It’s only been a couple weeks of getting back in shape and I have to tell you. This sucks and is exciting at the same damn time! As I learn about my body’s most pressing weaknesses, I’m also learning about some of my biggest frustrations and insecurities. I was out foolishly in the unforgiving sun this past Sunday laboring up and down a football field. As the reps went by, I was reminded with each step how out of shape I am. My stomach beat me to the finish line every time. My thighs slapped on strides as if they were clapping for me to finish the workout. My hip flexors and glutes were grumpy like a Monday morning. They didn’t wanna get outta bed. My heart rate danced between 180 and 200. And the nausea? Oh lawd the nausea!
I felt myself perspiring with doubt. What the hell did I commit to? Is one year reasonable? What if I don’t make it back? What if my legs pack it up and move to South Beach for some frozen margaritas and 365 days of Freaknik? Doubt, negativity, doubt, negativity, doubt, doubt, doubt. Then I remembered my experience as a college athlete.
I wasn’t recruited to Cornell to run track. I reached out to Coach T during my junior year of high school and expressed interest in joining the team. My long jump marks weren’t good enough to get me a scholarship anywhere other than Dream State. I had won several track meets, but I wasn’t on the radar with coaches and scouts. I knew that if I wanted to be a competitive division 1 athlete at a great school, I’d have to proactively convince a coach of my potential.
I was pretty slow for a jumper. I didn’t have much coaching other than “Rich, you need to run fast and jump far.” In my mind, I knew that all I needed was a knowledgeable coach, technique training, and to be surrounded by like-minded athletes with a commitment to winning. Fortunately, I got everything I wanted when I stepped on Cornell’s campus freshman year. The only thing I wanted that I didn’t have right away was respect. I hadn’t proven that I could compete at that level, so I worked hard as hell. Two hours at official practice, another one and a half to two hours in the weight room. And it was in that weight room that I discovered my strength. Like literally, my strength was strength.
Whenever we tested for max weights on certain lifts, I made it a goal to be as close to the top as possible for those specific exercises and neglected a few others. And for someone that wasn’t a thrower, I ended up getting pretty high on the list. And with my demonstrated strength, a third place finish at the outdoor league championships (highest freshman), and the highest placing freshman at the northeast championships, I had earned some of the respect I coveted. I was even selected to join the international squad that travels to the UK every four years to compete against Oxford and Cambridge.
My furthest official jump is 23’9. Some would say that’s pretty damn far, but to me I always knew I could go further. I had jumped further…just unofficially (known as fouling or jumping past the takeoff board). In my head, I was a 24’10 long jumper waiting to have a breakout meet. That day never came though. I spent the next three years of my collegiate career battling injuries and underperformance. I even slipped into a depression because I wasn’t able to do the one thing I loved at the level I’d dreamed. I didn’t go past 23’2 again.
And as I remembered all this on Sunday, I realized there was no room for the doubt. It was an accomplishment to be getting through the reps at all. Then yesterday I had a breakthrough workout. I was able to do a series of accelerations and semi-sprints that I haven’t felt comfortable doing in years. And to make it even better, I was running faster than I expected. For the first time since the last time I threw my spikes in the trunk, I felt confident about my chances to make it back.
Sure, I have a lot of weaknesses. But I also have the experience in college to remind me what happens if I don’t pay attention to the details and take care of every aspect of my health. And it’s the acknowledgement of those weaknesses in the past that are proving to be my strengths today. I’m a seasoned athlete that’s had an extended period of rest. And as we sports fans know, it’s experience that wins championships.
I may not beast through those lifts the way I did as a freshman, but all the exercises I neglected then will be a priority now. In a year, I will be in the best all around shape of my life. And who knows. I may even record the best jump of my life. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic. But when you’re confident (and experienced), anything is possible. My best days are ahead of me.
I can’t wait to fly,