Courage Stomps on Fear.

Courage: noun- the ability to do something that frightens one. 


Today, I got on the line for the Outdoor B1G 800 meter final- the same thing I’ve done every B1G final for the last 4 years. And it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my collegiate career. For those who know me, they know that the relationship that I have with that final has quite a story. Year after year, I have let my fears and emotions overtake my ability to race well and execute to my full potential. That final has left me heartbroken and crying alone behind a tree or in a Port-A-John far too often in my collegiate career. But through all of that, God has shown me that He is faithful and that He loves me so so much regardless of my athletic accomplishments. He has shown me that I am made perfectly in His image through the Cross. And most importantly, He has shown me that He gives me the ability to be courageous. He gives me the ability to look fear square in the eyes and say, “I know The One who casts out all fear.”

This weekend wasn’t about winning B1G’s; it was about having the courage to do the thing I’ve previously been afraid of doing. At the end of the day, I came up just short of the top of that podium in a hard fought and courageous (and super windy!) race that went down to the wire. Danae Rivers is a class act, and is more than deserving of that B1G title- congrats, girl!! And despite the fact that I wasn’t the sole victor today, there is HUGE victory in knowing that I gave everything I could give this weekend in both the prelim and the final. I ran two gutsy and brave races. There is victory in the fact that I was able to take God-given courage and stomp on my fear this weekend.

So I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re the girl crying today in the Port-A-John because your fears got the best of you, I know your story. If you’re the one hiding behind a tree with tears rolling down your face because things didn’t work out, I promise you- I’ve been there. More times than I am proud to admit. What keeps me returning to this every day is not the promise of a championship, a PR, or a record. What keeps me returning to this is my love for racing, my love for this team, and ultimately my love for Jesus.

So walk out of that Port-A-John and walk out from behind that tree and face the thing that you are afraid of again. Because at the end of the day, medal or non-medal, PR or worst race ever, God is good. All the time. He is good.

Go Bucks Forever❤️

Stop Playing It Small & Start Kicking Doors Down

There’s this door that I have to walk through every day. It sits in between our locker rooms and our athletic training room. This door is no ordinary door. It is this giant grey steel door. It connects two buildings underground: French Field House (where our locker rooms are located) and St. John’s (where our athletic training room is located). I have no idea how much it actually weighs, but it feels like it weighs 500 pounds. The reason it feels this way is because French Field House has these ridiculous air circulation patterns that make every door in the building resistant when you try and open them. This door, in particular, far surpasses any other door I’ve ever encountered in terms of difficulty of opening. Everyone that uses French Field House knows which door I’m talking about– it’s a monster! I mean sometimes I have to actually body slam the door three of four times before it even budges.

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This is the door that I am talking about.

I remember my freshman year, when I couldn’t get the door open on the first try, I would just assume it was locked. I wouldn’t even try to mess with the door. I would walk back to the locker room, get my stuff, and go home without going to the training room (freshman me didn’t understand how important the training room actually was to the health and rehabilitation of my body). My sophomore year, I would try a few times. Sometimes after messing with the door a bit I could get it to work. But some days, honestly, I was just too tired to fight another battle in my day, and the door would win. My Junior year, I started getting sick of loosing to the door. Surely the door wasn’t actually locked all of those times I couldn’t get it open. I started banging on the door whenever I couldn’t get it open, hoping that somebody was on the other side and could help me. Many times, this worked out really well. But even then, sometimes I was the only one in that part of the building, and I would take another “L” to the door. I am now a senior, and I am sick and freaking tired of taking “L’s” to that door. I throw my weight against that door seven or eight times sometimes, but I refuse to ever tell myself that the door is locked. Because I’ve been here for four years now, and that door has never actually been locked. Sometimes, I am just too weak to get it open. I simply need to try harder.

Every track season, I choose a book to read while we are traveling. We have lots of free time on busses, in airports, on planes, and sitting at the continental breakfast in hotels. This past indoor season, I chose Love Does by Bob Goff. My sister got me the book for Christmas and she was so giddy when she gave it to me. “Rach, you are going to LOVE it!!!” She was actually jumping up and down when I opened it. And she was right. The book was amazing. And in one of my favorite chapters of the book, Bob tells a story about his life that reminds me a little bit of this giant door that I have to open every day. Bob is talking about the way that he got into law school (which was pretty incredible), and he says, “I used to think that God guided us by opening and closing doors, but now I know that God wants us to kick some doors down,” (2012, Goff, p. 38). Kick some doors down.

