The Year that Rocked: Reflections on 2013

Well here we are again: another year over, and a new one on its way. The older I get, the better the years seem to get…and the faster they go by. On this final day of 2013, I wanted to take a minute to reflect on what ended up being a pretty fantastic year.

The last 365 days have brought many good things. I celebrated the ten-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis, graduated college with a job, spent two weeks as a counselor at One Step camp, and made a total of three trips to Boston where I continued to meet some of the incredible survivors of the marathon bombings. I met many new people who have become dear friends, strengthened relationships with friends I already had, and watched people who are close to me find love and happiness in various aspects of their lives. I also grew up a lot this year. I have become better at accepting criticism as well as praise–two things that seem different but are both difficult for me to handle.  Although I already knew that I was not always going to be liked by everybody, it wasn’t until this year that I accepted that as being okay.  I have learned to surround myself by people who bring out the best in me, and for whom I can do the same.  And while I still care what people think of me a little more than I’d like, I’ve become much more comfortable with brushing off the people that I’ll never be able to please.  There are still a lot of things I want to work on in 2014, (like becoming more decisive, assertive, and conscientious, responding to texts in a reasonable timeframe, and attaining at least some competence with tools) but I truly believe that I am a better person today than I was at this time last year.

As far as my athletic life goes, 2013 was the best year yet. I started off the year with two big goals, and I’m happy to say that I achieved both of them. Running the Chicago Marathon was, without question, one of the best experiences of my life. What began as a spontaneous and scary idea in January became one of my proudest accomplishments that left me wondering if I’ll ever have as much fun in a race. My other goal, to win the Paratriathlon World Championship, was one that I was not as confident about achieving. While I privately stated that this was my year to win it, I knew it was going to be a tough road. The road was indeed tough, but the end result was worth every second.

That’s not to say that it was a easy year for me athletically. In fact, it was a particularly tough one, especially from a mental perspective. I had a lot of failures that I wasn’t sure I’d recover from, and feelings of doubt that debilitated me. I even started to develop my Plan B for what I would do if triathlon didn’t pan out. But in between the trials and the triumphs, something kind of crazy happened.  I fell head over heels in love with training.  I know what you’re probably thinking: but Hailey, didn’t you love it before?  The honest answer is no.  I loved the way triathlon made me feel.  I loved the confidence it gave me, the lifestyle that came with it, and the people it introduced me to.  I loved the anticipation on the morning of a race, the rush of being on the course, and the thrill of crossing the finish line.  But I can’t say I felt the same way about the daily ritual of swimming, biking, and running. I viewed training more as a chore than as an inherently enjoyable action–something that I endured because of the fulfillment it gave me in the end. But gradually over the course of 2013, something started to shift.  Not only did I stop dreading workouts, I began to crave them.  I became obsessed with pushing my body to its absolute limit, and then somehow finding an extra gear to go harder. I grew fond of that burning knot in the pit of my stomach during speed work, a pain that once caused me fear that I’ve since learned to embrace. I learned to love settling in to an easy pace of a long workout, and becoming so at peace with the here and now that I forget I’m actually moving. And when this daily chore became something that I loved, I reached a critical point. It was a breakthrough that made the successes this season possible.

It’s one thing to have a goal that you’re passionate about.  But if you’re not equally passionate about the process involved in reaching that goal, it’s going to be hard to accomplish it.  For a long time, I was motivated by the end result: by finishing a race in a certain place or hitting a particular time.  I loved the dreams that I had, but I didn’t love the work that was required of me to get there.  Falling in love with the process took time, and at least for me, included an element of “fake it til you make it.”  My breakthrough this year occurred when I reached the point where I was no longer doing it for the end result–I was doing it for the process.  I believe that was the moment that I became a real athlete.

So what’s next? After taking a couple weeks off after the marathon, I jumped right back into training mode.  Even though I probably could have taken more time off, I was simply enjoying it too much to stay away. I really am liking the longer distance running, so I’ll be kicking off 2014 with a half marathon in Arizona on January 19. I also have loose plans to do my first half Ironman in November and another marathon in December. In between, I’ll be dialing back on distance and focusing on sprints, with the intention of going to Paratri Nationals and Worlds once again. It’s going to be a long season (although I’m not sure if you can call it a season if it lasts January-December) with a lot of traveling, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m leaving 2013 on a total high and with the knowledge that it will be tough to top. But want to know the really exciting part?  I have a feeling that the best is yet to come.

So here’s to a great year. Here’s to counting or blessings and remembering just how spectacular our lives are. Here’s to dreaming big, working hard, and finding purpose.  And here’s to good health, happiness, and love in 2014.

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