A Story of Courage, Commitment, and 26.2 Miles

This is Sonya Harrington, and she is a marathoner. Sonya (1)

Of course, that wasn’t always the case for Sonya. Just 7 short months ago, she showed up at a Fall Marathon Informational Meeting at Fleet Feet Sports in Schererville, Indiana to gather details on what it would take to complete 18 weeks of training to prepare to run the Chicago Marathon.

Many “would be” first time marathoners come to these meetings, but after seeing the intense amount of training that is required to successfully complete a marathon…never come back – only Sonya did come back, and that is where her journey began.

Continue reading “A Story of Courage, Commitment, and 26.2 Miles”

Inside the Mind of an Endurance Athlete

Endurance – the ability to continue with an unpleasant or difficult situation, experience, or activity over a long period of time.

Sounds simple, right? Some describe it as becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. Marathoners, Ultra Marathoners, Ironmen and Ironwomen, and others who push their bodies past the normal limits of exhaustion, for hours and sometimes days, are a truly unique breed of athletes.

“I’m a distance runner. I’ve been trained to keep going, even when it’s hard, when it hurts, when it sucks, when I don’t want to. I look past it. Relentless forward progress to the finish. Call it what you want; stubbornness, endurance, determination, guts. Deep down, I don’t know how to give up.”

Half of one percent of the U.S. population has completed a marathon (26.2 miles). Sounds crazy doesn’t it? It is, but think about foot races that cover 50, 100, 150, 200 miles, and more.

Then there are Ironman events which feature a 2.4 mile swim immediately followed by a 112 mile bike ride, followed by a full marathon. That’s over 170 miles back-to-back-to-back. Better yet, how about a double Ironman, or a triple length Ironman? Are you sensing the crazy yet?

These are distances that will keep athletes on their feet from multiple hours, to days at a time with little to no rest.

The average finish time for a 100 mile run is just over 28 hours. The average finish for an Ironman (140.6 total miles) is just over 15 hours. Some of the world’s best ultra marathoners will finish a 200 mile race in around 61 hours, while some of the mid-packers will come in closer to 85-90 hours. If your math is rusty, that’s about 3 1/2 days.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” – T.S. Eliot

When I say the words “endurance athlete”, it may bring to mind images of the most elite athletes, olympians and such but those aren’t the athletes that I am referring to. Sure, there are elite endurance runners who crush these races, but I’m actually talking about the everyday athlete. The men and women who have real jobs and families to support, who aren’t paid with endorsements. Those are the ones who inspire me because they are the ones who are up and out of the door at 4 or 5 am to log miles in the dark hours of the morning.

The majority of these people will never taste victory and stand on a podium at an ultra endurance event, yet they do it anyway. What sets them apart from the crowd? What drives them to put in the work for months and years on end, only to show up and place 40th in a field of 100?

As you might imagine, a large part of successfully training for and competing in endurance events is an extreme mental focus. Most everyday endurance athletes will tell you that there is nothing exceptional about their physical abilities, in fact many would not have considered themselves to be athletic as kids and young adults. It’s all about their mindset. They aren’t content with the status quo in most areas of life, which gives them an internal drive to push their limits over and over again.

Most endurance racers also have a higher than average pain threshold. I’m not talking in the sense of a Ripley’s Believe It or Not type of pain threshold, but they do have an innate ability to manage pain. When pain sets in, and it always does, they can deal with it in a way that allows them to continue on in spite of the burning pain coursing through their body. They are also able to ignore their mind when it is imploring them to stop.

“Pushing your body past what you thought it was capable of is easy;
the hard part is pushing yourself even further” – Rex Pearce

They are willing to take risks and are completely ok with possibility of failure. Signing up for an ultra marathon takes moxie, and lots of it. Showing up to the starting line and staring fear in the face takes more than that, it takes a bit of delusional confidence as well. It isn’t about arrogance, but it is about having a high level of confidence in yourself and a belief that you can accomplish seemingly impossible feats.

They are some of the most resilient and persistent people on the planet. They expect setbacks and even welcome them. Setbacks offer endurance athletes the chance to improve their mental and physical capacities. Every obstacle offers a chance for conquest.