One day, I was on my usual trip from the locker room to the athletic training room, and I noticed that the door was wide open. Upon further observation, I had noticed that someone had taken (I don’t even want to know how much) athletic tape and taped the steel arm at the top of this industrial door so that it remained straight and wouldn’t bend. By taping that bar straight and preventing it from bending, the door was not able to shut. They then had shoved a bunch of tape in the hinge of the door so that the door wouldn’t rotate and close even if the arm somehow had become loose. And they did all of this just with athletic tape. Pretty impressive that simple athletic tape was doing something that I had difficulty with for four straight years.

Somebody saw that door in a way that I haven’t been able to see it before. Rather than complaining that it was “locked” all the time, rather than wasting energy and running themselves into the door day in and day out, they simply got rid of the door. They had kicked the door down in their own way.

Unfortunately, the door is actually shut again. I’m pretty sure that the university 1. Didn’t approve of the way that athletic training materials were being used not for athletic training and 2. Didn’t love the janky look of a nice industrial door all taped up. However, I am forever thankful to whoever saw the door in a different way and actually taped it open for a week. For starters, it saved me a ton of energy every day. But it also got me thinking about the way I approach other doors in my life.

Sometimes, I think that I am so afraid of what might happen if I kick a door down, so afraid of what someone might say or think if I take athletic tape and tape open a steel door, that I just turn around and walk on home, telling myself the lie that the door was probably locked anyways. Or sometimes, I think I tell myself that if I go to kick the door down, I might not be strong enough or smart enough to get to get the job done. And sometimes I think I’m just waiting on someone else altogether to come kick the door down for me.

And honestly, some of those things might be true at times. I can barely bench 100 pounds. I got a D+ in Organic Chemistry my sophomore year of college (It’s two years later and my type A personality still can’t let that one go). And sometimes, I get so stressed out and feel like a million things are slipping through the cracks that I go sit at the top of St. John’s Arena (and cry and call my mom) because I feel like I’m not doing a good enough job at life.

But here’s the thing: I believe that I am loved by Jesus. And I believe that being a Child of God gives me the power and ability to kick down doors despite my imperfections. I have a quote that has hung by my mirror every day since fourth grade. I first heard this quote in Akeelah and the Bee (my favorite movie when I was younger), and have read it every day ever since.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

-Marrianne Williamson

My favorite line in this is, “Your playing small does not serve the world.” I think when Marriane talks about playing it small, she is talking about the doors that we walk away from because we are too afraid to kick them down. But walking away from a door and just accepting the fact that “it feels like its locked” doesn’t really do the world any good. Playing it small is really easy. It’s safe. It’s secure. And it doesn’t expose failure. But playing it safe is also settling for mediocrity.

I have this friend, Jess, and she constantly is reminding me NOT to play it small. She tells me to dream big all the time, and believe in my abilities as well as the abilities of other people. She has this coffee mug that is one of the best coffee mugs that I’ve ever seen. It is an amazing blue, and all it says on the side is, “make it happen.” Jess is a make it happen kind of person. A couple years ago, we were having a conversation in a running store, and she was talking about her decision to compete at Michigan State while she completed her masters. She said something to me that I will never forget.

“To go for something, to really go for something, is a risk– for sure. But it would be so much worse to settle for mediocrity.”

-Jessica Hoover

I remember because I wrote it down right after she left the store. But she is so right. Going for something, refusing to play it small is risky. But why settle for mediocrity? Why not play it big? And why not kick down some doors along the way?

Right now, there are a bunch of doors that my teammates and I are trying to kick down. We are all trying to be All-Americans. Be Big Ten Champions. Be Students. Be young professionals. Be good sisters. Be good daughters. Be good friends. Eventually we want to be good wives. Be good parents. Be good grandparents.

And in our attempt to be all of those things, there are so many doors that we have been faced with and will continue to be faced with. It’s scary. It’s challenging. It’s an adventure.  But I’ve found the more I do things that are scary or challenging or test my limits in life, the more I see how Jesus is faithful, and the more this adventure actually becomes adventurous and isn’t stale. Because at the end of the day, when I am standing at the door completely afraid to start kicking it down, God reminds me that He has given me the power and the strength that I need. He just wants me to trust Him, stop playing it small, and start kicking it down.

 

Jess’s amazing coffee mug.

