I laced up my faded blue sneakers with tremors in my belly, surprised by how nervous I felt.
It was time for the “Dri Tri”—an indoor triathlon. Three events. Dry land. First, 2000 meters on a rowing machine. Next, a circuit of exercises on the floor, like pushups, squats, and burpees, with 300 reps in total. To finish things off, a 5K run on a treadmill. No break in between sections. Keep moving. Finish at your own pace.
“Why on God’s green earth are you doing this?” my mom had asked earlier that day, dunking a shortbread cookie into her tea. “It sounds horrendous.”
I mean, she’s not wrong. But I explained, “When I do something really hard, I feel proud of myself. I like that feeling.”
The morning of the event, I set a modest goal for myself: “Try to finish the 5K in 30 minutes or less. Also, try not to die.”
Coach blew the whistle. Away we go.
Thirty people. Side by side. Rowing fervently as “We Will Rock You” blared through the speakers. Time blurred. One song faded into the next. One by one, we migrated from the rowers to the floor to the treadmills.
During the 5K, I found myself sandwiched between two people.
On the treadmill to my right, a svelte man who looked like he sprinted out of his mother’s womb and never stopped running. He charged ahead at lightning speed, barely even breaking a sweat. Practically leaving smoke trails in his wake.
To my left, a woman slowly jogging, occasionally walking, progressing much slower than anyone else in the line of treadmills. She was red-faced, drenched with sweat, her chest heaving—obviously struggling. But she never stopped moving. She wore an oversized t-shirt with a logo for a cancer research organization. I found myself wondering about her story. What’s going through her mind right now? Why is she here today? What has she survived?
One by one, each participant completed the event—gathering in the back to claim their participant medals, free water bottles, and complimentary juice samples.
Eventually, every single person was done. Except for one. The woman who’d been to my left. While everyone else was posing for victorious Selfies by the water fountain, she was nowhere even close to the finish line. Still slogging forward on her treadmill with about 2K to go.
Coach hopped onto the treadmill directly next to hers, matching her pace, walk-jogging by her side so she wouldn’t have to finish the journey alone.
A crowd formed around her, calling out encouragement, urging her to keep going.
As her digital screen ticked closer to the 5K mark, more and more people gathered around to watch and cheer.
A count-down began. 10. 9. 8. 7…
When she triumphantly crossed the finish line, the whole room erupted into whoops, hollers, and high-fives.
She made it. We made it. Nobody left behind.
Walking home from the Dri Tri, I felt euphoric—and I felt inspired by every single person in the room, for different reasons.
Inspired by Coach and his genuine, heartfelt enthusiasm, care, and concern for every single person in the gym.
Inspired by the gazelle-like man who finished in first place, lightyears before anyone else, displaying incredible physical power—honed through years of disciplined training.
Inspired by the elders in the room, older athletes defying cultural expectations about what a 50- or 60- or 70-year-old body is “supposed” to do.
Inspired, most of all, by the woman who finished last. The woman who endured more physical discomfort than anyone else, and who never, ever stopped moving forward. Even when she had to slow things down to a crawling pace, she never stopped. The woman who refused to give up.
. . .
Olympic athletes who claim the gold are very inspiring. But the person who comes in “last” can be just as inspiring, if not more so.
Showing up is inspiring. Trying is inspiring. That first shaky step after a setback, relapse, injury, heartbreak, or humiliation—that’s inspiring. Stumbling and asking for help and then trying again for the second, tenth, or hundredth time—that’s inspiring, too.
There are billions of ways to be a source of inspiration.
Whether you’re leading the pack, finishing somewhere in the middle, or absolute last, know that you are an inspiration to someone.
You are significant. You are influencing people’s lives in small ways and big ways, too. Someone notices you. Someone hears. Someone needs the message that your life story provides. Someone needs the specific type of medicine that you and only you provide.
Someone’s eyes are quietly brimming with tears, watching you.
Someone is inspired to stand up and try again.
Because of you.