It was my first Boston Marathon, I was 46 years old, two miles from the top of Heartbreak Hill, and in one word, miserable.
My left leg had locked up, and the high winds and low temperatures had taken their toll.
Not a happy camper, and still seven miles to the finish line.
I grabbed a discarded sweatshirt from the street—I was so far back of the pack that there was plenty of used clothing to choose from. I was warmer but still miserable, unable to run.
On a good day I have good endurance but lousy speed, and I envied the faster runners who had gotten through the entire course before the sun began to descend and the wind picked up.
Six months of training, and it felt as though the only thing that would get me to the finish line…was a taxi.
At that moment, one of the extremely few remaining spectators on Commonwealth Avenue got off his chair and approached me as I hiked painfully up the hill.
He was an older man—mid-60s, a bluff, no-nonsense New Englander, and he had a message he wanted to share.
I wondered why he was still out there watching stragglers like me, as the afternoon turned cold and windy, and pretty much everyone else was either wearing finishers’ medals or approaching the end of the race.
He literally got in my face, like the drill sergeant he must have been.
“Millions of people,” he intoned, waving a finger at me, “would give anything to be where you are right now.”
And with that, he turned and went back to his folding chair.
The words awoke something in me.
They freed me from my intense and all-consuming self-pity.
He reminded me of the bigger picture—he helped me refrain what had become a sour experience.
It hit me that I had a number on my chest and I was an official runner in the Boston Marathon.
It didn’t matter how much pain my leg was in.
Even if I had to crawl the last seven miles, I would finish.
I had already done 18 miles, that, except for some discomfort, I was healthy, and if I just hung in, I would finish the race and get my medal.
Somehow my leg hurt less.
Before long, I was able to pick up the pace and actually start running again.
I’d love to tell you I finished strong, picking up speed and running faster than I’d ever run in my life.
But eventually, alternatively walking and dog-trotting, I finished.
I’ve since gone back and run the Boston Marathon six more times, including the interrupted 2013 edition, and with God’s help I’ll run it again this April.
I think frequently of that unexpected comment on that raw April afternoon a dozen years ago.
It’s so easy to slip into self-pity, self-doubt, or, simply, a preoccupation with one’s self.
At least it’s really easy for me.
Not everything goes right in life, and there are problems with work, problems with kids, problems with marriage, problems, period.
What that stranger told me on the Boston Marathon course rings true constantly: millions would indeed give anything to be where I am right now.
Where I am?
Living in the freest country in the history of the world.
I’m a husband and a father of four healthy children.
I run a successful business, and if you’re in business, whether you’re Bill Gates or you just opened your doors for the first day, there are always problems.
Nevertheless…all together this time…millions of people would give anything to be where I am right now.
And, for that matter, where you are.
Wherever you are.
So the next time you find yourself asking “Why me?”, borrow my motivational moment.
No matter what you’re going through, no matter insurmountable the odds may seem, there’s always a solution.
Problems have beginnings, middles, and finish lines—just like marathons.
You just have to hang in and remind yourself of how privileged you are to be alive and in a position either to solve your problems,
Or you can just situations for what they are, which, in itself, is a pretty good solution, too.
Wherever you are, whatever you’re going through, as that stranger told me, millions of people would give anything to be where you are right now.
It was true for me on that April afternoon in 2005, and in my heart I’m certain that it’s equally true for each of us today.
Finish strong. You can get there. And when you do, it’s going to be great.