The Short Race That Made Me Cry
I had been running for 28 minutes and 36 seconds.
28 minutes and 46 seconds.
28 minutes and 51 seconds.
52. 53. 54. 55. 56.
Then I collapsed, a few hundred feet from my house. I kneeled with one knee on the ground, at the corner of a country road and a subdivision.
I looked down at my watch: 28:56. I had done something that people told me I would never do. I had done something that seemed impossible 15 years earlier.
If I had a cigar, I would have lit it. And I don’t even smoke cigars. I thought of one of my favorite television shows as a kid.
I love it when a plan comes together.
That’s all I could think about. Overwhelmed with emotion, I had to fight back tears.
Those tears reminded me of a moment I read about and watched: the celebration of a man after an incredible victory.
The Silent, Solitary Celebration
Moments after the United States hockey team defeated the Russian hockey team on February 22, 1980, coach Herb Brooks soaked up the celebration of his players.
He saw young men jumping up and down, crying, and screaming in joy. He caught a glimpse of his wife. He saw the crowd cheering wildly. He saw the morose looks of his opponents, defeated but respectful.
And then coach Herb Brooks quietly slipped into the shadows. He entered the locker room — humbled, amazed, and emotionally drained — and sat alone, while the cheers of the crowd rumbled around him. A victory in the next game would mean that a dream birthed twenty years prior would be complete.
Many told Brooks that the Russians were unbeatable, especially by college kids, who never played professionally. And especially by the American team.
The dream started when he made the 1960 U.S. Olympic hockey team as a player, only to be left home on the final day before the Olympics. An alternate player took his place. Herb watched the 1960 Olympic hockey final with his father. The Americans won the gold medal, and Herb’s father said to his son: “Well, I guess the coach took the right guy.” Herb Brooks was denied a gold medal and the victory of a lifetime.
Yet, in that moment, a seed was planted. The brilliant Russian hockey teams of the 1960s and 1970s won Olympic gold in every attempt: 1964, 1968, 1972, and 1976. No team could match the Russians in Olympic competition.
Now, encased in a rumbling locker room, alone, Herb Brooks’ thought about his team of college standouts that had just beaten the best hockey team in the world. The feat seemed unimaginable just 13 days earlier, when the Russians beat the same American team by a score of 10 to 3.
One game to go to win gold.
Twenty years of planning, working, and scrapping had come down to this: could Herb Brooks complete his master plan? Could he capture the gold 20 years after being denied at the last moment as a player?
It is not often that we get to witness a plan come together. Visions rarely complete in front of our eyes.
The Beginning of the Pain
The first time the pain struck me, I thought I was being attacked. As soon as I sat down, I thought someone left a razor-sharp knife in my seat. I felt a sharp stab right below my hip. I jumped up, but there was nothing there.
That was the beginning. Not long after I collapsed as I was walking. The sharp pain came again. I tried to keep playing soccer, but every time I raised my knee, I felt the pain.
The first doctor said nothing was structurally wrong — that I just had to do a few stretches every day. The next dozen or so doctors said some version of the same thing. They were all wrong.
No one knew what caused the pain. I certainly didn’t. There was one constant though — everyone told me I wouldn’t be able to run again without pain.
The Tears of Joy
That’s why I cried. It felt so good to be able to run again, without pain. I ran five kilometers, exactly.
I had spent 15 years trying to figure out how to reach this moment.
After 11 years of playing, I was forced to give up soccer. I had to stop any activity where I had to move faster than walking. At times, I couldn’t sleep without pain. Other times, I couldn’t sleep at all.
So many doctors gave up on helping me once we had a few appointments. There was nothing more they could do. I still had the pain. I tried stretching for 3 hours a day. I tried not stretching at all. I felt like I tried everything.
It took about 15 years to figure it out. And here I was, trying to prove all of these people wrong — and prove myself right — just by running around my neighborhood.
All I could think about was watching one of my favorite television shows as a kid, the A Team, and at the end of every mission hearing Hannibal light the cigar and say, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
I felt like Herb Brooks in the moment right after the victory.
The silent celebration in the locker room. My moment sitting on the grass. It felt the same.
The biggest victory was internal, silent, and solitary. But still sweet and moving nonetheless.
Slow Victories and Silent Celebrations
Most people never make plans that last one year — let alone 20 years. But there is something magical about a plan that takes more than a few days, months, or even years to complete. The vision that requires intense commitment over a long period captivates us — and as each year passes and the vision gets closer to completion, we are only captivated even more.
Quick victories are impressive, but there is nothing like the joy of when a long-term vision comes together. And often, that joy reaches its height in the silent, solitary moments of celebration, where the pain is forgotten and only serves to make the memory so much sweeter.