Sunday, August 10, 2008

JWN: Take a Chance

Take a Chance

By: Joseph W. Norman

Sometimes it is the unexpected things we partake in which provide us with the most self-satisfaction. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. My challenge for you this week is to think about shots you’ve taken. Did you succeed? Or, did you learn? What opportunities are out there for you today in your personal or professional life? Are you going to take advantage of them?

The moral of this story is about opportunities. They mean nothing unless you take the risk of pursuing them.

Here’s the story from my life which inspired this train of thought:

It’s Monday morning and I’m on the phone having a casual conversation with my financial advisor, James Traylor, Director of the Special Care program for Mass Mutual in Rochester. He mentions an event he’s going to be set up at that weekend, the Autism JAM (website). “There’s a 5k. You should run it,” he says.

Mind you, I’m in good physical shape but I’m in the worst running shape I’ve ever been in. So, what do I say? “Screw it, let’s do it!” Richard Branson would be proud. I joke with friends and former teammates about winning the race the rest of the week. They laugh. I laugh. The idea is preposterous.

It’s Saturday morning. I wake up leisurely because the race is at 11:30 AM. My former race day routine takes shape naturally; some plain cereal with fresh fruit, a long hot shower to loosen up the muscles, and some peanut butter toast before I head out the door. I get to Mendon Ponds Park early to pick up my race packet and get acquainted with the area. Like Applebees, I’m feeling good in the neighborhood. No negative thoughts cross my mind on race day, no matter what shape I’m in.

The thought of victory is always on our minds. Everybody enjoys the feeling of success. As I warm up and mingle with fellow athletes, I’m psychologically squaring them all up in my mind. Thoughts of triumph become more pervasive when I see few others truly warming up.

It’s not that I was the only one racing, 152 people competed, but I didn’t see anybody with the freakish superstitions and pre-race routines that I’ve been accustomed to in my nine years of high school and collegiate running. OCD is child’s play compared to the routines of some of my former teammates.

The race director looks directly at me when she says “Good luck” to the competitors at the starting line. I’ve been pegged. Siren sounds. Oops! That was a practice run to figure out how the blow horn works. Did I mention this was a First Annual event? And now the gun goes off for real…

A little after a mile into the race I took the lead and got a new dose of will power. There is no such thing as running comfortably when you are in the front. You’re always scared out of your mind.

It’s an out and back course, so at the turn around I got a new set of fans; the people I was competing against. Weekend warriors are a different breed and a breed of which I have now become. I love them for their spirit. What it boils down to is the human element. At the end of the day, people want to see other people succeed.

I reach mile two of the rolling hilled course and I’m greeted with words of encouragement from a few complete strangers; Marvin and his son with a disability. Marvin yells, “I knew you were going to win.” I gave him and his son a smile and a silent fist pump and carried on. The mutual feeling between us was understood. We all have our own methods of communicating support.

My body instinctively picks up the pace because my heart and my mind do not want to let my new friend down. Did I mention how frightening it is to be in the lead? Mile two and half makes itself known with an aqua station wagon parked on the left side of the wooded road. I’m hurtin’ for certain. Only .63 miles to go. Not that I’m counting.

I see orange cones around the bend and through the trees. The finish line is within eyesight. What happened to the guy in second? Can I let up and ease it in? No way! I’ve never won a 5k road race before so I can’t relinquish the opportunity and let the sands of opportunity slip through my hand without a fight. Turns out I won by over a minute but he felt a lot closer than that.

This is a great metaphor for life. We have eyes in the front of our bodies for a reason. It is about moving full speed ahead at all times, not about dwelling on who is chasing us or what is behind us. If you consistently give the best of who you are and focus on moving forward, what is behind you will never outweigh what is before you and the experience of the now.

I cross the line victorious in 20:29, over three and a half minutes slower than my personal best in the 5k. My former teammates will never let me live that time down. They consistently run between 15, 16, and 17 minutes for the distance. Does their harassment faze me though? No. And, now for the moral of the story:

What mattered on that fateful Saturday was that I showed up. Despite my own insecurities about my level of fitness, I was the one that took the chance. The result: my first road race victory. It is funny how life challenges and rewards us.

In final, kudos to the tremendous work of Autism Speaks, the non-profit organization formed only four months ago which organized the Autism JAM 5k, Picnic, Raffle and Silent Auction (website). It was a fantastic and well attended all day event. And, of course, thanks to James Traylor who revealed the unsuspecting opportunity for success to me. More often than not it is the little things we do which make the biggest difference in people’s lives.

Joseph W. Norman, resides in Macedon, NY, and is Chief Enthusiasm Officer of Notable and Newsworthy and Editor of The VIP Profiles. He is currently a full time real estate investor that would love to meet you!

He can be reached at or 607.743.8569.