Track taught me the importance of pushing yourself beyond who or what you thought you could be and how much work that took.

There are things in life that are dynamic, exciting, thrilling, flashy even and then there’s the rest, the majority that are not. I don’t recall what year or if there was a special reason or it held some significance but I know I was given a Kearney High Track shirt. My guess is it was meant to identify and show me as part of the team. I never thought about it at the time but I imagine our coach had a purpose behind it. It wasn’t just a freebie for the heck of it and it wasn’t a reward however it held significance and like a lot of things in life it represented something.

High school track is a lot like the shirt, it’s not very sexy. Almost no one comes to watch you compete. Fewer yet will tell you “good meet” unlike the “good game’s” they’ll throw out to the fourth-string benchwarmer in football because they know he’s on the team. People don’t say, “I see you took five tenths off your hundred time, way to go!” like they will, “Didn’t you drop 25 points last night? Man, you were on fire!” It just doesn’t happen. No, track isn’t something you do for the recognition and here’s a newsflash for you, track is hard.

The nature of it is that although technique is important the most reliable way to improve is to force your body to do more than its yesterday best consistently over time. And sometimes it takes a lot of time. What that means is work and work (here comes another “eureka!” moment for your) isn’t easy. Practices can be grueling because the nature of our bodies is to do all we can, or we think we can, and then try and get comfortable with that level. Improvement means destroying that comfort, daily. Many people rebel.

Some of the biggest frustrations for fellow teammates and coaches are the talented ones that won’t push their ability. It’s the 5’11” high jumper that can’t get to 6’, the 11.3 sprinter that won’t get to 11 flat and the 2:02 800 guy that won’t get sub-two minutes. They are the settlers, the accepters and regrettably they mirror as adolescents what many of us become as adults; people who have given in to the status quo and compromised on what or where we once thought we wanted to be.

Now, please don’t get me wrong, I’m not bagging on the person who works the same job for 40 years. That person put food on the table, clothes on a family’s back and a roof overhead. There’s honor in that just like there’s honor in running mid 15’s in the 110 high hurdles and snagging third, fourth and fifth place medals all year long. I should know, I did that and it still took a lot of work and practice and pain. I never stopped pushing but I had some physical deficits which held me back and I didn’t hurdle until I was 17, which is really late to come to that party. The person at the factory doing shift work whose measure of progress is working their way up from graveyard to swing to first shift never has someone on the sidelines cheering them on. What they do have are obligations, bills to pay and people that rely on them each and every day. As an athlete earning one, two and three points for his team in his races I fully understand.

So, how do you know if you’re doing all you can do and being all you can be? How do you know if you have more in you? For some they don’t know because in order to find out they would have to risk failure and that’s a chance they aren’t willing to take. In life as on the track in many cases there are failures, multiple failures, on the road to success. There are course corrections that have to take place and some of those in and of themselves will be mistakes. It’s the track athlete that isn’t powerful enough to long jump who becomes a sprinter who then becomes a hurdler and a sometimes 400 guy (that’s real pain right there). The thing is one person can’t tell another whether to stop and accept their lot in life or their position any more than they can tell them they’re not reaching their full potential. That assessment has to come from within. Here’s the real shame though, a lot of folks won’t take the time to examine their life.

A lot of people go as far as life appears to lead them and then get to the end, or what they perceive to be the end and say, “Welp, guess that’s all there is, I’m just going to stop here, make camp and live out the rest of my time.” They’re the 42’ shot-putters of life. Maybe that’s really all there is for them. Maybe the talents and abilities they have are being used to their maximum potential but I’ll bet if you were able to get them to honestly unpack their evaluation of where they were you’d find regret, you’d find disappointment, you’d find anger and you’d find defeat. It’s a shame. It’s a low-down dirty shame. Because I believe, just like my coach believed, that we were all meant for greatness. Yes, there are roles to be played and a team to contribute toward but true victory comes in the struggle against oneself. That’s a foe we’ll always have and one we’ll forever have difficulty in vanquishing.

Here’s wishing you never give up the fight.

When was the last time you pushed through a barrier?