Not too long ago, I spoke with an astronaut about what it takes to launch into space. Since I don’t work at NASA and am not a rocket scientist, we were way outside of my comfort zone. He was patient and talked me through the various parts of a successful launch.
It occurred to me, as he was sharing his extensive knowledge, how so many of the elements in a rocket launch are appropriate for launching things right here on planet Earth.
“We are more fulfilled when we are involved in something bigger than ourselves.” -John Glenn
The factor that really interested me was the energy required to launch. We talked about the amount of fuel it takes to propel a rocket into space. I learned that the Space Shuttle had over two million pounds of solid propellant in its boosters.
Two million pounds!
All of this is to fire up the engines, create liftoff, and escape the velocity of the Earth’s atmosphere. The rocket must overcome gravity drag.
What may have been a simple, elementary explanation for a non-scientist crystallized some ideas for me.
If we want to launch something big, it often requires more fuel than we imagine.
“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” -Moliere
Many of us start a new year with a list of resolutions and aspirations. Those goals can quickly disappear as we replace goals with excuses. A regular diet of motivation helps me redouble my efforts, so I regularly look for inspiring people, books, speeches, and songs.
That’s why I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak with Patricia Walsh. Talk about overcoming obstacles, pursuing dreams, and not letting an excuse derail goals.
I’ve interviewed another female Ironman, Chrissie Wellington. Reading her book was the closest I’ve come to understanding what it takes to compete. It’s a grueling challenge. And you’re blind and you did it. What motivated you to shatter expectations?
I stumbled into shattering: I think my friends and family assume that I set out with a determination to turn the world on its ear from the get go. Truly the spirit of the initial events was more of a, “What could possibly go wrong?” to which the response was. “Everything could go wrong,” to which I then responded, “Even if everything does go wrong, this won’t kill me.”
My initial motivation was to reclaim my quality of life. When this all began, I had a smoking habit, was the life of the party, and as a result was overweight and feeling lost in my own skin. As my dad started struggling with his own health, I realized that my habits and patterns not only emulated his, in many ways they were worse than his. I started running as an attempt to reclaim my health. The result after months of trial and error and continuous improvement was not only a betterment of my physical health, but it had become a lifeline for what had been a shattered sense of self.
In completing my first marathon, I proved to myself that I was not and never have been damaged goods. My sense of ability was through the roof. When proposed the opportunity to take on ever increasing challenges I jumped at the chances. After years of marathoning, a friend dared me to do an ironman. When I took on ironman it was out of a curiosity and a wonder for my own capabilities. I was in way over my head. I had never swum or biked. The amount of help and coaching I needed just to finish was daunting.
It was after completing my first ironman, Lake Placid 2010, when I became the first blind female to have completed an ironman with a female guide, that I saw the opportunity to reclaim expectations.
There is a thriving prejudice of reduced expectations of persons with disability. I feel it every day. People are surprised when I am able to order for myself at a restaurant. People approach my friends and congratulate them on their generosity for taking the blind kid out for an adventure. People do not see me as an accomplished adult. The challenge for me every day is to fight the impulse to become a defensive person. When faced with these reduced expectations, my want is to rattle off my resume. My want is even to make that person feel lower, but what good would come of that? I know better. If I were to ever really have that honest reaction, everyone would walk away feeling awful. I acknowledge my role has to be that of a gentle educator. After my initial success in ironman, I had the opportunity to race with a hero of mine. It was then that I saw the gleam of light that I could be a competitive athlete by any standard.
I believed that if I put in the time and effort to be among the top finishers for my age group, then I could offer up an example of appropriate expectations of the blind. That is to say blind and disabled people are not lesser than, they are equal to, and in some cases even greater than those without disability. Truly it isn’t about the comparison, it is about the assumption. The efforts of persons with disability should be taken on their own merit, absent of the expectation of diminished value.
“Excuses are a mask for fear and self-doubt.” -Patricia Walsh
Finishing my second ironman in 11:40 was groundbreaking for me. In 10 months I had reduced my own time by three hours. I had set an example of an athlete with disability who two years into the sport could be ranked among the top 10 finishers for her age group. I was then recruited to compete at a different distance for the US National team. My secret hope is to come back to ironman after Paralympics, as I left wanting more. I know I could be among the top finishers in following my own fuel-fire-blaze hierarchy with the emotionally intrinsic goal of continuing to chip away at the reduced expectations.
Chrissie Wellington is the greatest female endurance athlete on the planet. She has won all thirteen Ironman competitions she has entered and four World Championships. She smashes through world records with a margin that is so large it resets the definition of what is possible.
Her book A Life Without Limits isn’t only a book for sports enthusiasts and triathletes. It’s written for anyone with the desire to achieve big goals. Chrissie’s story of getting to the top of the Ironman competition is one sure to inspire everyone.
It doesn’t matter where you start.
Chrissie grew up liking sports, but her focus was more on her studies.
Her unlikely rise to the top of the sporting world started in her first job. As what?
A government bureaucrat focused on international development.