A Reaction to Obstacles in Life.

When I was going through the first phase of flight training, I learned how thorough and intense the training would be. In addition to all the book work, learning about jet propulsion (suck, squeeze, bang, boom, blow), about aerodynamics (little lifties run across the wing, and the ones on the bottom run slower, the ones across the top run lighter, so the bottom ones push the wing, and thus the whole plane, upward) and meteorology (don't fly into cummulo-granitus clouds, it hurts), we had several physical challenges.

Some were water related. Swimming multiple laps of the pool, treading water until the cows came home, drown proofing until waterlogged, and getting dunked by a mechanical monstrosity nicknamed "The Dilbert Dunker" for example. Unrelated to water was the cross country run, it seemed we ran across the panhandle of Florida, and the obstacle course, where we climbed walls ala King Kong style, albeit with more speed and less height. What I want to focus on, though any one of these would do well for our purposes, is the cross-country course.

The first time I ran it, I was about sixty seconds over the limit. I had failed. I didn't take it too badly; after all, I had failed the obstacle course as well.

I got promoted to 'remedial runner', and set back in classes until I could pass the two courses. Hey, at least I had several friends with me, and we joined those that had been previously designated 'Remedial runners' and had a big group.

Hey, I had been given a goal to achieve: pass the courses, and get back into training. Amazingly, in the Navy's wisdom, the believed that the best way for someone to pass the courses was to RUN the courses. We got up early and ran both of them every morning. We broke for lunch, and then came back and ran both of them every afternoon. For a relaxing break afterwards, we played full court basketball or volleyball.

A passing time on the cross-country course, which was 1 and 1/2 miles long, was 11 minutes 15 seconds. Pensacola is a relatively flat area, so the course had no hills to speak of. However, it had three sand traps. You can call them sandpits; I called them sand traps. They were small compared to the ones on some golf courses, and we always ran through them lengthwise, by design. They were only about 30 to 50 foot long, each.

We were told that as soon as we would pass either of the courses, we would no longer have to run that course. We would be stationed along it to help 'motivate' our classmates.

After a week of this excitement and activity, I had not improved my time on either course by much at all. I was still almost a minute too slow on the cross-country course, and missing the obstacle course by a dozen seconds, or so.

On Wednesday of the second week, while trudging through the first of the three sand traps, I was dragging. I was getting nowhere and I knew it. This was not working, and I was sweating. It was hot in Florida that October 1976. One my fellow motivators noticed what I was doing, yet couldn't get his message across to me while I was out there, (something to do with my preoccupation with my heartbeat) and spoke to me when it was thankfully over.

I don't recall his exact words, but he told me I had the wrong attitude about the sand traps. Can you believe that? These things were killing me, and he said I had the wrong attitude? He had a captive audience as I was having a near death experience from the run, so he had the opportunity to keep talking. He told me that as long as he dreaded the sand traps, he couldn't pass the course. As a result of that dread, he automatically slowed down upon entering them, took forever to cross them, and would then accelerate upon leaving.

It had hit him, to move the acceleration point to the START of the trap, not to the end. That way the slowest time on his run would be the best time and he would complete the overall course much faster. He had decided to ATTACK the traps, not REGRET the traps. That time he passed the course. We agreed that for the afternoon's run, he would wait for me at the first sand trap. Not that I believed him, but something in what he said made sense. More than that, I was tired of going nowhere, and was starting to dread the WHOLE course. Attacking instead of regretting had something to it.

That afternoon, as I approached the first trap, he yelled ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK. It hit me that he was quoting Napoleon, who had said "Attack, attack, always attack", or what it some other French General?). For some reason, I did. Then, he took the direct route to get to the second trap, while I had to run around to get there. I yelled the words before he did, and on the third I was smoking through it. Then, instead of turning in a time of over 12 minutes as expected, as had become my norm, I finished it in less than 11 minutes. Just as exhausted and physically beaten as when I had failed the course, yet emotionally on a tremendous high.

I can find no other excuse for joyously hugging a sweating Marine, can you?

Why? Why almost 75 seconds of speed with such a small change in perspective? Was the course easier? Well, to be honest, I had the blasted thing memorized and we were bragging we could run it in our sleep. No. The most important thing that could have happened did, though I did not know it at the time.

My attitude changed. My paradigm changed. My situation was re-framed for me, and I accepted that re-framing. I would love to say that since that day I have always attacked my challenges and my obstacles. I haven't. I have felt self-pity, frustration, and looked for a hand out or up. I easily forget that obstacles have purposes. They reveal how we will react in future struggles. They can teach us to bring out the best in us at the hardest times. They reveal how much we need each other to get through them and through the rest of life. They show us who our friends are. They develop our determination, and let our inner lights shine, if only for a moment. They remind us of our limited ability to pick what is on the path ahead of us, and they prepare us for the obstacles ahead. They also remind us of lessons we once learned but then in our peace forgot.

By the way, on that exhausting day, I also passed the obstacle course by over 10 seconds.

What is your attitude toward your challenges? What is it that is knocking you down? I believe that the first step toward conquering it, is deciding to do just that. Yes, there are those that will never be able to take that step, for whatever reason. For the rest of us, it may be time to do just that. If you need to wallow in self-pity, for now, you have my permission to do that for a while, but you do not have my support to stay there. After all, as an ex-sailor I can say to you that "Ships are safe in harbor, and they feel comfortable there, but they weren't built to stay."

Helen Keller, a person with some obstacles in her life, said, "The world is full of suffering, and the overcoming of it."