“There Is No Shortcut to Success, not even when it comes to
the temptations of chocolate or the songs of the Beatles”.
This time around I'm sharing with all of you all the information related the 2012 Adams State University Commencement Speech. Truly an honor. Recap HERE
As I write this I am in a small village in Central Mexico, Ocuitico Morelos, reconnecting with my roots, heritage, culture, but most importantly with the person I owe my life, My Mother. Happy Holidays to all the In The Arena members: founder, donors, athletes, supporters and friends.
The title of this speech is “There Is No Shortcut to Success, not even when it comes to the temptations of chocolate or the songs of the Beatles”. I know that’s a long title, but if you do me the kind favor of giving me your attention for fifteen minutes, I will explain.
Here is a thought: A lot of us tend to think that events that happened in the past were sort of inevitable, that they were bound to happen the way they happened. And this applies to all kinds of situations both in our own lives and also in the lives of others. And we think this way at times because we often don’t get to hear the details of each story--the setbacks, the decisions, the unexpected turn of events that changed the course of history and the course of people’s lives.
Everything from the Allied victory in World War II, to the cultural resonance of the Beatles or the pervasive success of Apple products like the ipod and the ipad—these events were not inevitable, and, oftentimes, they did not seem altogether likely either.
I’ll tell you one thing, I never thought, when I was a little girl in a small town in central Mexico, that I would ever be giving a speech to the graduates of a college in the United States of America. What I did know, at an early age, was that I wanted to be the first person in my family to attend and graduate from college, but here I am, not only a college graduate, but I’m now giving a speech at a commencement ceremony. And so, the events of my own life, of all our lives, often mirror the improbable course of history itself.
I want to take a few moments and answer the question all of us, including me, are asking: How did it happen? What events led me to the place, to the situation I find myself in today.
My story, like so many other American stories, is an immigrant story. I came to this country for a better life and for the chance to help my family. I moved to California at the age of 16. I couldn’t speak a word of English when I arrived, and although I had already graduated from high school in Mexico, I enrolled in high school for a second time because I wanted to continue my education. At this point in my life, I played basketball and had dreams of being a journalist. I knew I wanted to make an impact in other people’s lives, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with my life.
Then I discovered running. And for the next fifteen years, my life was to take a number of twists and turns not so different from those I have experienced on the track or during the Minneapolis, Boston or New York Marathons.
Now, I know what all of you are thinking. You are expecting to hear a list of running accomplishments. A story of natural talent and first place finishes, and while there are elements of both of these in my story, I want to tell you about a few of my setbacks, my unexpected events. Yes, from the start I showed a lot of promise when it came to running, but my experience at Costa Mesa High School was bittersweet.
On the one hand, my discovery of running kept me busy. The sport gave me something to dedicate my time and energy to, and being a part of the track team helped me feel welcome in this country, but my biggest struggle was with the language. I couldn’t express myself in English, and, in many ways, my performance on the track or cross-country course became my way of compensating for this linguistic shortcoming. Plus, in the heat of competition, I felt like my teammates and I spoke the same language. We shared the same dreams, shared the same victories and overcame the same defeats. We all wanted to win a state title, and though I spoke only limited English, I trained diligently and gave my best effort at every competition. It really is fair to say that my experiences as a high school cross- country and track team member served as an access point, a window into American culture. I learned the value of discipline and commitment, and I learned how to be accountable to my team. During that time, my teammates became my American family and my social support. I think they got to know and appreciate me through to my hard work and dedication. I could tell they wanted me to be and equal member of the team.
