"Our running shoes are really erasers. Every step erases some past failure. Every mile brings us closer to a clean slate. Each foot strike rubs away a word, a look, or an event which led us to believe that success was beyond our grasp."
Whenever I read this quote from John Bingham, my eyes immediately fill with tears. I have such an instant, uncontrollable emotional reaction to those words that it always takes me by surprise. I immediately flash back and started playing “old tapes.”
I have vivid memories of 6th grade gym class, when running just one mile seemed painful and impossible, and I used every single excuse in the book to get out of it. “I think I have tendonitis in my heels,” I tried one time. “These shoes just arent good enough to run in.” Not bad for an eleven year old. The Presidential Physical Fitness Challenge was a joke to mehow could I possibly be expected to do all those pull-ups and climb a rope? Those four laps around the track seemed like they took hours. It is hard to believe that, these days, I can cover that territory in just over 10 minutes.
In 10th grade gym class, when my gym teacher (who happened have been my fathers high school football coach), looked at me during role call on the first day of school and called out, “Seaberg? I know your fatherI expect some fine athletics out of you,” I wanted to disappear. He didn't know I was the self-proclaimed band geek who would, just weeks later, shatter my wrist playing soccer in his class and spend the rest of the semester tutoring mentally handicapped kids, a far better match for my interests and skills at the time.
When it came time to pick a college, I am embarrassed to admit, something that caught my eye about my small, liberal arts school is the fact that rather than a fitness requirement, they had an arts requirementmusic, painting, acting. Sign me up!
I have always told myself, over and over again, “Im not an athlete, Im not athletic. I cant run. Im not good at sports.” These tapes played for years, especially, “I cant run.” It echoes in my head sometimes even today, and now that I look back on it, I cant decide whether to laugh or cry.
I laugh because, amazingly, not only can I run, but Im actually kind of good at it. Im not fast, but the years of working out and losing weight have actually conditioned my body, or at least my cardiovascular system, into that of a pretty good endurance athlete. I cry because I feel sorry for that girl who didnt understand that some people just arent born able to excel athletically, whose teachers expected every kid to be a natural-born track star. I giggle with validation, because Ive realized that like my flute and piano playing, like the lines I memorized for plays and the lyrics I memorized for choir, it takes practice, dedication, discipline, and painstaking attention to detail. Those were my passions at the time, and without realizing it, they taught me just as much about athletics as any coach. Most importantly, it taught me that you always have the opportunity to do better next time, and that no matter what mistakes you make, there is a lesson to be learned in every performance.
My running shoes really are erasers. Every time I put them on, I feel that I have the power to erase (and then rewrite) a part of my identitywhether it is the years of self-doubt, or the terrible run last weekend when it was so humid I wanted to cry, or the mental “tapes” that I played for years, that sometimes still creep into my brain. The power of every foot strike and each mile I log rewrites and reinforces the notion that we are all so much more than just sums of our pastjust because youve always been something (or told yourself you were), doesnt mean that is who you have to continue to be. The beauty of being unique humans aiming for an authentic life is the ability to constantly reevaluate, reinvent, and rewrite. We are a bright, wide-open future, just waiting to be discovered; an unlimited path of potential, just waiting for somebody to run.
People say to me, all the time, flippantly, “Oh, thats great that you are doing that, but I cant run.” I want to sit them down and lecture them, but I refraininstead, I just smile and say “sure you can… you just have to decide, and then work at it.”
To anybody reading this that plays those mental tapes of self-doubt, I encourage you to take today to “erase and rewrite.” Put on your shoes, step out into the sunshine, and run towards the person you want to be.