I’m a motivation junkie. I love having goals, a training schedule and a clear focus, but it’s the motivation that gets me through the nitty gritty of it. The 5 a.m. alarms on a -23°c before the wind chill morning where I’d rather just hit snooze and crawl back under the covers like all the other sane people in the world. But that fire in the belly, the need and desire to do something more is amazing.
Tonight I had the opportunity to hear Olympian Sylvia Ruegger speak during our weekly clinic session. This is the second time I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Sylvia — the first was about a year ago when I was in the Learn to Run clinic. The talk that Sylvia gave was more or less the same, but both the passion and enthusiasm with which she delivers her talk, combined with a new perspective and a year of experience on my part, made this time all the more rich.
Sylvia Ruegger ran for Canada in the first ever women’s marathon at the 1984 Olympics, finishing 8th. The Olympic marathon was her second marathon event ever, after running her first in Ottawa to qualify for the Olympic team. Sylvia still holds the Canadian women’s marathon record that she set when she won the 1985 Houston Marathon in 2:28:36. Now retired from professional running, Sylvia continues to run four times a week and founded the Running and Reading program with Kidfest, which look to foster physical activity, self-confidence and literacy in the country’s most disadvantaged kids.
Sylvia began her running career chasing cows on her family’s farm outside Newtonville, Ontario. While watching the Olympics in her home in 1976, she decided that she wanted to be an Olympian and run in the games. Writing her dream on a piece of paper and hiding in the floorboard of her bedroom, she pursued her love of running on the country roads with her mother driving behind her to provide light.
Whether we’re a recreational runner or we run at an elite level, Sylvia believes that we can each learn and be inspired by our stories. The struggle and tenacity of the human spirit that is inherent in endurance sports allows us each to dig deep and find what it is that motivates us to keep at it even when things get tough. This struck me, because it was this that was behind the inception of the Toronto Runner’s series that appears here weekly. I love Monday posts for that reason — another profile to draw inspiration and motivation from. Another person with goals, and hope that is out there pounding the pavement and pushing themselves — and all right here in our very own backyard.
When things get tough during a race, Sylvia says she thinks of it as a dark tunnel – like the ones you might drive through under a bridge – you’ll come out the other side shortly, all you have to do is hold on and remember that anything really worth doing is going to be hard, and all the richer for it.
One of the most memorable parts of her talk for me was when Sylvia talked about one of the common questions she gets: “you’re goal was to run in the Olympics and win a medal – aren’t you disappointed?” She says what gives her perspective on it is a quote by John Ruskin who said, “the highest reward for a man’s toil is not what he gets for it but what he becomes by it.”
Which begs the question, who have you become by your running?
I’ll finish this post with one final quote that I think is excellent. It’s from Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and how, at worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
P.S. This is the only video I could find of Sylvia speaking. The first part of it is her story: