I remember the day the seed was planted.
I was a freshman out on South Boulevard, the official mile repeat spot of the Rice University cross country team, and I was stuck doing the last two reps alone. I’d gone with my coach to scout high schoolers at a race before practice, we’d run a little behind, and I still had two intervals to go when the rest of the girls finished. As they trotted back to campus, Coach Bevan (on his bike) and I made our way back to the start. He gave me a pace to keep in mind, but instructed me to ditch my watch and just settle into a nice, hard rhythm.
So I ran—smoothly, but admittedly a little faster than my prescribed pace. I felt good, I was eager to please, and without a clock, I also wasn’t sure exactly what I was doing. Coach Bevan took my heart rate in between the two miles, didn’t say a whole lot, and let me keep rolling as the last mile progressed.
Afterward, as he wheeled next to me during my cool down, my coach’s excitement was palpable. I’d run much faster than he’d planned, which made me happy. But more telling to him, my recovery rate proved abnormally quick. If I remember correctly, my heart rate dropped below 100 (a general benchmark of recovery) within a minute after finishing my last hard mile. Knowing that I’d come to Rice without much volume or serious training beneath me, my new coach saw in me a wealth of potential. And on our trek back to the training room, he made sure I knew it. I don’t remember his exact words, but I remember how flattered and motivated and empowered they made me feel. If a highly respected coach of almost 30 years believed in me, I figured I could too.
That was my turning point—the moment my goal changed from making the travel team at Rice to accomplishing much loftier things: NCAA appearances as a team and an individual, school records, All-American honors, maybe even an Olympic Trials berth. And although the transformation began in a moment, it was fortified every day I put in the work and was rewarded with greater challenges and greater opportunities. My path from there was far from linear, with injuries and surgeries and the inevitable slumps. But ten years after that pivotal workout, Coach Bevan and I are still elevating our goals on a regular basis.
This is just my story. Anyone who’s stuck with a sport (or any pursuit, for that matter) for more than a few seasons surely has a version of their own. Because belief doesn’t materialize out of nothing. And sometimes a flicker of faith at just the right moment is all that it takes to set a passion ablaze.