Recently, I shared my motivational speaking program, Discover Your Inner Champion, with a group in Columbus, Ohio. In my hour keynote, I share with the audience my life as an athlete, subsequent paralyzing accident, recovery and return to sports as a wheelchair athlete, competing in national and international competitions and completing two Iron distance triathlons. After my speech a woman came up to me to tell me that she was inspired by all I had done, and she said, “I can’t believe you did an Ironman with just your arms! I would never be able to do a triathlon.”
It wasn’t the first time I had heard a statement like that and I’m sure it won’t be the last. But every time I hear it I wonder. I think often people make that statement thinking they could never do a triathlon—and for no other reason than they don’t want to do a triathlon. They know it takes work, effort, dedication, motivation, and desire—the key to achieving any goal. And if it’s not something you’re truly invested in, than of course you will never be able to do it. Similarly, I watch my husband tinker with his motorcycle and think, “I could never fix a motorcycle.” Not because I’m not capable, but because I don’t have the interest in investing the time and energy in learning how to do it. But I often think our lack of confidence boils down to the fact that most of us don’t know our own greatness. We think we can’t, so we don’t even try. How many times do we talk ourselves out of things because we are afraid to try, afraid to fail or don’t have the gumption to put ourselves out there?
When I first decided to do an Iron distance triathlon, there had not been a female paraplegic wheelchair racer who had completed the distance before, so I didn’t think it was even possible. When I brought it up to my coach however, he didn’t wince, or shake his head. He simply told me it was going to take a lot of training and we needed to have a plan so that I could complete 2.4-miles of swimming, followed by 112-miles of handcycling and 26.2-miles in the racing chair.
I remember saying to him, “Well maybe I could just do the swim and 80-miles of the bike for the first attempt.” He looked me questioningly, wondering why I was shooting for half a race instead of the whole thing. But the truth was, I had already determined in my mind that I wasn’t capable of making the 140.6 miles.
Worries aside, we made a plan and I began working out. I started out with modest distances and added a little more each time I went to the pool, rode the handcycle, or pushed the racing chair. When training began, 60 miles on the handcycle seemed like a major undertaking. Little by little though, I increased the distance until I was riding 80, 90, even 100 miles. It took a lot of time. I spent up to 10 hours on the handcycle in one workout. I still wasn’t sure I could do it, but I also wasn’t ready to accept defeat.
Finally, after months and months of training, hundreds of miles swum, ridden and pushed, I arrived at the start of my first Iron distance race. Even that morning, as I sat at the edge of the lake, I don’t think I believed I was good enough, but I knew I’d never make it if I didn’t get in the water and take the first stroke. And even then, the race handed me challenge after challenge, but eventually I made it through 18 hours of competition to find myself raising my arms as I crossed the finish line.
I dug deep that day and realized that ultimately greatness doesn’t come overnight. It comes one step at a time. And in the beginning, it’s easy to talk yourself out of truly going for it. But if you don’t allow yourself to begin, to try, or to dream, it will never happen at all.
So the next time you think to yourself, “I could never…” Take a minute to think before you complete that sentence. Does ‘I could never’ meanI don’t have the DESIRE, or does it mean, I don’t believe in myself? If you don’t want to, move on. If you do, but you don’t know if you can—start small. Do a little more everyday. Be patient with yourself and don’t give up. Whether you believe it or not, greatness does reside within you. You just have to be willing to look for it, embrace it and finally, believe in it.
Tricia Downing is recognized as a pioneer in the sport of women’s paratriathlon, which is the sport of triathlon for athletes with disabilities. She is the first female wheelchair racer to complete an Iron distance triathlon—1.2-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run. She has competed in triathlon at all distances and both nationally and internationally, in addition to competing in marathons, duathlons and the sport of rowing. She is currently a member of the U.S. National Development Shooting Team, with her sights set on the 2020 Paralympic Games.
In 2009, Tricia founded Camp Discovery (www.campdiscoveryco.com), a fitness camp for women in wheelchairs designed to promote health and healing on all levels—mind, body and spirit.
Tricia holds Masters degrees in both sport management and disability studies and is a motivational speaker. She wrote and published her memoir Cycle of Hope in 2010.
She lives in Denver, Colorado. Visit her website at: www.triciadowning.com
To purchase Cycle of Hope, visit: http://www.amazon.com/Cycle-Hope-Journey-Paralysis-Possibility/dp/0981951074/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1301174480&sr=8-1)