Buying milk by the liter, paying for “airtime” for my phone every 4 days, calling gas petrol, hearing “pleasure” instead of “you’re welcome”, and being squished into mini-bus taxis that blast South African house music and honk at every pedestrian they pass are just regular occurrences that have blended into now what I consider day to day.
On the Grassroot Soccer front, life has been very eventful. It has been incredibly fascinating seeing the intricacies of an NGO from an inside perspective. How we raise money, what we’re allowed to spend it on, building partnerships, liaising with school officials to implement our programs, the list goes on and you begin to see how hectic the non-profit world can become.
But a certain level of friction will be present with any cause, it’s the ability to orbit around the chaos and uncontrollable circumstances that turns cause into conviction. Being a personal witness to how our coaches bring such incredible energy and passion to the youth in their communities is all one needs to see to understand how Grassroot Soccer is making a difference.
On my trip to Johannesburg I was able to be a part of one of our TOC’s (Training of Coaches). These annual trainings are refreshers for past coaches and orientation for new ones on the Grassroot Soccer cause, curriculum, and culture. The power of these trainings, and essentially of the entire organization, is the ability to take information and communicate it in a creative, engaging, and fun way.
Coaches implementing our “fact” vs “nonsense” activity at a grade school in Soweto.
For instance, one of my favorite activities is one called “Find the ball”. In this practice you have two teams lined up side-by-side facing each other. Each team has one tennis ball that they pass to one another behind their back. They then have to guess who is holding the ball on the other team.
With little success in being able to identify who is holding the ball, we play a second round, except this time the tennis ball represents HIV and the person holding it is HIV positive. The game teaches kids that HIV has no face, and having these clear, effective, and fun ways to relate to the kids, is what makes us so eager and proud to have them go through our programs.
Players from an HIV testing tournament in Khayelitsha participating in Find the Ball.
What’s exciting is not just seeing Grassroot Soccer from a perspective of graduating over half a million kids from it’s programs, but to see the stories the numbers tell. To see coaches transfer this energy and knowledge, to see kids truly open up and disclose their struggles, to see relationships, confidence, and trust being built, and to see it all revolve around the universal language of soccer – well that is some powerful stuff.
It also has been incredibly fascinating following the US election with a new context of living in South Africa. Living here doesn’t make the struggles at home any less real, just puts into perspective the struggles that occur outside our boarders. South Africa especially is such a unique mixture of first and third world and it’s politics are still shaped by the vestiges of Apartheid.
For me, it’s crazy to think that I was alive during the South African Apartheid. Being brought up in a US education system, discrimination and segregation are distant thoughts. Here, every friend I have made has been brought up in a world of racial discrimination enforced by legislation.
Now South Africa stands on the legs of 18 years of full democracy, which are giant strides forward, but it’s work is still cut out for it. SA ranks 132 out of 144 countries for its primary education, 20% of their schools have libraries, and only 7.5% actually have any books. Unemployment is around 25% (real figure nearer 40%) and there is a giant need for capacity building as there is a giant gap between jobs that need to be filled and those currently qualified to fill them.
And still a general theme of resilience is the common thread that brings South Africans together. As a 4-month guest with still much to see and learn, I cannot help but be inspired by the drive and initiative I witness on a morning walk through the city.
There are countless amounts of vendors hauling loads of metal piping in wobbly carts over cobblestone roads to construct their kiosks. They lay out paintings, clothes, dish ware, jewelry, and other African nik-naks, and spend the rest of the day as sales men and women before breaking down and packing up their stand at 5. This pattern repeats itself everyday of the week and this impressive spectacle of a massive mobile retail infrastructure becomes a well practiced routine blending into the backdrop of the Cape Town experience.
As for me – I will be leaving for holiday this week on my own little adventure traveling to 5 different countries in the next 3 weeks. I cannot wait to throw myself in new cultures, meet people, ask questions, share stories, get lost, and broaden the frame of reference painting the picture of the world I see in-front of me. Looking forward to writing you about the trip soon, but until then have an amazing holiday.
Lastly, and most importantly, thank you for your ongoing support. I am so humbled, honored, and thankful to have a a network of friends and family that believe in me and helped me make this experience happen. THANK YOU!!
Months and months of preparation and anticipation, and now I am finally here, living in South Africa. The newness of this experience is surreal, but so is how quickly I am beginning to feel at home here.
