Since getting home in December from my long retreat, I’ve started lifting weights. I want to be strong. My hours of meditation in Massachusetts were often sublime, often other-worldly peaceful. But doing the chest press at World Gym is bringing something else out of me.
Marcin, my personal trainer, tells me that I need to “explode” on the push and then go slow on the release. I tried exploding but it was more like a little sparkler catching fire. Until a few days ago. Something inside me ramped up. My lips set tight. I almost growled. “I’m doing this!” And today I did it some more, with a fierceness that I didn’t recognize. Talk about the yin and the yang … meditation and determination, both lighting up the present moment.
Way back in my brain cells, I remembered a woman staggering to the finish in an Olympic marathon. The awe from long ago seeped into today. So I Googled, and here’s what I found:
Gabriela Andersen-Schiess is a former Swiss long-distance runner who participated in the first women’s Olympic marathon at the 1984 Summer Olympics. Though living in Idaho and working as a ski instructor at the time, Andersen-Schiess represented Switzerland in the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
Fourteen minutes into the 1984 Olympic marathon, Joan Benoit began to pull away from the rest of the pack. She went on to win in a time of 2 hours, 24 minutes, and 52 seconds. Twenty minutes after Benoit finished, then 39-year-old Andersen-Schiess entered the stadium.
The crowd gasped in horror as she staggered onto the track, her torso twisted, her left arm limp, her right leg mostly seized. She waved away medical personnel who rushed to help her, knowing that, if they touched her, she would be disqualified. The L.A. Coliseum crowd applauded and cheered as she limped around the track in the race’s final 400 meters, occasionally stopping and holding her head.
While the effects of her heat exhaustion were plainly evident, trackside medics saw that she was perspiring, which meant that her body still had some disposable fluids, and let her continue her march to the finish line. At the completion of this final lap—which took Andersen-Schiess five minutes and 44 seconds—she fell across the finish line. She finished 37th, ahead of seven other runners.
Oh my. You can see Gabriela on several YouTube videos. Infinitely beyond the chest press but really they both have the same incredible intensity. I think we humans need to express some of that. And we need to be moved to tears sometimes when others stretch themselves, as thousands of folks were in that California stadium 32 years ago.