March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Turning limitations into possibilities

Gale Fischer
Gale Fischer is a 43-year-old special education teacher in Battle Creek. He has a wife, Kathy, and two children, Torey and Logan. He is an avid runner and writer. He began running in 1997 and has completed 26 marathons. Gale will provide a monthly column on running leading up to Lansing’s first marathon on April 22.

Some of the world's greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible. — Doug Larson

Wednesday, Oct. 5 — If you are a marathon runner, October can be a month in which goals are met, dreams come true and memories are made. In the coming weeks, many runners will be attempting — and completing — their first marathon as months of training finally come to fruition and a dream is realized. Many of these first-time marathon runners considered this accomplishment impossible not so long ago. It was something they felt was beyond their limits, but something changed their mind and turned this limitation into a possibility. Confidence may waiver as race day approaches, but the possibility of accomplishing a goal that was once considered impossible is very real. The sight of thousands of runners crossing the finish line for the first time in the next month proves that our perceived limitations may actually be far-reaching possibilities.
One of my goals when writing my monthly perspective is to provide a bit of motivation for the reader. Trying to convince you to forget your perceived limitations is an attempt to do this, but my views on running, athletics and life in general would be unrealistic if I tried to convince you that the physical abilities we possess are free of limitations. The truth is, we are each unique, and the physical attributes that each of us is blessed with place limitations on what we can accomplish. There’s a long list of things that would be impossible for me to accomplish given my natural athletic ability, my body type and my age, regardless of the amount of time and effort I devote towards these goals. Sports such as basketball, baseball, gymnastics and football require some degree of natural athletic ability. Hard work is also required for success, but some sports need more talent than others.
I’ve always thought of myself as having limited athletic skills, which makes it difficult for me to be successful in most sports, but running is different. Even with my limited ability I’ve been able to accomplish a lot in running. There are certainly a few individuals who don’t have the ability to run a marathon, a 10K, or even a few miles a few times a week, but running is something that most of us can do.
As a runner, I’ve seen many examples of individuals reaching beyond their perceived limitations with their accomplishments. Perhaps the most obvious example for me was crossing the finish line for my first marathon. At that time, the marathon was something I was fascinated with. I imagined finishing one would provide great satisfaction. I committed to training, but even with months of training completed leading up to race day, I wasn’t convinced finishing was possible until the last few miles of the race. I’ve seen similar examples of this with many other members of the running community. This past weekend, I participated in Dances with Dirt, a 50-mile relay race run with teams of five runners. The race contains difficult terrain, including trails, sections through woods without trails, river crossings, marshes, swamps, mud and breathtaking hills. The race is also open to those who choose to run the distance solo. There are four DWD races held each year: the one in Michigan, one in Florida, one in Wisconsin and one in Indiana. Six individuals completed each of these 50-mile races solo this year. This feat alone makes the thought of running a marathon less daunting.
Sometimes an individual perceives limitations when they try to reach previous accomplishments despite added difficulties, such as aging or some type of trauma or setback. Perhaps other individuals place these limitations on them. Olivia, a 13-year-old friend of my daughter, was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2009. Prior to her diagnosis, Olivia competed in horseback riding for three years. After a year-and-a-half of chemo, partial knee reconstruction to repair a section of bone that was taken out of her leg and recovery from chemo and the knee procedure, Olivia is cancer-free and competing on her horse. Her desire to compete after such a traumatic event illustrates the power of strong will and determination in overcoming physical limitations or setbacks.
Limitations aren’t just found in the world of athletics. There are things that each of us desires to accomplish, but we are afraid of taking that leap of faith. All of us have a ceiling that caps our potential, but there is no doubt in my mind that many of us think the ceiling is much lower than what it actually is. Many of the limits that we place on ourselves are possibilities that are within our reach. To accomplish something that seems impossible requires a level of commitment.
Don’t let fear or doubt keep you from trying something that seems beyond your limits. You can’t just sit and wait for it to happen. You must do some research, hash out a plan, stick to the plan, demonstrate patience and resilience and, most importantly, you must be willing to take the risk knowing that failure is a possibility. In most cases, failure, despite your best effort, is better than not taking the risk at all. The experience of trying will no doubt help you accomplish something later in life that seems out of reach now. The power of the heart and mind should never be underestimated.
Keep running!
Until next time, this has been just another runner’s perspective.