Thursday, September 22, 2011

It's Not About The Medal

"Education does not exist to provide you with a job ....Education is here to nourish your soul." - Ruth Simmons, 1st female president of Brown University, 1st black president of an Ivy League School.

I recently read this quote from Ruth Simmons in the local newspaper.  Ruth Simmons became the president of Smith College just after I finished graduate school there in the early 90's.  I wish I had the opportunity to hear her speak, not only because she had already broken so many barriers, but because (from my understanding) she was very, very well liked by the college and local community. Something about this quote struck me from an athlete's and a coach's perspective. 

First, let me say that I actually do feel that education can and many times does exist as a path and means to getting a job. Her statement does, however bring out important message, which is to open ourselves to letting education feed all aspects of our being - doesn't matter what level or what kind of education (high school, technical/trade school, college and beyond).  Sadly, I think I let that part go when I went to both undergraduate and graduate school. I was focused primarily on my sport (running) and my specific studies and duties in grad school.  I let my  inner somewhat quiet passion for music and writing fall by the wayside.  I never took advantage of taking other courses that would nurture that part of my soul.  Certainly that focus of pursuing my major, being a top runner and of course, surviving graduate school was pretty important. I also went into a field that ended up being totally related to what I do for work, however I wish I had a bit more fun and taken advantage of what my educational institutions  had to offer.  I recall walking out of a day of classes and studying from the building at Smith where most of my courses were held.  I'd always walk by the music hall on my way home and hear students practicing the piano, or taking a voice lesson or playing a cello. Sometimes I would sit on a step near-by and just listen ... wondering what it would feel like if I was in one of those rooms taking a singing lesson or guitar lesson.  It was something I used to do in high school (sing and play music).  When I left those sessions I had the same kind of feeling I got when I finished up cross-country practice, which was one of being totally relaxed and somewhat uplifted! Sadly, I still have left those aspects of my earlier life by the wayside. My guitar sits in a closet in a dusty case and I have not joined any local singing groups! Maybe I'll joing "Young At Heart" if I live to be in my 80's!

I have noted in previous blogs that while I was able to compete at the top level as a triathlete, I never allowed that experience to nourish my soul completely. I was caught up in National and World rankings. I was caught up in who would be my next sponsor, how to get my next sponsor, if I would place high enough to bring home a check and how to become a faster swimmer so I wouldn't get dropped from the top tier pack in races. People often remind me that those stresses are normal for someone competing at that high level.  This is true, but so many of my competitors knew how to have fun and really enjoy the experiences of traveling, developing friendships despite being competitors, having a few beers after a race, not getting caught up in the stress of the race. I had an amazing coach for eight years who tried to remind me to connect with the full experience and have more fun, but I really feel that I was just slower in my maturity process as an athlete. Racing  for me now is not about placing or getting a medal when I cross the line. I pay that big 'ol entry fee for the whole race experience package!  I know so many that do this sport for personal recognition and for the medals.  Kind of leaves me feeling empty when I think about it! Making the choice and having the opportunity to compete and be a part of a triathlon or any athletic event is about nourishing the soul. It's about getting up at 4am to drive to a race, being a little nervous, eating strange foods that seem like a normal part of our diets (like gels and shot blocks), standing in line at the Porto-Potties and making small chat, working at the top of our fitness limits and not being afraid to do so, having a beer post race (if available), and enjoying the car ride home in stinky clothing. Now that's nourishing the soul!  I think anything we do in life and many of the choices we make must somehow nourish our soul .... at least this is how I try to live mine.