I coach for the moments of truth, the spark, the energy, the effort and the light bulb flash when everything clicks. When a student goes all out: strives, strives and strives some more. And suddenly, BOOM, it happens; he gets it! You can see her satisfaction through a smile, or a small fist pump motion, a high-five or simply a look in his or her eyes. —That’s why I coach, and that’s what inspired me to do this project.
This year, from September to June, I taught at a featured program at Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) for inner-city children, providing classes that were, by far, the most challenging and favorite parts of my week. The children’s energy and effort in every class was different from ANY other group I’ve ever coached. The second they walked into golf class, their faces would light up. When they set up to swing, their eyes were fearless. And after they hit the ball or made a putt, they showed joy and excitement, raising their arms in the air or exclaiming: “Coach, I did it!”
I’m lifted in those moments to a better place, to be a better coach and a better person. And I am forever grateful to these children for that inspiration.
What happened in those classes was way bigger than introducing them to the game of golf: they transformed from a group of individuals into a true team. They knew from the start they were in a safe and fun environment; it didn’t matter how skillful they were at golf, they were rewarded on character. TEAMWORK determined the outcome of the games. We won and lost as a team on a weekly basis. This was different from their daily lives, and I was always aware of that; but for the hour they were with us, they experienced a safe, connected, developmentally appropriate, FUN, playful, team-oriented environment where they were enabled to achieve and succeed.
Working in the city on a daily basis, you find out pretty quickly that when it comes to opportunities for children, it’s not a level playing field. Parent interactions with their children varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, and you need only to stand on the subway platform or street to notice it. It’s true of life, I suppose, but it has always bothered me that some children start one step behind others, and a voice inside me often repeats, “there is a need here.” Being a coach, or just as a person, I feel I have a responsibility to pay attention to the needs of children. I saw a need, and silently I vowed that “someday, when I have the time, I will take action.”
That leads me to last September: I had just returned from a super busy summer in Montauk and jumped right into the fall season in NYC. It was the day after I returned that we had a meeting, a normal briefing of business matters, when I learned that the non-profit organization we’d partnered with the previous winter in a rocking 6-week pilot program with 20 girls in Chinatown wouldn’t be able to continue the program due to budgetary reasons. I felt like I’d been hit with a 5-iron in the stomach.
You see, that 6-week pilot program in Chinatown was one of the most profound learning environments I have ever experienced (much like the HCZ program). When you work with inner-city children, you grow to feel a need to make a difference in their lives, and you have to because it is challenging work. No matter how seasoned you are, A LOT goes into it; you are constantly shifting gears to service specific needs of the children, and going the extra mile to ensure they are given the best learning opportunity possible. At the Chinatown program & HCZ I was fortunate to work alongside other coaches who CARED, who would spend the extra time and go the extra mile to ensure those kids had a meaningful experience. — Regardless of the paycheck and extra time involved, because the emotional reward was off the charts. That’s a recipe for life – changing experience for children and coaches alike.
When seeking to uplift others, we are uplifted in the process –David Hawkins
The rewards of helping children don’t end. This was my third year in NYC and I had discovered this feeling in the prior years. The feeling that there is a significant need for inner-city youth in athletics, a whole child approach within a connected and developmentally appropriate culture. So when I heard the news about the Chinatown program being scuttled due to budgetary reasons, it was another brick in the wall of the “It is what it is” mentality. Inner-city kids being shut out of opportunities to PLAY, opportunities whose immense value I’d just seen in Montauk at their fullest, taken away due to a lack of money. “It is what it is.” It wasn’t the partnering organization’s fault, they simply didn’t have the funds to continue, and we couldn’t afford to do it on our own. “It is what it is.” It’s a phrase that’s always bothered me. “It is what it is.” It’s a helpless phrase. It’s a phrase of surrender. But this time, I wasn’t going to accept it. Instead I recalled back to the times I had resolved: “Someday, when I have the time, I will take action.” “Someday”, I realized, was now.
My 27th birthday was September 9th, and not only are birthdays a time to celebrate, they allow us to be thankful and reflect on WHY we do what we do. The first page of one of my favorite books states:
“Every now and then, life invites us to pause and seek a higher vantage point—a place where we can scan the horizon and revaluate our courses and destinations. May this book provide such a moment for you.”
—The Leader in Me by Stephen R. Covey.
