Grit is defined as the perseverance and passion for long-term goals.
Those with high levels of grit don’t run from adversity and challenges, but embrace them as temporary states of being and opportunities for growth. It’s the recognition that persevering through your own struggles can inspire others to face theirs. The understanding that talent and natural ability will only get us so far but hard work and dedication, day in and day out, will lead us to success.
It takes grit to do a triathlon; to run your first 5k; to complete a century ride; to get up at 5am to run in the dead of a Chicago winter to go out for a run; to come back from an injury. The grit that it takes to cross all these finish lines, whether they’re literal or figurative, does not disappear when the race is over. It bleeds into everything we do, personally, professionally, and athletically. Grit is what gives us the strength to face our greatest fears, to overcome our obstacles, to learn from our mistakes, and to achieve our greatest potential.
WHY LIVE GRIT?
Let me start with my story. It is a story of a goal, of a failure, of perseverance, of finding inspiration, of achieving fulfillment. It’s a story I want to share because it explains the essence of grit and the community that we want you to become apart of.
It’s June of 2011, 3am. I have my bags packed. They are lined up next to my door. I jump in my car to make the two-hour drive to Rockford. It’s the morning of my first triathlon.
A year prior I had undergone a major knee surgery that left me on crutches for 12 weeks. My doctor had made it pretty clear that I would probably never be a runner. This shouldn’t have been a life changing revelation because I was never a “runner” anyways. My injury wasn’t sustained during a long run or a training session. It was sustained in an intense game of, that’s right, laser tag. But, I’ve always been one who thrived when people told me I couldn’t do something. It was just another opportunity to prove a doubter wrong, even if his comment was probably sound medical advice. Two months into my recovery I set my eyes on becoming a triathlete. I didn’t really know what that meant. The idea of three different sports sounded like a good option given my short attention span for any one thing. My goal was set. I would become a triathlete.
The morning of my first triathlon I felt ready. Actually I had no idea what I was doing, but I kept telling myself “you got this Gillian”. I had trained. I had practiced putting on my wetsuit. I blared my Eminem and Pink playlist on the long drive up. Finally I heard my GPS say, “turn left into park.” It was go time.
I pulled up and looked around and saw, well saw no other athletes. Well at least I would be first in something that day, the first there. I grabbed my bike and headed down to where it appeared there was someone who could tell me what the heck I should be doing right now. I did note to myself that one benefit of early arrival was concierge like service. One volunteer got my packet. Another volunteer grabbed my bags. The third quickly marked some numbers on my arms and calves. Then, we headed to where my transition spot. The volunteer explained where my space was and how to hang my bike, as apparently kickstands were a faux paw.
Now, it was time for me to wait and wait and wait. I walked down to the swim area to see where I’d be swimming. I saw a small lake about a quarter mile in diameter. My heart started to race. I had never competitively swam in open water. Frankly, I had never been much a fan of water in general. With my heart racing I told myself, “you got this Gillian.”
The two hours pre-race seemed like an eternity as I watched and chatted with athletes who, even if just in my head, all seemed to be pros in the sport. Then, it was finally time and time for me to get this wetsuit thing on, which always proved to be an adventure.
Leg one. Check. Leg two. Check. Shimmy, shimmy, shimmy. Arm one. Check. Arm two. Check. Zip. I was ready. Oh man, I should have gone to the bathroom. Damn nerves.
I hear the announcer say, “on you mark, get set, bang.” The first group is off. I hear him say “females 25-29.” That’s me!
Swim cap on. Check. Goggles on. Check. Heart beating out of chest. Double check.
And, into the water I go. I follow the lead of the seasoned athletes and jog until the water gets above my waist. Then, I dive in.
Face in the water. Wait, I can’t breathe! Why is this wetsuit getting tighter?! Face out of water! Face out of water! Doggie paddle. I start hyperventilating. I’m having a heart attack. Can this be?! I’m only 27.
