Running My Own Race - Nike, Oprah and Competing Against Oneself
Recently, I discovered “Shoe Dog;” the memoir of Phil Knight, creator of Nike. As I began reading, I quickly became enamored with Knight’s journey to ultimately become the most internationally known sneaker brand in the world. I believe that we are all interconnected as one in the universe. And the universe brought me and Nike to life in 1972. With this belief cemented in my mind, it became evident to me that Knight’s memoir was meant to tie together the variety of loose strings embedded in my own life. Knight and I may not personally know each other, and we may very well never meet, but our lives are inextricably connected on a deeper level, because of his vision in creating Nike.
My transformation into the person I am today began seven years ago, without me even realizing it. I mark the beginning with one of my friends suggesting that I run the Philadelphia Half-Marathon with her. I considered this suggestion to be fanatical, since I don’t have a single athletic bone in my body. I laughed and told her that I was no runner and had no desire to run a mile, let alone 13.1 miles! This friend of mine knew of my competitive edge, so she later texted me and said that it was a shame that I didn’t have it in me to complete a half-marathon when Oprah completed a full one. While I was not sure why she used Oprah as her example, I will say that I have always admired how Oprah used her celebrity status to bring an abundance of positivity and happiness into the world. Oprah, of course, is world-renowned as a talk show host; and my ambition to become one like her was so great that I obtained an undergraduate degree in Broadcast Journalism from New York University.
Having been challenged by my friend in such an impactful manner, I took on a 12-week training program in preparation for the marathon. My first act of preparedness was to find the right running shoe for me; I was initially overwhelmed by how many options were available. I wanted something fashionable, sustainable and, of course, comfortable, for the feat which lay ahead of me. After conducting some research, I eventually settled on a pair of white Nike Air Max running sneakers.
I felt this aura of excitement and fear as I put on the sneakers. I went out for my first run of two miles and barely finished the first mile before my mind became infested with doubts of my ability to finish the whole half-marathon. I started thinking that I had no business running any distance…but with my carefully selected music playlist, Kelly Clarkson sang the lyrics to “Stronger” in my ears, which motivated me to keep pushing. With steadfast determination, I completed the two-mile run, and with that, was confident that I was on my way to successfully running 11.1 more.
As my training continued, I felt myself getting “stronger” every day! I remember the first time I completed a five-mile run and the overwhelming excitement that achievement made me feel. One would have thought that I came first in a FULL marathon! My body, mind, and soul were now committed to pursuing this new-found activity as I prepared to cross that finish line on that fateful day in November.
While I felt personally accomplished as I added another mile to my run each week, other, more seasoned runners mocked my slow pace. I learned to not allow their negative comments to deter me from my goal, which was to cross the finish line; nothing more, nothing less.
My preparation for the half-marathon became more intense as the day set for it approached. My running outfit would consist of layers of clothing that I would strip off as I ran. I booked a hotel room, reserved dinner reservations at an Italian restaurant to load up on carbs the night before the big day and recruited family members to join me as my spectators. In fact, my son Matteo (who was 5-years-old at the time) and my nephew Robby registered for the children’s fun mile run the day before my race. Making my half-marathon challenge a family affair felt awesome.
I was mentally and physically ready for the marathon until I found out that my friend, who encouraged me to run it in the first place, was no longer participating. Apparently, she had new plans to go to Florida that weekend and was hesitant to tell me. The hard truth quickly sank in that I was going to be running “alone,” for my very first half-marathon.
This was a major personal setback. I was training under the guidance of my friend, all the while thinking she would be by my side during the half-marathon. This experience taught me not to set expectations in relation to the conduct of other people. Nevertheless, I was grateful my family, and even my Nike’s, would be supporting me still.
I was so anxious the night before the race, that I didn’t even get any sleep. When my eyes finally closed, it felt like it was only five minutes later when my 5:00 a.m. alarm sounded off. I stumbled in the dark as I put on my running gear on and carefully pinned my race number onto my shirt. With that, I was ready to go.
It was still dark outside as I headed to the Philadelphia Art Museum; the designated starting point for the half-marathon. Luckily, when I headed out of my hotel, I noticed two young men with running gear equipped. I shared a cab with them. Their joyful attitude so early in the morning, brought me to a state of calmness.
Once I arrived at the museum, I was caught off guard by the thousands of runners in attendance. I walked over to the steps of the museum and as ascended them like Rocky Balboa would. Once I reached the top, I turned and looked at the beautiful morning sky as the sun rose.
Though alone, I felt so much positive energy around me and knew from that point on, this was my race, and my race alone. I was not competing with the thousands of runners who surrounded me, but rather with myself, my will, heart and soul.
I felt a wide range of emotions as I entered my corral for the first time. “Star Spangled Banner” played, followed by the horn signaling the start of the half-marathon. When this happened, an immense feeling of pride coursed through me. With each mile, I left behind fear, insecurity, negativity and self-limits. When I reached mile seven, my husband Lou, my son Matteo and my other family members were right there, cheering me on. I will never forget the look of excitement and confusion on Matteo’s face as he saw me run towards him. I flashed a smile to everyone, gave Matteo a high-five and pressed forward.
If I told you it was smooth sailing from there, I’d be lying. At mile nine, I was beyond exhausted; I didn’t think I could run another two feet. Then suddenly, my son Joey (who was a student at Drexel University at the time) showed up running beside me with a blowhorn yelling, “Move it, Mom! You got this! You can run faster!” All the runners around me burst out into laugher. I felt proud that my running shirt had the words “Drexel Mom” on the back, and as it was drenched in sweat, I felt nothing but love that Joey was there to encourage me keep going.
Crossing the finish line meant so much more to me than receiving that medal. It gave me a whole new perspective of life and its parallels with running. What I love the most about running is that whether you cross that finish line first, or dead last, you’ll receive the same reward. It’s all about you! It’s your own journey, reaching your own goals, letting go of your own fears! When you compete against yourself, and emerge victorious, that is when you will gain the most.
“Nike” means, “goddess of victory.” Its logo always reminded me of a wing and how we can all soar to our own victories. “Shoe Dog” is a beautifully written account of Phil Knight’s life and his “overnight” success over the course of several years, the challenges he faced and the pains he endured to reach his objective of making Nike a household brand.
I have always loved Nike’s products and how they made an unexpected, positive impact on my life. Reading “Shoe Dog” established a deep connection with Nike, and I’m grateful Knight took the time to share his personal journey with the world through it.
I am happy to say that not only did I continue running after my first half-marathon, I went on to complete many others over the past seven years. In fact, one year as a birthday present, Joey (who, I should note, hates to run) trained for and successfully completed the Philadelphia Half-Marathon with me, side-by-side. Crossing the finish line with him brings tears to my eyes to this day. Matteo, who just turned 13, has also continued running and placed second for the past two years in his age bracket for the Atlantic City 5K.
With running, and in life, you need patience, diligence and consistency… no matter what distance you’re looking to go. We get closer to obtaining our life’s desires with each step we take towards them. A day does not go by where I do not train my mind to see the positives in life. My training constantly pays off in the form of joy that is often overwhelming. I continue my journey on helping others release their self-limiting beliefs, attain their own success and live a life of passion and kindness. As for me, I can’t say there’s a finish line, but I am loving the journey!
I’d like to thank Phil Knight personally for never giving up on his dreams and creating Nike. I’d also like to thank Oprah, who inspired me to run my first half-marathon, however unknowingly!
To everyone else: whatever dream you have, know that you can accomplish it. The power is within you, but it’s up to you to find a way to release it!