Today, I Am An Athlete

Yea, right. Everyone, who knows me, is laughing, like hell, right now! She just called herself an athlete? HA!

I was the kid who was picked last for any game in gym class. I’m the one who joined a coed volleyball team, as an adult, and at the end-of-season social gathering, silly prizes were distributed. My prize was a rag; given to me to represent all the time I spent on the floor, ducking to get away from that volleyball. They said, “As long as you’re down there, you might as well keep the floor dry for us.” Later in my life, I bought a bike. I took it for a ride. It was a scenic ride, through a wooded area, but it was totally downhill. I had the brakes on the entire time, gripping them with everything in my being. I have, now, moved the bike to three different homes, but haven’t gotten on it since. More years pass. I get older, weigh more (too much) so I decide to join a gym. Looking back on that early experience, I think that I must have assumed that just being in the gym was exercise enough because this was my routine…I took along my Kindle with my favorite book loaded, propped it up on the treadmill and started to walk, slowly enough so that 1) I could easily read my book and 2) I didn’t sweat. I wasn’t a fan of sweating. Well, needless to say, I never lost any weight or got any stronger. Instead, I grew tired of the trip to the gym just to read a book. So, you must be really wondering, now,  why I have chosen this metaphor for myself today. It doesn’t seem to fit…at all!

I chose this metaphor because, I think, deep down we all want to be athletes and we want to be winners. This week, watching the NCAA Championship game gave me the opportunity to witness true, driving athleticism. It was a visible display of focus, intent, and power. I could tell that the skill didn’t come from wishes and hopes or weak attempts but, instead, from practice and determination to be the best and then more practice and more determination because you can always be better. In the end, my team didn’t win the game, but, oh yes, they did! They showed thousands of people what being an athlete really means. It means believing that you are a winner. It means, remaining humble and lighthearted when the pressure to succeed grows intense. It means staying focused on one goal at a time. It means never giving up. It means pushing yourself well past the point of tired. And, it means being proud of what you’ve accomplished, even if you don’t hold the “winning” trophy at the end. This team won our hearts. They were, indeed, true winners!

I think I’m finding that kind of winner in me!

What is your motivator? For me, the motivation, that finely pushed me, was frustration and anger. I was frustrated with the voices that said that I lacked coordination, was too weak, and too old to change. It made me angry when I heard those voices saying that I just needed to accept the fact that getting older means accepting weakness, aches, and pains as normal for my age. Frustration and anger became my motivation to put myself back in the game.

Today, I sweat through cardio exercises, push myself through squats, am working on the tightest abs I’ve had since I turned 40 and I lift weights, a little heavier each time. Initially, there was that voice saying, “You can’t do this!” but there was another, more positive voice saying “Yes, you can. Just try.” With a mix of feelings; frustration, surprise, joy…and pain, I realized that sweating can make you smile. Some days, I struggle more than others but that positive voice is there, saying “Just 5 more. You can do it…4, 3, 2…come on “I’ve got you.” And, when I finish, I am ecstatic! And that voice says, “You just burned through another level.”

Some days my muscles sing in pure pain but I hear those positive words ringing through loud and clear, “What doesn’t challenge you doesn’t change you.” So, again I smile. That’s why I think that, today, I can call myself an athlete. I’m not a mountain of muscle, but I’m growing stronger every day. I hurt, but so do others, and they still show up with determination and I can too! Some days, I’m slower, but I keep moving. This challenge is not a race. I’m not competing with anyone but me. And what’s most important is that I show up.

But, now, it’s about more that physical fitness. I want to be in this big game, called Life! So, I’ve added that to my goal. Pushing through exercises is preparing me to take whatever other burdens are placed on my shoulders and push through it. Life hands out some pretty heavy weights, at times, throwing you off balance, sometimes moving you to tears. But, if an athlete shows determination, focus, and drive, then that’s what I have to do. If an athlete is disappointed, even heartbroken, by a loss, they don’t quit, instead they  review the loss for it’s lessons, and go out and play again and again. An athlete says “I am a winner”. A failure one day is just that, a failure one day. They don’t all of a sudden say “I am a failure.”  They get up and try again. So, they never really lose. A score on the board (or on the scale) is just a number. I want to be the kind of winner who walks away, in the end, stinking with sweat but so damn proud of how well I played the game. Today, I am a winner. And I will push myself to keep saying that every day for the rest of my life. I must be an athlete!

