The 16 members of our U.S. Olympic Taekwondo team rounded the corner of the third mile running at a good even pace. We were lined up two by two, keeping pace with each other in uniform rhythm…except for me. Little by little I had dropped back in line, until I took up the last position at the rear, and was still loosing ground. My heart was racing and I could not get enough air into my lungs. My legs felt like lead, and I was light headed from the effort and lack of oxygen.
Panicking, I slowed my pace even more, watching in dismay as the gap between my team and I grew further apart. The farther the distance grew, the more my resolution weakened, until finally, I decided it just was not worth it! In my mind I heard the voice of my mother, “You are not good enough, and you never will be!” Giving up, I came to a stop, feeling that familiar disappointment of defeat. Dropping my head in chagrin, I stood there with my head bowed, my hands on my knees, struggling to breathe.
Feeling a vibration and pulse of movement, I looked up and discovered that my entire team had circled back towards me. Coming up behind me, the two lead runners caught my arms and pulled me with them back into line without breaking the pace. Forced to jog alongside, I willed my feet to move forward. The entire team started a military chant to help us keep pace; and falling into this rhythm helped to distract me from my agony.
I forgot about my misery and weaknesses. I blocked out the memory of my mothers voice. I focused only on the chanting words, my breath, and the next running step forward. At certain intervals within the chant, our team leader would yell out, “Hee…Woman!” And then the entire team would clap three times in unison. Each time, a sense elation at this show of support surged through my mind and body.
Before I knew it, we had finished the five mile run. I had made it! It was not pretty. Yet with the help of my teammates, I had done what was necessary. As I made my way wearily back to the locker room, mopping my wet face with a towel, I realized how much is possible if I can just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sure, maybe I was not as good of a runner as my teammates were; maybe I did not have their endurance or strength of will…but I WAS learning.
I was learning that my mind could be my worst enemy or it could be my best friend. Success or failure is all a matter of focusing on why you can…or why you can’t. As I entered the locker room, I realized that quitting is a choice, and the choice is mine to make! As I collapsed onto a bench inside, I realized that if I wanted to become an Olympic champion, ‘quitting’ was NOT an option.
Now, at the age of fifty two I find this lesson to be extremely helpful as I face a new and daunting challenge in my life. Many times it seems that for every step forward I take, there is one that sets me back. There are moments when I get frustrated and just want to quit! Yet each time, I force my self to keep stepping forward while my team’s voice echoes in my ears, “Hee…Woman!”