I was quite surprised to find myself reading An Accidental Athlete, a book about running. Since adopting an active life after bariatric surgery in 2008, I cycle regularly and hike when I get a chance. Three weeks ago I started a couch to 5K program which trains participants to run a 5K in two months. I had set completing a 5K as a personal goal for 2012.
About a week into the program, a friend recommended this book authored by J.J. “The Penguin” Bingham. In the book, the author reflects on his past and the events in his life that led up to him becoming a runner in his mid-forties. He uses the term “adult onset athlete” to describe his transformation from couch potato and non-athlete into a running aficionado.
The book became very personal for me. As the pages went by, I saw much of myself in his reflections. We appear to have very similar personality traits. I have found myself in almost identical situations as I began dabbling in an athletic life, primarily cycling for me. My running experiences to date also mirror his early experiences. I also see myself making identical choices and decisions that he made in becoming a runner and race participant.
An Accidental Athlete is an excellent choice for a person who seeks to change life for the better. The book is written by a runner who shares the changes that running has made in his life. They story within the book is about the power each of us has to change the course of our life and put our self in a much better place. That change agent may not be running for you. It was cycling for me. That change agent may not be athletic. Do you want to be a better artist, a better cook, or a better speaker? Bingham’s words empower the courage to make that positive change.
“The war that had been raging in my soul for my entire life came down to that one battle of my spirit versus my intellect. My brain said I couldn’t. My will said I had to. My brain said I didn’t have anything left. My will said there is always something left. You just have to know where to look”
I found myself sharing excerpts of the book as I read. The above words are some of my favorite. I am a very confident person and successful in my career. I honed my technical, artistic, leadership and management skills well and to my advantage. I did that to compensate for (actually I hide from) my athletic inadequacies. This battle did rage on for years and it did hold me back. Finally, after a heart attack, near death triple cardiac bypass surgery and weight loss surgery, I came to understand that I control my life. An important part of that was digging deeper and knowing where to look for that change.
“I also discovered that some of the hardest-fought battles are not at the front of the field. They are being fought in the back of the pack by those of us with nothing at stake but pride.”
The above words are without a doubt the most profound words in the book for me. I have posted these in my home and work offices. They just speak so loud and so clearly to me. In my cycling, I began participating in cycling endurance events. These 30-50-100+ mile rides attract many of the sleek, skinny, fast road cyclists with form fitting cycling team jerseys and shorts that highlight their perfect bodies. I used to let them intimidate me until I embraced the philosophy so eloquently expressed in those words. Yep, it’s not about the people who finish first across the finish line. It’s about those of us who cross the line with a feeling of great accomplishment, a feeling of pride, and a feeling of just enjoying the ride for the fun of it.
I say to John Bingham, “Yes, I am an adult onset athlete.” It would have been hard to write those words before reading his book. At one point in the book, he spoke about freeing himself from the knots and nots holding him back. I too have been working on that. He exposed many more of the deeply rooted knots and nots I buried. This is an ongoing task for me; a task I am now more prepared to undertake.
I continue training for my first 5K. I am deeply thankful for my best friend Chuck who is coaching and running with me. Beyond that physical training, An accidental Athlete has prepared me mentally and emotionally to accept this challenge and others in the years to come. Being physically, mentally and emotionally prepared assures success in cycling, running, or any other sport. I am ending my reflections with a final thought from Bingham. I challenge you to live life by this principle day-by-day.
“We cannot only see who we’ve been and who we want to be; we can only see with absolute clarity who we are right now.”