Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Love Letter to Sparta: You'll Know at the Finish Line

On a cold, dark, wet morning in February of 2011, over a thousand miles from home, while horribly under-dressed and with a fractured foot in the mountain trails of Southern California, I raced my first Spartan Race. It became part of an experience that would ultimately change the course of my life dramatically.

I didn’t know the significance of that when I boarded the plane in Nebraska the night before or even that morning when the gun went off. Eight miles in the mountains and I was a Spartan, it was even captured on film. I was the "Single mom from Omaha, Nebraska." When I finished, I was exhilarated with the course and I didn't know in that moment that I was also about to take on the role of a lifetime as a Spartan Race employee. Call me Crazy
When I took the job at Spartan, everyone said I was crazy. It was crazy to join a new company with this "obstacle racing" events that were still considered "mud runs" for "weekend warriors." There couldn't possibly be a future in that. Spartan HQ was so unlike anything I had known - we were, and still are, a small shop with limited resources. Most of us are athletes, all of us are hard workers that believed in this idea that Spartan could change lives. And it does. I've seen it. It's undeniable.

Vermont Ultra Beast, 2013
After accepting Joe D's offer of branding and content in early 2011, my life became about plane rides and finish lines. But in between the frequent flier miles I racked up and the medals I put around the necks of those who crossed a Spartan finish line, I've made a lifetime of memories I'll never forget.

I’ve done Bikram yoga in a California and almost missed a flight out of Vermont after getting into a fender bender blocks from the airport. I got stuck in a blizzard in Massachusetts, navigated up a double black diamond slope in Pennsylvania, crawled through culverts in Staten Island, and climbed trees in Texas. I took on a Beast in Killington. I spent six hours stranded at a Park and Ride in Red Hooks, NY with two of my best friends.

I've seen the sunrise in 17 states in the last two years. From 2011 to now, I've also logged time in Vermont, Malibu, Temecula, Boston, New Hampshire, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, Massachusetts, Missouri, Glen Rose, Dallas, and Colorado. I've been coast to coast and gotten excellent at packing and sleeping anywhere - including the floor of a barn and on a rock at the top of a mountain under the stars. And this week will mark my last days at Spartan Race. It's overwhelming to say that out loud. It almost sounds impossible, considering all I've done and seen in the time I've been here. 

Vermont World Championships, 2013
When I started we had less than 30,000 FB fans and now we are well over 3 million. In 2011, we had 26 events and in 2013 will have over 65 worldwide races and nearly 750,000 people will cross one of our finish lines before the New Year. I could tell you enough to fill books about this company, stories of how the Beast was born while Joe was hiking with a few staffers in Vermont and how it took us four hours to pick the right shade of green for the first Beast medals in 2011. Our leader, Joe De Sena is the kind of man you'd go to war for. His brilliance with a slight shade of crazy has made this company great, special, and always thinking of the people who come to our races first. Everything has always been so organic and always with our racers in mind. Don't ever doubt how much love goes into the details, even as we've grown to such a huge size. When I tune into the NBC Sports special that will cover our most recent World Championship event, its amazing to consider how far we've come. I'm proud to have contributed to that in my own way. So, if that is all crazy, go ahead and call me crazy.

Thank You, Spartans This isn't about what I learned about me in the last two and a half years, its what I've learned from the Spartan community. It's about what I've been given in the process. I've stood for hours at finish lines watching the faces of those who would finish - from the first place finishers to the last, all crossing the same line and the transformation is immediate. The relief in their bodies, a relaxing in the face - sometimes in tears, sometimes a smile, often both. There is the physical acknowledgement and realization that they are, in fact, DONE. The medal goes around their neck and they all take a moment and stare at it's sheen - some with shock and disbelief, but all with pride of what has been earned on the course. You have all shown me what the best and brightest exists in all of us, that there is so much good, that there is still much to have high hopes about in this life.

Cookie Cook, (partner in content marketing crime)
There are too many stories I've told from this blog and other places to recount "favorites." You've all meant something to me. Something incredible and something that has left imprints on me that I will happily carry with me always.  From the elite athletes that breathed a new and competitive life to this sport, to those who have overcome personal obstacles... those of you running for a reason bigger than yourself, and those who are running for the first time - you've all made me better.  You've made Spartan better.  So many of you have become more than subjects of a story line, you've thankfully become my friends. That keeps me in excellent company and always expecting more of myself.

 My co-workers are the best in the world. I will miss you all deeply.  I've benefited from the hard work of the Spartan staff, the commitment to excellence, and a work ethic that would shame most.   I am not leaving your family, just the walls where we've shared sleepless nights and early mornings.  I never had a cup of coffee in my life until  I joined Spartan.  How is that for proof?  And as Joe told me last week, "You never really leave Spartan."

Nebraska Spartan Sprint, 2013
This is true. Many people don't know where our tagline, "You'll Know at the Finish Line" came from. It was something I wrote on a piece of paper in our old office in Boston after accepting my Spartan role and after doing a race myself.  It has been repeated back to me hundreds of time since we adopted it and its something that unites anyone who has done a race.  You can't explain it, it's just something you know once you've had the experience.

