My Daughter’s Lesson in Perseverance

DD2 = Dear second daughter

DD2’s discouragement in track

DD2 is a track athlete, and two Wednesdays ago, I went to watch her race the 800m. It had been 3 years since she had run a personal best of 2:06.17, and that night, she was determined to break her record. Since 2015, she seemed to be stuck at 2:08. There had been reasons for the long plateau: injuries; a difficult decision to change coaches; more injuries; adjustment to a new training style … But she was finding it frustrating.

To qualify for Canadian Nationals next month, DD2 had to run a 2:06.00, and she had never felt more ready than she did that Wednesday evening. Hopeful and tense, I watched her line up, wait for the starter’s gun … and take off! She raced beautifully! Long, powerful strides brought her to a second place finish, and no matter what her time was, I thought she must be happy and proud. I certainly was!

Her room-mate, who was volunteering at the meet, knew better. “She won’t be happy with that,” she said. DD2’s time was a season’s best – by a few hundredths of a second – but not a personal best: 2:08.54.

I could see that DD2 was crying as her coach talked with her. I waited for her to come and talk to me, and when she did, she cried some more.

Transparent vulnerability

“I know it’s hard for you to understand, but I haven’t gone better than 2:08 for 3 years,” she explained. “And I don’t know why. I’m feeling stronger, more fit, happier, more confident than I’ve ever felt before, so I don’t understand it. I don’t know what more I can do – or if I can even do this anymore.”

Her coach had advised her not to make any decisions right away, and I agreed. And though I’m not at all qualified to coach, I decided to speak as a mom. “You ran beautifully,” I said. “I loved watching you race.”

Open to counsel

As I drove her home, DD2 was OK with me speaking more. “Your running is a gift, and it shouldn’t make you sad,” I said. “Slower runners were a lot happier than you were tonight.” I warned her against letting her self-worth get tied up in her track results. “Your value isn’t impacted by it.” I advised her not to quit, but to give it her best for the remaining weeks of this summer’s track season. “If you don’t manage to get a new personal best, you can decide to stop if you like. There’s no shame in that. Everyone stops at some point.  Whether you qualify for Nationals or not – whether you stop or keep training – you’ll know that you gave it your all.”

Competitive sports can bring with them an element of torture. Today’s personal best becomes the new benchmark that must be surpassed. The high of success doesn’t last for long, and there is no permanent satisfaction in a constant craving for better. Elite athletes have to have the mental capacity to balance fiercely ambitious effort with a humble grace. No one’s season lasts forever. Ideally an athlete walks away, forward into the next chapter, with a developed confidence, great memories, finely-tuned self-discipline, and the experience of achieving potential. I didn’t want DD2 to walk away with anything less.

Moving forward …

DD2 had a long talk with her coach, and she decided to keep training at least until the season’s end. She sent an email about it to me. “… up until Nationals, I’m going to be the best athlete I can be – better than before (you helped plant this idea in my head) … I will never skip a long run, a cool-down, or give less than 100% at practice. I won’t drink … I’ll eat exceptionally well, over-hydrate, get enough sleep. And when I step on that start line, I won’t hold anything back.”

After a race a week later, I was relieved to see a change in DD2’s outlook – despite unchanged results. “I raced Wednesday night. I won in 2:08.42. A season’s best, and obviously 2:08 AGAIN. I am getting better by a tiny bit each time – but nonetheless I’m moving in the right direction. I’m ready for that time to drop any day now.”

Provincial Championships

The Ontario Track and Field Championships are taking place this weekend in Toronto, and DD2’s race was this afternoon. The meet is live-streamed, and so I was able to watch her event from home. Her seed time was the second  slowest in the fastest of 3 heats. There she was on my laptop monitor, ready to start. When the gun went off, I could’t sit down! I had to stand and pace and jump and talk to the screen through the whole race. She ran beautifully! 7th seed but 5th place – in both her heat and the Championships.

I continued to watch her on my laptop, and I saw her straining to see her time along with the other racers. And then … big smile! Hands raised in victory! When the times went up on the screen for live-stream viewers like me, I saw why she was so happy: 2:05.42. After 3 years, DD2 had achieved a new personal best! And she has qualified for Nationals!

Exhausted but happy runner after today’s race with her proud coach

A mother’s hope

Of course I hope that in two weeks at Nationals, DD2 will do her best run ever, but ultimately, my greatest hope is that this experience will impact the content of her character. In a vulnerable moment, DD2 was transparent, not hardened; and instead of shutting down, she was receptive to counsel. She chose to face discouragement with patience and perseverance. And she got to experience the reward of her wise choices in a way that I believe will give her more than a transient high of athletic success. It’s a reward I hope she will experience again and again in the years to come – even long after her track career is over – as different challenges come her way from all facets of life.

But for the short-term, I’ll enjoy her new personal best and her ticket to compete with the fastest runners in the country. I’ll keep you posted 🙂


Have you experienced the difference between quitting as a reaction and stopping as a proactive choice? Have you ever made the decision to persevere through tough times? Was that perseverance rewarded? Is there ANY connection between this story and debt-reduction? Your comments are welcome.


