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Let us be leaders. Let us inspire those who feel lost, who seek a companion in the journey of life, who need a guiding and helpful hand. Let us be the reason they succeed.
My whole life I’ve got to observe firsthand the growth and success of various generations of athletes. I’ve seen them take their first steps, receive guidance, fail, despair, and even reach their highs. There was pain, and there were tears. There were days when my young and oblivious eyes couldn’t see past the view in front of me. But I wasn’t the one who was meant to understand. The hidden message was meant for someone with greater understanding. Someone who was there to walk the hard path along with the athletes. Not a step ahead or behind, but side by side – ready to land them a hand when in need, suffer along with them, and enjoy the roller-coast-like journey.
I’ve been lucky enough to grow up in a family of leaders – teachers, figureheads, mentors. They’ve been there for me, taught me everything by teaching me nothing, paved my path, and then told me to find my own. They made sure I knew how things are done the right way – with passion, discipline, and trust. But that’s not always how things are done. I wasn’t aware of how blessed I was until I found myself in a toxic environment.
Although most of my family had an impressive background in the world of sports, they never pressured me into following in their footsteps. They wanted me to find pleasure in whatever I was doing – let it be running, skiing, swimming, or even orienteering. The athletic aspect of my life has never been my number one priority. It was something I did because I enjoyed it and wanted to reach my potential. It was never about the medals, times, or fame – it was the journey. The idea of waking up every day and wanting to reach new heights, wanting to be better, to put in the work. Those were things that my parents always discussed with my coaches. They made it clear I wouldn’t go pro until I would grow up, and my body would have matured enough to sustain the type of training required at the national level. But I guess being in an authoritative position doesn’t mean you’re a good leader – or one at all. Because what kind of leader would put their own ambitions first and forget why the athlete is there? What kind of leader would install fear and uncertainty in the young ones? Mess up their belief in themselves, cause them anxiety before, during, and after practice. What kind of person would have the nerve to tell a young, impressionable kid, one who barely found the courage to leave that toxic place, that they shouldn’t have quit. That they’ll never succeed in this new sport they just started.
It took my family over two years to stop me from crying and shaking like a leaf in the wind at the mere mention of a competition or workout session. It took me years to shake off the idea that I would never be good enough. But like I said, I’ve had great mentors. They always supported me and made sure that the outside pressure would never really get to me. That the voices that kept saying – “she has to win this race”, “I bet her parents expect her to run a good race” or “she’s probably doing this because of her family” – never affected me. But, although they tried to shield me and allow me to grow up normally, away from all the gossip and expectations, those voices still got to me. Maybe they could leave a mark back in those days, but now I’m older, and I know better. I have the chance to share my story and the things I’ve learned with the kids that my mom coaches – show them how to enjoy every run, how to light their flame only when they’ll be old enough, and those races will truly matter. But, most importantly, I have the chance to teach them how to run for the right reasons – love, passion, and their own dreams. Not for the ambitions of their parents, family, or friends. Not for the medals or fame. But for that tiny flame inside them that warms their hearts every time their legs start moving and makes their eyes sparkle. For the magical dream, that one day, years from now, will become a reality.