Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Picture of Tenacity

When my brother Shane was in high school, he and a friend of his decided that the definitive image of futility (or maybe it was desperation) was a bum, sitting beneath an underpass in the rain, trying to cut his hair with the smooth metal edge of a wooden ruler. A rather vivid and apt description, don't you think?

I was thinking about such things today as I was doing my long run - 7 miles this week although it was such a good day and I felt so fresh that I did 8. I was thinking about the definitive image of tenacity. It's something I actually saw, albeit on television, when I was a kid. You might remember it. The 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the first time in Olympic history that there was a women's marathon.

About 15 minutes after Joan Benoit won the race, a woman staggered through the tunnel onto the track. She looked like she was having some sort of terrible stroke or something. Her body was twisted, the pain was all over her face. She couldn't even stand up straight and she had to stop a few times, as if pulling herself together. But she kept going - one foot in front of the other - waving off all medical assistance. She didn't want to be disqualified. She just wanted to finish the race.

I had to look up the woman's name - Gabriele Andersen-Scheiss from Switzerland. To my 12 year-old's eyes, she was the picture of tenacity, of pure stubbornness channeled into achieving a goal. It was an impressive and awesome sight. I figured that finishing a marathon was the ultimate in human achievement. If you could run a marathon, if you could finish especially when you were suffering near-debilitating pain, then you could do anything.

Twenty-one years later, I've finished two marathons and am training for my third. I don't have the child-me's guileless belief that a marathoner can do anything. I know my limits. There are plenty of things I can't do. I can't fly an airplane or a helicopter, believe me, I've tried. I don't have a jump shot. I don't think I'll ever master the delicacy of meringuing eggs. I can't draw, paint or sing. I can't fire a gun, change people's behavior or save the world.

But I can keep putting one foot in front of the other. Whether it's writing a book a paragraph at a time or hauling my butt up a steep hill. There's something simple and pure about allowing a single-minded stubbornness to push you to finish something important that you've started.

As I was finishing up my run, the song playing was by a friend of mine's band, Pike 27. One line stood out - "can't turn back when you've gone this far" - and I kept that in the back of my head as I climbed the last hill on my route. I'll never win a race, but as long as I finish what I start, my job is done.


At 11 July 2005 at 13:32, Anonymous Dave said...

That 1984 marathon story came up in a sociology of sports class several weeks ago. One of my profs was commenting how far women's marathoning has come -- from one of the announcers complaining that she was proof that full marathons were too dangerous for women to the present day, when women outperform men in many ultramarathons.

I remember watching that, it was gut-wrenching, but inspiring.

Very cool to hear that Wrecking Yard is on your running soundtrack. I've heard some similar stories lately and I'm amazed (and happy) to hear that the record lives on, almost four years later.

At 11 July 2005 at 17:54, Blogger weese said...

wow. I remember that race. I don't run, I don't even jog. But ever since I was very small we have always watched the Olympics. Tenacity for sure.
(Luckily I can meringue an egg, and I am not a bad shot either)

At 12 July 2005 at 15:26, Blogger Shane said...

I forgot about her, that was amazing. I didn't realize she had done so well in the race! I looked her up and found out that she came in 37th place and her finishing time (2:48:45) was good enough to have won the first five Olympic marathons ever run. She also made a full recovery after only 2 hours.

And if you care here is a
picture of andersen-scheiss

oh and Ann, it was the definitive image desperation. Luckily I still haven't gotten that bad yet.

At 14 July 2005 at 02:23, Blogger Career Guy said...

You know you've always been the picture of tenacity to me. Or was it pigheadedness? No, was tenacity for sure. Yup, the t-word, that was it. <:-))

I remember that race now--very inspiring. Again, just like you.

At 14 July 2005 at 20:52, Blogger -Ann said...

Dad! You're embarrassing me. I'm sure you have it confused with pig-headedness or unreasonableness, or mule-ish-ness. :)

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