Some of us play soccer. Others spend hour upon hour on tennis courts. Still others devote themselves to the art of shooting a basketball through a hoop.
Yet we all know what it means to run. This is in part why we are so captivated by the speed of world recordd sprinters, so inspired by the endurance of great marathoners.
My work with Give Running has taught me what else it means to run -- the camaraderie we forge with teammates through the fires of adversity, the intangible lessons we hold inside long after crossing the finish line. These prove more difficult to measure than times and distances raced, but in the end are more fulfilling when understood.
In Harper Lee's literary masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch explains his courtroom integrity to his daughter Scout:
I wanted you to see what real courage is.... It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.
When I think of courage and opportunity, I think of running.
Atticus' words remind me of legendary track coach Bill Bowerman's advice:
Giving all is greater inspiration than victory.
If you go out to race and know you'll lose, there's no probability involved -- you'll lose. But if you go out knowing you will never give up, you'll still lose most of the time, but you'll be in the best position to kick on that rare day when everything breaks right.
I think of the two courageous LAPD police officers who founded the South Los Angeles Jaguars, a youth track team that provides a positive alternative for the youth the officers at times previously found sprinting and jumping to evade them on the hardened inner-city streets.
The officers didn't have running backgrounds themselves, but knew if they could only give the potential they saw proper direction, incredible things would happen. It has filled me with joy and admiration to personally facilitate Give Running's donation of training shoes and racing spikes to these talented youth runners.
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Give Running is proud to collaborate with social enterprises creating triple-bottom-line outcomes benefiting People, Planet and Profit. More often then not, we see the fourth puzzle piece of Passion come into play as well. This holistic approach to empowering employees, customers, partners, and society is the best and most responsible way to ensure success in our flattening world.
Often more joyful for me than working with large organizations, however, is being a part of the incredible achievements of young individuals leading Give Running forward at the authentic grassroots level.
Indeed, when I think of courage and community, I think of running.
I think of the three boxes mailed to Give Running that were filled with the 51 pairs of shoes collected by a teenage boy, Ethan, at his bar mitzvah. "People were very generous and appreciate the charity's efforts," he wrote.
Ethan sent 45 additional pairs soon after, exemplifying the power of service learning as well as the perspective we can gain from redirecting the spotlight focused on us so that it shines on others. It takes courage to stand up for our friends, and even more to stand up for those we may never meet.
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Gandhi wisely observed: "The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problems." Have the courage to give your best -- it just might be enough after all. And giving our best helps bring out the best in others. Consider this real-life manifestation of Atticus' and Bowerman's and Gandhi's musings:
There was an 11-year-old girl competing in the 200-meter run in the Special Olympics. The gun went off and she had a beaming smile on her face as she ran and laughed. Her coach cheered her on as she raced toward the finishing tape, continuing to laugh and smile. She was in the lead with forty meters to go...
... and then she stopped. Her coach waved and called to her to continue running through the finish line to win the race.
"Come on, come on, come all the way through and you'll get your medal," he said to the little girl. But instead the little girl waited for the other five runners to catch up; they all then joined hands.
"Together we all win," she replied as the six competitors held hands and triumphantly broke the finishing tape as one.
I believe the world is not a zero-sum game, but rather one where we can all win together through the alchemy of mutual inspiration, through joining hands to help each other achieve more than we could on our own. Even in a medal race, everyone can cross the line with a winner's smile.
When I think of courage and learning, I think of running.
What could be more meaningful to run towards -- to run for -- than joining together in victory? Give your best when you compete, but remember that together we all win. That's courage.
That's what I think of when I think of running.