*sorry about the formatting issues. I can't get the spacing to work right today!
I went to high school with Adam Goucher. Back then, he was an all-star on the Doherty High School cross country team, although, more recently you might know him from the Olympics or Runner’s World Magazine. Or from the fact the he and his wife, Kara, make up the power couple of the running world. Recently, Ben from Bendoeslife.com has started doing some work with them and has posted a couple times about Adam and Kara. Every time I see them, I think about a day during my junior year of high school.
The coolest teacher at Doherty was (and still is from what I understand) Mr. Steve Gigliotti. My friends and I used to call him “Steve” behind his back, pretending that we were on a grown-up first name basis with him and that he returned even an ounce of our misguided high-school affections. Mr. G. taught Anatomy and Physiology, and he made it fun and interesting and piqued everyone’s interest in the human body. He wore Levi’s and Nikes and cracked jokes with us as if we were his friends instead of a bunch of kids. By the end of the year, I was pretty sure I was going to head to medical school at some point. (until, of course, I realized that I am horrible at math and was meant to work with words instead of blood and guts. A win-win epiphany for everyone involved.)
Mr. G. had us participate in many experiments, testing our bodies and seeing the effects on our physiology. For most of us, it was our first understanding about what caffeine, sugar, lack of sleep, and other bad habits most teenagers maintain as a part of their daily routines could be doing to us.
This day in particular, he was doing a lung function test. He divided us up by height which, to my chagrin, put me in a group with several lanky boys who also clocked in around 6 feet tall. We were to blow as hard as we could into a tube, and Mr. Gigliotti would measure our efforts with some sort of new-fangled medical device and we would all be in awe of the force of our breath.
We each took our turns blowing into the machine, and Adam Goucher and I handily out-breathed everyone in the class. What I wasn’t counting on, though, and apparently neither was he, was that my lung function was reading higher on the chart than Adam’s. I thought it was kind of funny, little old me having higher lung function that a state champion runner, but he didn’t. Already fiercely competitive at 17 years old, he asked that we be re-measured. I beat him again. Then he asked that our heights be re-measured asking, “Are you sure she isn’t taller than me?”
That ticked me right off, as any extra attention to my height always did.
Mr. Gigliotti measured our heights again in front of everyone and revealed that we were both exactly six feet tall. Even-Steven.
While it was really no big deal to me either way, and I actually hadn’t even considered it a contest, just a demonstration of the differences in various human bodies, Adam wanted to win. But he had lost, and he wasn’t used to it and didn’t want to settle for it. Plus, he’d lost to a girl. A semi-unathletic girl. While he was the standout on the cross country team, I was decidedly unrecognizable as a 5th lane on the swim team and the girl who occasionally got caught smoking on campus with my more rowdy friends. Later that year, I would drop off the team altogether in favor of being a full-time rebel. Not exactly superior lung function material. And certainly not someone who should be beating Adam Goucher. As Adam was asking to give it a third try, I was wondering, what’s the big deal?
I have spent the last four years trying to lose weight and become a runner, and it has occurred to me that I never really had a competitive streak before. I am the middle child, and very often settled for being average while one sister was the straight-A student body president and the other did some serious rebelling, more than enough from both sides to keep me out of the spotlight. I never felt a drive to win or improve or push for a new level until recently. I just wanted to blend in. My “what’s the big deal?” attitude earned me less physically in my first 30 years than I’ve achieved in the past four years spent trying to eliminate it from my life. It’s ok to make a big deal. Even as world’s slowest runner, it is ok to make a big deal out of trying and wanting to improve and one day maybe win something that involves my athletic ability instead of what I put on paper (an age group, an Athena group, a swimming race…something!) I’m beyond simply wanting to finish. I want to compete!
It has occurred to me that people like Adam Goucher might be born with that competitive ferocity, or at least develop it very early in life. And that drive, that will to win as much as possible even when it isn’t a real competition, is a force behind the success he and others like him have achieved. I have a girlfriend with a similar outlook. I think she has been a driven competitor her entire life, from kiddie track days to being a college soccer star, and it most certainly serves her well in her corporate job today. She has achieved a lot because of her will to win (although goof off during Girls’ Poker Night at your own risk). The people who aren’t born with it have to go find it if they want it. I want it. It might seem strange to want a completely new trait to your personality, but I really do.
So as I attack my last weeks of marathon training, I am going to try to channel my inner-Adam Goucher. Although we didn’t really know each other in school, I have that one memory of his drive to win, the drive that propelled him into the record books and the Olympics and Runner’s World Magazine. While I would love to be able to go back to high school and learn that lesson in real time, get my drive and spirit and will to win at age 17 instead of 34, I’m going to have to settle for the little-by-little approach I’ve been working on and try to borrow just a little bit of that Goucher spirit until I can come fully into my own.
And just in case, to Adam Goucher: My whole family has giant lungs. We’ve all had doctors mention it after chest x-rays or surgeries. It’s completely genetic. So don’t worry; it’s not you, it’s me.
Five half-marathons, four 5k races, three sprint triathlons, two 10k races, and one full marathon. All in one year, and all in memory of someone who never knew she was strong.