That’s exactly what I did. I saw a need that I cared about tremendously and was prepared to focus and do whatever it took to give these children an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have had. The result was a project I called 27 Miles Fore 120 Smiles.
I didn’t listen to my head, which was telling me how difficult this task was going to be. I didn’t listen to the voice that questioned every detail and how little I knew about such an endeavor, of how any element could disastrously play itself out. I listened to my heart..
I started this project on simple heart and intuition, and I believed in it. So with hardly any time and absolutely no idea of what I was doing, I decided to make the someday project a GO and course-correct along the way.
When I started I had a very CLEAR END IN MIND, and gave myself a realistic time period to complete it.
1. Run 27 RACE MILES, finishing with a half marathon
2. Raise $12,500
3. Seven months to do 1. and 2.
Clarity of those goals kept me focused and accountable. Each month, I would set small goals to finish by the end of the month. After that, I ONLY FOCUSED on my BEHAVIORS each week. This meant training runs, workouts, calls, drafts, emails, etc… oh, and of course maintaining my full-time coaching job.
“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur…Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. See the small improvements one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens—and when it happens, it lasts.”
– John Wooden
27 Miles FORE 120 Smiles was completely outside my comfort zone.
Fundraising – One of my least favorite things to do is ask people for money. Yet, I had to reach out and ask a lot of people for theirs. And then I had one of those ‘palm to the head’ moments, that reminded me it wasn’t about ME, it was about the purpose of this project, the 120 girls. I needed to overcome my discomfort with asking for money and I needed to embrace it as a necessity. And I DID. To the tune of $17,000.
Running: one of my least favorite activities, or so I thought. Having left hip and right shoulder surgery already on the books, I was hesitant about running 27 race miles, especially the half marathon, for fear of creating another injury. I knew I’d have to be smart/untraditional about how I trained. I called my long-time friend Mary who is a personal trainer, gave her the low down, and asked her if I could realistically do this, physically, given my past injuries. Her absolute vote of confidence was all I needed—the next day I said it out loud and got to work.
Recipe for a half marathon: Yoga, spin, two 30-40 minute training runs, and one long run on Saturdays, for about 3½ months.
AND….. Music! I love EVERYTHING about music. I would never have been able to run the 27 miles without it. The first mile or two were always the toughest, then a shift would happen—I would go from my mind going a million miles a minute when I started, to a state where I found myself completely present. Somewhere between the miles, under the guidance of music and the road, my mind would stop wandering. I would have moments of compete flow. This wasn’t planned, this hadn’t been anticipated, this was something that I was given, perhaps as a small gift for the work I put in? Perhaps not. Maybe this was coincidence, but even if it was, it still wouldn’t have happened had I not said “yes” to this project.
Whether I wasn’t feeling like taking a long training run OR I was drafting an email (sometimes I would stare at a blank page with the curser line flashing back at me for an hour) I would remind myself of the purpose: the 120 girls in Chinatown. The thought of them ALWAYS helped me shift to a more authentic and productive space. Instead of bothering people for money I was honored to raise money for a worthwhile cause!
A few days before the half marathon, I walked across the course at Central Park and saw people running through the park and thought, “what did you get yourself into?” I had never run a half marathon before, so I didn’t know what I was in for. My nerves got to me, even though I knew I had trained to the best of my ability. I cared how I would perform and those type of nerves are gut-wrenching. But that’s the beauty of enthusiasm and doing what drives you from the heart; you end up pushing yourself in ways you wouldn’t otherwise, and you care about the outcome because you’re passionate about it.
If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. – Wayne Dyer
Mindset is EVERYTHING!
If you were to ask me a year ago if I could run a half marathon, I would have said; “negative ghost rider.” I’ve never been a runner and I’m not passionate about it to say the least. BUT I am passionate about making a difference and inspiring others, especially children. So, if running 27 race miles could create an opportunity for 120 girls to be empowered, to discover and experience joy through playing golf; I was up for the challenge.
The morning of the half marathon was beautiful. I woke up excited and ready to rock. The nerves I had experience days before had dissipated and my adrenaline was going strong. I remember thinking how grateful I was to be healthy and able to do what I was about to do as I walked to the starting line. I was calm.
I wasn’t out to set any records it was all about FUN and FINISHING – following through on what I set out to do (preferably, in under three hours).
Like clockwork the first two miles were the toughest. After that I found my rhythm/pace and soaked up every moment/view of running through Central Park. The energy of the other runners, cheerers and volunteers was contagious and humbling.
