By JAMIE PARSELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
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A retired marine, Jamie Summerlin from West Virginia, ran across the country this summer. According to an Associated Press story, it took him 100 days to run from Washington State — he started on March 26 — to the Atlantic Ocean. He averaged 34 miles a day.
Diana Nyad ended her attempt to swim across the Straits of Florida this week. She swam more than 41 hours before being pulled from the water due to the weather, jellyfish stings, sharks and hypothermia. It was her fourth attempt in almost 35 years. The 63 year old wanted to be the first swimmer to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage.
If you are not road kill, you are shark bait. I am impressed.
As a runner, I am always fascinated by stories of people who run really far, like across the country. I have a dozen of questions to ask. One in particular is how do you get that much time off of work? Secondly, how much pain reliever and ice packs did you use during those 100 days? I would like to ask Nyad why she wanted to swim in shark-infested waters, not once but four times? It comes down to goals, dreams and heart-to-heart conversations late at night, when no one else is listening to our thoughts. We all have them. The brave look for thrilling challenges — to be the first, break the records and bring national attention to a cause or organization. The brave, but perhaps more cautious individuals, pick goals that don’t risk life or limb.
Straight out of college, I worked for a small newspaper in Virginia. One of my assignments during that first year was to interview a man who rode his bike cross-country. He started in California and ended his journey in Virginia, his home state. It was more than a physical goal; it was an emotional and spiritual journey as well. Perhaps that is the origin of motivations. Once the legs get tired, the heart keeps up the pace.
History is full of record breakers like long-time favorite Amelia Earhart. I did my first book report on the American aviator. Even as a third grader, I gravitated towards figures that dared to accomplish the unimaginable. It was her attitude that caught my attention. She was fearless. For the first time, I read about a woman who defined the odds, and dressed differently than other women in her time. Who knew there was girl power in the 1930s? I am not the only one fascinated by her story. The Earhart mystery continues, often stealing the spotlight from Hollywood celebrities. Recently, a team looking for the wreckage of her plane found promising evidence with new technology. I hope researchers are able to piece together the last chapter of her life for my generation.
Today, there are folks who hike, swim, bike and run, past their limits. The one thing they all have in common is their desire to break out of the comfort zone. How often do we — the ones who stand on the sidelines — break out of our own comfort zones? A few would call the extreme goal chasers a bit crazy. Yet there is admiration, mixed with awe, for people who dare to test the limits. It is easy to feel inadequate comparing our routine life to those who run across the country and swim with sharks. Instead of letting those feelings take over, use them for inspiration. I can’t run across the country. I don’t like swimming in the ocean. But I can run a local race for a local charity. Nyad didn’t make her goal. She tried and failed four separate times. She never gave up her dream. And neither should the residents of the two Virginias. Find a dream or goal and set the pace. Let history repeat itself for the future generation. We can’t all be Amelia Earharts. But we can be motivated community members with a goal to achieve what some call impossible. Let’s take an easier route, if possible. I don’t want my friends and neighbors turning into shark bait.
Jamie Parsell is the Lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @BDTParsell.