By Andy Jones-Wilkins,
CTS Ultrarunning Coach
In one of my all-time favorite sports films, “A League of Their Own,” Tom Hanks plays Jimmy, a battle-tested baseball manager charged with the task of coaching a team in the women’s major leagues during World War II. Opposite Jimmy is Dottie, played with tortured passion by Geena Davis, the reluctant star player on the team and the lynchpin of the fledgling league. After a particularly challenging stretch of games and just before the championships, Dottie tells Jimmy that she’s had enough and is quitting.
Jimmy, in a fit of frustration, gives Dottie a piece of his mind, “Sneaking out like this… quitting… you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up. You can’t deny that.”
Dottie doesn’t pause, and with tears in her eyes she says, “It just got too hard.”
Jimmy’s response is poignant and priceless, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
Over the past month or so, I have thought often of Jimmy’s wise words, the ideas that if it wasn’t hard everyone would do it and that the hard is what makes it great. No matter who we are and where we are in life, we inevitably have to face up to life’s hard times. We are all, at times, confronted with Dottie’s frustration and the accompanying desire to just quit and walk away, both in running and in life.
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I know, at least for me, that running, like baseball for Dottie, has gotten inside of me and lit me up. As such, even at its lowest point, it is not so easy to quit. When it’s hardest – when motivation wanes, injuries flare up, or life gets in the way – I often think it would be quite a bit more comfortable and a lot easier to simply step away and move on. Yet each time I face such an option, I return to what makes running meaningful and purposeful, what has made it get inside of me.
And that is… that it’s hard.
Sure, I have enjoyed times in my life when running, and the rest of life for that matter, were relatively easy. But those times have been, frankly, few and far between. The truth is, most times the struggle to work hard, to soldier through, and to find a way to move on takes deliberate effort, repetitive discipline, and hardheaded resolve. Running, I like to think, has given me the tools to face up to the difficult times, to take solace, and perhaps even revel in that which makes it so hard.
Dottie was quite fortunate in “A League of Their Own” that she had the grizzled, old coach who knew better than to let her just get by. As a result of his own experiences, Jimmy knew quitting would give Dottie an easy way out, but that quitting would ultimately result in a deep sense of regret. Even as we age as runners, facing up to the hard times and staring down that which challenges and stretches us gives us a place and a space to grow. In that growth we can find satisfaction and perhaps even greatness, in spite of it all.