Just after the Harlem hill, around mile 10, my body was fatigued BUT I knew I was going to finish out strong. At that point I realized my training had paid off.
After crossing the finish line, I felt an intense sense of accomplishment. I had put myself out there, risked failure, put everything I had into something I didn’t know I could truly accomplish and DID IT. Was it worth it? YES! A single moment (crossing the finish line) that reminded me what life is all about- being fully present & coming alive. A fleeting moment that refreshed my soul – a significant moment of growth into a better version of myself. Something a cell phone or camera could never truly capture. A year from now – I won’t remember my Facebook or Instagram status and the amounts of likes/comments. I will remember the moments of being fully present and engaged – like this experience, they leave marks and meaning, they become memories that last a lifetime.
When I reflect on the significance of this project, I am reminded of four things:
1. If you truly commit and re-commit to a goal everyday, with enthusiasm, you can do almost anything.
2. Get out of your comfort zone.
3. Mindset is EVERYTHING.
4. TEAM = People.
I set out to run 27 race miles and hit my fundraising goal not simply for personal attainment but rather to GIVE BACK. Striving to do purposeful, meaningful work was my objective. Starting in November, 120 girls will be introduced to golf in the most connected, engaging, creative, fun and memorable learning experience possible. These 120 girls may not have had the opportunity to learn this amazing game in such a unique and enjoyable environment otherwise, and I believe that this will provide them with the experience of a lifetime.
Success = Team Effort
Nothing brings me more joy than when people come together, especially for a cause bigger than themselves. It’s magical. That’s what made this project a success. Without the love, support and friendship of these amazing people, 27 Miles Fore 120 Smiles would have never happened.
Jill.N – Without YOU this project would still be just a thought. You helped me swing this into action! Your enthusiasm, friendship, patience and support have been invaluable.
Mary Carmody – You knew I could finish a half marathon before I did. I’m grateful for your time and energy towards writing my monthly training game plans!!! Thanks for the cheer at mile 10!! The game of golf has blessed me in so many ways and your friendship is one of them. From junior golf tournament days to college to careers to life milestones, you have always inspired me to greater accomplishment.
Kate – Thank YOU for thinking I wasn’t crazy, the space to leap and connect all the dots to make this come together.
Kellbell – You have supported every endeavor I have chosen to take on. Thanks for running 5k training races with me, listening to my rants over the phone, and showing up on race day!! I’m blessed to have you as a sister and best friend.
Judes and David – Thank you for always supporting and believing in me, especially with this project. Only I would get a splinter, run nine miles with it in my foot and wonder why it was bothering me so bad. The tag team effort of the both of you taking it out for me was one for the books!!!
Linds – Thank you for seeing the colors I can see. You are a true example of passion, commitment and love for making a difference in the world. I cherish our phone calls and friendship.
Val, Brent, Lindsay – You three are ALL HEART and I love you for that!! Thank you for helping me understand the ins and outs of running and steering me in the right direction. Your friendship, encouragement and humor are cherished.
Lisa. K – Thank you for your support!!! Your time and feedback helped me tremendously with all the fundraising logistics.
Halle Becker, Tanya Boulton, Kay Kay Clivio, Lindsey Valdez and Noah Feinberg- REAL DEAL and TRUEST OF THE TRUE!!! Your energy inspires me both on and off the mat and bike!! I am blessed to have each of you in my life!!!
Don.S – Thank you for the Cryo Seshhh at Drive 495 before race day and for always inspiring me to be better everyday!!!
Mom & Dad – Thank you for your unending support. For showing me that your time is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone and that the simple things are also the most extraordinary!!!!
Nancy Pasquale – 11 years ago you instilled in me the importance of seizing the day. That has remained with me every step of my life – THANK YOU! Catching up over breakfast while I was in Syracuse made my summer. I am forever grateful for the influence you have had on my life.
Brent & Pasquale – Thank you for your time, support and unending encouragement while I was in the process of writing this reflection post. Your genuine push & input is valued so much.
To all the donors, your contribution will bring so much light and love into the lives of 120 girls. I am forever grateful for your generosity.
AT THE END OF THE DAY
IT’S NOT ABOUT WHAT YOU HAVE
OR EVEN WHAT YOU’VE ACCOMPLISHED…
IT’S ABOUT WHO YOU’VE LIFTED UP,
WHO YOU’VE MADE BETTER.
IT’S ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE GIVEN BACK