In the summer of 1994 my hometown hosted the Commonwealth Games. I really got into it – I went to some of the events and some of the other exhibitions that were part of the games, and a friend and I got a little crazy trading pins with anyone we could find. I remember being in awe of those athletes – how hard they had worked and what they were able to accomplish. To me, their experiences seemed like living life in the fullest possible way.
And that’s how I found myself trying out for my university’s rowing team that fall.
It started out as a tiny seed of an idea. I wanted to do something like that. I wanted the awe that comes with being part of something like that. I wanted to push myself and see what I could accomplish.
I have no idea what prompted me to choose rowing. All I remember is that I had souvenirs from the games acting as beacons of inspiration, and a determination I had never before known. Which was fine until I actually got to the tryouts.
I was heading into my third year of school at the time and I had visited the gym on campus sporadically in the two years prior, but I wasn’t in anything close to good shape. Undaunted, I got up at the crack of dawn on the appointed day and made my way down to where the tryouts were held. When I got there I was greeted with a throng of people.
Apparently others had been inspired too. Either that or rowing was just a popular sport. There were 80 or more women there vying for about 10 spots. I’m amazed that I didn’t turn right around and head back to my dorm room.
The tryouts consisted largely of running. I hated running. And I sucked at running. But I ran.
I’ll be honest with you: I thought I was going to die. I’ve done few things as hard as that first run felt, and I dragged myself to the end of it very close to the back of the pack. I was mortified, but at that time I didn’t know enough to let it beat me down. And good thing, too, because I got called back for a second tryout.
The second round, naturally, consisted of more running. I still have a mental picture of being on a tree-lined road far from campus trying desperately to keep up. Or, not to keep up, exactly, because that was laughingly impossible. What I was trying to do was avoid crawling into the bushes and hoping no one noticed until the road was clear and I could crawl home.
But I kept going, and apparently that’s all that mattered.
When the list was posted I sauntered over to look, betraying none of my desperate hope and wearing what I hoped was a facial expression that indicated my full understanding of how ridiculous it was for me to even think I might have made the cut.
And there was my name.
I found out later that one of the things the coaches were looking for was a never-say-die attitude, and I suppose you could say I demonstrated that. (Later still I realized why that was important because, people, rowing is hard.)
With 5 a.m. workouts on the water and dry land training in the afternoons, my lack of fitness quickly disappeared. It was a hard year, though very rewarding, and I got a taste of what it meant to push my body to do something when my brain (and blistered hands) were screaming for me to stop.
And now when I watch the London 2012 Olympic Games and see their “Inspire a generation” slogan, I know that’s just what those athletes are doing.
What could you do if you pushed yourself?