“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” -Jim Carey
We are now a month in for the 2017 year, so it is safe to ask the question, “How are your New Year’s Resolutions holding up?” Either the answer to this question does not exist because you chose not to make one to avoid the disappointment; Or the answer could be either uplifting or discouraging. Either way, there was some sort of goal that you set with the idea of a positive outcome. However, how many of you have went after a goal based on the feelings you thought you would feel get once you accomplished the goal? More importantly, how many lessons and heartbreaks have we earned from trying to attain a goal based on the outcome feelings?
Many souls make a goal to finish university and obtain a degree with the idea that an accomplished feeling will create happiness in life. The belief that obtaining this degree will fill a spiritual hole and create a feeling of no longer being “lost”, and life will be all the sudden become real. Unfortunately, life was always real, so will not suddenly alter your powers like a mushroom would in Super Mario Bros or spinach for Popeye. Instead, many finally reach this goal of college graduation and the feelings that arise are completely opposite of what you may have thought. Nevertheless, all was not lost and life continues to show who is boss.
Everything exists to create connection. The 4+ years to complete the goal may not have created an accomplished feeling, but it did create connection that molded memories that will last for life. Friends were made, formalities created, character was established that will propel a person into the rest of their lives. The new individual that came out of the other side did not change themselves alone, but with the help of connection.
To feel connected, we need to be seen, heard, and valued. There are areas in the world that display patterns of longevity and happiness among its community members, “Blue Zones” as researchers may call them. Within these communities, connection is prioritized through activities like praying together, walking together, simply nurturing time together with families. The focus was centered on the relationship with others, with people who see, hear and value one another.
My first few years of my professional athletic career, through a misfortune of events, I was left training/coaching myself. I researched alone, trained essentially alone, and eventually competed alone in events all around the world. Such loneliness took a toll, and performance dramatically declined and the body responded similarly. It wasn’t until I made the move to train in Phoenix, AZ with Altis where I felt a revival of my career, and even motivation. It was there when connection was made and a creation of ritual was developed.
Ritual, in this context, is defined not so much in a religious or sacred ideal, but more so as something we already do daily. Ritual serves to be the most powerful means of developing connection. For athletes, that ritual is practice and competing. Every day, we choose to make our way to the track, gasp for air during warm up protocols, scare ourselves before the first reps, and pray to the track gods after the lactic acid attacks us all. Daily, we prioritize connection through our repeated actions. The Olympic runs and World Championships are great results, but it is the “family connection” that we developed for 11 months of the year.
I get to the track and Mikel Thomas is blasting Caribbean music with Schillonie Calvert and Melaine Walker vibing in the background. Wilfried Koffi makes his daily rounds to every person on the track, making sure everyone gets a hello. The “muppettes” (Ella Nelson, Jodie Duck, Jodie Williams, Jasmine Todd, ShaiAnne Davis) make their way in giggling and bringing light to the methodical Coach Stu. Coach Andreas is bringing up a great tweet he saw on Pandas and LeBron James. Ameer Webb comes blasting music from his phone barely making it before warm up starts, and Andre DeGrasse comes strolling in as if he’s at the wrong track, but still cheesing. Curtis Mitchell speaks truth and keeps everyone on their toes and at their highest game. And of course, Akeem Haynes, the guru of the group, blesses the group with his swagger and power.
There are so many more in the group, all with different roles in the development of this connection. It makes the goal more attainable. It makes the journey beforehand more enjoyable. It makes the character that I want to become, more established. Your New Year’s Resolution will not be accomplished alone, but rather through connection and ritual. You are allowed to feel seen, heard, and valued; open yourself to those blessings. Connection is not created by the things we go get, but by the things we do.
In 2011, I started my professional career with a contract deal that surely wasn't the best, but was something that could make anyone say "dreams come true". That was immediately followed by an array of legal accusations that quickly dissolved every cent the contracts had to offer, as well as my image I supposedly worked hard to put out for myself. I was quickly labeled as a criminal without any reproach. I had acquaintances who adored me, quickly turn into random bodies, as they walked right by me as if I were a ghost. I felt I disappointed the whole world.
At the time, I was fairly into God, but not as deep as we all want or think we want to be, so this was a very trying period. I'm quite introverted in nature, and this was a moment that certainly pressed that characteristic. I essentially vanished from the face of the earth, logging off social media, not responding to calls/texts, just in my own world. The media labeled me a monster, and I thought I was such, so I hid like Quasimodo in the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
It became even more easy to hide as a condition I had, suddenly worsened. I was diagnosed with Hydrocephalus my first year in college, while I was at the University of Arkansas. At the time, it was minuscule, not worthy of much attention, but it rose out of its ashes and quickly consumed me, putting me in the hospital on a daily basis.
I still practiced and competed, first grabbing a bronze medal at the Pan American Games, then qualifying for 2012 Olympic Games. It seemed like running was all I had, so that is why I went against doctor's "recommendations" and continued on. I never told anyone of my condition, because it seemed like everyone was judging me off the legal situations. I just still wanted to be invisible, proving so by coaching myself, and doing workouts late night with my brother in the snow at times.
However, it was impossible to be invisible. For some reason, it was a miracle I would even walk, nonetheless, run. The condition generally paralyzes patients, compromising motor functions. I was a Neurophysiology major, so I knew all about it. It always had me wonder how someone with such condition could be ranked top 10 in the United States. I wondered about it, because I wonder what God was up to.
So here I am now, continuing the journey towards the next Olympic Games in 2016. Still, without a contract, but now with a coaching staff! "Why didn't you just give up running and get a real job or finish Law School," is a question I am often asked. I do not know why I am still running, but I do know the little signs I do get, are enough to trust that God's got me, and knows exactly what He's doing. It is not about me and my life, but about the many I may inspire. It sucks to still work part time jobs and be considered one of the top sprinters in the world, but I know the process I am going through is giving me characteristics I could have never gained if it would have happened any other way. The end result WILL be great, something I know. I am a better person because of it, constantly growing as the minutes go by.
"The way you know God is speaking to you, is simply through experience."
Jeremy Dodson is an Olympic Track & Field sprinter with a Master's in Business Administration, and Bachelor's in Sociology, Economics, and Neurophysiology.