I ran eight miles in the rain this morning. Today marked my last long run to train for my second half-marathon, next Saturday. The weather forecast predicted rain and thunderstorms likely for the whole day, so when I woke up and there was a small break in the rain, I figured I better just go for it. The sky was only just spitting for the first mile, and then the sprinkle gradually increased into a shower over the next few miles, but by then I was warm and oddly happy to be accompanied by the rain. In fact, around mile six I realized that the rain had momentarily let up and I was surprised to find myself feeling as though I'd been abandoned by a friend.
A couple nights ago I listened to presentations by a few organizations that help at-risk kids succeed. One of these was Row New York, a group that "empowers young people from New York City's under-resourced communities to build strength, gain confidence, and pursue excellence through the unique sport of rowing." The speaker talked about how rowing teaches young people endurance and dedication; they row when they're tired, when it's cold, when it's pouring down rain. While she spoke, I thought about how important this is, and how hard it is to teach young people this, or to learn it yourself.
This week in school I spoke to one of the 11th graders who had just done miserably on his neuroscience test. He told me he understood the material, but just hadn't studied enough, explaining that he was bad at studying. When I offered to go over some study techniques with him, he said he knew how to study, but was just too lazy to do it. "What happens when you need to study for tests in college?" I asked. "Oh, I'll study in college!" To which I replied, "You won't be able to unless you build your study muscle now." "There's a study muscle?" "Yes, of course there is," I lied. But it wasn't really a lie. I talked to him about how it's important to build endurance, that it doesn't happen all at once.
I think about this a lot when a child who has not regularly engaged in school decides he wants to really be a student. The turn away from apathy and self-doubt is such a beautiful moment, and in some ways often feels like it should be the end the long battle, but really it's just the beginning of an even longer one. These students start out at a sprint, and soon tire, wanting once again to give up. They don't know what it feels like to be a student -- to push themselves, to stay in class all day long, to complete a project, to care enough to ask for help, to keep working. It's so exhausting, and they have no previous training or experience. They just want to poof! be academically successful. Asking them to be a full-time student all at once is akin to suggesting that a person merely stop loafing about and run a marathon, now, today, no running experience needed. It's not possible, not sustainable. In reality, these kids must commit to a long-term and arduous journey.
Last year I was scared to run the half-marathon. I didn't know if I could do it. Literally. I didn't know if my body would take me 13.1 miles -- I had never done it before. After the race was over, I was relieved and joyous, and proud of myself. But it dawned on me that the race was not what I was most proud of; I was most proud of my training. It turned out that the race was the easy part, full of celebration and fanfare; the 10 weeks of non-stop, grueling running leading up to the race was what had made me strong. Every day that I did not want to run but did anyway -- that was what taught me something about myself. That's why the little milestones and personal celebrations are so important, they're the only thing that can keep us going.
Last night I went to see one of my girls in her first full-on roller derby bout. She was amazing. All the girls were amazing. These girls train several times a week. They're badass chicas, proudly showing off bruises like war wounds. They speed around the track, falling hard and getting right back up again. I am so impressed by their spirit and want to be one of their teammates.
This student of mine, she checks in with me a couple times a day at school. She comes for a hug and a laugh, and for me to remind her that she is strong enough to keep going and conquer her school projects. I remind her that if she can do it with a pair of roller skates on a track, she can push herself to excel in school, too. She tells me she wants to be strong like me, but what she doesn't understand is that I want to be strong like her. I want to push myself to do the next difficult thing, to get up again when I've been knocked down and hurt or discouraged or when I am lost. That girl in her roller skates, she teaches me to be a strong woman.