Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rejoice, We Conquer: Alberto Salazar, Boston Marathon Champion
Part IV

Has anyone noticed just how many female distance runners seem to be having children and competing shortly after giving birth? Even if they weren’t succeeding, I think they still deserve press for what these female athletes have accomplished. I could stop at the operative verb of racing 26.2 miles, but the fact that they doing so after enduring pregnancy, labor, postpartum, blows my mind.
Well, tomorrow marks the 115th Boston Marathon and the talented and lovely Kara Goucher, who gave birth to a son Colt in September, is a top seed. This American mom hopes to capture the olive wreath, she missed victory by 9 seconds in 2009. She was the closest an American has come to winning since 1985.

One could make the claim on Patriot’s Day, nothing could be more appropriate than to root for this elite runner. Goucher developed under past champion, Alberto Salazar in Nike’s Oregon project—a training group created to support and develop long distance running in the US.

Last year, I ran a three-part reflection on Salazar’s life and faith. To honor the past champion, here is Part IV. Regardless of whether or not Kara Goucher wins on Marathon Monday, expect a piece on working moms like her as well.

Part IV: Due to injuries, health issues and his age, there was a shift in Salazar’s relationship with competitive running as well. No doubt, his faith led him to discern what his new role/second career might be/entail. “God gave me a gift and I get to coach. I want to help athletes not only become better athletes, but hopefully to become better people. That is what I believe God is leading me to do.”

Today, Salazar works with high profile runners—Galen Rupp, Adam and Kara Goucher as well as others via Nike’s Oregon Project, who are aware of his deep commitment to his faith and to athletic excellence. In no way does Salazar believe one commitment compromises the other. He says, “Being competitive as a coach and wanting my athletes to win—there’s nothing wrong with that—so long as we’re doing it in the right way. Yeah, we’re out there to win every day but we also want to glorify Christ through good hard clean competition. And when practice is over, we can be friends. We can be warriors for Christ. Warriors in that we will battle courageously.”
In fact, Salazar believes what he has learned from coaching serves as a practical analogy for developing a mature spirituality and strong faith. He said, “When I coach, I am looking for every possible advantage—weight training, plyometrics, flexibility cross training, all these sorts of things to help you be successful. I came to realize, being a Catholic is like having all these great advantages. There are so many different religious practices—the sacraments that are so readily available like confession and Holy Communion; we do have these great benefits and we have been promised these graces. I don’t believe you have to be Catholic or a Christian to go to heaven, obviously not, but I don’t know about you, but I need every advantage I can get.”

Those who know Salazar well recognize that such candid humility and honesty is a positive change. Salazar’s incredible work ethic however has not changed; in fact he it has helped him develop and strengthen his faith. He believes, “Faith is a gift but you have to work at it. You have to pray for it God asks us to pray, but even in prayer, it’s not about striving for perfection. We all have time throughout the day by which we can do something, even if it’s just for two minutes that we can say a prayer.”
“Again, applying it to athletics, many of my athletes will say ‘I didn’t have time to work out, lift weights or stretch.’ I will ask them, or even myself: ‘So I didn’t have time to go do a half hour? You didn’t have 10 minutes to do pushups and sit-ups? Side ups? Ok, you didn’t have the weights with you, but you could have done something.’ There is the idea that unless can’t do something perfectly, it’s not worth doing. You shouldn’t think like that. Turn off your cell phone, turn off the radio and in the 20 minutes that you’re driving home, you can pray the Rosary. It may not be perfect, but it’s better than nothing, and God will reward you for that.”

One must call into question Salazar’s notion of perfection, as he has set the bar high. Yet he has never done so without great effort, as no one wins a marathon easily or naturally confronts death without fear. Salazar’s life reveals the story of a man committed to tremendous spiritual, physical and mental discipline, to trial and error, even death and resurrection. And with that commitment I cannot help but think it is obvious that God has rewarded him as a Christian and as a runner. But even more, I believe God has rewarded us with a life like Alberto Salazar’s where death hath no victory—rather, faith in God and belief in yourself does.

Earlier Postings related to this posting
Rejoice, We Conquer: Alberto Salazar, Boston Marathoner Part I
Part II
Part III

Photo Credits

Goucher & SalazarKara Goucher American Runner
Nike Oregon Project Team
Coach Salazar in Eugene

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