ARE YOU SPECTATING OR PARTICIPATING?

For many women across the globe, Kathrine Switzer’s name has become synonymous with ‘Girl Power’. I personally find her to be one of the most inspiring women in the world and her extraordinary story always gives me the goosebumps and just makes me want to kick some butt right away.

When Kathrine was a little girl, she wanted to be a cheerleader, like many other little girls at her school. Most Dads would have happily encouraged their daughters to do something ‘girly’ like that (because that’s what girls are supposed to do, right?), however her Dad talked her out of it straight away and said to her:-

“Cheerleaders are cheering on the sidelines for other people, but you want to be in the game. Life is to participate, not to spectate.”

Wow, what a thing to tell a little girl! That conversation became a turning point in her life and growing up, she lived her life based on that principle.

Little did she know that she would start a world-wide revolution when she pinned her race bib on her chest in 1967 and became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. In those times, women were not allowed to compete in marathons because they were thought to be ‘too fragile’. Kathrine registered for the race under the gender-neutral name K. V. Switzer, and was issued a place, with no one suspecting she was a woman (she insists that she did not mean to confuse anyone, it was just the way she always used to sign her name, using her two initials). With the event in full swing, a race official who thought no women should be racing, attacked her and tried to rip her race number off her chest shouting at her “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers.” Thanks to her boyfriend at the time who was running alongside her, the race official was shoved aside and sent flying, allowing Kathrine to carry on running. Needless to say, photographs taken of the incident made world headlines!

Kathrine still vividly remembers what happened that day, in this short video:

 

 

That day did not only change her life forever, but also countless others’. Kathrine’s brave act of refusing to be stopped and accepting the notion that she was inferior to men, created a social revolution by fearlessly empowering women through running and changing the face of sports, health and opportunities for women around the world forever. She was even inducted into the USA National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2011 for creating such positive social change.

In the meantime, her race number 261 became an embodiment of a movement, and has come to represent fearlessness in the face of adversity and opposition – whether it is a tough race, a difficult situation at work or at home, or coping with the many challenges of life.

Katherine’s story makes me think how many times I had been so close to walking away from my aspirations and desires in my life, because things were getting really difficult or taking me well outside of my comfort zone. However, to move from where you are right now to where you want to be, you need to discard the ‘spectator attitude’ i.e. safely observing all the action from the sidelines whilst hiding and blending into the crowds, wishing for the success and extraordinary talents of ‘others’. Instead, you need courage to step into the arena as a participant, putting yourself out there, when it comes to the real ‘game of life’, when the stakes are high.

But there are things that may be holding us back from reaching boldly for our dreams and making progress, some of which just may be our own excuses:-

  • Fear that you are not good enough;
  • Fear that you are wrong;
  • Fear of rejection and/or ridicule;
  • Fear of upsetting certain people;
  • Fear of taking risks;
  • Placing too much emphasis on what others think;
  • Compliance with socially accepted norms;
  • Procrastination – ‘I will do it when…’ kind of attitude etc.

I have encountered similar internal as well as external oppositions in many different situations throughout my life, for example:-

  • When I first started running, my Mum (whose opinion matters a lot to me) said to me that I was going to break myself if I run too much and too far – reminding me constantly that I was always at the bottom of the class at PE lessons at school and I was sickly as a child.
  • When I first started going out with my first serious boyfriend, Simon, no one believed that a long distance relationship between two 20 year olds living in two different countries would last very long.
  • When I felt unhappy in a job at the start of my career in human resources, my boss told me I should explore a different profession because I was lacking in ’emotional intelligence’, and I was ‘too black and white’.
  • When I enrolled for a summer language course to learn German and take an exam at the very end, the teachers who processed my application told me that I should wait another year because my German was so weak that I was going to struggle in the cohort and was only setting myself up to fail. (The language exam was really important to me as this was going to give me some extra leverage to get into the university I wanted to go to).
  • When I first started Train Strong to Live Strong, I was worried what people may think about me if I ‘bare my soul’ on the world wide web, and no one would be interested in what I have to say on my blog anyways.

Staying on the sidelines and playing it safe would have been the easiest solution in all the above circumstances. The bottom line is, spectators rarely realise their full potential and achieve their aspirations. So I decided to step into the arena and have gone onto:

  • Completing 3 marathons, countless half-marathons and various other distances, even coming first in my age group a couple of times in races;
  • Working my butt off to raise funds to start a new life in England and marrying Simon;
  • Building a successful career in Human Resources and being a valued and respected member in my department at my current work;
  • Leaving the German examination board completely flabbergusted by achieving one of the highest scores at the exam;
  • Gaining over 400 followers for my blog on Twitter within only a few weeks, many others on Facebook and WordPress, receiving recognition and encouragements from a very supportive community of fellow bloggers.

In all the above situations I decided that life was just too short to not even try. I had more to lose by quitting, because at the end of the day, no one has ever succeeded by quitting. And I have always believed that if something wasn’t challenging, it wouldn’t be worth it.

No doubt, running has also helped me enormously over the past few years to get through difficult times, to find solace, to develop grit and fearlessness when going after what I want in life. I believe that in many ways, life is like running itself. So there is no other fitting way to finish this post but by Kathrine Switzer’s own words:

“All you need is the courage to believe in yourself and put one foot in front of the other.”

When Kathrine did that, millions felt empowered by her. Imagine what could happen, who you could inspire, and how the world might change if we all followed her example!

What has been on your list of ‘things I want’ for the longest time?

Are you spectating or participating at the moment?

What is the biggest barrier you need to overcome in order to step into the arena?

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