 

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14 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Congratulations to DD2! Amazing effort, and mind over matter. It an idea that I talked with my children about over the years. To give your best effort physically and mentally when participating in something. It’s okay to quit/ walk away from something, but be sure that’s what you want, and please don’t ever do it mid-season, mid-year etc and let those around you down. Finish what you started. Best of luck to DD2 at Nationals!

    • I agree that there is a lot to be said for finishing off a season – whether for a sport or other activity. There are always exceptions, but as a general rule, see it through to the end. Thank you, Brian!

  • Oh wow great story and good for her!! You know I can see both her side and your side when you were talking to her. I have felt that frustration of doing “everything” but not breaking through. But you are also correct in saying that it’s OK to not to get that next level if you’re doing your best (and that best is something remarkable anyway). Either way, I’m still thrilled for her!

    • There is definitely a time to quit or stop. For something that’s been this important to her though, I’d rather see her stop as a result of a proactive decision rather than a frustrated reaction. The toughest thing is to give it your all and accept the results with grace even if they fall short of your hopes. I certainly have struggled with that fine balance too.

  • Prudence, somehow I didn’t realize you were Canadian until your comments today on my posts and reading this post of yours!

    DD2’s email made me tear up a little, I hope that JB will have this resilience and grace as an adult. It’s so important in life.

    HUGE congratulations to her for hitting that personal best and finding her way to the track again, and qualifying for Nationals.

    I was a subpar track athlete in high school myself, and so I always pushed myself to do a little better for me but knew that I wouldn’t ever shine as a superstar for the team. That was ok, my competitiveness had other outlets. But more importantly, I planted the seed of learning to hold some humility in my heart alongside the pride of being the best at anything for an ephemeral moment.

    As Tonya says, as I even felt in today’s post, I absolutely understand that frustration of feeling like you’re doing EVERYTHING and yet still not making forward progress, *especially* with money. I was feeling it all weekend 🙂

    • I love it that you tried hard in track even though you knew you’d never be one of the superstars. That humility you mention is an oddly great thing. Here’s the thing about feeling you’ve done “EVERYTHING” to be money-wise, but feeling like you’re not getting anywhere: WIth our debt-reduction years, there were times when we were just treading water – not making much progress at all. But then I would think, “In the old days, we wouldn’t have been treading water at this point. We’d be borrowing more money!” I’m sure the same is true for you and your weekend frustration. In less financially wise hands, your situation would be way more negative. Anyway, thank you Revanche:)

  • I love your advice for your daughter and overall focus on her character over achievement. I’ve secretly hoped our kids won’t be exceptionally good at sports or music, etc., so we won’t have to deal with these kinds of problems. Clearly a more balanced hope is that both parents and child will be able to live a well-rounded life and develop good character, regardless of their talents!

    I have felt a bit like this–trying to beat a personal best, then discouraged when I can’t–by blogging at times. Over time I’ve been able to let go of that and just enjoy the hobby. Thanks for sharing this story!

    • I’ve experienced that with blogging too. For a while, I really wanted to break into blogging for profit, but I didn’t have the know-how or the bandwidth to develop it. There was a real relief in making the decision to blog for the reasons I started out with: to keep myself accountable, to share our story and hopefully encourage others, and to gain encouragement and insight from others. No stress for profit now. Looking forward to the news about your baby any day now! Take care, Kalie 🙂

  • Congrats to DD2! And what a wonderful reward for her perseverance. As a teenager, I wanted nothing more than to be a pro baseball player, like so many boys my age. I knew that I didn’t have the kind of talent that would take me there, and there was a time when I wasn’t getting in the game as often as I wanted. I thought about quitting, but I couldn’t leave the game I loved so much. Eventually I got better and was getting in the game most days. Whatever I felt about my abilities, it never stopped me from playing my best and enjoying every minute of it.

    I can definitely see parallels here to finances and debt reduction, and also as Kalie said, to blogging. It can be frustrating to feel like you’re doing everything you can but you’re not getting anywhere. Sometimes it just takes patience.

    • It does take patience! And also, I think, an acceptance of where things are at. As a boy, I’m sure you wanted to play for the big leagues. It’s great that you got to the point of enjoying the game for its own sake – without an anxious ambition. Sport for the fun of it. That’s the best! And as for debt-reduction, as I said to Revanche, in the days when we made slow progress, I had to remind myself of what I would have done in the same situation back in the day – borrow. Slow debt-reduction is way better than more accumulation of debt. Thanks, Gary!

  • Funny thing – when I showed my husband this picture he at first thought DD2 was wrestling with the guy on the ground lol! I guess she was really wrestling with inner herself …

    • Ha! I can see why he said that.
      She’s just coming out of her start (a few years ago) in this shot. I think it’s such a cool photo:)

  • I’m so of proud of you DD2! Great personal result. More important is your decision to travel the process with an graceful and commited attitude. In this journey there will be highs and lows and gentle middle ground. Your ability to be present and aware of all the surrounding landscapes will sustain you and bring you joy as each step with an open heart and mind is a first across the finish line.

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