“We had seen God in his splendour…. We had reached the naked soul of man.”
-Ernest Shackleton

They are able to maintain an intense level of focus for extremely long periods of time. Some people wonder what these athletes think about during these long bouts of competition. While that answer may differ from person to person, the prevailing answer is that they are focused on the task at hand. They are thinking about keeping the proper pace, ingesting the right amount of calories, staying up to date with their hydration levels, and remaining in tune with their body, only they are doing this over the course of hours or days.

They are okay with being alone with their own thoughts. As you may imagine, it can get lonely after awhile. Depending on the event, hours can pass without seeing another person and sometimes they are forging ahead into the cold, black expanse of nothingness…alone. If they weren’t comfortable being in a self-imposed solitary confinement, things could get really ugly (and sometimes it still does).

Sports Psychologist, Frank Farely says that “they tire quickly of everyday things, and their only remedy is to take on the next challenge, hoping for more stimulation.”

In addition to this assessment, Farley also commented that most of these athlete’s maintained similar characteristics in that they’re independent thinkers and methodical about goal-setting. They also tend to believe that they control their own destiny in the sense of successes and failures. They’re typically energetic and innovative, which is why so many are tend to be entrepreneurs.

“Ultrarunners understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being – a call that asks who they are.”  -David Blaikie

Endurance athletes are used to being called crazy, psychotic, and host of other names by those who don’t understand their passion.

They are a special breed, bound by the love of exploration of not only their body and mind, but also of this incredible planet that we call home. They consider moderation to be boring and therefore exhaust themselves in the pursuit of getting more out of life.

They’re entrepreneurs, doctors, school teachers, nurses, construction workers, CEO’s, and janitors. They are everyday people with an extraordinary mindset. Ultra-runners and endurance athletes are a rare and unique breed…and they’re okay with that.

Coming Down: The Black Dog

Last weekend, the race that I had been training for came and went. Months upon months of training culiminated and evaporated into a single fantastic flash.

When I crossed the finish line, I was elated and I rode that unbelievable high for a few days. Now as the buzz is almost gone, I’ve already started thinking about what’s next.

Some refer to this come down as The Black Dog.


The phrase is often traced back to Winston Churchill who suffered from intense bouts of depression throughout his life. The phrase though, can be traced back well beyond Churchill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through. I like to stand right back and if possible get a pillar between me and the train. I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything. A few drops of desperation.” – Winston Churchill

Churchill often referred to these depressive states as being visited by the black dog. Coming down so quickly from a life-changing event leaves you a bit breathless. It also leaves you a bit dejected and in search of your next high.

Something happens during the training that goes with endurance events. It’s almost unnoticeable while it’s happening, but somewhere during all of the miles, the trails, the rain, the snow, early mornings, cold winds, and the people who share all of these brutally glorious hours with you, something transforms your soul. You bond with people who share a love of endurance sports, you push past limits again and again.

It’s an amazing growth process that’s propelling you toward a demon that you must somehow conquer. All the while, there are doubts and there are fears but the thought of a new distance, of a new personal record, a new adventure in unfamiliar territory drives you harder and longer to keep going.

You find purpose and meaning in all of the craziness of this world. You become a friend to yourself and begin to actually like the person that you are. All of this, all of these moments replay in your mind during the race.

You think about the miles and the pain that you endured to get here. You feel the strength in your legs and the air in your lungs, all developed in those early mornings and late nights spent beating your body into a steel wheel.

It’s what gets you through; the training allows you to accomplish these amazing feats and then suddenly as you make the final turn to the finish, you hear the cheers, the clapping, and you see those who shared this awesome journey…and then in a matter of minutes, it’s over.


There are hours of relishing in the accomplishment and then as the cars leave the parking lot, and the voices fade, the black dog begins to pursue you. He knows that your spirit has been stripped bare.

At first, he’s only a faint shadow and then as the hours and days pass, his breath becomes audible and his eyes pierce the deepest recesses of your soul.

He pursues you with the thirst of a thousand deserts, waiting for a chance to sink his teeth into your heart. His growl becomes deeper and his footsteps quicken. If given the chance, he will drag you down to the depths of a black screaming abyss.

