Do any of you know the story of Roger Bannister? Roger was a Doctor and medical student at Oxford and was a great runner. He had a dream of breaking the 4 minute mile which seemed like foolishness because of this: doctors and physiologists around the world were in agreement that not only was running a sub 4 minute mile impossible, but many believed that if it was tried, the heart would literally burst and the runner would be killed. But, Roger didn’t believe this and wanted to prove that running a sub 4 minute mile was not only possible, but within his own reach. After intense training, on May 6, 1954 he ran the mile in 3:59.4 and survived! He’d broken a barrier that no one believed could be broken. He proved something ‘impossible’ was now ‘possible’ and 46 days later, John Landy ran a 3:57.9 mile and times have continued to drop. Currently, the world record for the mile is 3:43.14. Now…why did Landy and others quickly start breaking the 4 minute barrier themselves? Because now they knew it could be done. Sadly, what was said by doctors and the fact no one had done it yet, runners’ minds just couldn’t allow themselves to think of doing this impossibility…it was something that just couldn’t be done. In other words, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. But once they SAW the impossible become possible, their minds believed they could now do it, and many were able to break that barrier and excel.
Wow. An impossible barrier was broken time and time again just because minds started realizing it could be accomplished. How many times do we think we CAN’T do something, so we may not even try. If our minds won’t allow us to believe that the so-called impossible CAN be possible, we won’t try to achieve goals we might personally wish for, and instead, allow ourselves to be prisoners of these walls.
Another runner who is so inspirational to me is the British runner Paula Radcliffe. In the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, Paula was expected to be the gold medalist…after all, she was the world record holder for the marathon (26.2 miles) and there was hope that she would beat her own time and set a new record. The world was waiting in expectation for that gold medal to be put around her neck, and people were glued to their television sets watching this marvel of a woman run a marathon in stifling heat. And what they saw was this: Paula sitting down on the curb of the road at mile 20 unable to go on any further. She had been having stomach pains and later, it was found her spleen was swollen and her stomach was battered. Despite these medical issues, many people said cruel things about her ‘quitting’ the race and letting so many people down. Hmmm. I’m wondering how many of these people can even run a mile, but I digress. Where is she now? Paula’s world record still stands today after 14 years and she’s still running wonderfully. Did she let people down? Nope. Knowing she was sick, she still tried with all of her might to finish what she started and complete her goal. But, it just wasn’t meant to be. Months later though, she completed the NYC marathon admirably. She wasn’t defeated by her set-back in Athens. She knew what she could do, and tried again. And she succeeded.
We all have barriers in our minds. We all have the thoughts saying I can’t do this…it’s impossible for me to do that…and these thoughts become a self-fulfilling prophecy which makes it impossible to see past these fences.
When hubby 2 and my son got back from Mexico one year, I was looking at our vacation pictures and didn’t like what I saw! I had always been slim, but seeing myself in a swimming suit showed I hadn’t lost the baby weight I had gained, despite the fact my son was 8 years old. So, I called my dad. He empathized with my feelings and asked me to meet him at a track and start running with him again, after my 10 year hiatus. I met him, thinking I’d run a couple of miles. After all, in high school and college, I ran regularly and could easily run 10 miles. Dad and I started running and I practically collapsed after an 8th of a mile. I was stunned. And frustrated. And embarrassed. I told dad I simply had to start running again and he asked me what my goal would be. He understood that having a goal was the first step in making sure my desire was focused. So, jokingly, I said, “Well, I’ll run the St. Louis marathon in October!” (which was only 10 months away). Before I had a chance to say, “Just kidding!” my dad said that was a great goal and we would start the next day. I was convinced he was crazy, but nevertheless, I started running with him again. When I got up to a mile, I was elated, and my next goal was a 5k. I ran it, not well, but started realizing that if I set my mind to my ‘impossible’ goal, I just might succeed. Dad always beat me on our runs. Always. We would see our finishing spot ahead, and both of us would break out in a sprint, trying to beat the other. I never could. And to be honest, part of me didn’t want too. I kinda liked knowing that dad was stronger and faster than me, but my competitive spirit took over and the day I beat him, we both celebrated. Because of a bad ankle, once I hit higher mile runs, dad would have to ride his bike along with me instead of run. But I loved this. As I ran, we would talk about anything and everything and that time spent with him was precious to me. Finally, October came around and he and I went to St. Louis, along with mom and step-father. The plan was for dad and the family to meet me at mile 20 so that he could run the last 6 miles with me. I knew I would need that. When I got to that spot, mom could see I was really struggling and she said, “JUST QUIT if you’re hurting”! I gave her a look which pretty much projected my thought of ARE YOU FREAKING CRAZY?? I’d come this far with 10 months of work behind me, and there was NO WAY in hell I was stopping.
As dad started to run with me, he asked how I was feeling. Now, I really don’t curse much, or at least didn’t then, and here’s what came out of my tired mouth: “How the fuck do you think I feel, dad? I’ve just run 20 fucking miles and I’m still not done!!” He cracked up and he pushed me, encouraged me, and motivated me to keep going those last few miles and when I crossed the finish line, I feel as if we had crossed it together.
I had done it. I had taken what I thought was an impossible challenge, and because of my father, turned it into a reality. This taught me more than anything I’ve ever experienced. I learned that ‘impossible’ may not really exist. That if I start to believe in myself…ignore the can’ts that go through my mind…and put in the work and effort, I too can take a barrier and knock the damn thing down. Yes!
We all have self-fulfilling prophecies. Foretold predictions of what will happen. But here’s the thing. These prophecies can be wrong. Just because we believe in something, doesn’t make it so. I believed I couldn’t…dad believed I could…and with his support, I did.
What other self-fulfilling prophecies do I have? That I can’t be strong? That I’m not worthy of a loving relationship? That the hurt I’ve experienced is penance for my sins? That I can’t change my victim mindset? That I can’t ever heal? That I’ll never be where I was and even better? Hmmmm. These are big barriers. Huge. But I’m wondering if these can be conquered too. Just because I’m thinking them…doesn’t make them true. I’ve broken down fences before…and I am starting to believe that all fences have a weak spot. And what can we do? Take a sledgehammer and start beating down that fence until you come out the other side in victory. One fence at a time.
This is what I know: no matter where we are in our lives, we need to understand we are more than the hurt…more than our feeling of being a victim…more than what others might say. But most often we can’t, or won’t, believe we can overcome these things. But we can. And the first step is opening your mind that it’s not just a possibility, but can be a certainty. It can be done. I promise.