Follow me back in my time machine to 2004.
Remember what was going on? Oil prices peaked at a bit over $50 per barrel, Janet Jackson had a wardrobe “malfunction” at the Super Bowl, hurricanes Charley and Ivan rocked Florida, George Bush defeated John Kerry, and the Dow Jones, which opened the year at 10,454 closed the year at 10,783.
At home, my two boys were five and three years old. My older son Zach, was continuing his battle to overcome a learning disability that had him somewhere on the autistic spectrum and his mother, my beautiful wife Laura, was fully dedicated to making sure that Zach had every opportunity to succeed in life.
Laura had always been a “workout freak” but in November, she made a bold decision. On a vacation to visit her aunt in Alabama, with no gym in sight, she proclaimed that she was beginning her training to run a marathon and she would not stop in her pursuit until she achieved her goal. You see, Laura had never run more than a mile and she wanted to show Zach that if you focus on your goals, you can achieve anything.
So, in November of 2004, Laura began her long journey in the streets of Lillian, Alabama. 2005 was a year dedicated to a lot of short runs, building her endurance and strengthening her lower body and still finding the time to help Zach improve in the classroom as well as socially.
During 2006, she took a major step and began training for her first half marathon. All summer long, she was up early and getting in longer and longer runs. Zach was taking an amazing interest in what his mom was doing, so Laura decided to use her training as an opportunity to help Zach. She challenged him (a second grader at the time) to read one page for each mile she ran in a day. Low and behold, on October 1, 2006 Laura ran the Chicago Half Marathon and that night Zach read 13 pages.
2007 came and went. Laura was continuing on the pursuit of her goal and Zach was doing well in school, even excelling in some aspects. 2008 was a big year. Laura and Zach maintained their ritual and for every mile that Laura ran, Zach read a page. By the time that she ran her first marathon, the Chicago Marathon on October 12, 2008, Zach was reading 25 to 30 pages at an age appropriate level.
The years continued and Laura kept up with her running and Zach with his development. By 2010, Zach had graduated from grade school and was moving on to middle school. This was a big event, especially considering that he was being fully mainstreamed into the classroom and would just be receiving an extra study hall to help him with his studies. Laura kept running and participated in numerous marathons through the fall of 2011, but she noticed something; she had reached her goal and was not stretching herself. At the same time, Zach continued to do okay, but he was not stretching himself.
So, on to the next challenge it was. With the support of her good friend Steph, Laura decided to prove to Zach that her journey was not over and that she would become an ULTRA-MARATHONER. For over a year she trained, even going out and running six miles before hitting the starting line of marathon at 7:00 am and running another 4 and a half hours. During this time, Zach was in 7th and 8th grade. He was receiving little support and was on the honor roll every quarter. Then it happened, the ultimate reward.
On October 19, 2012 we had our annual educational planning meeting with Zach’s education coordinators, on the eve of Laura’s ultra marathon, a 50 mile jaunt on the Des Plaines River Running Trail. That meeting was amazing, Zach’s journey was reaching a new level, he would be entering high school without any labels, he had conquered his affliction!
The very next day, Laura went out and spent 11 hours on the running trail, and at about 6:30 pm, crossed the finish line with Zach holding her hand and running her in the last 100 yards.
As I look back at the entire journey, I realize that in this is a lesson that we need to apply to our business lives. As much as Laura loves running today, she didn’t when she started. What she did do was to try to figure out a way to inspire someone else (Zach) to greater heights by being an example of the Relentless Pursuit of Excellence. How often in our business lives do we fail to be a great example for our young people? How many times do we stop because the work is either too hard or we reach one of our goals along the way?
The Relentless Pursuit of Excellence means that you set your sights on a nearly unachievable objective, but celebrate all of the little goals that you reach along the way. That’s exactly what Laura and Zach have done over nine years. Oh, and by the way, today Zach got home from his freshman football practice and read the 12 pages he owed his mom from today’s run.