A really great example is on one occasion, in the middle of the season, I was listed as ineligible and my teammates gathered signatures and wrote to The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) in order to convince to let me back on the team. I found their support amazing. They went out of their way to help me, and I will never forget the love and loyalty they showed me. Our collective dedication and our close bond paid off when my teammates and I won Costa Mesa High School’s first ever cross-country team title, and this was one of my first lessons regarding the fact that running is not just about the times you run, the places you go, the titles or awards you win, it is about the all the vivid memories and the true friendships you make. Which leads me to one of my most favorite quotes of all times: “Success is a journey, not a destination”
That being said, my career as a runner could have ended when I graduated from high school if it had not been for a very influential person named David Fier. Coach Fier was the person who encouraged me to join the local junior college’s cross-country team. It was at Orange Coast College, and under coach Fier’s guidance, that I began to truly develop as a runner. I also improved on my English. During my two years at OCC, I collected four individual state titles and two cross-country team titles, and, once again, Coach Fier helped guide the direction of my life. He introduced me to the possibility of attending Adams State, home of the best four-year school and cross-country team in the United States.
But during my junior year at Adams State things were not going well. I got injured. I remember one day I sat on the floor of coach Martin’s office and leaned against his desk. I cried for a good while. I told him, I’m sorry coach. I feel so bad. You gave me a scholarship so I could run for Adams State, but I’m not giving back, I’m not winning races. Coach Martin put his hand on my shoulder. He let me cry. He knew I needed to release the tension I was feeling, the frustration, but when I looked into his face through the blurred vision of my tears, I saw a person who believed in me. I saw a person who considered me to be a valuable asset to the team. I saw person who believed I was going to overcome this period of difficulty that I in time would continue to succeed.
Ladies and gentleman, do you see a trend here? Things could have turned out differently for me. Does everyone see that? One of the reasons I was able to keep going was because of mentors and coaches like Dave Fier and Damon Martin. I would not be standing here today if it were not for these two men and other people like them.
Let me take a moment here to sort of change topics. How many of you out there like the Beatles? How many of you listen to their songs? Ah, we’ve got Beatles fans of all ages in the crowd today. Well, the Beatles really helped me to learn English. I used to listen to their songs and learn the lyrics and then try to memorize them. I would look up the meanings of certain phrases, certain words. Some of the songs came in handy for basic conversation starters: You say yes/I say no. Others helped me make sense of my personal life, Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away, while other songs just seemed, well, out there We all live in a yellow submarine.
How many of you knew the Beatles spent two years in Hamburg, Germany playing as a cover band in various clubs? This was before Ringo joined the band. How many of you knew that their original agent, Allan Williams, did not think all that much of them? He suggested that they play in Germany because one the bands he viewed as better than them had opted out of going. How many of you knew that John, Paul and George would play for club goers for eight-hour stretches, seven days per week?
And it was this period of time that allowed them to hone their skills, develop their song writing, and craft their stage presence. Then they met Brian Epstein, the manager who helped them obtain the opportunities necessary for commercial success. How many of you knew all this? So the Beatles as we know them today, would probably not have come into being if it had not been for the long, arduous period of practice and sheer repetition they spent in Germany. Paul McCartney once said that on certain occasions the band would sleep in vans, huddled together in an effort to stay warm with nothing more than a few pages of a newspaper folded between them.
How is that for practice and team spirit? So when you hear a song like “All You Need is Love” maybe you can also consider that in order for this band to have become one of the greatest pop cultural voices of the 20th century, a great deal of work and struggle and even mentoring had to take place. It is altogether possible that if the Beatles had not gone to Germany, we would have never heard of them.
The key to success then, is not simply talent. We need to stop fixating simply on ability and stop treating success like it is inevitable. It is, instead, a unique combination of ability, obsession, a supportive social network of loved ones, unique opportunity and work ethic. Let me say that last one again, work ethic. In the case of distance running, we are talking about mileage, and there is no shortcut to mileage. I say this for point of fact not pride, but I run 100 miles per week. That number might seem like a lot, but I have worked my way up to that amount of miles after years of training.
Running works this way: You either ran the fifteen-mile loop or you did not. You either put in the 6:30 minute pace or you did not, and this goes for other aspects of life. With academics, you either concentrated during the lecture and took notes, you either studied diligently and learned and understood the material or you did not, but looking at all of you out their in your caps and gowns, I can see that you are all on the right road. You have graduated from what I think is the best four year college in the U.S. Great stories do begin here, and, in my case, great stories continue here.
