I was five years old and in Grade One at Nundah State School when I first worked out that I was an embarrassment to myself. Last week I completed the Ultra-Trail Australia 22 kilometre trail. Something I never believed I was capable of.
There’s even a before photograph. I am standing proud as punch in my little Sports Carnival outfit on the school oval, waiting for my race.
By the end of that race, I had learned the first humiliation of a very distant last place that was to follow me through my primary school years. Of course, this was the late 70s and 80s and it was inevitable I was going to have to participate in all the physical education programs.
When my PE teacher physically threw me over the high jump bar in frustration at my inability to sail over it, I tried not to hear the laughter of my classmates.
When I was last to be picked for every sports team, I kept my chin up and vowed to work harder in class. When another teacher told me he couldn’t understand how I could be related to my athletic sister and be so uncoordinated, I shrugged.
And I stopped trying.
I was relieved when I developed a problem with my knees and received the Doctor’s blessing to sit on the sideline in my high school years.
I happily stayed on the sideline for years… Until someone told me I didn’t need to be there.
For a few years, I worked with a coach, Sean Richardson, sports psychologist, an elite level athlete himself and an expert in the psychology of excellence with a PhD to prove it.
It was the excellence I was wanting to tap into in my role at the time – not sports related at all. In the way of conversations, though, one day I mentioned how uncoordinated I was and a complete write off when it comes to all things sporty, particularly running.
Sean stopped me mid-conversation. He told me that I may not be the most naturally athletic but that the bulk of performance improvements come not from natural ability but from practice. Over and over and over again. Sean said that with practice, there was no reason I couldn’t improve and tackle physical challenges if I wanted to.
It was an interesting thought. I didn’t question Sean was correct on the science – after all, this was his bag and he is a Doctor in the field.
So, that just left the other part … who was I going to listen to?
All those voices from my childhood who told me I was no good?
My own voice that told me I was no good?
Or Sean, the expert? Who told me I had the potential to be better?
It is always the people who point out our potential that make the biggest difference to our lives.
That was how I came to study law – because my teacher, Peter Richards, told me I had the potential to be a barrister.
That was how I came to ride a bicycle years later in Thailand for 800 kilometres – because my friend, Peter Baines, told me I could. Reminded me that it was just a choice really.
I am so glad I let Sean’s words sink in.
That potential was what I took to a personal trainer, Leanne, who started building my strength.
That potential was what I tapped into when I trained to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc.
And it has been that potential that saw me recently join the Her Trails program to learn how to run trails under the tutelage of Ultra athlete, Samantha Gash.
I still hear that voice in my head who reminds me I am no good at this.
When I am running down the Goat Track, where I live, and a car approaches on the dirt track from the opposite direction, I still hear that voice in my head: “You are uncoordinated, this is embarrassing and they can see you.”
But now as quick as she speaks up, I reply: “Yep, maybe I am not the most coordinated runner. But you know what, I am here and I am running …. And that counts for more than sitting in that car. This is what I do now.” And I run on.
I’ve learned the value of acknowledging and then realising my own potential.
I have made sure I added more good voices to the mix: a group of supportive friends and family who encourage me on.
Last weekend, I headed down to the Blue Mountains and participated in the Ultra-Trail Australia event, walking 22 kilometres of trails with two of my dearest friends – who always remind me of my potential.
And not once on that event did my voice tell me I shouldn’t be there. I was there. And I loved it.
Maybe you have had a voice that has chattered to you too … telling you what you can’t do. Maybe you need another voice to trust until you can trust your own.
So, trust mine.
Those voices, those experiences from years gone by … they are just that, gone by.
You have potential, so much potential.
Time to start tapping into it and see where the adventures of life take you.
The views, they are amazing!
Next year, I turn 50 so I have decided I will do the next level Ultra-Trail Australia event to mark that celebration … 50 kilometres for 50 years.
That 5 year old girl who thought she could at the start of that race, it turns out she was right after all.