I had the honor of going to the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame dinner last week in New York at the historical Armory, as a guest of one of our sponsors, Prime Time Timing. It was an elegant affair of tuxedos, long gowns, Olympians and sneakers.
After walking around Time Square, eating New York pizza, and trying to get my friends to buy and wear ‘I love New York’ shirts with me, we made our way back to the hotel. I happened to miss the first bus to the gala so I made a few calls for work while I waited for the second bus. The bus pulled up while I was still on a call so I got on the bus like a tornado. I plopped down (after asking) next to Leo Manzano without recognizing him, and found myself sitting behind Justin Gatlin and Michelle Carter. Maurice Green and his wife were next to me, and a few rows back sat Michael Johnson and Sanya Richards. I just hoped no one asked me what I scored in the heptathlon because in that company it certainly wouldn’t be impressive! (Don’t worry, Dan O’Brien asked me on the red carpet later).
The owners of PT Timing teased me about upgrading friends at the Gala. So to level the playing field I introduced them to all of my new Olympian and Hall of Fame friends before we sat down for dinner. As the emcee welcomed us and announced the first honoree, a 2004 Hall of Fame inductee, my full attention was snapped up.
She trained in private, mostly on trails. It was a time when if a woman ran in public, she was shamed. In fact women were not supposed to run distance as it could injure them and their reproductive system. Joan Benoit Samuelson. This woman was the first Gold Medalist in the women’s marathon the first year it was an Olympic event. That alone makes her worthy of recognition, but she had already won the Boston Marathon in 1979 and 1983. Then she won the Chicago marathon in 1985 after taking the gold at the Olympics in 1984 (the first year it was an event for women, just making that clear). She went on to qualify and compete in the Olympic Trials for the Marathon at age 50. I could go on and on, but instead I want to focus on something she said during her speech.
A while back Nike ran a campaign called ‘There Is No Finish Line’. Benoit Samuelson mentioned this campaign and how she didn’t really know what they meant by it, so I’d like to take a stab at it. My eyes lit up hearing how this woman did what she loved. My ears listened to her tell the tales of hiding when she ran and then finally running in public knowing that people would talk. She used her talent and she shone, even when shining meant going against the grain and having harsh critics.
Isn’t it easier to shrink back? To instead stick with the main stream, to fit in with the masses? It is, without a doubt, harder to swim upstream or to face your fears or your critics. In my opinion Nike came up with this ‘There Is No Finish Line’ campaign for Miss Benoit Samuelson because everything she did in the beginning of her career did not mark the end of struggle or challenges in life. In fact she said this herself;
“You are who you are at this moment not who you were 30 years ago. You are where you are right now in your accomplishments not what you accomplished thirty years ago”.
A finish line would indicate an end which would prohibit growth, change and new experiences. She still runs today with her family and she still competes.
We are often taught to let go of our failures. To learn, get up and try again. But what about our successes? Do we really know that we are not defined by those either? We are defined by continually growing, challenging ourselves, never crossing that finish line. Because a finish line is simply a proverbial end to something isn’t it? And in life, we are on a journey, one that requires us to continue to fight, grow, cry, love, learn, try and try and try no matter our age, gender, gifts….
Some people simply wish to exist so maybe their finish line was some significant event in their life, but not Joan Benoit Samuelson. She has no finish line, and I don’t want one either. I want to push the limits every single day by doing what I love and utilizing my talents. That doesn’t mean she runs a marathon every day or I raise a million dollars for Girls in the Game every day, but instead it means staying true to your internal voice, your soul and doing what you do well and doing it in spite of others negative voices or direction. To be bold when no one else will be and to live for something.
Serving the whole girl for her whole life has no finish line. And that can sound exhausting. But to me and the staff at Girls in the Game, it is energizing. We teach these girls new things daily about healthy relationships, how to play a new sport, about how to eat healthy. For some of these girls, the messages they learn are out of the norm in their communities, but our programs help them to be bold and to live in a different way. To resolve conflict in a new way, to not back down when they fail. These lessons have no finish line. I hope each of us finds ourselves in a place to never reach our finish line.
One of my favorite quotes; “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air”.
Find your purpose. Live it out. Go against the grain. And don’t let your life or work have a finish line.