"Good job- you can do it," or "keep going you're doing great," are two common phrases heard around any sort of competition. (By competition, I mean any 5k, bike race, swim event, marathon, triathlon, etc.)
When the Mountains 2 Beach marathon comes to Ventura in May, I usually head down to the promenade with a few friends to cheer on the participants. You see individuals pushing themselves out of their comfort zones and trying their hardest to achieve something they may not have thought possible. When others see people exerting that energy and pushing themselves, the natural reaction is to cheer them on, even if they have no clue who they are encouraging.
As I raced in my first ever triathlon last weekend, I got to thinking about those people cheering me on and how that made me feel. For the first time, I was the one receiving the encouragement rather than distributing it. Even though I am extroverted and thoroughly enjoy interacting with others, I am sure that my competitors who are introverted could relate to the happiness that is felt when hearing strangers pushing you forward with constant cheering.
Of course, even though my mind was on competing the triathlon as fast as possible, I decided to conduct a small social psychology experiment. My goal was to encourage anyone who I made eye contact with, or anyone who I felt might have needed a boost. (I knew that I would gain more energy if I cheered on others, and in turn maybe they would too.)
I started wishing people luck before the race. That didn't go too well. I was in my zone, but I'm guessing others were too because I rarely got a response. I got a strong response from this one guy who was running on the beach at a pretty fast pace. I thought he was crazy since we were about to compete in a triathlon, but to each their own. Little did I know I would see this man again in a crucial moment.
As the race approached, I made my way to the beach to get in position. This young boy lined up next to me about ten minutes before the starter sent us off to run wildly into the ocean. Not only did the boy look a little nervous, but he looked like he could be one of my students. Turns out he was a freshman at Foothill Tech, the local charter high school in Ventura. The poor boy was in a crowd full of men since he was lumped in the 15-35 age group. He told me he was nervous about the swim and I could see it in his eyes that he had some anxiety. Since I felt like swimming was my strength, I shared some tips with him to ease some of the concern he was feeling. In turn, he gave me some tips on the run since he ran cross-country at Foothill. We shook hands, smiled, and wished one another luck.
Between both transitions I had three dear friends who came to cheer on my buddy Jeff and I. (Sidenote: Jeff, you are a great mentor and friend. Your positive energy and passion for pushing yourself inspired me and I know I would not have been as successful without your guidance.) A huge shoutout to Rosie, Erin, and Roberto! Y'all were nothing but smiles and energy, and that provided me with the spirit to push through subsequent events.
Once you transitioned from the swim to the bike you were on your own. No talking, no one handing you water; it is just you and the open road. I enjoyed the solitude.
Unlike the bike, once you made it to the run you were surrounded by individuals. Not to mention you were running through neighborhoods where people would be outside their house, drinking their coffee, and cheering you on. That's kindness. Yes, I know the triathlon only happens once a year, but people were outside, cheering, spending their morning engaging in the scene and helping others with words of encouragement.
As I was running through my first mile I heard someone yell at me from the back, "stay in the shade and to the side, what are you, crazy?!" I quickly look back to see who was yelling at me and it was that wild man who was training on the beach just an hour earlier. He smiled, caught me, and we began to pick up the pace. At that point we became a team. We shot positive energy off one another, while giving other runners words of encouragement. As the last mile of the run came about, I could feel my body giving up. I was running on empty. He coached me, gave me some words of encouragement, and I was off. I sprinted that last mile, passed a few competitors and finished the race in the classic "pride" pose. Arms extended, chin up, and smiling from ear to ear. I saw my friends Roberto, Erin, and Rosie waiting near the finish line, and then my friend Rick crossed the line. We embraced, laughed, and thanked one another for the encouragement along the way.
The entire experience made me reflect on why people don't pass along words of encouragement more often. Regularly, we go through days seeing people down or dejected, and yet we walk right by them. Yes, sometimes we may be busy, but there is always time to give some words of encouragement, or just an ear for them to talk. The fact that most people have to be in unusual circumstances to bring out those cheerful words or phrases surprises me. No matter the context, when we see others struggling it is important to do what we can to help. I know I wouldn't have been as successful without the help of others, and because of that I gained a better understanding of the importance of encouraging others whenever possible.
Kindness, pass it on.