“Depression is such a cruel punishment. There are no fevers, no rashes, no blood tests to send people scurrying in concern. Just the slow erosion of the self, as insidious as any cancer. And, like cancer, it is essentially a solitary experience. A room in hell with only your name on the door.” – Martha Manning

In order to avoid the black dog, we start to look for the next challenge. From the outside, people think we are crazy. They think we’re adrenaline junkies. They can’t hear the black dog and they can’t see that he’s on our heels.

Some of us have been in that abyss and we will do whatever it takes to never return. The abyss is where we lose ourselves – where nothing makes sense – and where confusion infiltrates the calmness of our every thought.

I won’t go back there. I can’t. I’ll keep pushing forward with a relentless passion to escape the unpleasant aromas of a hollow life.

Waiting On You

“Thinking will not overcome fear, but action will.” – W. Clement Stone

Your dreams and goals are waiting on you to take action. I am convinced that nothing positive happens in life without action – a conscious decision to move forward toward your goals in spite of fear.

Fear intimidates us and it will continue to do so until we decide to step forward and impose our will on life. The thought of failure is often far worse than the actual event.

“There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” – John F. Kennedy

12 years ago – 3 years post military – I had allowed myself to become overweight…really overweight. At the height of the scale, I weighed 235 pounds which was about 50 pounds more than what I should have weighed. I felt terrible…awful. I had stopped exercising but kept overeating for 3 years. Traveling for work, stress, and a love for junk food had taken their toll on my body and my sanity.

One Sunday, I was sitting on the couch and began to really hate what I had allowed to happen. I was more than just miserable, I was downright angry. This would go on for months until one Sunday I decided that I was not going to let this define who I was any longer. I felt like crap and I decided that I didn’t want to feel like crap anymore. It was time to take action, so I did.

“Vision is not enough, it must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs.” ~ Vaclav Havel

That Monday I showed up at the local YMCA, signed up for a membership, and committed to myself that this was the beginning of a transformation. That one decision altered the course of my life. I went back the next day, and the next, and the next for months and then years. I started eating better and busting my ass in the gym 5-6 days per week. I took up running, then endurance running. Activity is contagious, unfortunately so is laziness.

Over the next 18 months, I dropped over 60 pounds and found myself in the best shape of my life.Was it easy? Hell no. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I did it and that’s the point. I could have sat on the couch with a bag of chips and a beer and continued to feel sorry for myself…and 18 months later I would have still been fat and miserable.

img_2525

Those lazy desires and bad food habits still lurk beneath the surface. Those habits never totally go away, but the more right choices I make, the easier it becomes to win the battle.

Deciding to take action (mostly without the slightest of plans) was the trigger to changing from the person that I loathed, into the person that I knew I could and should be. This wasn’t about image, it was about health, about feeling better, and about setting a better example for my kids.

“I know that I have the ability to achieve the object of my Definite Purpose in life, therefore, I demand of myself persistent, continuous action toward its attainment, and I here and now promise to render such action.” ~ Napoleon Hill

12 years later, I am still with the healthy and fit lifestyle. It has never been about a diet with me, it has always been about a different lifestyle. Action starts the wheel of success turning and good, consistent habits keep it spinning. Whether it’s fitness, business, or relationships, they all require daily action followed by good habits.

So whatever it is that is holding you back, make a choice to take action. Don’t worry about where that choice may lead, just take the step. One step in the right direction could change your life. Believe me.

100 Kilometers- 62.1 Miles of Brutal Determination. 

“Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory.” – William Barclay

3 days ago, I sat on the edge of a hotel bed scared out of my mind; afraid of the task that was ahead of me. Laying out equipment and gear in preparation for a 62.1 mile trail race through the Kistachie National Forest, I tried my best to fight back my fears of failure.


My brother was across the room looking cool, calm, and collected. He had been through this process before and now I needed his guidance and his confident spirit, both at that moment and for the next 16 hours.

I knew there would be countless physical and mental obstacles in our quest to conquer a seemingly impossible feat. The mental hurdles would not wait for the start of the race, they had already started their unrelenting assault on my mind. 

Our plan was to get a few restless hours of sleep the afternoon before race day and then try our best to sleep the night before, which we both knew would be next to impossible. Wake up time would arrive with a energetic beep of the alarm at 3:30 AM.


