Crossing The Threshold: ThumbsUp International Is Born

I’m no saint; I get jealous. If I see a beautiful woman who is nice and smart to boot, my first thought is not necessarily kind. But I do get over it. I know just because she is beautiful and smart doesn’t mean I am not, nor that I need to measure against her.

Yet the same happened with ThumbsUp and me. I got jealous.

In case you missed it, ThumbsUp originally was the name we gave our team at the South Beach Triathlon. I raced it pulling my friend Kerry who the world sees as severely disabled. Together, we did something neither of us could’ve accomplished alone. She became a triathlete, and I had one of the most unforgettable days of my life.

We trained for months to accomplish what seemed like an outrageous goal. And when the day came, the buzz between the crowd, our volunteers, the media, and my family was intoxicating. I knew right then and there: ThumbsUp was not going to be a one-shot deal.

Team ThumbsUp celebrates as Kerry Gruson becomes a triathlete

The happiest team finish party ever!

Kerry and I raced Swim Miami a couple of weeks later, and then came the first of many emails which have since become notorious in my world. It was Kerry forwarding information of some race with her opening question: “want to go?”

Yes! I wanted to go. I wanted to do every race in South Florida with Kerry because I loved it. But most of all I loved the feedback:

“Because I saw you do that, I believed I could do x, y, z.”

I felt what we did was making a difference to some of the people who saw us. I was thanked, even though I wasn’t sure I understood why. In my mind, racing with Kerry was no longer outrageous, we pushed that limit further back.

But between being a mom, having a blog, and training for Ironman I couldn’t go to every race. I couldn’t keep up, and the time came when I had to let Kerry go; she raced without me.

I was unequivocally jealous. Someone else ran a 5k with her and I felt replaced.

Kerry and Albert at a recent paddle boarding event

Albert and Kerry have done several events together

But then I saw the pictures on Facebook. I saw smiling faces, and comments with words such as “awesome, inspiration, incredible.” Someone else felt what I felt, someone else had become intoxicated with that unique finish line you only experience when crossing with another person.

As much as I wanted to hold on to ThumbsUp and squeeze it tightly, I understood I couldn’t.

The first conversation about ThumbsUp as a nonprofit came back in April, after South Beach. I didn’t want anything to do with it; I had started nonprofits in the past, and I wanted to focus on my writing instead.  I also had Ironman Arizona as a fitness goal.

Then came Swim For Alligator Lighthouse. As you can read here, it began as a reluctant race. This time we were a team of five: Lilly, Chiqui, Caryn, Kerry, and I. Though we had our issues, we came out of the experience with an even deeper understanding of the power of our message: embrace the challenge. We had just embraced a biggie.

Yet another intoxicating finish line.

Yet another intoxicating finish line.

I again saw all the Facebook pictures, and received many messages through the blog. Those who were part of the team had a life changing experience, and those who saw us say they felt empowered.

I felt wonderful. It’s virtually impossible to be working on a project with ThumbsUp and be grumpy. I smiled more, I was nicer to the people around me, I was a better version of me. And I am sure the world around me appreciates this version a lot more than the stressed out mom that otherwise shows up to school pick-up.

Why should it only be our little group that gets to feel this way? I am not sure if it was Caryn, Kerry, or me who mentioned the nonprofit. But I once again ignored it; I had Ironman to focus on.

I’m a big fan of Joseph Campbell, and he says we all get a calling: a nagging feeling inside that just won’t go away. You can ignore it for so long, but after a while it becomes too strong and forces you to pay attention. Each of us receives these callings, it’s the start of our individual hero’s journey. It’s the universe inviting you to a quest, to find a truer version of you.

It’s not a once in a lifetime shot, either. It’s not that you have one calling and if you miss it your life will forever be purposeless. There have been plenty of times my life did not feel complete, and numerous others were I was attuned to what the universe whispered. When I ignored it, the whisper turned louder, until it was a brick that smacked me on the head to pay attention. The Universe won’t shut up until you hear it.

That’s the over simplified start of Campbell’s “hero’s journey.”

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I knew this ThumbsUp thing, this calling, was growing; but I kept putting “me” in the way. I had work to do, I didn’t have time, I was training for Ironman, I am writing a book. Me, me, me. I failed to understand this wasn’t about me.

Until I went on a bike ride.

I met up with my friend Albert whom I hadn’t seen in a while. I was getting ready for Ironman and Swim Alligator Lighthouse so we began speaking about ThumbsUp. Again, I’m not sure if it was him or me, but the ThumbsUp nonprofit idea came up again. He said he would be interested in getting involved. For the first time I didn’t immediately say I wasn’t.

That’s when I knew I had answered the call. I didn’t flat out say no, and instead arranged for a meeting between Caryn, Kerry, Albert and myself. Ironman was still looming but I understood ThumbsUp was a collective effort and not my domain to rule over. Who am I to stand in the way and not make it happen?

But then Caryn and Kerry decided to run the Palm Beach Marathon together and once again, that twinge of jealousy came in. They were going to face a challenge and it had nothing to do with me.

I had a choice. I could sit there and be jealous, or I could realize ThumbsUp is going to exist with or without me.  It will exist without any one of us four, really, because it is not about any one person. Do I want to be a part of it or not?  It’s as if my calling was saying: “take it, or get out of the way.”

Breaking records at the Palm Beach Marathon

Breaking records at the Palm Beach Marathon

The Palm Beach Marathon was a huge physical challenge for Kerry and Caryn to tackle together, and a big emotional one for me to tackle alone. They had to coordinate, train, endure while I had to take the back seat in racing, but tackled instead some of our organizational needs.

The back seat was comfortable.

Caryn and Kerry smashed the Palm Beach Marathon wheelchair record, running it in 4:15. Even in my best day, I can’t run a marathon in four hours and fifteen minutes and much less pushing someone else on a carrier not designed for the long haul. Caryn was herculean to say the least, and she took ThumbsUp somewhere I could’ve never taken it.

We couldn’t just let that pass by without making a big deal. It was time to launch and open up to other athletes.

Another doctrine of Campbell’s is that once you accept your calling, at some point you cross a threshold: a place from which you cannot go back, a line that marks such a drastic change that life will never be the same. For examples, a married couple introducing the word divorce into a conversation, a resignation letter from a job, a positive pregnancy test.

Brochures, business cards, website.  We are ready to roll.

Brochures, business cards, website. We are ready to roll.

We just crossed the threshold.

ThumbsUp is now a “thing.” It’s an incorporated legal entity, it has a website and just completed it’s first fundraiser. It has a facebook page, and if it has a facebook page then it has to be a thing.

I couldn’t be happier.

TriathlonMami still continues with it’s goals, and adventures. In fact, I am about to head out on my bike as I train for the Sebring 12 hours. But ThumbsUp is now alive and becoming it’s own entity composed of many parts of which I am but one.

And I am not jealous. Instead I am inspired, and my quest is to find more athletes to compete.  We want to reach those people who might not even consider participating in a race because they have some sort of disability they believe stops them, or maybe they are too weak from chemotherapy, or they are blind. Who knows? But if someone wants to cross a swim, bike, run or triathlon finish line but can’t do it on their own, I want to be a part of the team that bends over backwards to have them finish. Because I know whoever they are paired with will feel what I have felt.  And it’s extraordinary.

That’s my calling, my quest. And I hope you join me.

Please visit us at www.ThumbsUpInternational.org or keep tabs on our progress on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

lilly and I hug

My gratitude hug with volunteer and another ThumbsUp partner in crime: Lilly.

 

 

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