At 5am, it was pretty cold yesterday and as I banged out 8 miles with my breath blowing out healthy little clouds and my feet smacking out a lonely beat on the pavement, I took no small pleasure in singing my own praises. What a champ I was to be out there, no one else around, mornings like these are what separate winners from also rans on race day.
The glow of the morning ego stroke kept me fueled throughout most of the day. As I met with coworkers, sat in a meeting, I couldn’t help rewinding that run and reveling in the satisfaction of having gotten out of bed and worked when it would have been so easy to just roll over and sleep for another couple of hours. There’s no use mincing words, I felt superior for having done so.
But grandiosity is usually a fleeting state of mind for me. Though I’m enough of an ass to regularly dip into it, I’m also aware enough to quickly see the folly of my assessments. Sure, I can get on a high horse when it comes to fitness but I can also beat myself up pretty good on a whole host of issues and defects that are glaring, immature and demonstrative of a retarded development as an adult.
However, what shook me out of my self-beatification yesterday was in no part due to a sudden internal revelation. It came about through seeing an event so stunning that I was shaken to my core.
Having come home early from work, my kids were adamant about getting in a “fun out” session (please see earlier post “Pardon the Interruption” for explanation). With no real desire to catch up on the work that I had decided to do on the drive home, I caved to their request and drew up a quick plan with their input. We all decided to focus on abs and legs but because it was “Push-up Tuesday” we thought we’d get things started with a quick set of the quintessential fitness test.
Last year, “fun out” inspired a floorwide phenomenon at my workplace. Coming back to Stamford after watching Drew push out fifty six reps on a Sunday afternoon, I was curious as to how my seven year old’s ability stacked up to my young co-workers. Of my twentysomething officemate, I asked to see what he could do. He delivered a total just north of forty. Though I’m sure my work friend was a little put off by the request, it started a weekly program of dozens of people coming by my office every Tuesday to bang out as many push-ups as they could. Every Tueday night, I would call home and let the kids (Drew especially) know how everyone had done.
So, up in my office yesterday, I told Drew that my co-workers and I had each done our max. Though some of us had been there before, I could see a certain light go off in Drew when he heard that none of us had come close to the century mark.
Fiona went first. With a flat back, a deep drop and slow measured pace, she delivered fifteen quality reps. Without question, this was the best performance she’d ever come up with.
Then it was Drew’s turn. Lately, we had not spent much time on traditional push-ups. I had taken some pleasure in making things a little harder for him in his favorite exercise. He had to do them with his feet above his head, I made him do them with his feet on a ball, he had to do them on push-up stands, just about anything to get him to stop focusing on a total number and think about form.
Yesterday, he was given free reign to do them in the familiar way and he started out like a steam engine slowly building in energy until he reached a furious, piston-pumping pace that didn’t slow until the mid sixties. I was driving him hard, making him keep his head up and his butt down. I didn’t think there was much of a chance he’d get out of the sixties and when he paused right before seventy and adjusted his hands I thought I could feel the end coming. But he continued.
He continued with occasional, tortured breaks through 100 reps. Some were a little ugly but the vast majority were picture perfect. By the end, I could see the muscles in his back popping through his shirt and could feel the strain of the work vibrating through his young arms. Not once did I encourage him to hit a number or keep going. All I said over and over again was “good job.” I don’t think he needed to hear it.
Finished, he looked up at me with the joy of a job well done, a difficult challenge met and the goal achieved. “I wanted to get to a hundred” he said, “I wasn’t going to stop.” He was breathing hard, smiling broadly and ready to get on to the next exercise. Though, he did pause long enough to ask for assurance that I would tell Mom of his exploits at dinner.
Sure, I’d enjoyed the satisfaction of my early morning run but it was nothing compared to what this eight year old had just accomplished. Seeing his effort reminded me that no matter how hard I think I’d worked or tried, there was always going to be someone else out there that could probably give a little more, go a little harder. Rather than accept this as a reasonable excuse for giving up, I thought how important it was to keep going.
We are all ultimately tied to our American history that takes so much of its identity from the storied frontier that our ancestors constantly pressed against. On the border between the known and the unknown, they carved out an ethos of constant forward movement. Over the centuries, we’ve lost this to some degree but I can feel reverberations of the frontier mentality in what we do with sport and physical fitness. As long as there’s some place we want to get to, as long as we ask more of ourselves than we’ve ever delivered before then we are in part carrying on the tiniest slice of that frontier legacy.
My son is a pioneer, so is my daughter. It’s a privilege trying to keep up with them.