I Dare You To Lift Yourself Up Off The Floor

It’s the same thing every Wednesday morning.

“You’re a big guy,” my trainer, Paul, says. “I mean, for a marathoner.”

This week, Paul kicked it up a notch.

“You’ve got a pretty thick neck. Did you ever play football in high school?”

This is, to me, somewhat hilarious. I’m staring at myself in the mirror doing some sort of core balance thing on one of the Swiss balls when he asks. I can see with my own eyes that I’m a big guy. I guess I have broad shoulders, and a pretty thick rib cage. I’m six feet even, and have a 34-inch waist. So, yunno, I’m no Lyla Alzado, but I’m no Herv√© Villechaize either. But I’ve never, ever thought of myself as big. And I never, ever played football.

In fact, I stopped playing team sports in high school. I’m certain now — with five marathons, a dozen triathlons and countless other road races under my belt — that dropping out of sports had nothing to do with actual capabilities, and everything to do with my confidence (or lack thereof).

It’s no one’s fault, exactly, that I dropped out of sports in high school. My parents did everything they could to keep me involved with athletics up to that point. My father coached my little league team, the Braves (for whom I was MVP in 1980 — the trophy still sits on my bookshelf). He drove Chris and I to swim practice every morning. And when they divorced, my mother did her best to carry the ball. She got me onto a little league team, the Twins, in suburban Philly. But the disruption of my fifth grade year, and the leveling differences between Oak Park, IL, and Valley Forge, PA, left me a few steps behind all the other kids. I just didn’t have the skills. So they put me in right field. Academics were the same. When I started sixth grade in PA, I tested into a fourth grade math class. I was tutored throughout the year to catch up, and throughout junior high and high school to stay on pace.

In a way, tutoring is like coaching. And throughout high school and college, I lacked a coach, or a mentor. Sure, I had some great teachers and professors (Maureen Barry, Tobias Wolfe, and Bob Gates were standouts). But they were all in an area I gravitated to naturally: creative writing. When it came to the physical realm, no one ever pushed me, or schooled me.

On of the hard-learned lessons of adulthood, now, is that in order to grow, in order to become someone greater than who you already are, you need some coaching. You need mentorship. You need someone to say, “Thirty more seconds,” when you want to drop to your knees. You need someone to say, “You have to work on empathy,” when you want to give up. You need someone to say, “It’s not a tumor,” when you think your head is going to explode.

Finally, at 34-years-old, I think I may have learned that lesson. I do pretty well by my own devices. But I do even better when someone explains psychology, physiology, or biology to me. It’s humbling to acknowledging that I can’t do everything alone. It’s humbling to admit that I can’t do ten pull-ups. It’s humbling to concede that I don’t have all the answers in love or life.

But when the day begins, and the sun streams in over my shoulders, I can look in the mirror and know in my heart of hearts that I am a bigger man for asking for help.

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