When things don't go exactly as planned, or at least as I'd hoped, it is easy to question my decision to pursue a career that is wrought with inevitable failures. It's impossible to be successful every single time you race. Plain and simple.
The logical and optimistic side of my brain reminds me that as long as I keep trying, that heartbreak will be intermixed with bursts of absolute joy that always last a lot longer than the current lump in my throat. In fact I have plenty of joyful memories I doubt I could ever forget from this crazy sport of track and field.
The hurt and frustrated side of my brain, however, asks if it's really worth it. Why invest so much time, energy, and my heart into something that has such variable returns? I came to this US Championships in Eugene, Oregon with a mission to make a final. I had a time under my belt this season that told me it was possible, I narrowly missed a similar fall to the one that took me down and out of contention last year in the preliminary round of the 800m...everything seemed to be coming together. And then I blow it. I finished 5th in the semifinal- a race that only takes 4 people to the final round.
Now I am flying home, while the women I was hoping to race in the US Championships Final are busy preparing for what will undoubtedly be an amazing race.
When I look at it this way, my mind clouded by such recent disappointment, I beg God to tell me what He wants from me- is this all part of His plan? Or maybe His intent was for me to be in that final today. He told me to be strong and courageous...maybe it was me who didn't follow through.
In the midst of this I wonder if it is really worth it. Especially when it also comes at the cost of traveling away from home for several weekends, sometimes weeks, and the occasional month at a time throughout the year. Call me a homebody, but I do get homesick- even when I am visiting exotic locations all around the world. I'd argue if you had a home life as overwhelmingly wonderful as mine, you'd miss it too. It's not just the day-to-day routine of home that I miss, mind you. It's the big things I can't just "catch up on" later. After I fly out again this Wednesday for a three-week European racing trip, for example, I will miss good 'ol American fireworks on the fourth of July for the second year in a row, I won't attend bachelorette parties for three great friends, two weddings will come and go, and I won't be there to witness Ben's three-peat championship at the Afton 25k trail race (go get 'em Benny!)
Even as I was wallowing over these things I cannot change, I am amazed at how quickly God reminds me to count my blessings, and then pours blessing upon blessing on me just to make his point clear. My day started this morning at 4:21am (I never set my alarm for even minutes...something Ben got me accustomed to). I quickly got dressed and zipped up my suitcase and went out into the crisp Eugene morning to wait for my teammate, Gabe and her boyfriend Justin to come from her hotel to pick me up on their way to the Portland airport (about a 2.5 hour drive). Though it wasn't ideal for me to leave so early (my flight wasn't booked until 2:30pm, Gabe's was at 8:10am) I was grateful for the ride. Around 5:05am, I am still waiting, and getting worried. Gabe calls me, and says her GPS isn't working, the timing is tight, and she is worried she'll miss her flight if she keeps looking for my hotel. For a minute it looked like I was going to have to find a different way to get to Portland, and I was awake much earlier than I'd ever needed to be.
By some stroke of luck, they gave it one more try, the directions worked, and they found me! We ended up making good time on the road, and got to experience a bright sunrise over the beautifully lush countryside of Oregon on the way.
Gabe had no trouble checking in to her flight, and I requested a last-minute switch to the same flight, rather than having to wait another 7 hours for my own flight. The clerk told me it was my lucky day, there was just one seat left on the plane. When I was called to the gate desk, the clerk handed me my seat assignment: 6A...first class. What are the odds?
And then, definitely the highlight of my morning, I was making my way down the walkway to board the plane when a man called my name from behind. He was the proud dad of a young woman named Hannah, who just graduated from Hopkins High School. She had been in Eugene for the Junior USA Championships. They told me how she had seen my 600m race video, and was a big fan of mine. She had a successful weekend, running a new PR of 2:11 in the 800m, and will certainly have a bright future at Harvard. The look of admiration in her eyes as she asked for my autograph reminded me right then and there of the big reason I love having this sometimes burdensome, but wonderful gift. It doesn't just affect my life. The good days I have on the track can reach multitudes. It can inspire and encourage others. It can serve as a little window for people to see the incredible power and grace of God.
Even if I don't make a final, I am perfectly loved and unconditionally accepted. I am forever on His team, clothed in His uniform, and representing something much greater than myself. There is no sacrifice I could make to ever match the endless gifts He provides for me. All I can do is continue to offer up my best, and cling to that logical and optimistic side of my brain that says YES, this is worth it. YES, I would miss this is if I gave up now. And YES, I still believe I am on the brink of a breakthrough. Like a dam about to burst, I will break free of my doubts, and rush across this earth, hopefully seeping in and leaving a positive, enriching little puddle as I go. ;)