Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reflection: The Challenge

"I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, 
for going out, I found, was really going in."
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938)

My body fell forward and I hustled to keep my legs and feet beneath me. My right foot landed on a large round rock in the middle of the trail. It looked stable in the split second I had to consider my step choice, but the rock rolled slightly under my weight and so did my ankle. I didn't stop. I barely slowed at the twinge of pain and assessed the feeling over the next few steps. Hurts? Yes. Need to stop? No. Are you sure? Yes, I could feel pain later. For the next mile or so I focused on stabilizing my now very tired and both rolled ankles. Just give me another uphill, I thought, on the uphills my ankles aren't in danger. 

The fast downhill came to an abrupt halt at a steep rocky face. I looked up with determination, willing that hill to be mine and began the climb. My quads screamed for relief. I ignored them. I would not listen. Instead, I repeated the words of Andy and my family, of my teammates, and my friends telling us to give it everything, to push, to love it. I could hear the excitement in Andy's voice from the phone call the night before; I could see the pictures of my nieces and nephew with signs reading "GO TEAM USA" as they stood in the Virginia sun back home; I looked at my Salomon trail shoes that my brother in California had worked so hard to get for me and my new friend Jenn had happily brought back from the States; I thought of Patagonia, the number one place in the world where I'd like to go, and remembered my new friend Meche telling me to visualize Patagonia at the finish line; I heard my wonderful teammate Jen climbing behind me, mother of 5 and putting up with my "run my face off" intensity ... and could I faintly hear Tara and Maddie there too? 

We were a team. Jen and I were running the trails that day but really, we were all running together each day. We were in it together. Team USA and all of our family and friends supporting us. 

This last week was challenging; mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting and exhilarating. My post-race reflections may be riding on emotional exhaustion but I'll share them, regardless. Because this race paralleled life in such a way that my take-away from the challenge isn't merely a physical satisfaction but a new sense of communication and community. 

On the trail and off, teams relied on each other. While we were all struggling, we all had different struggles, strengths, weaknesses, and stories woven into our responses to each moment. In those moments we had to communicate openly and honestly about our mental, physical, and emotional state. We had to encourage, share, ask for what we needed, and clarify with others about how they were doing. This sort of attentiveness, both to ourselves and to our teammates, took constant energy. There are no short cuts and there is no option to ignore. Being in a small community here at the medical school and going through this intense battle of accelerated medical school with Andy, I can see how this lesson can be carried into any community. The grace and forgiveness needed in moments of stress and challenge never ends. For yourself, for others. 

We don't often have the option to chose our challenges the way I chose this race. And we don't have the option to choose all of our teammates most of the time. But there are choices along the way; choices to share, to encourage, to hold back, to push forward, to brush it off, to step out of the details and see the broad scope of the mountain in front of you. These choices make or break you, not winning or losing. Winston Churchill reportedly said, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts." 

It was a wild experience on this awesome island of Dominica. The landscape and trails rocked our world ... and we live here! The volcanic mountains, dense rainforest, and rushing water both beckoned us and threatened us. We ran over 50 miles of trail as well as doing some biking, rowing, treasure hunting, dancing, hunting, gathering, swimming, and cricket playing. We tested our gear (Salomon trail shoes get it DONE) and our muscles. There is something about the wilds that teach lessons that cannot be taught elsewhere.

Thanks to your support, encouragement, and financial contribution, Team USA came in a close and STRONG 3rd place against incredible athletes. Trinidad White won with 220 points; Trinidad Red had 215; we had 205; Dominica Green had 195. Short trailers can be found on The Nature Island Challenge's Facebook page. But the whole race will actually be a one hour show on NBC in a few months. Follow The Nature Island Challenge on Facebook or their website - to stay up to date.

We are going to leave the Go Fund Me site up for just a little while longer as we would love to be able to contribute as much as possible to Exodus Cry, our charity

"Fresh beauty opens one's eyes wherever it is really seen, but the very abundance and completeness of the common beauty that besets our steps prevents its being absorbed and appreciated. It is a good thing, therefore, to make short excursions now and then to the bottom of the sea among dulse and coral, or up among the clouds on mountain-tops, or in balloons, or even to creep like worms into dark holes and caverns underground, not only to learn something of what is going on in those out-of-the-way places, but to see better what the sun sees on our return to common everyday beauty."

- The Mountains of California by John Muir (1894)