Finish what you start

Just before the start of the 2015 Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon, Nick Agoris waited in the chilly gloom with a mass of runners

Nick is a coach, probably the premier independent shot-put coach in the mid-Atlantic region.  He’s mentored dozens of Maryland State High School Champions.  And, in many cases, his direction has helped individuals receive scholarship awards that they never would have received without him.  Nick changes lives.

We were teammates at South Carroll High School in the late 1970s.  We were friends back then, but I can’t say that we were close.  Nick was a thrower, and I was a distance guy.  We traveled in slightly different circles.

Today, we have a friendship I would have trouble explaining.  It’s similar to the bond you form after you’ve run beside a person for hundreds of miles, even though Nick and I never run together.

If you spent time with the two of us, you probably wouldn’t observe a lot of similarities.  Nick’s outgoing.  I’m more reserved.  He’s spirited.  I’m not.

The commonalities lie underneath our personalities.  Our coaching experiences have led us both to understand that the pathway to improved performance is relatively easy.  Follow a proven approach and the gains will come.

Developing admirable qualities, on the other hand, is hard.  Humility doesn’t often join talent.  A sense of urgency can kill patience. 

Having lived the lives of aging athletes, Nick and I are beginning to understand the intricate balance needed to have success and well-being at the same time, and we’ve spent many lunchtime hours sharing what we’ve learned.

In classic Nick Agoris style, he wasn’t in Illinois just to run the marathon.  He set a goal to accomplish a feat that, to the best of everyone’s knowledge, has never been done before.  In the same weekend, he would attempt to bench press 300 pounds, throw a 16-pound shot-put twelve meters, and finish a marathon.

On Saturday, Nick struggled in his bench-press “warm up,” just barely lifting 280 pounds.  Concerned that he might only have one more good lift in him, he skipped 290 and made an attempt at 300, but he couldn’t raise the bar.

The throwing didn’t go well, and he closed the first day without reaching two of his three goals.

So he was waiting in the chilly gloom to run a marathon that had less meaning than it did twenty-four hours beforehand.

The weather forecast wasn’t good.  Light rain was falling twenty minutes after the start and it became steady by the time Nick reached mile four.  By the eighth mile, he was trudging forward in an absolute downpour.

If you’ve never run in rain like that, it’s a unique experience.  Your vision is impaired.  Puddles become ponds.  An uncomfortable chill consumes you, and your only ally is disassociation. 

Despite the heavy rain, Nick was running well.  He reached mile eighteen feeling good, but given the events of the weekend to that point, he should have been prepared for something else to go wrong.

He first heard it over a police car intercom – severe storms were approaching and the course was being closed.  Runners were told to board the buses that would be coming momentarily.

Nick, being the rebel that he is, didn’t listen.  He ran over to the sidewalk hoping the race officials wouldn’t see him.  He passed the nineteen mile marker and kept running, but when the next mile marker he saw was 24, he realized he’d missed a turn.

He ran to the finish line inside the University of Illinois stadium.  There were still volunteers there to give Nick a finisher’s medal, but he knew he was about four miles short of a marathon.

Before I finish the story, I should explain something.  Nick’s parents didn’t have much.  They worked hard, harder than most people are willing to work today, for every dollar they earned.

They never complained, never once made Nick or his brothers believe life wasn’t fair.  They simply did what they had to do, and they managed to be happy about it.  Back then, values were worth more than material things.

Nick was cold, stiff and exhausted, but a marathon is 26.2 miles, and just like his parents did before him, Nick finishes what he starts. 

He didn’t have a GPS watch, but he decided that even his slowest shuffle would allow him to cover a mile in fifteen minutes.  And so, he ran on the concrete walkway under the stadium, back and forth, for an hour.

“It’s hard to go wrong in life if you do what you say you’re going to do,” Nick once told me.

We all appreciate reliability when we see it in someone else.  But reliability’s real worth comes when you can find it in yourself.

The next time we meet for lunch, I have a question for Nick:  What’s the single most important condition of happiness?  I have an idea about what he’ll say, but trust me, it will be fascinating conversation.