A phrase that has become very significant to me is "Embrace the Struggle". What that means to me is to see the things that may seems as unfortunate, as a means of making me stronger. Romans 5: 3-4 says "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope." I see that verse significant in life as well as in endurance sports. One thing I will never forget one of my closest friends, Michael Harlow telling our junior athletes is that a triathlon is a series of obstacles to overcome. Not only is swimming, cycling, and running an obstacle that must be overcome to reach the finish but in a race we will experience more obstacles than expected when we started. It may be a rough current in the swim, a flat tire on the bike, or cramps on the run. What truly makes an incredible athlete is the person who recognizes that those obstacles are just part of the experience and how they react to those struggles is what competing is all about. The reason that is so important is because those are the experiences that will shape the person you are outside of competition. What truly makes the difference is how we react to a situation that is unfortunate in life. I am determined not to be one of those people that is experiencing a struggle and dwells on the negitive. Bad stuff happens to everyone and I want to be one of those people that looks at a struggle and says, "bring it on". 

I love looking back on life and seeing how relevate the struggles I was experiencing allowed for a better future. One situation that comes to mind was my freshman year of college. I submitted my application for the NCAA Clearing House because I was accepted on Liberty University's track team. Unfortunately I was one high school credit short of completing the required amount of NCAA approved classes. I did not find this out until I had already met the team and was getting ready to attend the first practice. When the coaches told me I was not eligible until my sophomore year I was devastated. I had worked so hard to make that team and now I had to wait a year if I wanted another chance. I let myself have a pity party for a couple days until I told myself that this was not over. I looked up all the indoor and outdoor track meets that I could compete at as an unattached athlete and planned a complete season of competing. I trained for an entire year by myself knowing that the end result would be worth it. The things I learned that year are invaluable to me. I learned a work ethic that I do not think I would have been able to have without that experience. It also made me appreciate the reality of being on the track team I had dreamed about being on for years when I finally joined the team my sophomore year. Not being on the team my freshman year my not seem very significant to most people but it was what I was passionate about. It was a huge struggle at the time but looking back I am so thankful for that. 

Running the 800 meter on Liberty's Track team my Sophomore year. 

Another situation I can not help but think about was the 2013 Triathlon Age Group World Championships in London. I had trained all year long with the goal of placing well against the best amateur competition in the world. Several weeks before I had competed in the Age Group National Championship in Milwaukee, WI. I did well at that race and had great confidence going into the world championships several weeks from then. The day after the race I was back in Richmond coaching the Veritas Cross Country team and was running with them for their warm up. I had a pain in my lower back that I did not feel until then. Over the next week that pain kept getting worse to where it was very painful to even walk and running was not happening. I got a bone scan which showed an inflamed SI joint due to my pelvis shifting out of alignment. I went to 3 straight weeks of physical therapy 5 times a week. We decided to still make the trip to London and my first run since that day after nationals was a tune up easy run the day before the race. I felt great! I had no pain and my body felt ready to go. The day of the race I felt very mentally strong and was ready for the race of my life. I came out of the water much better than expected and was making up time on the top swimmers when I got on the bike. Only two miles into the sprint distance race I hit a speed bump the wrong way and it flatted my rear wheel. I told myself that I did not come all the way to London to quit because of a flat tire so I kept riding. I was much slower but 10 miles later I finished the bike and had one of my fastest run splits to date. Unfortunately the time I lost on the bike was too significant to place well. I was disappointed but I still had the olympic distance race two days later. Unfortunately I cracked my "not so cheap" disk wheel by riding it flat for 10 miles. Thankfully my friend Jay Peluso did the sprint distance race and let me borrow his disk wheel for the next race. In the Olympic distance race I again had a much better swim than I could have imagined. I was flying on the bike and was feeling great! As I passed Buckingham Palace my ride started to feel a little bumpier. I soon realized that I had run over some glass on the road and my front wheel had gone flat. I still had 15 miles left and knew it was just not smart to continue and ruin another "not so cheap" race wheel. Saying I was disappointed would be an understatement. I had a 7 mile walk back to the race site to think about my experience in London. I had a "what the heck" moment with God and questioned why He would allow me to experience an injury before the race and allow it to heal enought to compete, only to travel across the world for two unfortunate races. As I looked up at Buckingham Palace I realized how fortunate I was to even have the opportunity to be in London at a World Championship event. I then reminded myself that everything happens for a reason. I did not know what God was really trying to teach me but I was excepting the fact that someday I would know. 

On the 5k run during the 2013 London ITU Age Group Sprint World Championships

Looking back over that race week I am so thankful for it. It has allowed me to know exactly how my athletes are feeling when something unfortunate happens to them in a race. It also made the experience I had in Edmonton this year so much more rewarding.

Did my experience in London make me a stronger athlete? From a mental aspect, absolutely. I learned to use a bad experience to fuel what I wanted to be a better one in the future. It allowed me to understand that embracing my struggles would allow me to strengthen my endurance, character, and give me a hope for a better future (Romans 5: 3-4). Of course I have related all of this to athletics but what I love about training and competing is that you can use it as a metaphore for life. Everyone experiences suffering but it is what we learn, how we react, and how we use that to create a better perspective on life so we can get the most out of it. 

When I say I like Romans 5: 3-4 and the phrase "Embrace the Struggle" I mean I REALLY like it :)

AuthorParker Spencer