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Tuesday
Nov092004

A Challenge to Encouragement

Years ago, I and a small group of friends participated in a yearly bike ride called The Firehouse 50. The ride was, appropriately, 50 miles long, winding through the Chequamegon National Forest, just a stone throw from Lake Superior.

The Firehouse 50 isn't Tour de France level, but for a bunch of regular cyclists like myself and my friends, it was challenging. The ride begins on a slow grade upwards, which seems flat but in reality, is not flat. The course had one hill we'd dubbed “Killer Hill” which had to be approached after a 90 degree right turn following a stop sign. The middle of the race included a barrage of smaller hills through the forest, requiring constant shifting and changes in gearing to maintain a smooth cadence.

One year, at around the 45 mile point of my ride, I fell in with a pack of riders. Even though we had survived most of the course, and were riding on the most beautiful and comfortable rolling hills, I was feeling the hurt of the last 45 miles. Those last 5 ticks on my cyclometer were looming like another 50.

As we rode, I began to notice someone was a bit out of place in the pack. It was a rider who seemed like serious cyclist, yet he was staying back with us. Then I realized he was talking with an older gentleman next to him — maybe his father.

Ahead, we could all see a very large, long hill, and I could sense the pace dropping a bit. We were probably at the 47th or 48th mile, and I was starting to lose steam. It's difficult to describe how I felt then, because by all accounts I should have been ecstatic about finishing. I think the pack felt the same way.

Suddenly, the young Serious Cyclist, pedaling along with his dad started to cheer us on.

“C'mon guys! We have a few miles left and you can do it! Dig down and find the power left in those legs! You CAN DO IT!”

I perked up and began rising to the challenge he was calling out. I know, I know, seeing it written looks terribly cheesey, but at that moment, those were the perfect words for myself and our pack to hear. The pace increased, the entire group seemed to draw out strength we thought was gone. Somehow, we attacked the hill en masse!

Serious Cyclist wasn't about to quit either — he stayed with us those last few miles, calling out the challenge again and again...

“C'mon! You have it in you! Finish the race! Don't quit now! You CAN DO IT!”

The group kept churning, gaining power we didn't even know we had, just from the challenge and encouragement. At the last turn of the race, with 100 yards to go, he called out the final challenge to the group...

“Alright everyone, give it everything now! Leave nothing at the line! GO! GO! GO!”

With his last spurring on, we attacked the last corner into the town of Grandview, pumping out the last few feet of the race, rolling across the finish line. I don't know who else thanked our road coach, the Serious Cyclist, but I had to. I was so grateful for his encouraging words to our group, because I know that without him, we'd have surely limped across the line much later than we did.

Of course, I was completely wiped out physically, but even in this state, I felt incredible mentally. I'd managed to pull off a personal best that year of 2:38, and I'd learned something about the nature of encouragement at the same time.

First, I learned that encouragement can be an incredibly powerful thing, and that I and anyone else can make use of that power. We don't realize how powerful our words of encouragement can be to others. Often I hesitate, worried that I'm interrupting or I might look cheesey in the process. Usually though, my outgoing side wins and I say something anyway, cheesey or not, and I'm always happy I have.

Secondly, I learned I need encouragement, as much as I need to give it away. I'd always considered myself an “encourager” before this experience, but hadn't recognized my own need for encouragement. After experiencing the boost provided by the encouraging cyclist, I saw my own needs in this area more clearly.

I challenge you to consider encouraging someone today. Maybe it's just a compliment on someone's new shoes, or a kind word to the cranky cashier at the grocery store. I really don't care what it is. You can do it! :-)

Your power to brighten someone's day is right there, inside of you. Will you use it?

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