Stop, Reset, Go: From Derailment to Increased Resolve

I was sitting on a bench with a talented, handsome man, the September sky a gorgeous contrast of piercing, brilliant blue with a few white clouds. Graceful trees traced the banks of the Potomac River. A bald eagle glided in gentle turns above the Arlington Memorial Bridge while the bridge’s arches framed the water passing through them.

I had not slept much the night before in anticipation of this meeting. What had led me here? Derailment.

Last November, while running, I had turned to the group to ask if the pace was too fast. The path was damp from rain, sprinkled with slippery leaves. Yes, it’s true–I was looking behind me and I was running. Down I went, turning my ankle hard. Three months later a non-running friend told me to get to an orthopedist. My “sprain” was a fracture–my first broken bone! I was relieved to have a diagnosis for this injury that wouldn’t heal, and I was angry. Angry that I had not known to get a diagnostic before. Angry and discouraged about all the time lost with many more months of no running ahead.

The good thing about derailments is that we have a choice. We can dwell on them, or we can leverage them by getting even clearer about what we want and tapping into our strengthened commitment (see “Stumbling Block to Stepping Stone” [July and August 2005] and “Honor Your Dragons” [April 2006]). I dwelled for awhile in varying degrees.

And yet, I still managed to take productive action. I discovered long-distance trail running. Volunteering for several events held in nearby mountain ranges allowed me to meet a community I look forward to joining. I recognized that, as a new runner, I had a knowledge gap about self-care, physiology, and running (who would have guessed that a book titled Fixing Your Feet would be a page turner!). I hired a functional trainer to help me develop my strength, balance, and agility and to help me learn how to work with my body’s signals. On my regular trips to New York City, early mornings at Central Park became a whole new experience–one where I savor observing the extraordinary diversity of people and running styles.

Continuing on my mission to leverage this setback rather than dwell on it, I asked a seasoned running coach for a consult. Only after the coach agreed to speak with me did I make some important discoveries. Not only did he coach elite runners–he was also a two-time Olympian and had won a gold in the Pan-American Games, beaten one of Prefontaine’s records, and set American and NY State records. He is the head coach of American University’s cross country and track program, and coaches Olympians.

With these discoveries I had the proverbial “Holy cow!” moment. How could I dare to take the time of someone of his caliber? It took a little self-help and a little from friends but I dared. It felt like I had an appointment with a god.

And there I was, seated beside him on that gorgeous September day.

Time (which always seems to be flying) became spacious, plentiful, and supportive. Everything that had gone before now had its place. Everything now was perfect. I wasn’t hurrying or in a hurry, even while discussing an exciting vision for the future. He focused our discussion on two things: attitude and overall strategy. If you can imagine floating on air while being grounded, that was my experience. Weeks later, the feeling remains and a new horizon expands before me.

Am I grateful to this accomplished person who generously offered the benefit of his time and experience to someone he did not know? A resounding “yes.” Am I grateful for the derailment? When I am not figuratively looking behind me at how things “should have been” while trying to move forward (I learned the folly in literally doing that!) or impatient with the recovery process, a solid “yes.” Am I grateful for the capacity to move from dwelling to a more productive stance? Yes.

This resilience is something we all have. But sometimes, it takes a flat-out cessation of forward movement to reach inside and tap it. May your derailments lead to new, engaging trails.

U.S. Library of Congress ISSN 2164-7240

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