Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Jamal’s Five Words of Wisdom

This is the story of my very first interaction with Team in Training, and how one person’s encouragement and positive attitude helped me to believe I could do something that seemed nearly impossible at first.

I signed up for a Team in Training recruitment meeting in January, 2005. I didn’t know a lot about TNT, other than you would train for an endurance event while raising money to support the mission of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society: to cure blood cancers. As a two year lymphoma survivor, that mission resonated very well with me, and I wanted to fulfill a pledge I had made to myself in 2002. That promise was that I would do something, once healthy again, to help in the fight against cancer, to give something back for what I had so gratefully received.

I sat down at the meeting and started looking over the printed materials about the TNT Spring Season, and the words “Midnight Sun Marathon, Anchorage, Alaska” jumped out at me! Holy cow! I could sign up with TNT and do a marathon or a half marathon in Alaska in just a few months! My eyes got about as big as a grizzly bear’s paw! Then I kept reading: “minimum fund raising goal - $5,000.” My eyes got twice as big, and my heart sank. Five thousand dollars! How in the world could I possibly raise $5,000? I don’t know anyone with that kind of money.

I felt discouraged and apprehensive, but listened keenly to the presentation. There were other choices besides the Land of the Midnight Sun. The Country Music Marathon in Nashville required about $3,200, and the San Diego Marathon needed one to raise at about $3,900 as I recall. But they weren’t Alaska, and even so, both of those numbers were pretty intimidating in their own right.

Sarah from LLS gave a great talk and explained how everything worked, and then she played a short inspirational film about Team in Training. There were shots of people training together, and participating in various events, all upbeat and positive, making a difference! There were discussions with people who were running for those who had endured cancer, and for those who had lost their battle. In particular, these connected with me very well. I was so fortunate to be alive and to be attending this meeting. Near the end of the movie one the participants in the film stated something that has stuck with me all this time. She said “Do it! Do it! You won’t regret it!” “I so want to do this”, I thought, “but how? I can’t raise that kind of money!”

After the film, a big, enthusiastic guy named Jamal got up and introduced himself as a mentor and TNT participant. He looked more like a football player than a marathoner, but he was indeed a Team in Training marathoner. He talked about raising the money, how you just take it one day at a time, come up with a plan, work hard at it, and it happens. People are very generous for a good cause, he said. He talked about his boss donating $1,000 to his TNT campaign! Jamal was one of the most positive and enthusiastic people I have ever heard speak, and his attitude was infectious. But the bar still looked so impossibly high.

Afterwards, the various people from TNT circulated around the room, talking with the potential participants. Jamal came up to me, we introduced ourselves to each other, and he asked me if I had any questions. I said “TNT looks like a great program. I really want to do this! But I don’t see any way that I can raise $5,000.” Jamal looked at me and said just five words, five words that I think I will remember my entire life: “You can and you will!

I still wasn’t convinced, but those five words were the beginning of me believing that I could. I left the meeting and thought about little else for the next couple of days. I wavered back and forth. In the end, it came down to this: I wanted to do this, and if I didn’t, I would always regret not trying. Maybe I would not be successful, but I would never know unless I tried. I didn’t know how I was going to attain such a difficult challenge, but I believed that I could and would reach that goal somehow. I decided that if I was going to put forth all this effort, I was going to go for it all the way! It was going to be for Alaska, and it was going to be the full, not the half, marathon! If I didn’t try this, perhaps I was leaving $5,000 on the table that I could have collected for cancer research. If I tried, truly gave it my best shot but failed, at least I would have tried, and then I would know that is was something I wasn’t that good at. I thought about a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that I really like: “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

I signed up, set my goal at $200 a mile ($5,240) and started marathon training and fund-raising. Within five weeks, I surpassed the $5,000 minimum I needed, the amount that seemed so impossibly daunting at that meeting. I realized that I had set my sights too low and doubled my goal to $10,480, and ended up surpassing that by a little bit as well. And on June 18, 2005, maybe the proudest day of my life, I completed the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska. Now I was not just a cancer survivor, but a marathoner as well, plus a successful fundraiser for a great cause!

Jamal’s five little words of wisdom helped to convince me that I could do it. You almost always cannot succeed without positive thinking. I can’t think of anything more positive than to say “I can and I will!”

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