I knew it would be a challenging run, so I trained hard. I used a variety of workouts to try to prepare my body. And for the last few days before the event, I did my best to focus almost solely on preparing my mind. Little did I know…
My team mates were also training hard. We had personal and email exchanges about fears and worries that came up. We offered each other affirmation and encouragement and support through the preparations. But for me, the team was key on the day of the event.
My two teammates are Charlie Smith and Greg Tapler. They are younger than me. And that was part of my fear: that I would be old and slow enough that I would frustrate them or at least hold them back.
We started off and I felt strong. I focused on the trail — and a good thing as sometimes it was quite rough. The initial challenges seemed surmountable: a wall to climb, mud to crawl through and icy barbed wire to crawl under. Then, we hit the ice bath known as Arctic Enema. The memory lingers just like the intrusive, blue dye that was so hard to wash off. Hitting that freezing cold water, I knew that my muscles would have to work even harder after that chill. But we carried on.
The temperature that morning was only in the upper 30’s (Fahrenheit), so the chill never wore off. By the time we hit the 8th mile, each of us had experienced chattering teeth at least once. My right hip was painful and barely wanted to work when I asked it to. And the obstacles kept coming: Everest, Walk the Plank, and so on. Each one was a challenge in its own way.
Somewhere around 10 or 11 miles, one of my teammates asked if I could jog. My response was simple and instantaneous: “No.” Both teammates indicated that this was fine and they would go at my pace. My fear that I would hold the team back set in again.
If I had been on the course by myself, I would have stopped at this point. I would have said that my hip hurt too much and I needed to just rest. I don’t know if it was shame, fear, passion or some combination, but I knew I wanted to keep going because I was part of the team. I focused my thoughts on keeping my joints loose and light. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes the pain really took hold. I kept going.
But the fear was also at work, so I said: “If you guys want to run ahead, feel free.” One of my teammates answered, “What part of ‘Crossing the finish line together’ don’t you understand?” That line has stuck with me and kept me pondering the wonder of being part of a team ever since.
As an artist, it’s easy to try to go it alone. Maybe we think no one else can or will help us. Maybe we think no one can do things the way we want them. Maybe we’re afraid that we’ll look dumb or like a failure if we ask for help.
What I know right now is that being part of a team is an awesome experience and one that can enliven parts of us that we may not be conscious of without the team. As artists, we can invite supporters, friends, experts in other fields, and so on to be part of our team that will get us through the course. It may or may not be about full collaboration on the art or music. Teamwork in our artistic life just means support of whatever sort we need — much like I experienced in this obstacle course with my team.