The next two hours were a blur of coffee, running attire, bags of gear and food (that could have kept us alive for at least two weeks in any wilderness setting), a 45 minute drive into the woods of NW Louisiana, and enough pre-race jitters to fill an ocean.

Getting to the starting line would soon prove to be the easiest part of the journey.

The best piece of advice that I received was to picture the start of the run as the entrance of a long tunnel, and the only way out was through the other side. I pictured that tunnel in my mind at least a dozen times during our run.

The difference in the advice and reality is that the tunnel has several escape hatches along the way; it would be our own determined choice to resist the urge to open them and continue pushing forward.

As a small group of fellow Ultramarathon hopefuls gathered at the starting line, I could literally feel the residual adrenaline rolling down my skin. The moment that we had all trained for, sacrificed so much time and energy for, and ran thousands of training miles for, was finally here.

The clock struck 6 AM and it was on. It was time to attempt the unthinkable; to test my mind, body, and spirit, and ask them to take me much farther than I had ever asked before. If they weren’t up to the challenge, it would fall on my shoulders and nobody else’s. My brother was with me, but completing this race was up to me.

For the first hour and a half, we would be running in the dark while awaiting the arrival of daybreak. Headlamps in place, off we went. We knew that we would encounter around 5,500 feet of elevation gain via a varied terrain of soft sand, hard-packed red dirt, rock, and multiple water crossings.

The weather was perfect for running, with temperatures rising from the mid-30’s to around 55 degrees by the afternoon. Our first goal was to finish, just don’t quit. Our second goal was to finish in under 16 hours.

As light pierced the treetops, we were hitting our stride nicely and feeling good. Making a conscious effort to maintain an easy pace – power hiking the up hills and running the downhills and flats just as we had planned. The sandy uphills were by far the biggest challenge of the first 31 mile loop. Treading soft sand takes a toll on your lower legs and fatigues them faster than usual.

Our shoes and socks were taking on sand likes sinking boat takes on water. At the 18 mile aid station, our drop bags awaited us. We quickly scarfed down as many calories as we could, emptied the sand from our shoes, lubed our feet, changed our socks, and off we went.

Each 31-mile loop had around 2,800 feet of elevation gain which was mostly front-loaded in the first 20 miles. This was a welcomed relief for the last third of the loop because we were able to run most of it. We made up quite a bit of the time we lost trudging through the sandy uphills.

Our sights were set on finishing the first loop, getting another round of calories down, taking care of our feet, and getting through the first 10 miles of the second loop before dark.

Then, at around mile 28, my brother’s IT Band flared up and began causing him a great deal of added discomfort. I silently worried if it would be too much for him to deal with, but he kept going. He would have to fight through that grueing pain for another 8 plus hours to finish.

We made it through the first loop mostly in tact. We topped off our water bottles and stuffed our race packs with as many calories as it would hold. One side note: Ryan grabbed a bag of mini-snickers bars as part of our stock-up trip before the race. What a godsend that was! Nothing is more delicious and energy-packed than a mini-snickers bar in the middle of nowhere.


Mis-remembering the first 10 miles of the loop as being all sand and uphill, we were actually surprised to find that this section was a bit easier than we recalled. Then…we found the difficult section. Having already covered 41 miles, we were feeling the painful burn in our legs and the hot spots on our feet more than ever.

Everything ached and the miles were not going down as quickly as before. Now the hills and terrain came at us with a new intensity. One that the trail had not shown in the beginning. This was hell.

Our only focus became making it to the drop bag at mile 49 before we lost daylight. We began moving with a hurried intensity of run-hike-run. My toes were numb, my legs were screaming, and my mind was fighting me with everything it had.

We made it to the drop bag 10 minutes before dark. It was a good chance to get some carb-loaded calories down. Again, we changed our socks, threw our headlights on, refilled our water bottles, and we were off. 13 miles to go. We weren’t racing the clock, we were racing our will to succeed.

This would prove to be the longest 13 miles of my life. As the darkness set in, so did the thoughts of quitting. Your mind is such a powerful tool that when it’s working against you, it becomes a struggle of internal fortitude.

