Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How to be a hero...

he-ro [heer-oh] noun, plural -roes;
a [person] of distinguished courage or ability, admired
for his [or her] brave deeds and noble qualities.

Who are your heroes? Why? What is it that you most admire about these people?

I have a lot of heroes. My parents. My kids. My high school coaches/mentors. My young neighbour, Melanie McPherson, who was born with cerebral palsy but at 20 finished a triathlon, plays hockey and learned to fly a glider in Air Cadets. My heroes also include friends, new and old, who go after their dreams and really live their lives on their own terms. Each one is someone like whom I strive to be in some way.

Many of my heroes are up to indisputably incredible things!

  • Ray Zahab is running across South America in February, averaging almost 100km per day as he goes from ocean to ocean. (Ray told me today that he will only run 80km/day the first few days, as they will be ascending in the Andes Mountains!)
  • Jason Jaksetic is wrapping up 2011 by competing in EpicMan - a TRIPLE Ironman triathlon in Hawaii (there are only ten athletes even willing to start this race). I spoke with Jason yesterday from Honolulu and he said he is looking forward to being wholly absorbed in the experience of the race. A consummate poet/athlete he describes it in his blog this way ... "The triple ironman will be the unfolding of myriad nows."
  • Joe Decker repeated as Spartan Death Race Champion in June, showcasing the attributes that had Guinness Records recognize him as World's Fittest Man. Joe also runs the top boot-camp fitness programs in San Diego and is enormously generous with his time and expertise.

It is easy to put people like this on a pedestal. "THEY live UP THERE, and I will admire them from DOWN HERE." There is a trap in deifying your heroes - allowing yourself to believe that you are not also capable of such extraordinary adventures and accomplishments.

Here is the thing... Ray, Jason and Joe were not always "heroes". While all three are now the nicest, coolest, most inspiring people, they were once, by their own account, anything but. 
Not long ago, Ray was an overweight, hard drinking, pack-a-day smoker. On New Year's Day 2000, he looked at what his future held and decided to turn things around.
2000 was also the year that Joe Decker claimed his Guinness title, but only a few years before that he was floundering in his late twenties, strung out on cocaine and contemplating suicide.
Seven years ago, not only was Jason not an elite athlete - he describes himself as having been a complete couch potato, depressed and wondering where to even begin. Jason very generously shares his own ups and downs in the wonderful blog "Heavy Into Overwhelming".

What these three have in common, not just with one another but with every single person who has achieved big things, is that they chose to become heroes in their own story, and got down to the business of doing so. As can you!

So, have you? Or are you still outsourcing that position to others?

You don't have to be born with a silver spoon to succeed. And you don't have to drag yourself from the gutters to become an inspiration to others. Start wherever you are with whatever you've got. Pick something that you "wish" you could do - that you've admired others for doing - and just start doing it.

The amazing thing is how much more you will end up doing than you had even imagined! When Ray went for his first jog, he likely didn't see himself running across the Sahara Desert in a documentary produced and narrated by Matt Damon. Joe's first trips to the gym to clean himself up were certainly not with world records in mind. And Jason would probably never have left the couch if he thought it meant ultimately having to swim more than 7 miles, then bike 336 miles and finally run 78.6 miles, for almost 60 straight hours.

In my case, I arbitrarily decided to run a marathon in the fall of 2009 just so I could say I had done it (mostly as catharsis for a draining, challenging, humbling last three years). With no training... in shoes that were 15 years old... having not raced since Grade 9 X-Country, nor even jogged since university in the late 80's... I finished. Not fast. Not pretty. But I finished.

The next summer I ran a Spartan Race - a 5km obstacle race at Mont Tremblant, Quebec - with some friends for a laugh. This time I had six months of Crossfit training under my belt and finished in the Top 10%. Not bad for an old guy. Then a few months later ran a second marathon, shaving 45 minutes off my time. In the afterglow of this I made a huge leap of faith, signing up for The Spartan Death Race, knowing full well that many athletes vastly superior to me failed to finish every year. In order to finish The Death Race, I would need to become my own hero.

This blog was actually born of that decision, and pretty thoroughly chronicles the training in the six months leading up to this June's race. As you know, I ended up finishing. One of only 35 out of the 155 who started this 45 hour epic trial (and 255 who registered). Then, before that could swell my head too big, I registered for a 100 mile ultramarathon less than 3 months later and DNF'd (dropping out about 40 miles in). Then bounced back to finish my third straight Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October.

And a funny thing happened along the way. Suddenly I was other people's "hero" too! From my niece to complete strangers. I received messages almost daily from folks telling me that I inspired them to set bigger goals for themselves. I made a new friend from Texas who had been following this blog and decided to compete in Death Race 2012. Even just today I opened an email from another aspiring Death Racer thanking me for my inspiration and asking for tips and advice. From me :) Who would have guessed that two years ago?

Along the way, a friend introduced me to an extraordinary writer/trainer named Nate Green. Nate's philosophy, and the name of his blog, is "Become Your Own Hero". He even offers a free Hero Handbook! And he walks the walk. A smart, funny, straight-shooting, humble but totally confident dude, he went from complete unknown to, at 26, being able to say "Penguin gave me a book deal (crazy, I know), and I've been featured in the LA Times, Men's Health, and Men's Fitness. Plus my mom thinks I’m cool. That's gotta count for something." Nate's example and his work have made a big impression on me.

Recently I have been hired several times to speak about my Death Race experience. I am always asked the question "Will you ever do it again?". And the answer is "Of course! I am already signed up for 2012."

That is the huge bonus in becoming a "hero" - you start to think and act like one!! Not only am I reprising my Death Race participation in June 2012, I already have a rather heroic racing schedule laid out for the whole year ...
Death Race, Winter Death Race, 100 Mile Ultramarathon50 Mile Ultramarathon, 4 marathons, 3 overnight Adventure Races, GoRuckChallenge in Iowa, my first Triathlon, Spartan Race, Spartan Beast, Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder, World's Toughest Mudder, several 5&10km races, and a Rim2Rim2Rim Double Crossing of the Grand Canyon... so far.

In addition to keeping me busy, this will also keep me consistently in the presence of people who inspire me and push me to do more. I know that 2012 will include soaring successes and dismal DNF's. And I will keep this wonderful quote in mind all the way along ...
"A hero has faced it all: he need not be undefeated, but he must be undaunted."

This picture was recently shared on Facebook by another hero of mine. 
She is a long-time friend who, this summer, was ambushed and brutally
assaulted late one night as she left work. Despite almost being killed,
she recovered through the autumn and was recently able to identify her 
assailant who was arrested and charged with the senseless crime.
Her courage, grace and dignity inspire me and remind me that we truly
can rise above anything and be our own heroes.

Here is one more amazing example of starting where you are with what you have and becoming a hero ... I will continue striving to be an athlete, father, human like this ...

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