Someone once asked me what I thought was the one marker of a successful person: I answered with “the ability to pivot.” To adapt on the fly, to cast aside things that aren’t working if need be, and to reinvent yourself.
The last thing I expected as a result of the Spartan Race World Championship was a shattered pinky and surgery two days later to insert plates and screws. I remember being oddly calm in the urgent care room in Truckee, because “it’s just a pinky – this is dumb,” I thought, and “at least I can still run”. I remember my mood starting to change when the urgent care doc looked at the x-rays and said I needed to see a surgeon ASAP, and further crumble when the surgeon gave me the verdict – full weight bearing on the hand (i.e., hanging from a bar, doing pull-ups, etc) would be 3 months. Um…come again?
And I remember the exact moment where I went “oh shit. World’s Toughest Mudder” … the event that started it all for me, the one event unlike any other, was a month post-surgery. This entire season, I’d always had it in my sights: because I had to miss it last year, and because of my history with it, it had always (quietly) been my “A” race this year. And I was going into it with the lofty goal of being the first woman to break the 100-mile mark at the race.
Sitting there in the urgent care room in Truckee, I called my friend Caroline and sobbed “I can’t miss this race two years in a row…I CAN’T.”
Her very astute and simple response: “Why can’t you?”
“Because I’ve never missed it two years in a row. Because I sat on the sidelines last year vowing that I would avenge and hit 100 miles next year. Because the last time I missed the race I came back and won it the next two years and it was this triumphant comeback and that’s what I wanted to do again.” And then I cried some more.
“Amelia, I love you,” she said, “but you HAVE to stop living in the past.”
Perhaps a bit harsh, you might think, but it was exactly what I needed to hear (what are best friends for, right?). Because in that simple question, she nailed it. I sat there wondering why I was having such a hard time with the loss of WTM this year, when you would have thought I would have become a pro at learning to deal with sitting on the sidelines by now.
This one stung because I had already written the script in my head: in 2013, I sat out WTM because of injury. And in 2014, I came back to win. So I necessarily thought “ok, Amelia, you sat out in 2016 due to injury, so in 2017, you will triumphantly return like you did previously.” Despite promising myself I wouldn’t do it, I was attempting to recreate the past. I was trying to live up to past versions of myself, of repeating past accomplishments. Somewhere, I created a story that 2017 should be my year to avenge sitting out 2016, and suddenly I felt like a failure because I couldn’t repeat that script that I had so carefully crafted for myself.
But it’s just that – a script. A story. A construct I’ve created in my head that THIS is how my story should look, and THIS is how life should play out.
Newsflash: apparently I don’t control the universe.
So, once again, I’m giving myself permission to write a new story, to rewrite the script in my head. Just because I’ve never sat out WTM for more than one year in a row doesn’t mean I can’t. Just because I swore up and down last year that I’d be back for WTM 2017 doesn’t mean I’m a failure if I’m not. Frankly, holding onto past expectations only serves to blind us from opportunities that may open up elsewhere.
Dealing with injury and setbacks is a natural part of being an athlete, and sure, I’ve had my licks. What’s morphed over these past two years is how I choose to view it. As much as I mourn this loss, I’m also relishing the alternate path that’s opened up as a result. Yes, I can’t compete in obstacle races right now. Fortunately (KNOCK ON WOOD NO JINX), my legs still work. Ever since I went down with the case of the femurs, I’ve made it quite clear that there’s an itch I have to scratch – the glorious, beautiful, ultra running itch, and the many gnarly races that go along with that (cough, maybe a go at re-qualifying for Western States?). So while I may be giving up one goal (i.e., 100 miles at WTM), it’s making room for a different one. While it may feel like a loss, I’m choosing to frame it as a shift.
And the thrill of new challenges is where I thrive. It’s what brought me into obstacle racing, it’s what lead me to sign up for the first World’s Toughest Mudder in 2011, it’s what kept me awake and kicking in the woods for 3+ days during multiple Death Races. That thrill has led me down this crazy path I’ve come to call life these past 7 years. I faced down in the unknown in the obstacle racing world, and I’ve done pretty well. Maybe it’s time to go explore something at which I could fail miserably: as much as that scares me, it’s also what intrigues me.
As humans, I think it’s natural to look for signs in life to gain a sense of direction when lost. Perhaps the shattered pinky was the involuntary nudge I needed to shift goals for a bit – to have the courage to explore something new. For as much as I’ve preached the value of being able to pivot in life, it’s time I apply to that to my own for a bit.
Transition periods are a scary, nebulous time, because they are inevitably tied to a feeling of loss. We believe that if we are moving away from something, we are giving it up. We see letting go as a sign of failure. In reality, we should see transition as a sign of opportunity, and a mechanism of growth. By holding on to something when it’s not serving us, we remain stagnant. And by letting one thing go (even if temporarily), we are making room for something else. We are embracing the unknown, and growing as a result for opening ourselves to those possibilities.
Obstacle racing will always be there, and I’m not going anywhere (sorry folks, can’t get rid of me!). WTM may have to wait, but my love for it still burns brightly. As Randy Pausch said, ” It’s not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you play the hand.” I’d take it a step further and say it’s also about how you REACT to that hand. So I’m taking these cards and pirouetting like a motherf*cker.
See you on the trails.
20 thoughts on “Rewriting the Script”
Thank you Amelia. I needed those wise words. Not injured (knock on wood) but recently uprooted from my last 3 years home and am struggling with making a new one in a new location. And I am, despite the struggle, taking advantage of what is here.
Those transition periods can be the hardest. It’s funny how many things in sport are applicable to life, and vice versa. Thanks for reading, and best to you!
