When I was trapped in a soul numbing relationship with drugs and alcohol, I had the good fortune to one day walk into a room full of people that had once suffered like me. But they were sober, for the most part happy and entirely ready to show me how to get myself in a similar condition. Walking into that room was the single most formative experience in my life, it changed everything.
The wild times made me feel a great many things but none greater than the feeling of being alone. I could be at the biggest party in the country, surrounded by friends, people that actually cared for me and still, I could not shake a frantic sense of isolation. So when I started turning things around, one of the first things I noticed in my new life was how important “community” was to living on the straight and narrow. Sure, there was a program I was supposed to follow, suggestions on how I should conduct myself but the heart of my new way of life was all about reaching out to other people both to ask for help and help them in return. That’s how things worked in this program, that’s how it worked for me and that’s what I try and work into as many aspects of my life as I can.
Since 2002, I’ve worked on four Olympics: two winter and two summer. I am an Olympic evangelist, I believe in the mission, I like to try and spread the spirit of the Games and I try and do that through the television I produce. But sometimes that’s not enough. My connection to my audience is distant. I see how many people watch in the ratings but I’m largely at a loss as to whether they are moved, inspired or challenged to take what they’ve seen on the screen and make it essential to their own lives, even in the smallest way. Sometimes, I need a closer connection to seeing the Olympic movement in action.
This summer, there was a group of races scheduled in Central Park called “The Media Challenge.” HBO, The New York Times, CBS and many others showed up to hammer out two trips around the lower loop of the park for a 3.5 mile jaunt. I meant to get to the earlier races but it didn’t work out. Instead, I ran in the second to last competition and was stunned to find myself grouped with a tiny number of my fellow NBCer’s. Where HBO and others showed up in strength (and in uniform), Peacock employees were scarce and sartorially disparate. We made a sad little group when we finished that race. Good efforts all around but a far cry from what the Olympic Network should be putting out there.
When I talked to my boss about this, he suggested I do something about it, send out an email and see if I could get some of my coworkers to sign up for the last race of the summer. I sent an email to my group and suggested that our relationship to the Games basically mandates that we take part in athletic pursuits. That’s what the movement is about, not just for Olympians but for everyone.
With a wary eye, I waited for replies. People can be sensitive about what they’re asked to do outside of work and I was sure there was someone that was going to be pissed about my call to action.
If there was, I never heard from them. Instead, my inbox filled up with runners and non-runners, people that wondered if they could make the distance, people that were ready to crush all comers and some people that couldn’t make the race but wanted to commit to doing something physical on race day as a sign of solidarity with the group.
It all made me feel pretty good. Even better when race day rolled around and our tiny group from the race before had swelled to over twenty.
We ran on a gorgeous summer night. The course hit some a little harder than others. And though there was some definite suffering going on before the finish line, the post race conviviality made it all seem worthwhile.
For one day, we’d all done something for ourselves and for each other. We’d made a commitment and saw it through, anxious not to let each other down. We’d tested ourselves physically and were all better for it.
Most importantly, there was a lot of talk about what to do next: find another race, organize a ski event, do something. There was a general feeling that this was an opportunity we should build on to stay active, work as a group, keep the spirit we all felt standing around in the fading light, a little bit of Olympism going in our corner of the world.
Sweaty, smiling and invigorated, it was a community I was content to be a part of . I felt a little less alone, my friends had inspired me to a decent run and in turn, I was happy to help them in anyway I could. Tomorrow, I’m having lunch with a fellow racer that wants to pick my brain on marathon training. Before the race, we’d never spoke. Of my knowledge on the subject, I’m more than happy to pass it on. That’s the way I was taught to do it and like I said, it changed everything for me.