It is the smallest of cracks that send us careening ofttimes.
My third GoRuck Challenge, this one in Munich, was going so very well. The welcome party was welcoming to my favorite brand of fun, the weather was perfect, I was enjoying connecting with comrades new and old as well as rousing renditions of Sponge Bob Squarepants (great wrap video of the entire event).
It was mid-afternoon and I was carrying the flag. We were simply doing a “shuffle” up a sidewalk. I noticed the water egress cover but stayed in line.
Then I was falling.
Even on the way down I thought “this is going to be bad.”
I didn’t get my hands out in time.
The brim of my hat offered little resistance to the concrete and my mouth hit hard. The bruises on my knees that only fully developed a week later say that it could have been worse. But it was bad enough.
I lay face down on the concrete for a about 10 seconds, hearing shouts and shuffles around me. I tasted blood.
I composed my game face and said into the white stone: “I’m fine. I think I lost a tooth.”
I had, indeed, chipped off about half my front tooth. My lip was busted up pretty good. After I asked for “please, only one voice,” Cadre tended to my wounds as best he could in the middle of a sidewalk. I was a bloody mess but didn’t require stitches (or so we thought).
Then he had one question: Do you want to go to the hospital?
“I want to finish.”
It was perhaps too much adrenaline. My lip had stopped bleeding, the damage to my tooth ugly but done. There was nothing, I thought, that the ER or a doc could do for me.
Right then, I had something very important to do for me.
I got myself up and, I’m not sure if it was outloud or not, said: “I’m going to finish.”
It was never a question really. It was, after all, just my face.”Merely a flesh wound.”
I had hobbled through other challenges — a thorn that pierced my Vibrams and sole of my foot in Paris was particularly vexing and of course I dealt with the stress fracture of 31 heroes by rucking on.
I wasn’t going to let a little mouth injury stop me from completing the task at hand. “Pain only hurts.”
I refused to take painkillers — pain is your body sending important messages and I didn’t (and don’t) like to mute those. Ignore them? Yes. But at least I hear.
I wiped off some of the blood and pulled my “Girls Ruck” cap back on.
I licked across my swelling lip and with gap-toothed, false bravado smile said, “I’m ready.”
So stubbornly on we went.
I am eternally thankful for the words of support and levity by my team and Cadre. For the rest of the afternoon a smile or pat was not far if I needed it — and I did. I’m quite sure would not have been able to do it without the team surrounding me. Not letting them down — I had already wasted too much of our time — was a powerful motivator.
I also certainly appreciated too the compliments on my strength and determination to finish. Believe me, it is high praise to hear from strapping GRTs that they wouldn’t have continued, and my ego was bolstered. More so, though, it was encouragement to keep proving them, and myself, right.
I was angry at my stupidity in falling down to begin with and didn’t want to drop out for tripping.
It wasn’t strength overcoming pain, it was stubbornness not to quit, combined with some stupidity not to see any alternative, that kept me going on to the finish.
I might have suffered a physical blow but it was the emotionality that kept hitting me in waves, threatening to derail my determination.
That was where strength came in.
As GoRuck states, the challenge is mostly mental.
I know any of the men and women of Class 268 could have — would have — done the same. If you are determined enough to sign up and show up, you can find it in you to “embrace the suck” and finish.
The process — what any physical challenge demands — is that we must tap into our own strength to fight off the gremlins in our own heads. Regardless of the external adversity, we can give in to our internally set limitations and give up, or we can push onward with chins arrogantly pointing the way.
For the rest of the afternoon, keeping my Ruck in place, my feet moving, my voice in cadence, and yes, even a comrade safely slung across my shoulders at one point — that was the easy part. It wasn’t physical pain that doubled me over a few times — that afternoon and later — it was my interior monologue screaming in worry and protest, swamping me with unchecked emotion.
Breathing deep, surviving through, pushing past, and carrying on through those moments is what requires strength.
Every life has those moments.
If you chose to sign up to put yourself out there physically or if you don’t, you will face times of adversity.
Yes, part of finishing — “proving myself” — was ego and hubris. But the greater part is completely internal, selfish and needed.
Truly: Why did I finish?
I needed the bolster of finishing to face the challenges ahead.
Telling myself “I’m GRT. I finished that day, I can do this,” is what helped me get through the tougher moments I faced back at home. Completing the challenge gave me the (however shallow and silly) confidence to complete the next steps.
The part where I really lost it? Leaving the italian dentist office alone with 3 stitches and still broken tooth after beginning a root canal process that I only vaguely understood.
I doubled over, this time with tears streaming down my face, listening to the blood rushing in my ears and all the unknowable unknowns screeching in my head.
But I know how to deal with those gremlins. Just like in the latest challenge, I took a deep breath, jutted out my chin, and put one foot in front of another.
For what choice else is there?
In the end, it is the combo that gets us through: strength, stubbornness and even a little willful stupidity. Such is life in the tough times.
I can handle tough. I earned a badge to prove it.
In the tough times and always: be you.
When have you snatched victory from the jaws of defeat? How has it effected your later life?
A version of this post first appeared on Coffee, Books and Beer.