It’s fun to look back and compare my best guesses of Cape Town to my actual experiences. And this first month has been packed with experiences. Some of the highlights include driving down the coast of the Western Cape, bartering with vendors at the copious amounts of outdoor markets, checking out the Cape Town Stadium which hosted the 2010 World Cup, attending my first braai (barbecue) in the townships, visiting the brightly colored houses of Bo-Kaap, eating Engwena (which is a steak-burger buried in fried bread – it hurts so good), and my favorite, being welcomed into the Grassroot Soccer (GRS) family.
Now that I have a MUCH more comprehensive understanding of what GRS is all about, here is a brief introduction. GRS uses the universal language of soccer to educate the youth on positive life skills – HIV prevention being at the forefront of our programs. Coaches run “practices” that are filled with activities and discussion revolving around identifying and acting on positive behaviors. As Michelle Obama was quoted saying, “Soccer is the hook.”
Currently over half a million kids have gone through our programs, with a goal of hitting a million by the next World Cup in 2014. What is so beautiful about this organization is not only how it is helping to mobilize an empowered youth make healthy life decisions, but also how the heart of GRS, the coaches, is lead by local residents.
I have had such amazing conversations with some truly remarkable coaches. They smile and laugh and cheer, constantly. They love watching us American’s do silly dances as energizers for the programs. They are super fluent in English, and when you attempt to say just one word in Xhosa they get ridiculously excited just for you trying. They are always welcoming. And they are such active role models to the youth in their communities.
And yet they don’t have much. I was talking to one coach who explained to me how excited he was to be moving into his own shack. Another comes in everyday in sandals that are much too small for him as his heels hang off the edge of the soles. And most of them do not know what the world looks like outside their township.
And then you sit there and talk with them, their energy and excitement clearly palpable, you begin to literally see how wealth is not the most important measuring stick of life. And you don’t need much to be happy.
As far as adjusting to a brand new culture, it has been pretty fascinating and most of it is picked up in the subtleties of day to day interactions. A few things I’ve learned so far:
• Everyone is a salesman: whether you’re walking through the outdoor markets or passing a restaurant on the way home from work, everyone will try and usher you in or give a “special price just for you.”
• Right of way for pedestrians doesn’t exist out here: it takes a lot of adjusting trying to figure out which side of the road the cars are coming from, but knowing they won’t stop is a helpful tidbit.
• Africa Time: coming from a life of immediate gratification, it’s quite fascinating how there is nothing immediate about schedules here. They have 3 different phrases with the word “now” in it and none of them actually mean the current moment. “Just now” is a good 15-20 minutes away. “Now, now” is closer to 10 minutes. And the regular old “now”..well I actually haven’t heard that too much.
• Sports: rugby and cricket are the 2 biggest sports here, yet out of all the people I have talked to about cricket nobody really seems to know the rules.
• Work to Live not Live to Work: this is definitely the mentality out here. Once 5 o’ clock hits, everything shuts down, this includes a good amount of the retail shops.
Overall it has been quite an amazing month. Looking forward, we have a bunch of really exciting projects coming up. We have just officially launched a new curriculum called Champion’s League which is an actual soccer league the kids compete in that promotes healthy life decisions in practices and uses drug testing as one of the criteria for teams to progress in the league standings. Through the pilot program we saw participants drug use go down 15%. Very sweet.
A lot more to come!
When South Africans say bye, they say “Sharp, sharp.” So….
So about 2 years ago I began working with an organization called Be Legendary. With the purpose of creating a world filled with people living and breathing their fullest potential, we facilitate a range of different events using philanthropic initiatives as the catalyst to connect the hearts and minds of each participant.
My work with this company has helped me ask myself the question, “How am I creating positive action in the world.” I would crack open a beer, sit on the back deck, gaze at the stars and ponder what the world would look like if everyone was loving what they do as they helped create a better tomorrow. What would waking up to that world be like?
Before I know it, I’m imagining a world of flying space shifts and ZERO spam mail, but I digress.
The truth is, a world filled with this awesome shit already exists. I remember reading a statistic that tens of thousands of blogs are created everyday.
Needless to say a good portion of these are ramblings about inebriated adventures and self proclaimed importance. But still a portion of those tens of thousands blogs have dedicated themselves to helping other people.
If there is one thing I have learned in my 23 years, it’s that no matter what you do, no matter what your purpose or passion is, it all revolves around this idea of helping others.
To see so many people rising to their personal calling – well that’s frickin’ inspiring.
That company I was talking about that I work for, Be Legendary, bases itself on the idea that each and everyone of us is born Legendary. This I believe. But I also believe that somewhere along the way we loose sight of it.
And yet there are beacons of light both inside of us and around us that flash reminders of our amazing, visceral abilities.