 

 

 

The Bouquet of Roses I’ve Been Missing All Along

It was May of my freshman year, and I vividly remember sitting in Coach Vergote’s office next to a box of tissues. I was lucky number 49. For those that might not understand what the number 49 means to a Division One Track Athlete, number 49 on the East Regional Performance list, after all the scratches have taken place, is the first person NOT to qualify on to the First Round. It’s the person that is almost but not quite. It’s the person that sits in their coach’s office crying and feeling sorry for themselves and awkwardly trying to smile and laugh and hold back tears all at the same time.

My ever-wise (and incredibly patient) distance coach spoke to me through my tears and shared with me one of the harshest truth’s of running and athletics in general:

“Rachel,” she said, “Running track and running cross country is like 100 punches to the face for just one bouquet of roses. You’re gonna get punched. And knocked down. And then punched again. But we don’t do this sport because it promises us a painless ride into victory. We do this because at the end of the day, we believe that we’re going to get that bouquet of roses in spite of being pushed to the ground 100 times.”

Over the past four years, I’ve been figuratively knocked down and punched by this sport more times than I can keep track of. There are pages and pages in my log that detail every single bump, bruise, and cut that have been caused by this thing called running. Besides just being number 49 my freshman year, there was the Cross Country Season of 2014, where I was forced to deal with the mental and emotional injury of my parent’s divorce and Dad’s alcohol addiction. There have been hamstring injuries. There have been periods of time that I have been sidelined with the instructions of no physical activity under any circumstances. There have been periods of time when I’ve been stuck and can’t seem to break a certain time barrier. There have been mental struggles and times when it seems to be me racing against my brain instead of me racing against my competition. There have been times when I literally have ripped up my log out of frustration and then tapped the tear-stained pages back together because I can smell the bouquet of roses….. just to name a few.

Last Outdoor Track Season ended with another punch to the gut. I was sitting outside our hotel after the NCAA Regional recapping the season with Coach. She was giving me the you-need-to-freaking-race-like-you-deserve-this-and-just-freaking-do-it speech that she didn’t give me my freshman year but probably wanted to when I was upset in her office about being 49th. I was holding back tears. I had been knocked down again, and was trying to pick myself back up.

“I feel like I have had a million-trillion punches to the face, Coach. Like, too many punches to even count. But I’m still just waiting. I’m waiting on this bouquet. I feel like I’ve gotten a couple of singular roses. This team has had some great moments. But I haven’t gotten my bouquet.” I told Coach Vergote.

I went in to my senior year of Cross Country determined that this team was going to get that bouquet. We were going to go to Nationals. Those punches and moments that had knocked all of us down were all going to be worth it because we would have that bouquet.

At team camp at the beginning of the season, I knew we had a special group of women that were going to toe the line this season. We had 20 women that were all on the same page. 20 women that were willing to put it all out there for each other. 20 women that understood that it was going to take everything, including some punches to the face, to make it to nationals. 20 women that were ready to roll.

And we did roll. Right through the punches. We had people sidelined because of injury. We had people dealing with life stuff. We had people dealing with relationship stuff and family stuff. We had people running with one shoe on at The Big Ten Championships (Lilly you are such a stud). Just like every other team in the NCAA, we had people dealing with punches. And we took care of each other through these punches.

The women on this team are some of my best friends because I get to see how tough they are. I get to know their stories, their backgrounds, their experiences. Being on this team, we get to see each other’s real pain because of the punches of running and of life. And we get to pull each other though that pain. We get to laugh until we cry. We get to cry until we laugh. We get to talk for 16 miles at a time. We get to dance to Rebecca Black on a Friday workout day. We get to share life over cups of coffee and Dunkin’ Donuts post long run. We get to know each other’s families and hometowns without actually visiting. We get to encourage one another and build each other up. We get to give each other weird nicknames which incidentally are usually some kind of food. We get punched together, we get up together, and we focus on getting that bouquet together.

This past Friday, we were ready to get that bouquet and punch that ticket. And it made sense in our minds that it was going to happen. Every workout, every race, every practice was on point. We truly believed that we were going to get that fairy tale ending; we were going to get that bouquet. That’s what made all of the other punches worth it. We just hadn’t even considered the possibility that maybe we weren’t going to be the ones that got it. When you’re getting knocked down, you’re never thinking about the fact that maybe it will all be for nothing. That maybe the sacrifices and pain you are putting yourself through just wouldn’t be enough. That maybe you’ll never get the bouquet.