Let me tell you a story about an elementary school boy I first met two years ago. About two weeks ago I traveled with him and a handful of other young athletes to the national junior cross-country championship in Albuquerque. When I met him, he was about ten. He showed up at the door of my house one day, in that most sincere and simple way that young people are capable of doing, he asked for my help. He said he wanted to learn more about distance running, and asked if I was willing to help him out. I told him, sure, I would help him. So we started running, and after about five minutes into the run, he pulls a big piece of chocolate out of his pocket and stuffs it in his mouth. At this point I sort of did a double take. He is still running, but his mouth is bulging from this chocolate. Now, I have run in the world championships in Japan and Berlin. I was the alternate for the Olympic Marathon Team in 2008. I have run next to people who are as focused on a goal as a human being can possibly be, and while I know a practice run in Alamosa is not the world championships, I have never seen someone run and eat chocolate at the same time. Maybe one-day distance running and chocolate eating will be turned into an Olympic event. I’ll bet some of you have the latter half of this event down. Some of my family members are probably Olympic chocolate eaters.Well, I realized in that moment, while he was chomping on his chocolate, that I was going to have to be patient. I was going to have to let go of the idea of getting a real run in that day. I needed to dedicate my time in that moment to helping Him. So we ran a little while longer, and then He and I got to talking. He told me he had gotten in trouble recently. He said one of his family members pressured him to shoplift something from a store, and he said felt really bad about this experience. In that moment, I understood that this kid was opening up to me, and that I had a real opportunity, and this opportunity was not limited to making him a better runner. This opportunity had to do with helping him become a better person, helping him mature and make good decisions. You see, in that moment, I became part of his social support network, and if I was able to forge a good working relationship with him, and he showed a willingness to work at his running, then I knew he would improve drastically. Why? Well, consider the factors I mentioned a little while ago:
First, the boy expressed a desire to improve his skills as a runner, and he asked for help, this suggests a willingness to learn and work.
2) I was now part of his social support network; I could help both mentor and coach him.
3) We are in Alamosa. A place about two miles above sea level, a place filled with mountains, hills, valleys, running trails, and, in my opinion, the best running program in the U.S. If you take all of these details into account, this boy had all the elements he needed to excel as a runner if he was willing to put in the time and the mileage, and only time will answer that question.
Now, this leads me to the end of what I wanted to say to all of you: I have always believed that it is important to run for something greater than myself. I became a runner somewhat on accident, but once I got into the sport, I became obsessed. I found a family in my track and cross-country teammates. They became my social supports. I found guidance and direction through my coaches, who became mentors, too, and I found a unique opportunity to be a part of a running program that is second to none, so the final detail was up to me. I had to put in the time, the energy, and the mileage. I had to be obsessed.
Well, I admit it. Guilty as charged. I am obsessed with running, but, more importantly, I am focused on improving myself. Running paid for my education and helped me become the first person in my family to graduate from college, but I found the energy and stamina I needed to keep going, to carry on, to keep running, despite injury, despite setback, when I realized that my efforts, both as a runner and as a college graduate, could help others. I believe we are here on this earth to help others, to find our abilities and actualize our potential, and we only truly succeed when we help others.
John Lennon had it right when he said, “All You Need is Love”. I have found a lot of love in Alamosa, Colorado and Adams State, I found a lot of love running and training and giving my all during running competitions, and I hope my message has passed on some of that love to all of you, because I feel blessed to be able to tell you my story and blessed to be able to celebrate your academic success on this very special day.
So I say to all of you: Run your race. Find your support network. Dedicate yourself completely to the goals and dreams you have, and yearn to succeed not solely due to personal gain, but so that you can help others find their way and achieve their goals. Run for something greater than yourself. Thank you and congratulations to all of you.