Monday, June 10, 2013

The Power of Paying Attention

Me with my father
Recently, I had the honor of being inducted into my high school athletic hall of fame.  I was asked, as were all the inductees, to give a short speech which caused for a fare amount of reflection on my part. The actual induction was, no doubt, a very special event in my life. The fact, however that I had to spend time thinking about how I went from a shy, somewhat reserved young girl into a confident young adult was what brought greater depth to the occasion for me.  I have decided to post my speech, not as a way to boast about the honor, that's not who I am. I have decided to post my speech in hopes that the message of my story is heard and perhaps a lesson is taken away from any adult who is a part of a child's life.
When I was eight years old, I picked up my mother’s guitar, which sat in the living room, and strummed the low E string over and over.  After a bit of time, I began singing a Halloween song that I had learned in music class to that E note.  I remember sitting for a long time in that living room, playing that guitar. My mother noticed and not too long after that day, I was signed up for group guitar lessons at my elementary school.  We played and sang in several school concerts. Playing the guitar, singing and writing songs became something that brought me a lot of joy when I was a kid. It was something I became pretty good at doing.

When was 10 years old, my mother died.  Around that time, my father began running more.  I would join him for his weekend runs on the beach when we were on summer vacation in Rhode Island. I’d follow his footprints until they washed away, then would turn around and head back to our meeting spot rock and wait for him. We’d do push-up and sit-ups after his run, hit the ocean for some body surfing and then walk back to our little rental cottage for a big breakfast.  I was probably the only kid who anxiously awaited the time of year for the Presidential Fitness Test so I could put sit-ups, push-ups and all that running to good use! I absolutely loved those few days of exercise testing and secretly, I wanted to crush the records. My father and I began running more regularly together on weekends and often entered road races together.  I can’t say that I loved those weekend runs (after-all, I was a teenager), but I knew it was our special way of spending time together.

During Junior High School, I tried to form a cross country team. Two kids showed up and lasted about a week.  So, one of the teachers would stay after school and watch me run around the fields. When I entered Northampton High School, I was the only girl on the cross country team, so I ran with the boy’s team and although I fit right in, I was always envious of my competition - those girls who were part of big teams, cheering at the starting line, painting their faces school colors and laughing a lot!  I struggled in high school. Academically, I was lost, sinking, not able to retain or comprehend a lot of the material.  I was not playing the guitar, and socially, I felt out of place even though no one on the outside would know it.

My father knew that I was struggling – especially with my poor grades.  He took me to Boston where I had some comprehensive tests done to determine my strengths and weaknesses and we came to the conclusion that I might fare better at a private school.  So, I applied to Northfield Mount Hermon, Suffield Academy and Williston.  I was rejected at both Northfield and Suffield, but Williston accepted me. I took my junior year over, which was hard on my pride, and spent two years here as a boarding student.  Boarding was the considered the best option for me because of the structured study time at the end of the day and increased opportunity for tutoring.  It felt a bit strange, considering I only lived a bit less than 7 miles away. The good thing about that was I could literally run home on weekends from time to time.

I thrived here. Williston did exactly what my father and mother did for me as a kid. The community supported and nurtured ALL of my interests. I joined the cross country and track teams, ran with both the boys and the girls teams. Greg Tuleja, my coach, was there to calm me down when I ran away five minutes before the start because I was so nervous.  Al Shaler, the boys coach, was always there at the finish line of every home meet to give me, and everyone else, a big bear hug.  I sang with the A Cappella group, played my guitar in coffee houses, made lots of friends and had teachers who were so dedicated to helping me become a stronger student. Shame on those other schools for not seeing the potential in a young adult.  Williston however, did! I wasn't at Williston out of privileged, I was there because I was a drowning kid who needed some hands to pull me out of water, towel me off, and get me standing securely on my feet.
I went on to have fantastic collegiate running experience with a big, successful, fun women’s team. I also had an amazing eight year journey as a pro triathlete and traveled all over the country and the world. 

Any success that I had was due to these three things:

1)    Support and love from my coaches, family, friends and community – a lot of it! 

2)    Daring to put my foot on the starting line – to take risks and step way out of my comfort zone.

3)    Luck that I had people close to me in my life that knew enough to pay attention and help me find my way.
The lesson that I have learned from my journey is that every child, every young adult has all these little sparks inside them which represent their passions or interests.  It is up to us as adults, parents, coaches and teachers, to help be the catalyst in turning those sparks into big, beautiful, colorful bold flames!  We need to pay attention and nurture those sparks of interest in as many different and creative ways as possible. 

I am so honored to be one of the initial inductees into the Williston Hall of fame. Thank you for considering and choosing me. Thank you for always supporting me.