I turn around and swim the six or seven feet back to where I can touch the ground. My heart is still racing. I can’t breathe. I need help. I remember the race instructions to raise your hand if you need help and both of my hands shoot into the air.
“Here! Here!” I frantically say to myself trying to signal the man.
A man wearing a race shirt and carrying a first aid kit comes down to my side.
“Are you ok?”
“No, I think I’m having a heart attack,” I say.
I see a little chuckle.
“We are just going to take your wetsuit off because the water is warm and you are probably just overheating. Ok, there you go. Get back in there,” he says.
Ok, I’m ok. “You got this Gillian,” I say to myself.
I jump back in the water. Run a few steps, and then I dive in. Stroke one. Stroke two. Breathe. I can’t breathe! The heart attack, it’s back. I turn around and scramble back to shore where the nice man is still standing.
“I can’t do this,” I say to him.
“Ok, it’s ok honey. But, I am going to need your timing chip.”
The tears begin to well up in my eyes as I take the chip off my ankle and begin walking towards all the spectators. I wasn’t passing them because I just finished my swim and was proudly heading to transition, but rather because I quit.
What was I going to tell everyone when I’m asked how it went? How was I going to respond to all those Facebook “good luck” posts? Maybe no one would ask for my time? Or, maybe I could just be honest and say “PR..5 minutes!” No, I was going to have to say I quit. I was going to have to tell them that I failed. I couldn’t cut it. Gillian did not have it.
I packed up my stuff and walked back to my car to head back to Chicago and decide how I was going to explain my one and only attempt at being a triathlete.
Then I hear the race volunteer say, “ma’am you can’t move your car until the race is over, sorry.”
So that’s how my first race went. What followed that day can be condensed into a few paragraphs because my real story comes not that day but over the next couple of years….
Basically, I went for a run at the park where I was suppose to be swim, bike, running because I wasn’t going anywhere until the race was over. I went through all of the emotions from shame to anger and then from anger to determination. After two hours, I got in my car and drove straight to the Ohio street beach. I put on my wetsuit; got in the water; and swam the half-mile out to the buoy. I conquered my fear of the swim the same day that I let the swim conquer me.
I ended up doing two half Ironman triathlons that summer. Even more important than those races was the team that I found. I found them at a gym, On Your Mark, which is the place that made me realize the importance of community. I trained with two other women who have become two of the most inspirational people in my life. The summer was filled with weekend bike adventures, after work swims, and many foam-rolling sessions. But, the friendships that were formed and the lessons that we learned together, as a team, were the most memorable things of that summer. I love the actual endurance sports, but I sometimes think I like the other parts just as much. The things like having beers with my riding partners after a long ride; eating brunch with my running mates after an early run (eating and drinking are some of the benefits of a rigorous training regimen); or laughing on the long drives to the hills of Michigan.
In March 2013, I did the Escape from Alcatraz. In two years, I had gone from quitting the swim at the Rockford triathlon to swimming the San Francisco Bay. Through the journey of overcoming fear, injuries, exhaustion, sunburns, and chaffing, I found a more passionate and inspired life. Some people might laugh at this, but if you have been hooked by the world of endurance sports you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then I am sure the chaffing and sunburns definitely sold you on giving it a try. But, I promise, it’s worth it. The life of passion and inspiration that I have found is what inspired me to open Grit. The idea for Grit began because I wanted to build a community of new athletes and seasoned athletes that live life with passion and inspiration. Not to mention, I wanted to create a community of people who just love to be on bikes, in the water, or out on the trail (and have a lot of laughs along the way)!
That’s the past that has shaped the creation of Grit. It has been an amazing year and I can’t wait to see what 2015 brings. The Live Grit community is not about the gear or the race times…it’s about the people. And, we are glad that you have found us. So put aside whatever fear or obstacles you might think are in the way of reaching your goals, and come do some epic stuff with us!