Ultrarunning Skill #2: Resilience

AJWs Taproom[Author’s Note: This is the second in a series of five columns on meta-cognitive skills and their role in running, education, and life. We published the first in the series, on persistence, last week. My introductory piece two weeks ago invited you to share your stories, too. You can still share your thoughts by commenting on this article or by emailing me [email protected].]

Colt Sargeant was only 15 years old in June, 2010 when he took his own life. At the time, his father, Rob, was devastated, angry, and confused. He lost weeks of sleep turning questions about Colt’s death over and over in his head and asking himself, night after night, “Why?”

Rob and Colt. All photos courtesy of Rob Sargeant

Rob and Colt. All photos courtesy of Rob Sargeant

A couple months after Colt’s death, Rob was approached by a representative from an organization called World Vision. At his doorstep, the woman showed Rob a photograph of a young man in India, about Colt’s age, who needed support and asked if he was interested in making a donation. “I don’t think the lady had any idea that I had just lost a son. After she left, I sat on my couch and wept,” Rob recalls.

Eventually, Rob decided to get involved with World Vision and made several contributions to the organization. As he was dealing with his own, unimaginable grief, he realized that, “wounds have a tendency to make us more selfish. In our wounded state, we need to become more giving, more focused on the needs of others. Somehow this helps to foster healing. Making a commitment to give and make a difference in the life of another person in the midst of my own suffering helped to start my recovery.”

At the time of his son’s death, Rob had no idea the sport of ultrarunning existed. He had dabbled in the local Vancouver road-racing scene, running a few half marathons and marathons but never anything longer than that. One day, a friend of his from work invited him to participate in a 64k charity run between Gold River and Tahsis near his home on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Known locally as the Burning Boot Great Walk, this 64k run takes place mostly along rugged dirt and gravel roads, some of which are brutally steep. Rob chose to run the race as a benefit effort for World Vision and, as he said, “I really had no idea what I was getting into!”

Unfortunately, Rob ended up dropping out of that year’s run with a severely injured knee but vowed to return stronger and more determined. The following year, Rob ran the race as a part of Team World Vision and, suffering mightily, managed to finish in the top 15. He was hooked! Since then, over the past year and half, Rob has completed several other ultras, all motivated by his desire to give back to others while fulfilling a burning sense of redemption in his heart.

Rob Sargeant - 2012 Burning Boot Great Walk

Rob Sargeant after finishing the 2012 Burning Boot Great Walk.

The impact of running ultras has been profound for Rob as he notes poignantly, “I have learned in these ultra runs the importance of embracing your suffering. It involves acceptance of your pain, and a letting go of your right to comfort in order to reach a goal. When you come to a steep hill, you just have to press on, even though it hurts. Like the mountains we face in life’s circumstances, to get over them, sometimes, you have to suffer. We can embrace it, and in doing so, we become stronger.”

Rob has advice for others, as well, “Don’t let your hardship or tragic loss immobilize you. Realize it’s normal to feel overwhelmed when these things happen. Accept the suffering for what it is. Forgive others. Forgive yourself. Let go of any assignment of blame.”

Rob.

Rob.

When asked what it is that helps him to keep going in the face of tragedy, Rob notes simply, “Unlike the other activities I take part in, there’s a rawness to trail running that allows me to release a wildness from my soul… I know my son is in heaven, and one day I’ll see him again.”

Rob Sargeant’s story of resilience in the face of unspeakable tragedy is inspirational to me. As a father of three boys myself, I cannot imagine the pain he has gone through. And yet, Rob has used that pain to become a better person, a more resilient person who is giving back to the world through something he has grown to love.

As I have observed, there are times in any ultra, no matter how long, when we face adversity and hardship. Our stomachs go south, blisters cover our feet, or our quads become trashed. In those moments, we ought to think of Rob Sargeant who has shown us, with this story, that getting out the door and putting one foot in front of the other can heal just about anything.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from the Taproom’s favorite brewery, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, California. Each holiday season, the good folks at Sierra Nevada distribute a limited edition Celebration Ale to commemorate the holiday season. In my humble opinion, this year’s version is particularly good. It features a a slight, piney flavor with a hoppy start and a smooth finish. Grab a cold one and relax by the fire.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you faced a tragedy similar to what happened to Rob Sargeant’s family and has trail and ultrarunning been a way for you to cope and heal?
  • What does the word ‘resilience’ mean to you in life? In running? Do you see yourself becoming more resilient through your time with our sport?

There are 3 comments

  1. senelly

    Ease doesn't build it… resilience needs failure. It's dictionary-defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens; the capacity to withstand stress and catastrophe. Rob's got it.

  2. @sarahjaye78

    Very inspiring story. It rang especially true for me (as I'm sure it does for others) who have lost someone so close to their heart. He is so right on when he says there is a rawness to trail running. Our suffering allows us to see those pure emotions, feel them and know, like finishing an ultra, you keep going forward to get through them.
    Run on Rob.

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