Leap Day Sports - The Triathlife of Jesse Thomas

A Thanksgiving Story

It was 3 years ago Thanksgiving that I was with my family in Palm Desert, CA, right where I am now. I had just received my MBA, my athletic life pretty much behind me, and spent the last 6 months of business school developing a promising startup opportunity. I had all the tools ready to jump back into startup life and create what could potentially be a very successful business. But something held me back. For an unknown reason, a piece of me couldn’t commit to pursing that goal. I’d spent the last 4 months hemming and hawing, asking myself, what do I want to do, who am I, what does it all MEAN?!?. Needless to say, it was a very introspective and emotionally taxing time.

In pursuit of some answers, I listened to the book The Anti-Career Guide, by Rick Jarow. I honestly can’t remember much of what it was about. It was a little touchy-feely, “become one with your inner purple chakra of tiger love and heart god,” for me. But outside of all that, I do remember one thing – practicing the idea of abundance. Abundance basically means you should look at the world as full of the opportunities necessary to fulfill your goals and dreams, NOT as a limited resource environment that you must conform to in order to survive (known as scarcity).

But at the time that didn’t mean crap to me, and I was still stuck in my whiney, mad/sad at the world big baby Jesse mode.

Then on Thanksgiving morning, my mom and Lauren wanted to go for a hike on a nearby trail that starts right after the metal church buildings. I LOVE running trails, I grew up running central Oregon trails and it’s one of my favorite things in the world. But unknown trails can be a blessing or a curse. Sometimes they’re amazing, and sometimes they turn into sucky straight up and straight down hike/jogs on crappy footing. In my current mental state, you can imagine what I expected the run to be like.

Nevertheless, under the encouragement/dragging of my mom and Lauren, I came along. Lauren told me to just give it 20 minutes and see what happened. So I set out, and ran up. Sure enough, crappy footing, straight up the side of a mother effing hill. It climbed, and climbed…and climbed. But for some reason, I didn’t turn around. As I rounded each exhausting corner to see only another stretch of uphill, I thought, I’ve made it this far, go just one more corner. Then another corner, another corner, another corner, until finally, right as I hit 20 minutes, the trail flattened. It was smooth, beautiful, and rolled along an exposed plateau with a cliff-side view of the valley below. I was exhausted, but now, excited. For the first time, never-ending images of struggle were replaced with the image of possibility.

Whether I wanted to or not, now I had to keep going. So I pushed on, and with each step felt lighter. I felt the wear of the climb work its way out of my body. I was captivated by the beauty of the view, the isolation. Wearing just shorts and shoes, I felt so natural, so real, like I was expressing something my body was meant to do. I kept going out, farther, farther, farther, picking up my pace with each mile until finally, a looming sunset forced me to turn around.

I floated along that ridge on the way back, feeling the most clear-minded I’d felt in years. I realized, this is what my body wants; it’s an expression of my true self. It’s no wonder I still think about exercising, training…competing. I love this. It is clear. But what do I do about it? What can I do? Compete? How will I support myself? How will I support Lauren? What if I’m not good enough? What if I fail?

Like the beginning of the trail I had doubts. There are some quests in life where you simply won’t know the outcome before you begin. Sometimes, it’s impossible to plan for success when you can’t see past the hill in front of you. You have to rely on instinct, on passion and relentless pursuit in the hope that, somehow, it will all work out. You have to believe in abundance.

When I reached the bottom of the hill, I saw my mom and Lauren waiting for me. I approached, exhausted but smiling, carrying myself in a way that I hadn’t done in years. Lauren asked, “You were out there a really long time, I was getting worried. Is everything, OK?” I replied and said, “Yes, it’s great. And I think I’ve finally decided what I want to do. I want to be a professional triathlete.”

So this Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for ALL the people who pushed me to keep climbing that hill, to pursue my dream, believing that, even though I couldn’t see it, and at times it was impossible to plan, that a dream outcome existed out there.

So to my wife, my family, my coach, my sponsors, and of course, my crazy ass fans – thank you, and Happy Thanksgiving!

17 comments to A Thanksgiving Story

  • Brent

    Thanks Jesse. That describes every trail run I’ve done lately….major suckage til the top, but then it is glorious! Motivated for our thanksgiving cross country race…and the rest of life!

    Happy thanksgiving dude!!

  • Lonn

    Wonderful metaphor, Jesse. Very few of us are willing to embark on the upward trail. We’d much rather take the easier path. Both journeys may, in fact, take us to our initially anticipated goal, but only one gets us there stronger and closer to the potential we were created to be. Happy Thanksgiving to you and Lauren and your families.

  • MBS

    Ahh, so when I ran in Huddart Park that was normal to just be running uphill for a very long time (I ended up taking a lot of walk breaks).

    I’m fairly naive and think the world is my oyster and I can do whatever I want. However, as I’ve gotten older and a bit more jaded, I’ve gotten somewhat discouraged and looking at what I can’t do rather than what I can do. I don’t think I can really change my exact career choice at this point (nor do I want to nor would I ever be able to become a professional athlete, unless shopping becomes an olympic sport), but I do realize that there are many career paths that I can take within medicine — clinician, scientist, mentor, teacher, maybe a role model to others. We’ll see. Of course, on interviews I’m asked where I see myself in 10 years, which makes me think ahead a bit (and sometimes panic).

    Long story short, I like that idea of abundance. I’ll try to remember that even when there seem to be roadblocks in my way. So, thanks.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and the Mrs!

    • Jesse Thomas

      Just do something that makes you happy, and do it passionately. I honestly think that’s the key, the rest will figure itself out. Thanks Meggie!

  • Tim bellig

    Nice story bro. I crushed two picky bars with almond butter on top in honor of all the joy. Have a great thanksgiving.

  • Thanks for sharing and being a great example of a committed pro who maintains an “I’m just like you” attitude. Happy Thanksgiving to you and Lauren. (Little disappointed though, no soundtrack for the post!?!)

  • Michelle CR

    Inspiring, Jesse. Makes me thankful I get to do what I get to do too. Have a good thanksgiving!

  • Love your story! Reminds me of many a summer during teenage years when my mom (single parent, no money) would cattle prod us out to Yosemite every summer. We whined and resisted, but after a week of crushing 8-10 mil days with full packs, we emerged different, smarter kids. Thanks for the reminder…and peace to you, Loz and family!!!

  • Gina Dhom

    Great story well written! Hope your run today went well. Keep following your bliss! 🙂

  • Putts

    Great story! Happy Turkey day dude

  • jomofrodo

    Hey Jesse,
    That is an awesome run story/analogy/chunklet of wisdom. Thanks for sharing your story, your humor and your wisdom. I am about to head out on one of my favorite runs and I am going to use the time to think about approaching life with more of the attitude you are describing; the attitude that there is an abundance, not a scarcity, in the universe. I believe this is something of the same idea that is expressed in christian tradition in the passage “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Here’s to you and yours.

  • T-Bone

    Great post – really enjoyed this and am encouraged by it.

  • JJ

    Thanks Jesse – just what I needed to hear! I’m sure you know this, but you really do inspire and encourage many people. Keep up the good work, keep being thankful for everything you have, and guidance will continue to come. Enjoy the “off” season, and we’ll look forward to more great things in 2013!

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