reach new goals, as much as those who were competing for the first time. I witnessed dreams achieved, others shattered; triumph and heartbreak wrapped into one day. I watched my friend Karin literally gut out the last mile of her race in excruciating pain, racing against the clock in the dark to the “magic carpet ride” that was her Ironman finish. I learned of a friend’s surrender of his hopeful race and my heart broke for him; though I know he will bounce back, because he has everything he needs to do so and he’ll continue to inspire and lead by example as he does so well. I marveled and cheered as Paula, Randy, Eric and Connie crossed yet another finish line, my admiration for them boiling over. I watched Natalie smile through her entire race to her first Ironman finish line, looking as though she was just getting started, giddy as a school girl. I wept joyful tears as an 82 year old woman crossed another finish line to the deafening cheers of an inspired crowd. I watched the clock tick past cut off times and said a silent prayer for everyone who was left behind that day. I hope they know how inspiring they are for making it to the start line.
But ultimately, I know that it is still up to me to get up, get out there and get it done. That sentiment is not limited to training and racing. The actions of those who inspire me will guide and motivate me, stir me to move when I don’t feel like it, and give me the occasional wake-up-and-stop-your-whining kick in the pants that I need.
But I think it’s also imperative to look within yourself and find what is unique to you that will keep you going. In those quiet, private moments as you contemplate your next move, think about those who inspire you, but recognize that you have your own story. It is extraordinary because it is yours alone, and unlike anyone else’s. That, I believe, is where we create that reciprocal motivational relationship with those we know, while possibly inspiring those we don’t.
Some of the best lessons I have learned are from children. They have such a simple clarity about the world around us, while we tend to make things more complicated than they need to be. I will leave you with the following video that is guaranteed to inspire with a side of ear-to-ear grinning and perhaps some audible giggling with a fist-pump.
I am certain that I have broken some basic rules of writing with overuse of the word “inspire.” So be it. I am freaking inspired.