When I was a child, I had very little physical endurance. It was extremely difficult for me to swim across the public pool without getting winded and running further than 50 yards posed a huge challenge. Eventually, with a lot of practice, and good swim instruction, I learned how to swim long distances and eventually earned my life saving and water safety instructor certificates.
Running even a moderate distance posed an even bigger challenge for me. Since I was not athletically gifted, it was a big deal to me to try to earn a Presidential 50th percentile patch back in 6th grade which I missed in 5th grade because my time in the 600 yard run was too slow. As it turned out, I was sick on the day my gym class ran the 600 yard race, but my gym teacher allowed me to run it when I returned, along with a girl who had also missed the race due to illness. Since she was not particularly fast, I was really worried that running with her alone would not set a pace fast enough for me to earn my 50th percentile patch, so I asked my very fast friend, Mike, if he would be willing to run ahead of me and pace me. He agreed, and the gym teacher had no problem with Mike setting the pace for us. Sure enough, Mike’s speed and my determination to do my best to keep up with him enabled me to run fast enough to earn my 50th percentile patch. I was overjoyed!
As a young adult, I developed arthritis and started swimming regularly as it was a very good exercise that did not cause problems for my joints. Initially, I just did the breast stroke since my endurance was still not very good, but I learned that if I slowly added in the crawl, first 1 in 10 laps, than 2 in 10, eventually doing predominantly crawl, though continuing a mix of strokes to vary my exercise, I was eventually able to swim a mile without difficulty.
When I reached my late 40s, since I was also an avid bike commuter, many friends suggested that I try a triathlon. My initial response was that I could not run long distance so it was out of the question. But, at some point, that response rang hollow, as I was playing ultimate frisbee with much younger people, and that involves a lot of running. I discovered that there was a triathlon distance known as a “sprint” that was only a 5 km run, which seemed remotely possible, even though I had never run longer than a mile, and had not run a mile since 10th grade gym when I had to do so.
I vividly recall my first 5K training run. I had measured the distance in my neighborhood and had a nice route mapped out. I set out from my house and within a few hundred feet, I was already huffing and puffing and wondering if I would be able to run the whole distance. Fortunately, another part of my brain responded by reminding myself that it did not matter how fast I ran, and even if I had to walk some of the distance, I should keep on going. Sure enough, I was able to complete that training run and compete in my first triathlon on Father’s Day of that year. After 3 years of competing in sprint triathlons, I pushed myself to an Olympic length triathlon (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run) which I did for 2 years before deciding that I had accomplished my goal of proving to myself I could run, but since I still did not like running very much, I could give myself a break and just spend more time on my bike which I enjoyed more.
I have been thinking a lot about endurance lately. Initially, my thoughts were personal related to my spending a week with my wife’s family in Puerto Vallarta and enjoying sunrise open water swims of about a half an hour in the ocean each morning. Today, I must have worried a nearby fishing boat who pulled up to me and asked if I was ok. I told them I was fine, although it turned out that the current must have pushed me out further than usual, and my 30 minute swim stretched into 40 minutes.
However, there are also systemic reasons for thinking about endurance. Since I do a lot of education advocacy, I have read a lot about one of the big school reform topics known as resilience. The concept is to support children who have suffered one or more traumas in order that they can be resilient and overcome their trauma in order to succeed.
While there is nothing wrong with appreciating resilience and to the extent possible, teaching children to become resilient, the problem with such an approach is that the ability to be resilient is not inherent in everyone. Expecting that all children (or even adults who suffer trauma) should be expected to become resilient, despite the many traumas they may have suffered, and lack of support they may have at home and in the community is simply unrealistic.
In reflecting on my efforts to increase my own endurance, it dawned upon me that a better education policy would be to train children (and adults) to increase their ability to endure challenges, as over the long haul, resilience presumes that one should be able to overcome trauma and worse yet, may be a failure if one cannot overcome the trauma. Yet, like my experience with long distance running and swimming, though my body is not designed to run or swim quickly, in focusing on improving my endurance, I have been able to steadily increase the distances than I can swim and run.
Since the November 2016 election, many of us who abhor the daily traumas foisted upon our nation and the world by the current administration, need to focus on improving our endurance to stay involved in public policy despite the ongoing nightmares emerging from our nation’s capitol. It is not easy, but nothing that requires endurance is easy. However, through focus, dedication and support of friends, family and community, we can all improve our endurance to emerge from the nightmare that our current President and his minions have created in order to return to a better world where we focus on supporting each other instead of tearing others down.
For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.