Turning up and taking part was the most important thing for me.

“Who’s winning?” came the call from the grey-haired man at the end of driveway. “I am!” shouted the teenage me, between labored breaths. That moment ignited in me an inner-drive, strength and passionate push-through mentality I didn’t know I had. It gave me goosebumps then and it still gives me goosebumps almost 20 years later.

I have never possessed natural athletic ability; effortless running didn’t grace my gene pool. I didn’t pass my presidential fitness test with ease (I believe it took more than 3 years to get it) and I was never the star player, first string, or letter-jacket material. But, just because sports didn’t come easy to me, didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy them, I gave up on them, or decided “sport wasn’t for me.”

“I took on sports as a challenge, to prove the others wrong – to prove my self-doubt wrong, to believe in myself a little more.”

Maybe I took this position because when I was an impressionable pre-teen, the movie “Rudy” came out. The underdog was admirable, desirable, and attainable. My “Rudy” moment came in the 90s on a humid, sunny day in July, in Middle America (Wisconsin, to be exact).

I had joined the cross-country team and on one training run I had fallen behind the pack, but kept trucking along…the oppressive sun caused my SPF 50+ sunscreen to melt down my face and into my eyes. I was feeling hollow, borderline exhausted, and semi-deflated. I was alone, looking up to what seemed like an endless wavy road refracting in the heat.

The movie "Rudy" captured my imagination and fueled my inner cheerleader.

The movie “Rudy” captured my imagination and fueled my inner cheerleader.

Up ahead, the grey-haired man started to walk down his long driveway. Assuming he was headed to the mailbox, I thought nothing of it. As I approached (my feet had transformed into lead weights), I could hear him clapping. Instinctively, I looked around, but saw nothing or no one to clap at or for. Lightbulb moment: He was clapping for me. As I passed him, he called out, “Who’s winning?” I responded without second thought and between labored breaths, “I am!”

Somewhere within me, strength was discovered and energy unlocked, self-imposed barriers broke down, and anything was possible.

“I doubt that man thought anything of it at the time, but he gave a voice to my biggest fan, my biggest competition – myself.”

While I don’t run as often anymore, I still hear that voice when I am faced with challenges or when I am in need of perspective. It provides focus and clarity; it connects me to my past, my present, and my future…a mantra of sorts. It reminds me that anything is possible when I believe in myself.

Do you have a distinctive sports-related memory that you carry? A mantra that you repeat? Please share your memory/mantra in the comments below.


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by Livvy Napier 22.03.2016
Beautifully written piece Erin! You have such a way with words and love the witty sense of humour through-out. A sporting memory I still cling onto, is how a team anthem "Proud- by Heather Small" reduced me to tears... With the pressure of being the girls captain for this Cross Country National Finals, the lyrics "what have YOU done today to make you feel proud" completely moved me in that moment, and I still sometimes think about the lyrics today. It was pretty cool when this song was chosen as the national theme in the 2012 London Olympics :)