Thoughts of “how bad do you want this” get replaced with thoughts of “why are you doing this?”

It all begins and ends in your mind. What you give power to has power over you. – Leon Brown

As we began the last stretch of the race, there was dark calm of nothingness surrounding us. I would look to the woods in hope of finding some sort of strength, only to find a blank expanse of uselessness.

My mind was pleading with me to stop moving. I became quiet, fighting an internal battle of self-discipline and self-loathing. This was no longer a trail race, it was a fight.

As I looked at my brother, he was wrestling with his own demons – his IT Band was screaming in full throat but he was moving with an unwavering purpose. He wasn’t going to quit, no matter what. The look in his eyes and the purposefulness of his steps gave me the strength I was searching for.

A wave of emotion washed over me at mile 54 and tears were flowing down my face, only I had no idea why. Maybe it was a silent victory over my mind, a reminiscent feeling of always looking to him for guidance and direction – and realizing that after 37 years, that he was still there to give it.

8 miles to go and we now we exchange a silent gaze. Let’s do this. Power through. Everything you have.

We began to shuffle our feet, and then we’re running. We’ve got two hours to the finish. God it hurts! It hurts to run, it hurts to walk, and it hurts to stop. Keep moving. One foot in front of the other until it’s over.

As we round a corner, we begin to smell the familiar fragrance of a campfire. Hope returns and our faces both express smiles. The crowd at the finish line can see our headlights making their way through the forest and they begin to cheer. We crossed the finish line! 62.1 miles of agony and 62.1 miles of sweet glory!


This is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and the fact that I did it step for step with my big brother makes it that much sweeter.


We stared fear in the face and we kicked its ass. To my brother; thank you for always being there to shoulder the load. To my wife; thank you for letting me do this crazy shit. To everyone reading this; don’t ever back down from fear. You’re stronger than you could ever imagine. Don’t ever be afraid to challenge yourself!

30,000 Feet of Perspective

3 months ago, my brother asked me to run a 100 kilometer trail race with him near our birthplace in Louisiana. I hem hawed around for a month or so, unwilling to commit. I had just completed two marathons within a month of each other after spending the majority of the summer and fall training, but 100 kilometers? 62.1 miles?! That was a different story altogether. I am usually not one to shy away from seemingly impossible tasks, but this one was different. In the past, I have set difficult goals but they were goals that were mostly doable and even if I missed, I had the confidence that I would at least get close to accomplishing them.

This one though…this was one of those things that seemed so far outside of my realm of possibility, that it actually posed a more serious opportunity to fail and fail big. I had never run anything more than a 50 kilometer race (31 miles) and this was double that distance and even more daunting, probably15-20 hours of non-stop movement on my feet. Do I have the willpower to do this? Am I physically and mentally capable of covering 62 miles of trail? Is my life insurance paid up? Actually, that was my wife’s question.

After a lot of debate and even more questions of my sanity, I decided to commit and at least give it a shot. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Death, actually. Death could happen. My brother calmed that fear though assuring me that I would pass out first. Thanks bro. My brother is a much more experienced trail and ultra-runner, so I would need to lean on him for that experience and knowledge if I had even a chance of succeeding at this challenge.

Fast-forward a couple of months, and I am on a plane headed to Texas – then Louisiana via car to the Kisatchie National Forest. What the hell was I thinking? Seriously! The race is 36 hours away and I have no idea how this will turn out. I consider myself to be a determined and strong-willed person who is in more than decent running shape, but the doubts are swirling.

This is life though, right? We prepare the best we can for it, but in reality we have no idea what tomorrow holds. If the future brings obstacles that require determination and discipline to overcome, how will we react? I will tell you how; by giving it everything we’ve got and refusing to quit. That’s big talk from 30,000 feet up, but in 36 hours, it will be time to step up and put my will to the ultimate test.

Stay tuned…

Get Off of the Fence

I should (fill in the blank) but I’ll wait until tomorrow. If you’ve said this today, or even in the last week, you’re fence-sitting. Why? What are you waiting on? The perfect day, better weather, the right mood, greener grass? How has that worked out for you in the past?