It couldn't have come more full circle than when I saw my two daughters, Taylor and Cate, cross the finish line in the Nebraska Kid's race this past weekend.  A race in my home state, a race I had asked for since I began so long ago was how my Spartan story ended.  And welcoming my girls to the Spartan finisher family of finishers, was a privilege.   It was a perfect send-off.  They knew at their finish line, they'd been a part of the story too.  They'd seen me travel to far off places and always return home with stories and muddy laundry.  Now, they could feel it for themselves.  It was one of the greatest gifts I could have given them. Their delighted faces were the greatest gifts they could have given back.

I look forward to the next chapter for me and my girls but am so, so, so very thankful to have such a prolific chapter of Spartan Race in my life story.  I've loved every moment of the ride, I've grown personally and professionally, found love, friendships, and will always be grateful to be part of such a motivating and inspiring community.  As a woman who regularly writes about 10,000 words a day, here are two that I can't say enough to everyone I've encountered along the way: THANK YOU.

[Originally posted on the Spartan blog.  Find the original HERE.]

Friday, September 13, 2013

Squeeze Twice

When my girls were learning to walk they would hold my hand for support. Their tiny hands in mine, I would tell them that if they were unsure, scared, or if they needed me, they just needed to "squeeze twice" and I'd know to pay attention. When they started a new school, a new activity, a scary doctor's appointment, anything, I'd tell them the same, "squeeze twice," no matter how many people are around and what is going on... because I'd know what they were feeling. It was how they could tell me that they needed me without having to say a word.

Today, I picked Cate up from school and she took my hand as we started up the hill to where I was parked. We chatted about her day, she told me about her field trip, and then suddenly I felt the unmistakable two squeezes in our grip. We both smiled in the same moment as it happened. We stopped walking, I leaned over, got close to her face, and whispered, "Yes?" and she said, "I'm okay, mom. That was for you. Just in case you needed me this time."

Squeeze twice.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

This Time. Every Time.

My girls have been helping with chores around the house and have really taken to their "jobs."  Taylor, 11, helps with the glass, vacuuming, and dusting while Cate, my six year old has been emptying the dishwasher, folding laundry, and putting it away.  She stacks the spoons backwards, and can't reach all the cupboards, so often we work together - her handing me the cups and bowls and me letting her stack the Tupperware.  With laundry, she very carefully tries to match up the edges of towels and fold the t-shirts just right, her eyes squinting and her tiny fingers taking their awkward time... though they are never quite folded properly. It's adorable.

While cleaning my kitchen this morning, I opened a drawer to get something and saw several towels all folded haphazardly and randomly stacked in the drawer. Nestled on top of one of the towels, totally out of place, was a mixing whisk.  I can imagine my little Cate setting it there with great care and deliberation after putting the towels away Friday.  I can see her smile as she does it.  Normally, I would smirk, roll my eyes a little, and put it back where it belongs, where she knows it belongs, but today it was different.  This time, my heart caught in my throat... I really missed her.  This weekend is a weekend my daughters are with their dad and so they've been gone for the last day and a half.

I'll never be fully used to weekends away from my daughters.  I always miss them and despite trying to keep busy, the hours just feel a little emptier without them.  This particular week and weekend have been rough, and their being gone stung even more.  And now, in my kitchen looking at this silly whisk, my little girl seemed so far away.

So often I'm worrying about the next thing, what happens after this thing, after this moment and I realize how much I can be missing that's right in front of me.  Worse than wanting something that has yet to happen is regretting something that has already passed.  That's a pain that cannot ever be fully overcome.  It lingers.

So, this time, I'm done waiting for what might be coming, what I want to happen, and I'll just be here.  I'll be in the now.  The lesson this time for me is about not withholding anymore... words,  embraces, or opportunities.  Don't leave the words unsaid.  Don't let the memory of fear of what has happened or what could happen keep you from living your now.  Don't let yourself stay in a dark place either, don't settle for something less than you deserve. Change things now. Right now.  This time.  There is no other.

When my girls come home I'll hug and kiss them, like I always do, but I may stay a little longer in the embrace, grateful for this moment with them.  I will fully feel their arms around my neck, the smell of their shampoo, and the sound of their giggles in my ear.  I'll close my eyes and let myself completely be theirs.  I'll keep living for the "this times" that are given to me.  Not because it might be the last time either, but because it's this time and this time is what we have and it will be over before we know it.  We are all a long string of "this times" that form the timeline of our life, the memories of our storied past, and the foundation for what lies ahead.  So don't let it slip by. This time is important every time.

[Writer's Note: This week a wonderful wife and mother from my community was taken far too soon from the people who love her. Her name was Andrea Kruger.  To donate to the Andrea Kruger Memorial fund drop a check made out to "Andrea Kruger Memorial Fund" at any Union Bank and Trust in Omaha/Lincoln, Nebraska. You may also transfer funds to the account by calling 800-297-2837.]