July 1, 2007


 By Laura Smith

It seems like every time I turn on the television lately, there’s a reality show on that promotes “you must be the very best”.  If you’re not, you’re voted off the island.  You’re fired.  You will never be the Swan, or in the band.  You simply will not be America’s next idol if you don’t come in first, trouncing the competition on your way up to the top.  Frankly, I think that is a sad reflection of society, and an unrealistic view of how to lead your life.  Not that you asked, but I think it’s good…healthy…to venture into things that you’re bad at.  Yep.  Actually put yourself in a position where you just might come in dead last.  As cliché as it sounds, I do believe that life is a journey, not a destination…and I, for one, want to explore all the paths in route….not just the ones I’m familiar with.

My husband and I have recently moved to a new town, so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to branch out and try some new things.  I can’t drive to the grocery store without seeing groups of cyclists hammering uphill at great speeds, throngs of runners happily plodding up the road towards Mt.Evans, even the occasional In-Line skater braving the inclines.  So, I thought I’d get back into running.  Heck, if everyone around me is doing it, it couldn’t be that hard, right?  Most of these people are at least 20 years my senior.  Evergreen….where even the flats are uphill.  Yep.  That’s where I decided to start my running career.  Evergreen….8,000 feet above sea level.  Flies don’t even live up here because there’s not enough oxygen. But, I pulled on my running shoes, and ventured outside for a jog.  Three minutes into it, I became religious.  I started making deals with God if he would just STOP the pain.  Were these people making this look easy paid just to mess with me?  Could a town really be built in a manner that every direction is uphill?  Or, am I just a bad runner?  I walk/jogged back to my car (Yes!  You got me!  I DROVE to go running!!!  I was looking for someplace relatively do-able!), got in, and melted into the seat.  As I sat there trying to muster up the energy to lift the key into the ignition, a sensation hit me.  Even with the lactic acid pulsing through my veins, I could feel it.  I felt amazing.  My legs were tired in a way I don’t get from swimming workouts.  I had coughed up anything that might be lingering in my lungs, and the crisp, clean air I sucked in during the jog made them spongy and alive.  I had an overall sense of well-being.  The pain of the run was definitely worth the feeling I had afterward.

A year living in the Republic of Boulder definitely rubbed off on my husband.  Now that he’s Johnny Conservationist, he’ll only let us turn on the heat when I have to chisel the dog’s frozen paws up off the hardwood floors.  Thus, I started Bikrim Yoga.  I figure that way I was guaranteed at least 90 minutes of warmth twice a week. So, I go to my first class.  I’m surrounded by a group of Barbie-cloned Stepford Wives in cute little color coordinated outfits.  I tucked my State Meet T Shirt into my oversized Umbro shorts and thought that surely, being a Master Swimmer and all, I could hold my own with these petite former cheerleader types.  I was wrong.  Painfully wrong.  We twisted and bent and spiraled and arched until muscles that I never knew existed started cramping up.  I looked around and notice that my mat was the only one submerged in sweat, and all the Trophy Wives were smiling and in perfect alignment.  I would have reached out to strangle them, but if I lifted my arm I would’ve fallen out of position and injured something!  I was humbled.  I hate doing things that I’m genuinely bad at.  Especially in front of other people. More insulting, I had to PAY for it. However, as I was wringing out my mat and towel after class I noticed something.  I felt good.  I felt really good.   I had sore muscles and a bruised ego…but I ventured outside of things that are familiar to me, tried something new, and as a result, I somehow picked up an esteem boost.  Physically, I felt great, but mentally, I felt even more satisfied. 

After a few glasses of wine, I entered the 200 Fly in a meet.  Why not?  It looks so innocent on paper.  However, at the meet, around the 150 yard mark, I started going vertical in the water.  Even my husband walked away, because he couldn’t stand to see me in so much pain.  I hated those last several yards (in fact at the time, I would have sworn to you they were miles, not yards).  I was hoping a stray bullet would fly through the Natatorium, pierce my jugular,  and put me out of my misery.  I did, however, after a great lapse of time, touch the wall.  I finished.  And, although I didn’t dash to the Registrar and beg to sign up for it again, I did feel good about swimming that race.  It was a sense of accomplishment.  I truly gave something every ounce of energy I had, and didn’t hold anything back.  There were no medals waiting for me at the end of the race.  No sponsors trying to give me money and product.  No photographers waiting to get my face on the next cover of Swim Magazine.  Just me, and a feeling of elation for doing something outside my comfort zone, and sticking to it.  (And no, I have never entered it since!)

Don’t get me wrong.  I love to win!  I’ve won a few things in my life, and each of those accomplishments will be positive memories for the rest of my days.  However, that’s not the reason I competed in them.  I think, being completely honest, I just like to move.  I’m much happier in motion than static.  I realize that only one person can win.  I’m okay with that.  If it’s me, great (especially if there is a monetary award attached!).  If it’s not, I’m just thankful to have participated.  So I challenge you.  I triple dog dare you.  Start doing things you are uncomfortable with.  Enter something that is outside your comfort zone.  Put yourself in a position where obtaining that number one spot is an impossibility….then just do it for fun.  You just may feel really good about yourself when you’re done.  You might actually feel like a winner.