If you don’t like where you are, you have two choices – accept it and live with it or take action and change it. No one is coming to save you from your circumstance. You won’t wake up tomorrow with a different life if you go to bed tonight with the same fears.

“The world is more malleable than you think and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape.” – Bono

Too many of us are under this grand illusion that successful living just happens; one day we just wake up and the life we want will magically take shape. It won’t. Nothing positive happens without action. Nothing.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” — Unknown

We only have so many years on this beautiful planet and the more time we spend wishing, hoping, and fence-sitting, the less time we have to see and do and live. We sit on the fence because we are afraid to fail. What’s so bad about trying something and failing? Every single person who has found success has failed…many times.

“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes but don’t quit.” – Conrad Hilton

So get on with it. Get off of the fence and start doing. Experience a different life. Don’t die with your bucket list unchecked. Take pictures, talk to strangers, see new places, climb mountains, swim in the ocean, start a business, ask for the promotion, work hard and do epic stuff.

Stop trying to figure it all out before you try something. Step out and take the first step. Try hard things and fail at them. Action is contagious and it feels good to exert influence on the world around you.

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The fence will always be there, but our time is limited. We get one shot at this thing; don’t waste it. Get off of the fence and start living.

Endurance Runners: Why They Do It

Endurance Runners: A special breed of men and women who push themselves to their physical and mental limits, and then push even harder.

They drive themselves to the brink of complete exhaustion and then go even further. They train to endure, to outlast; not the competition but themselves. Long after most would have quit, they continue on with an unquenchable thirst for more. More pain, more agony, more suffering. It is in this pain that they discover who they really are.

Their tanks are never empty. They always have more. When they run out of strength, they are able to dig deeper than most to find that little extra drop of determined courage to continue. Their minds are unharnessed by the limitations of mortality and their hearts are free from the strain and pressure of societal conformity. The quest to find meaning in their existence stretches far beyond fatigue. In fact, fatigue is only the starting point.

Everyone understands fatigue, but most never tap into the innermost recesses of their spirit to discover the inner grit and determination to push past fatigue.
If they were to venture into this abyss of mental and physical anguish, they too would understand that life is more rewarding when we explore these dark and remote corners of our soul.

For them, there is no end…no finish line. There’s only more to challenge and discover.

“The cure for the pain is in the pain” – Rumi

Most people wait for the feelings of fear, sorrow and misery to find them (and it does find all of us), but endurance runners seek them out. They know that the only way to beat them is to face them head on.

When you ask, “why do you put yourself through this?”, you’ll often hear them say “I can’t explain it to you”. They’re not saying this to be pretentious…no, endurance runners are far from egotistical.

They’re saying it because they know that the only way you’d ever understand it would be by putting yourself in those same dark and lonely places of the soul and fighting your way out. There are important lessons to be learned in the pain of life. Don’t wait for it to find you. Seek to find it, understand it, fight through it and learn from it.

An Easy Life Will Never Accomplish Anything Worthwhile

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life.”

– Theodore Roosevelt 

Effort, pain, and difficulty…the trademarks of a life well-lived. If you examine the great innovators, social activists, and heroes who truly made our world better with the sacrifice of theirs, you will not find men and women who lived easy, uninterrupted lives. Instead, you will find people like Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King Jr., Theodore Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa, and Abraham Lincoln.

This incredible list of names conjure up images of leadership, dignity, toughness, and a willingness to go against the grain, but what often gets lost is the amount of difficulty, tragedy, and hardships that they endured, most of which was not of their own doing.

Jesus Christ was betrayed by one of his closest friends, abandoned by His disciples after his arrest, falsely accused and rejected by Jewish leaders, mocked and tortured by Roman guards, and was crucified between two thieves at the cross on Calvary.

“For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?” – Jesus Christ 

Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested more than 20 times, had his home bombed and burned down, was stabbed by a woman while at a book signing, saw dozens of crosses burned on his front lawn, and was eventually assassinated. In 1963, King led 200,000 people in The March on Washington to the Lincoln Memorial where he made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. He was also awarded The Nobel Peach Prize at the age of only 35.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”        – Martin Luther King Jr. 