Now, I’d better get up, out of this chair, and go for a walk. And, I should put air in those bicycle tires.

Today, I Am A Carpenter

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You build your life, one day at a time. I wish I’d known that.

Life is a funny thing, isn’t it? You don’t realize that you are building something until you look back on it. “Wow, if someone had told me that I was building my future, I would have taken school more seriously.” Oh, people tell you along the way, but it’s hard to hear some things when you’re busy pounding away.
When I was little, I was probably told that I was too little to cross the street by myself. I didn’t hear that. What I heard, instead, was my friends asking if I wanted to go to the candy store because they had a little money and wanted to treat us. I got the candy…and a spanking!
When I was in high school, I’m sure someone told me that studying was necessary to actually get A’s. What I heard was, “C’s are good average grades.” I was the perfect example of how telling someone that “you will need this someday” didn’t motivate me to take my job more seriously.
And so it went throughout my early life. There were, probably, messages all around me, I’m sure, but did I hear them?
I was busy trying to figure out how to not sweat while working on a project. I didn’t like to sweat. At the time, I was a carpenter building shanties, leaving behind little piles of rubble everywhere I went. I can see, now, that I was trying to figure out what kind of life I wanted to build. Practice is necessary for that. The shanties were my practice.
Now, I’ve reached a point in my life where I see the little piles. The shanties are long gone, having disappeared into the earth along with the shanties quickly erected, for practice, by others. Then I see, other structures that I erected; a little more sturdy but each remodeled often. I’m still a carpenter apprentice. I built my first life thinking it would fit my needs, only I outgrew it.
I didn’t realize that what I was building was a very important life. It wasn’t just my life that I was building. My younger brother and sister were watching everything that I built. While they wanted to build their own structures, I was modeling one way for them. I didn’t realize that. I maybe would have tried harder to do a good job!
When I started my career as a special education teacher, I was laying out the building plans for every child I taught in their early elementary years. I was pouring the foundation for each and everyone that I touched. In the eyes of the parents, I was probably seen as the general contractor. They looked to me to know what products (tools and skills) would stand the test of time. The students had no idea that I’d never poured a foundation before. Some of the parents knew, but still they trusted that I could do it. Now I look back on those days and thank God because it had to be God who guided me through those first years; God and the Physical Education teacher. It was that person who showed me where the school supply closet was and how the past special education teacher used books from there for her students. I’ll never forget the principal coming into my first classroom as I was attempting to draw a tree, freehand, for a bulletin board. I think his exact words were “Not much of an artist are you?” Again, luckily, over time my skills improved (and I found an overhead projector).
Then I became a mom. Now, my understanding of parenting came directly from Dr. Spock in those days. My own mother shared lessons that I didn’t want to use, while Dr. Spock seemed to be on every other young parent’s coffee table. Well, I read this book like it was my blueprint. I read, now, that this man was later seen as the reason for moral decline in youth and the rise of criminal behavior. However, I saw him as being totally bent on schedules and structure and I blame Dr. Spock for telling me to let my baby just cry if it appeared nothing was wrong. He said that it was good exercise. I followed every design detail. Today, I have apologized to my oldest daughter for letting her cry for hours on end. Luckily, she doesn’t remember. I must have replaced that rough material with something a little more polished by the time she was old enough to remember. Either that or the experience was a good one for her because, today, she is strong and powerful. Maybe it was good exercise.
As time went on, I was trusted with the task of being a general contractor (principal) for a whole construction crew (teachers). And what did I do? I had learned that it was important to have blueprints. It was important to have the right tools. It was important to go slow and follow a step by step process. It would be easier that way.
I told them that they were “Building A New Tomorrow”. I said “Today, you are a carpenter.”