It is important to notice the syntax of that quote, particularly the profound nature of the ending: ‘begin it.’ Too often today, we read a simplified version of this quote which encourages us blandly to go after our dreams, or the one I find confounds me every time: ‘If you can dream it, do it'. I can dream about being an astronaut. Those quotes you see printed on journals, pencils and make up bags, are nice but not particularly helpful.
I have circled around the Goethe quote for years in my path as an athlete. After I graduated from University in 1990 with my first degree in English, all I really wanted was to be a distance runner. I packed my things and left Nova Scotia to begin a life of training and high performance in Victoria and Vancouver. I have stumbled, persevered, soared and crashed over and again but never for a moment regretted my path. It takes a certain amount of boldness to go after a big dream. Often it means overcoming doubts and personal barriers we have about the meaning of success. A lot of times it merely means saying yes to a passion, and resisting an easier path. And as anybody who has ever gone out on a limb, or jumped in with both feet knows, unless you have the audacity to actually go for something, you never even get an inkling of the wonderful things that lay in store for you.
My high performance career is now a stage of my life from which I have moved on. I can honestly say that I have a lot of stars in my life, but my new dreams are still in the hatching stage. Small beginnings are meaningful and give me purpose: one of these is my girls run club Up and Running, where I am coaching run skills and sharing the positive effects of fun physical activity. Running for a happy hour with kids every Saturday morning is a wonderful way to coach at the grassroots level.
Below, I want to share you a memory about the small steps I had to take during a very intense part of the late stages of my career. This is a journal entry from 2006, my last year attending World Championships, the year before I turned 40 and thereby began the small beginning of moving on from high performance and full time training as an athlete. I want to share this with other parents, and women who have come through pregnancy, athletes who are recovering from injury and setback, or anyone starting up a new path, and who know that feeling of needing to re build, or to begin following their dreams in sport again.
Since the birth of my second child last year, my life is again gradually re-focussing from the microscopic newborn stages of motherhood. New schedules have been formed, sleep deprivation has been survived (and will be still!), hormones and tendons have rebounded and my own dreams have resurfaced and begun to burn again. Each pregnancy presented me with over a year and a half away from sport and with both, the return to competition has been a joyful and meaningful experience for me. Looking back, those breaks from sport have also probably contributed to my longevity as an athlete, providing me with a necessary physical and mental hiatus in a twenty year career.
After my children were born, I did not rush getting back into sport; I let my body tell me when it was ready, and I didn’t push my goal setting, nor my training. I allowed myself to train with a relaxed and joyful attitude, which only reinforced my belief that running and being athletic are a huge and integral part of my life. After my younger years of intensity and obsessiveness, there has been a relaxing quality to my training.
Obviously, having children has changed my priorities, the largest one being that I am now not the main focus of care in my life—my children are. After Maia was born in 2000 this was actually a relief to me, to be able to put myself second for a change, to stop obsessing about sleep and rest and performing. I have often felt that I am lucky to have a flexible career that I can pursue while being a mother. Being an athlete is not merely a hobby for me, it is my job, and is a job I love. Being an athlete allows me to achieve, and to be ambitious outside of my desire to be a nurturing and empathic parent. I also get to hang out with other ambitious people. Excellence is contagious. Passion is rewarding and when I start working towards my goals, the path is nothing short of inspiring.
There has been some serendipity to becoming a parent. The more I have relaxed into the busy routine that is life with two young children, and the more I have accepted that sleep deprivation and lack of personal time are going to be the norm for a few more years, the clearer my own vision for myself has shined through. While I have lessened my attachment to my athletic goals, the dreams and goals stay clear, and their meaning shines through much brighter.
When I look back upon this memory, what strikes me is that I really didn’t have much of a plan for what the details would look like. I just knew deep in me, that I wanted to train for the World Duathlon Championships that year, which were in Canada. It was what I wanted to do, and I just began to train again towards that goal, and I began to figure it out day by day, and week by week, which is sort of how things go when you have babies around. But by beginning to go towards what is meaningful, you set something in motion, and like all things in life, the ensuing adventure-the successes, the setback, the great days and the hard days—it takes on a life of its own and eventually becomes the story of what you are.
Run For Joy!
(Photography credits Kim Jay)
Common sense and a sense of humour.