Theodore Roosevelt was born a frail and sickly boy who suffered from asthma, which was often fatal in that day. At the age of 26, he lost his mother to typhoid fever and his wife to kidney disease less than 12 hours apart. Roosevelt lost sight in his left eye during a boxing match. He was shot in an attempted assassination in 1912, but delivered his two-hour speech anyway, with a bullet lodged firmly in his chest.

Roosevelt contracted malaria at age 56, lost his oldest son and saw the other two severely injured in the midst of WWI. He eventually succumbed to a blood clot in his heart in January, 1919. he was buried with no fanfare, not even a eulogy. After his death, Thomas Marshall said this about Roosevelt, “Death had to take him in his sleep, for if he was awake there’d have been a fight.”

“It is not the critic who counts. … The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly … who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Nelson Mandela endured tremendous prejudice and discrimination throughout his entire political career, and was eventually jailed for trying to overthrow the pro-apartheid government of South Africa. He would spend 27 years of his life in prison. He was sentenced to hard labor, but never lost his sense of purpose. South Africa eventually ended apartheid and Mandela was elected President at the first general election following his release.

“Whatever sentence Your worship sees fit to impose upon me for the crime for which I have been convicted before this court, may it rest assured that when my sentence has been completed I will still be moved, as men are always moved, by their conscience….” – Nelson Mandela

As a child, Winston Churchill had a pronounced lisp, suffered from dyslexia, and some even consider him to have exhibited the traits of ADHD. His energy level and aloofness was incredible as a child that he once ruptured a kidney and suffered a concussion from throwing himself off of a bridge.

He was hit by a car while crossing 5th Ave in New York, crashed a place while learning to fly, and was thrown from numerous horses. Churchill also suffered from bouts of severe depression. While traveling through South Africa in 1899, his train was attacked by the Boers and he was promptly marched to a secluded prison camp. His first organized attack of WWI was a spectacular failure, causing him to be stripped of his post of admiralty .

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”        – Winston Churchill

Mother Teresa lost her father when she was only 8 years old. Of course we never picture Mother Teresa to have struggled with her faith but according to the book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, Mother Teresa actually struggled intensely with feelings of loneliness and even abandonment…an absence of Jesus in her life.

In a letter thought to have been written in 1961, Mother Teresa wrote: “Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason—the place of God in my soul is blank—There is no God in me—when the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God. … The torture and pain I can’t explain.” It is somewhat saddening, but also uplifting to see that even someone of her faith struggled so intensely with feelings of sadness and separation.

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”                          – Mother Teresa

Abraham Lincoln’s family was forced out of their home when he was only 7 years old. He was forced to work in order to help support the family. Two years later, at the age of 9, his mother passed away. His sister died 10 years later when Lincoln was 19. He undertook a business venture in 1831, which failed and forced him into an incredible amount of debt which took him 17 years to pay off. In 1832, he ran for the State Legislature and lost. IN 1835, he met and became engaged but unfortunately his fiancé died that same year. The following year, he had a complete mental breakdown. later that year, he ran for Speaker of the Legislature, but lost. 4 years later, he ran for Elector and again was defeated.

In 1842 he marries Mary Todd; they have 4 boys but only one would live to maturity. The following year, he ran for Congress and lost. In 1846 he ran for Congress again and finally won and then moved to Washington. Two years later, he ran for re-election to Congress and lost. In 1850 his son, Edward, dies. In 1854, he ran for the Senate of the United States and lost. Then in 1856, he sought the Vice Presidential nomination at a national convention, but recieved less than 100 votes. In 1858, he ran for the Senate once again and lost again. Finally in 1860, Abraham Lincoln is elected President of the United States. Two years later, his son, Willie, dies at the age of only 12. In 1865 On April 14th, Abraham Lincoln is assassinated.

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” – Abraham Lincoln

Despite the incredible setbacks and hardships that accompanied the lives of these great individuals, they managed to overcome adversity on the grandest of scales. Not only did they overcome, they thrived and accomplished unbelievable feats of leadership, courage, caring, and most of all – they made the world a better place for those who followed. Their lives were certainly not without effort, pain, and difficulty…and they certainly did not lead easy lives.

We all face adversity…every single one of us. We can let these setbacks stop us or we can let them make us into the people that we are destined to become.