“holding onto past expectations only serves to blind us from opportunities that may open up elsewhere.” …such an important lesson! Change can be so freeing, we just have to let it happen:)
<3 you, Kc!
“Pivot” I like that! So keep pirouetting, life’s an ultra not a sprint…
It’s not pivoting but successful pivoting that seems to be what you’re valuing. In your current case, I doubt you’d think the ability to adapt to your injury by focusing your effort on trail running would count as success if you don’t do trail running successfully (maybe not in terms of winning races, but certainly beating your own PRs, etc.). So it’s success in the new venture rather than simply the act of refocusing your efforts that’s the ultimate basis of your success.
That’s to say, I’m bummed to not get to see you gassed and gristly in the desert this weekend.
Interesting thoughts. Frankly, I don’t know if I’m going to be “successful” in ultras in terms of results, but I do absolutely enjoy the process of training. So when I enjoy the process, that’s what’s most important to me. Do I enjoy being good at something? Sure – don’t we all?
Thank you for these inspiring words Amelia. I’m going through an unplanned and unexpected transition period and I am slowly embracing the unknown. Yes it sucked, but I am excited for the new opportunities and darned ready to pivot into a stronger and better version of myself!
Thank you! You are so wise and your words help me as I navigate down the road of my latest injury and purse if I have more going on medically that is contributing to my never ending list of setbacks. I keep telling myself this is my time to take another road to my goal! Stay strong!
Great read Amelia. This injury thing is just a test. You’re tough, smart and will turn this into something that works for you.
“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.”
Great words Amelia! I seem to face the same kinds of things quite often – every time I get prepared to PR or do better on an upcoming race some injury happens or an old one resurfaces. That’s caused me to have to refocus or pivot (as you put it) and be happy with a different outcome. Ultimately I end up pushing harder for next year. Maybe that’s what’s causing the injuries – something in my head that knows I need to slow down or pull back?
I have always enjoyed reading the honest, vulnerable looks and insights you share with us about your life, sport, injury, and recovery. I want you to know how much you positively impact others by doing this.
After running 16 Spartan races competitively over the last 3 years and being in great physical shape, I got my first injury during the VT Ultra Beast. And it was a doozie – I completely ruptured my bicep tendon 5 miles into the 29 mile race. Fortunately, I could still do burpees (push worked, pull didn’t), so I was able to successfully complete the race with 450 burpees.
The repair surgery went well, but I’m still on the front end of the 6 month or more recovery period before being cleared. I’ve been dealing/struggling with many of the issues and feelings that you’ve written about. Although the injury is with my arm, I’m restricted from trail running due to the fall risk. I’ve just recently been cleared to run on the track (which I’ve never enjoyed), but still seems a long way from getting back to HIIT classes, weight lifting, and trail running.
Your posts have been very helpful to me as I try to adapt and adjust. Thank you for having the courage to be vulnerable. Your triumphs, setbacks, and overcoming those setbacks inspire more people than you can realize.
David – thanks so much for the comment, and for sharing. I’m sorry to hear of your injury, and I know that’s got to be frustrated. My doc originally told me I couldn’t trail run because of the fall risk as well. While annoying, I always try and tell myself to take a long term view. A few months in the grand scheme of life is a blip on the radar. Happy healing to you!
I also had to withdraw from WTM 2017. After months of intense training on an obstacle course built in my yard, my cyber-security desk-job ended and forced me to rethink my situation.
I said “F***” the man, and “pivoted” my life as Amelia states.
I am now pursuing an RN degree and looking forward to a bright future. Although it hurt to sell my entry ticket, I hope the best to Cassie Harris who bought it. Mud On Team!!
Amelia, I think it is doing what you love. Sure everyone needs goals and winning is one of them. But isn’t that more of a statistical outcome of doing what you love. Meaning you love trail racing and competition. Statistically folks place 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and so on. That is where the pivot occurs; when you learn that if only 1st mattered then what do you say to all the others that put so much effort in only to not achieve first place? Exactly. Each still achieved something. Focus on what you love which includes competition, which in itself is “interacting with others in a contest”. You are an inspiration to others just by your presence. I can safely say we all appreciate your being you; we will never forget your victories, both first place and in personal growth. #FansForever
Thanks for putting to words so eloquently, what happens in life. It would be so easy (although there wouldn’t be anything to write about), to quit and say “I’m getting older and my body is breaking down….that’s just the way it is”. But you have endless opportunities to reinvent what you’re doing and where you’re going. With what you’ve already accomplished and the “base” you already have built, you can be near the top of any new venture, right from the start. You’re skipping along the ridge top, approaching various mountains. Choose one (or not); you’re already incredibly high.
Thanks for sharing. I love reading your posts. I am new to OCR and find your accomplishments both on and off the course very inspirational.
I wish I had come across this post when I was going through my IT band injury when training. Reading this was like a blueprint for an athlete’s psychology when they’re forced into a state of recovery. That journey and inspirational trope is one of my favorite storylines in athletics, but it’s also the part that’s rarely talked about.
Everyone gets to see the highlight reel of Amelia Boone, but your candor in this post really shows why we should be as grateful for our accomplishments as we are with our climb out of the crucible.
I think the key takeaways here are twofold. First, I love the importance you highlighted of having a strong supporting cast around who will encourage you to keep pushing the envelope…but also whack you in the head with the humility stick whenever your own sense of invincibility tries to get the best of you. You had it with your friend Caroline as I’ve had it with my group of friends. The second is that for every setback, there’s a bounce-back. That grit is as much a character builder as it is a strength re-builder.
I see you from time to time running around Rancho San Antonio and also at GG Park. I’ll be sure to shoot you a hello next time. I’ll see you on the trails again (and in races) soon! Thanks Amelia.