There are things about the challenges and training I do that everyone sees. The photos from the far-flung places I’ve been. My name on the “You did it” board at the gym. The black belt. The stack of finishers medals and T shirts.
But there is so much more that no one sees.
No one sees the man hobbling up a hill on blistered feet, running numbers of the distance left to go and the time left before he will be pulled from the course, and giving all he’s got to hobble just a bit faster. Feeling a blister break open and having to fight to keep from bawling like a child.
No one hears the quiet prayers, half whispered and half cried, begging for just a little more strength. Just another mile. Just another hundred yards.
Another step. One goddamned step.
The pain, the self-doubt. All the times of looking like a fop in front of teachers whose approval matters to you. The re-injuries from some newbie at a seminar who couldn’t remember you were already injured. The countless hours trying to figure out details that everyone else seems to get without a second thought.
But there is another side that no one who has not been through these things will ever see. Mixed in with the pain and disappointment, there are moments of the most extraordinary kindness.
The aide station worker who, with a smile and a kind word, hands you a cup of soup, while the look in her eyes clearly says, “You look like hell.”
The bystanders who cheer the loudest for the poor souls who can barely keep moving.
The training partner who sees you screw up the technique for the thousandth time, but gives you the chance to work on it again and figure it out.
The teacher who will spend an extra 10 minutes working with a white belt, even if they doubt he will ever amount to anything.
The racer next to you who checks in and offers a word of encouragement as he passes, helps you over a wall, gives up his own finishing time in order to stay with you and make certain you can make it through.
Those who finish a grueling event, and then turn right around to go find teammates who are still on the course.
The further I go into more difficult challenges, the more I see what mankind is capable of. What we will do for each other, what we can be at our best. The darker the situation, the brighter the spark of humanity seems to shine.
A long time ago, one of my teachers told me that the more he trained, the more he was able to become truly human. I think I am finally beginning to see what he was saying.