Our world is changing rapidly as the COVID-19 pandemic escalates, and well laid plans are being altered each day. One of the most significant “changed plans” is the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. The fact that seven years of planning has been put aside for the good of society further highlights how truly interconnected our world is and how capable we are of putting others wellbeing above our individual goals.
However, goals are pretty important things. They motivate us to think bigger, reach higher, and strive harder. Setting goals and putting in the hard work towards them allow us to achieve more than we ever thought possible. And although the hard work is all our own and the motivation comes from within, the road toward our goals is filled with a wonderful tapestry of people from all aspects of our lives who are rooting for us.
When I started this blog, with the goal of writing one post a week for a year, I reached out to my friend, Allison, who I had originally met through running, to be my editor. I admired her as a runner who has incredible talent, but who is also unbelievably humble. I admired her for her writing, as I’m a devoted follower of her blog, Having a Think, which you can check out here. I have admired her as a person for her kindness and candor, her friendship, and her drive in setting ambitious goals. She works hard every day towards her goals, yet still finds time to be a supportive friend. She’s a truly awesome human, and in celebration of all that I feel Hallmark embodies, I wanted to take this post to celebrate her.
Prior to the world going lopsided, I imagined this post highlighting my friend’s extraordinary personal Hallmark moment—achieving her goal of qualifying to run in the U.S Olympic Trials marathon—and recounting my trip to Atlanta to support and cheer for her. While I’ll write about these things in the paragraphs that follow, I don’t want to appear ignorant of the fact that our world and routines are changing, there has been major disruption to our lives, and there is grief for all that is being lost. However, amidst that grief there are also moments of light. This is one such moment: an opportunity to celebrate friendship, the achievement of goals, and the wonderful tapestry of people who make up our communities, which are all elements of Hallmark.
Just over one month ago, men and women from around the United States convened behind a starting line in Atlanta, Georgia, with marathon qualifying times at or below 2:19 and 2:45 respectfully. Let’s pause here for a minute and take this in. Simply completing a marathon is an awesome feat, but running one at this elite level means running 26.2 miles nonstop at a 6-minutes-and-17 seconds-per-mile pace or faster (for the women; men must run 5-minutes-and-19-seconds-per-mile or faster!). It is an achievement that very few—511 women and 215 men, to be exact—will achieve. Upon running a qualifying time, these 726 athletes all have the chance to vie for six coveted spots (three women and three men) on the Olympic Team, giving them the honor of representing our country in the Olympic Games.
However, while they are all technically running in the same race, the reality is that many of these runners don’t expect to make the Olympic Team. Many are mothers, fathers, full-time employees, and all other manner of high-level amateurs. They’re all incredibly talented and hard-working in their own right, but they’re lining up against professionals, whose entire job is to win races like these. (Click here to see my friend Allison’s journey featured on NBC or here to read about her training,)
So at the same time that the race for the top three spots is happening, there is another race taking place. It’s one of sheer determination, fueled by something other than making the Olympic team. It’s a race against oneself, to honor the privilege of running among the very best in the country. And so, while some people might look at running in the Olympic Trials as a “victory lap,” my friend Allison Goldstein would not be one of them. She would educate you that while she might be trying to stay present and enjoy the moment, at the end of the day this is not a victory lap… it is a marathon. It’s a grueling, unforgiving, humbling distance that these competitors, while celebrating the achievement of making it this far, also came to race.
That’s the race I didn’t want to miss. So on the last weekend of February, while the Hallmark community was watching the latest premier, I flew to Atlanta, Georgia, along with two of my girlfriends, to cheer on my friend Allison in her Hallmark moment.
Although I’ve been many places, I’ve never been to Atlanta, and my first impression is that the airport is massive. Truly huge. (And I say this as someone who regularly flies out of New York City’s mega-airport, JFK!) Once my friends and I navigated out, we met up with other members of Allison’s “cheer squad” (comprised of family members and other friends who had flown in from various parts of the country) in the lobby of our hotel for a marathon poster-making session and some Chinese take-out. One friend had purchased poster board, while another had traveled with a set of markers, and we all consulted Google for the best, most creative marathon slogans.
Under normal circumstances, marathon signs will say something like the following:
- Your pace or mine?
- Pain is temporary; race results are online forever
- You’re running better than the government
- May the course be with you
- Don’t Stop! People are watching!
- Worst parade ever
- Charlie Sheen called…he’s says you’re WINNING!
- Run now, wine later
- If you want a ride home, run faster I am leaving soon
On this occasion, though, none of these funny sayings seemed appropriate. What I wrote instead in multicolored markers was SO PROUD OF YOU / GO ALLISON, because that was the truth. You see, Allison had already won. She achieved victory in reaching her goal to qualify for the Olympic Trials. Her being there was a representation of the hard work and sacrifices she made to train and, finally, run under 2:45. Although she didn’t see it as a victory lap, those of us there to cheer for her saw each and every step as her victory. We were fortunate enough to be in a position on the course to see her pass us five times. She smiled and waved at us each timed she passed, looking like the rock star we believe she is. We saw her finish, hugged her when she was done, and celebrated her into the evening for her spectacular accomplishment of running in the U.S. Olympic Trials. I think everyone can appreciate that sometimes, celebrating someone achieving their goals allows us to fully celebrate that person—to let them know they are loved and appreciated every day.
“Life is a marathon not a sprint” is the perfect metaphor for our present situation. Although we are not Olympic-level athletes, the mindset required to navigate the coming days and weeks is the same. From experience, I can share that a marathon is very much about physical training, but even more than that, it’s mental training. For the average runner, it’s preparing your mind and body to be on your feet for 4-plus hours of running. It’s mentally preparing for the pain that will arrive after mile 20, even when you are in top physical shape. And although I can never imagine running a marathon as fast as Allison or other elite athletes, I can relate to setting goals and working hard towards them. It was after I crossed the finish line of my first marathon with tears of joy and amazement in my eyes that I set a new ambitious goal that I had also never thought possible: writing a book.
We won’t all go to the Olympics, or even the Olympic Trials, but if we allow ourselves to be inspired by people achieving their goals, we can achieve goals of our own…and then strive to set new ones.
I hope that during these extraordinary times when we are cooped up inside more than what is healthy or normal, that you are using it as an opportunity to take care of your mind, connect with loved ones, celebrate your friendships (virtually!), find small joys in everyday life, and remain grateful for the many blessing we do have. Life is a tapestry of the people we care about and how we celebrate and support them in their most ordinary and extraordinary moments. Now more than ever is the time to support and be there for one other.