The beginning of this story is actually the end. There we were, standing in the soft, cool sand on the beach at Seaside, Oregon. Above, fiery bursts of blue, red, green, and white drew cheers and hoots from the raucous crowd. The moral of the story? The moral of our story, today, is the power of the public. The power that a few positive voices can have on performance, morale, and one’s overall sense of self.
This scene came from the after-party at the 2012 Hood to Coast Relay. Dubbed “The Mother of All Relays,” this 199-mile race is a true team-based effort that leaves its participants swollen and struggling to walk, yet simultaneously injects a fervent thirst for the following year’s race. While the scene described above could easily be lifted from any 4th of July party, the major difference here was the overriding sense of accomplishment and celebration of each other, as proud race finishers milled around the beach wearing their medals and soiled race clothing.
Just 24 hours prior to that display, most of the people partying on that beach were in a very different place. They weren’t “ooohing and aaaahing” at fireworks, there was no sand beneath their feet, and the distant shores of Seaside were the only thing pushing them through their midnight runs through the Oregon countryside. Grunts and heavy breathing punctuated the bouncing light emitted from head lamps. Loose, black asphalt pounded against thousands of rubber-soled shoes, as these athletes expectantly awaited the prize at the end of their journey; the magnificent Pacific Ocean.
During the Olympic Trials, Lauren Fleshman mentioned that Hayward Field is “a very public display- there’s no hiding.” I found the same to be true at Hood to Coast. Though I certainly wasn’t on the country’s stage competing for a spot at the Olympics, my initial fears of running all by myself with bears in the woods in the middle of the night were quickly calmed by the fact that there was no hiding in this race. The roads seemingly had spotlights on every runner with each stride she or he took. As team vans crawled by, their cheers and encouragement propelled feet forward, cheering as if every runner they passed was on their team. Really, it seemed, Hood to Coast wasn’t so much a race, but more a gathering of thousands who elected to run the same course over the same 36 hours.
And so as I rewind to the starting line, where I began my 12-person team’s journey at Oregon’s highest peak wearing a We Grew Wings t-shirt, I’ll end the story. After snapping team pictures to capture the excitement of toeing the start line, those runners who would be representing their teams in that first leg began to separate themselves from the crowd. A few last minute stretches, jokes, and handshakes bagged up any remaining pre-race jitters.
Then, moments before the race would begin, a runner standing next to me saw my shirt and immediately perked up as she gushed about the project. Then the person next to her smiled and nodded, adding that her friends in Salem, John and Susan Gallagher of Gallagher Fitness Resources, helped organize a recent showing of the film. It was as if I was standing in the lobby of the Hollywood Theater, prior to our upcoming showing on September 23.
And just like that, We Grew Wings had given us all wings as we began our descent from the clouds.
I won’t say that these two fans at the starting line were the sole reason for my success in this race. Just as if we couldn’t venture to say that you are the sole reason for We Grew Wings success to date. But there is certainly something palpable about putting excited minds together and unleashing them into the atmosphere; things go viral. And while we cannot always explain how or why this excitement translates so well, we can leave you with this parting question.
How will you share your excitement with someone today?