Why Running Is More Than Just a Sport to Me
adidas’ SVP Digital Growth, Stephen Dowling, shares how running helped him change the lives of others and his own
My story is simple. I grew up playing competitive Gaelic football with a team that felt like family; once out of Ireland, I chased that bond across other teams and countries but failed to do so because I was replicating the old. I started running to fill the hole. Unexpectedly, it taught me the value of running into the new. It has made me a better leader, mentor, partner, and friend. My name surely won’t be etched into record books, but six marathons later, here’s what running has etched into my heart.
Lesson 1: Play for a cause bigger than yourself
March 2021. The world was in lockdown. There were no races, no fundraisers and seemingly no fun. It also saw the first anniversary of my family losing one of our newborn twins, Nathan. It was during this time that I changed my focus – from me to we, and turning the loss of the past, to hope in the future.
Running 42.2 km alone in the wet and windy straights of The Hague and raising €20,000 for the Sophia for Children Foundation taught me that sport empowers us to go beyond ourselves and help others.
“I’d reached a point in life where I realized that the impact of lifting and supporting others can mean more than individual success.”
“Through sport, we have the power to change lives” had never felt more true, more real, more in front of my nose. In life, sport and work, it’s easy to do everything for yourself, ‘you miss every shot you don’t take’, but the reality is sometimes the team misses every shot you don’t take. I’d reached a point in life where I realized that the impact of lifting and supporting others can mean more than individual success. Do you enjoy opening presents, or do you enjoy watching the gleaming face of a loved one opening theirs?
Lesson 2: Your track is as broad as your mind allows
January 2022. Three adidas leaders and I spent six weeks in China on the ground to support our China business turnaround. I stepped into a situation that I’d never experienced in my life. Government policy required us to spend 23 days in a lockdown facility, which garnered a lot of sympathy from family and colleagues. Don’t get me wrong – fresh air would have felt nice but per lesson one, it gave me perspective on what true difficulty means so I wasn’t about to wallow in my confinement. So, I thought, no open window? No hallway access? No problem.
I decided that running 42.2 km in my room was the thing to do and I noticed that I felt lighter every step I took. Those steps empowered me to see possibilities instead of walls. Most laugh when I tell the tale, but I smile and remind myself to keep running through physical limitations and conventional constrictions. What difficult situation do you currently face in life? Whilst not ignoring the challenge, how could you turn it on its head and attack it. Tell the tale and lift others because you showed them that Impossible is Nothing.
Lesson 3: Teamwork wins championships
April 2023. Together with five other adidas colleagues, I took to the Boston Marathon start line. We started as a small training group and will end as friends for life. That might surprise you as it surprised me, because of the perception of running is a lonely sport. I thought that too, while out on the windy straights of The Hague and in that lockdown facility in China. But all of that changed when I met my Boston training crew.
That’s the power of shared experience and perseverance. In life and in business, you may forget a race or a presentation, but you’ll always remember those who had your back, helped you improve and fought with you. Those 42.2 km only further solidified the lesson that shared endeavors bond us forever. If you are pondering a push, a challenge, a change, a new sport, a proposal to your boss… I encourage you to kick the door down and do it. Flip impossible into possible.
You are the person, the friend, and the leader who will have said ‘why not?’ instead of ‘cannot’. You are the person who lifted others as you realized it’s more meaningful than lifting yourself. This is what running has taught me.
“Ni Bhionnm an rath ach mar a mbionn an smacht”Irish proverb for 'strength in unity’
PS: Shoutout to the Adizero Pro product team for the world’s best running shoes, helping average runners like me save precious minutes on the road.
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