A few years back I suffered a tough injury after a milestone race that resulted in me dropping off the face of the ultrarunning and athlete blogging scene. For near two years after that injury, I continued to wrestle with nagging physical problems and the larger issue of losing my identity. I was a runner, but I was no longer a runner. The psychological impact of that whole process was real and very hard to deal with. Not only did I feel like I’d lost a part of my identity, but I also felt like I had lost my community. I was no longer a part of those cherished long runs. I was no longer part of the pre-dawn ritual of headlamp trail running. I was no longer a part of my social circle. And, when I stopped blogging about training, racing, and just outdoor adventures in general, I felt like I’d lost my internet athlete community as well. Again, those are tough things to process and inevitably left me feeling quite alone.
Fast forward to this past year and I entered into a new stage in my life, one that included being a single father, walking through the ugly world of divorce, the loss of family support, and the loss of my final social circle: the church. Essentially, I ended up feeling quite alone. I had my son and my new partner and that was what remained of my community. It was at that point that members of my athletic community began to come out of the woodwork and offer support. This time, it wasn’t virtual cheering or live blogging of races that I was receiving, but instead it was personal encouragement without strings attached and without judgment. One after another, they began checking in on me, reaffirming the relationships and reminding me of my value to them. They re-established my community. They resurfaced as my peeps. They re-filled my mug of awesome.
The thing I realized about this community was that with them, I had always been myself. Out on the trails, I didn’t wear a mask. During a race, I didn’t wear a mask. When I was killing myself on a track workout, I didn’t wear a mask. These people saw ME. And I was real with this community. It started out as a community of people with a common interest, but by being an honest human being with them, letting them be part of my success and failure, they became more than just community, they became my tribe. And when shit hit the fan, it was that tribe that survived the test of fire and was left standing. Not my neighbors. Not my church. Not my family.
So I compare my community of athletes with those other communities that I have lost and I recognize that my lack of personal honesty with them is why they didn’t survive. Maybe those communities should not have been ones I should have invested in in the first place, but that’s a moot point now. But I do see it is a two way street, you MUST invest in the community and be real with them or find out in the long run that it was a superficial community at best.
So, to my community of athletes, those of you who I spent countless hours with on the trails, those of you who I raced with, those of you who supported me in person and virtually, those of you who I have met in person and those who are still just a person behind a wall of electrons, thank you. Thank you for being my people and for being there when I needed you most.
And, to those of you lacking a community, invest yourself. Your REAL self. Without that honesty in your life, you’ll find yourself, after a trial by fire, burnt.
|Soundtrack for This Post|