We finished 6th as a team in the NCAA Great Lakes regional. After finishing that race, the weirdest 90 minutes of my athletic career ensued. Our ticket to nationals, our bouquet, was completely dependent on whatever happened in the other regions. It felt like we were just stuck in this place of not being able to control anything and just having to wait and hope for things to shake out in our favor. We cooled down, did our strides, and then we all followed coach around like little ducks. She knew how to interpret the results of the other regions. She believed we had a shot, and that’s what kept our hope alive. We sat in front of our tent while coaches continued to refresh results. Some of us just sat around and nervously laughed and chatted. Others (freshman) laid on the ground and ate goldfish. We all were waiting on a bouquet.

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Post Regional-Race Waiting Shenanigans

And that’s when it hit me. I didn’t want to go Nationals just to say we made it to Nationals. I didn’t want to go to nationals to get cool gear. I didn’t want to go to nationals because I believed that it was the end all be all to my existence. I mean, I kinda wanted to go to nationals so I could dramatically throw my spikes in the shoe tree at Terre Haute. But the real reason that I wanted to go to Nationals, the reason that I wanted all of this so badly, was because I wanted to buy myself another week training with these women. I didn’t want the season to be over yet because I wanted to spend three hours a day at practice with them this week. I wanted another week of Antrim loops. I wanted another week of van rides filled with laughter.

I wanted another week of Abby crawling around on top of the lockers. Of Kaitlyn updating all of us on the current events and going out of her way to serve everyone. Of Lilly making sarcastic jokes. Of Brittany yelling, “Dooooooood!” Of Emily being the epitome of “Very British Problems.” Of Grace laughing at herself and telling stories about Annie. Of Olivia thinking of ways to make people feel awkward and also having a dance that goes with everything. Of Erin cheering, “Have a nice run, ladies!” Of Rachel L. asking questions and talking about skinny calves. Of Maddie and I twinning and looking identical as we run stride for stride. Of Sarah calmly encouraging us, “three minutes to go!” as we near the gazebo on the back of the Antrim loop.Of Claire being the most thoughtful person and giving the best hugs. Of Kelsey’s unexpected joke that comes out of nowhere but is perfectly timed. Of Annie’s drawn out stories that she tells all of us.Of Courtney being the best artist I’ve ever met and talking about creative ideas. Of Devin loving nature and picking up the bugs instead of stepping on them. Of Christine being a fighter, a mamma bear, and a kind friend all at the same time. Of Jess answering all of our health questions because she’s gonna be a freaking awesome nurse one day.  Of Lainey being a mini Lilly and giving some of the most mature advice and encouragement.  

I wanted another week of us. I wanted to go nationals because at the end of the day, getting the bouquet was never about going to nationals. The bouquet was about extending the time of doing what I love the most with the people I love the most. I’ve had my bouquet this whole season. In fact, I’ve had my bouquet for the past 4 years.

Turns out, we lost on a tie breaker with UCLA and we were one of the first teams NOT to qualify to Nationals… which is a feeling I’ve become pretty familiar with over the years. It sucks, every time. It is a punch to the face, every time. But standing there on the top of the hill at Wisconsin, I didn’t feel the punch to the gut like I normally do. As the women around me huddled together, I felt like I was being handed the most beautiful bouquet of roses. Yes, we were sad, we were heartbroken, but we also were encouraged. We were encouraged by the future potential of this team. We were encouraged because we were the bouquet, and I had been missing it all along.

Always in life, God offers a sweeter bouquet. He knows my heart far better than I know my own.He takes our almost but not quite moments and turns them into something beautiful. Sure, I knew God had blessed me so incredibly much with the people that He had put into my life on this team. But I didn’t realize that these people were the bouquet He was choosing to offer me so graciously. And if these people are my bouquet, I will take 10 trillion punches to the face for them, because they are worth every single hit. They are worth every single knock down. They are worth every single almost but not quite. They are my bouquet.

After 4 years and several thousand punches to the face later, I would like to modify Coach’s statement she made in her office from my freshman year. Running track and cross country is not one hundred punches to the face for one bouquet of roses.

Running track and cross country is so many punches to the face you won’t be able to put a numerical value on it. But every single punch, every single hit, every single knock down is worth it as long as your team is your bouquet.

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Ohio State Track and Cross Country, thank you for being my bouquet.