And so Be Legendary is currently in the process of launching Legendary Instigators, a trusted resource of people creating positive action in the world. And so it begs the question, how are you creating positive action in the world? Because the world needs more of you in it.
INTERESTED? Here’s what you can do:
Sign Up at Legendary Instigators, and give the world everything you’ve got.
Warning: Once you become aware of the possibilities you can have in this world – there is no turning back.
Joseph Campbell’s work continues to inspire me. A few months ago I watched his documentary Finding Joe. Since then, I have watched it another three times. It is just packed with wisdom, all threaded together by his idea of the hero’s journey.
Each and everyone of us is our own greatest hero. We will embark upon adventures, face dragons, experience crisis, fight, fall, and persevere. But in the end, it’s not the happy feeling of accomplishment we did it all for, it’s the feeling of being alive. It is about the moments of overcoming your dragons, the chase of the one you love, the fear of falling, and the courage of picking ourselves back up.
It is simply about being alive.
It’s easy to tie together hopeful words about the advantageous outcomes of unknown situations, but when it comes to living out those words, the story becomes a bit more laborious. Here I am, teetering at the edge of the board, about to do a leap first dive into a very real, very unknown situation.
There will always be a reason not to do something, but what makes it worse is when that reason is 5 foot 7 with 2 gorgeous green eyes and a smile that makes your melt on the inside. Sometimes, all you can do is smile back at the satirical mystery of life’s intentions. Timing was never my thing.
I had a gym teacher who used to say life’s like a roll of toilet paper, the closer you get to the end, the quicker it goes. Hoping I’m not yet close enough to the end of my life to fully grasp the meaning of that metaphor, I can apply that analogy to a similar paradox of time.
A leap that was once months away, has now arrived. 7 days seems to be my only shield. And as each passes, the next goes by quicker. Until there I will be, defenseless. No more moments to inch myself nearer to the edge. The next one is it. And although today comes with the comfort of knowing that the leap is yet to come, a week from now it will be a moment in the past.
Five days from now, I will be packing a box of clothes and shipping it off to Reno, Nevada. Seven days from now I will be getting on a plane to Dallas, Texas (slight detour) and then Reno.
Joined by several of my co-workers of the semi start-up Be Legendary, we will be working under one roof to try and bring the company to a new tier of success. This is no doubt, very exciting. The move, the work, the experience. Which is why it’s almost funny that in the midst of all this excitement I can’t get my mind off of a girl.
It’s like one movies from the 80’s, where romances are setup to be bowled down by the wake up call of the real world. But if you look through the eyes of those teenage heartthrobs, odds mean very little when it comes to matters of the heart.
So perhaps there’s some hope. When Ione Skye says to John Cusac in Say Anything that “nobody thinks it will work.” He responds by saying, “No, but you’ve just described every great success story.”
I try and remind myself, that we cannot connect the dots looking forward. If I find myself becoming detached from that idea, I find that I am removing myself from the current moment.
The dots will connect, we just haven’t seen the line yet. And things that seem difficult or unlikely seem to be the key ingredients to any great success.
It’s funny how the most cliche advice can be the most comforting, but the one hue of inspiration that has been keeping me going is the idea that if things are meant to happen – they will happen. You cannot push a stop button on your life to wait and see. Jump off that board and see what happens. I’ll let you know what it feels like in a week!
I was fulfilling one of my guilty pleasures last week of sitting at my laptop and unproductively hitting the “StumbleUpon” button on the upper right hand corner of my browser. It might have been my listless attitude, but I was particularly unenthused by the pages I was clicking through. That’s when I came across this:
It was the perfect bit of inspiration and motivation to derail me from this train of boredom and reignite my enthusiasm to LIVE LIFE.
This got me thinking on how simply we can change our moods with a shift of focus. Words, images, people, actions, music, love, laughter…these are all steadfast remedies to those days that require a much needed course adjustment. But no matter what the situation, a bored, dreary day, or a much more bleak and significant chaos, never loose sight of who you are.
It is not our circumstances that define us, but how choose to live in them.
So I’ll preface this by saying, this is not a story where everything clicked into place, the stars aligned, and I effortless cast myself upon the finish line. This is more like a modern day Disney film. There’s a happy ending, but certainly some heartache along the way.
I woke up Sunday morning with a range of emotions spinning inside my head. I picked out my outfit the night before. Sitting on the hotel room desk was my black and white running shorts and a cotton Livestrong t-shirt that sat comfortably across my shoulders and was just soft enough to prolong any nipple irritation.
Along with my predetermined apparel, I practiced choosing my attitude as easily as I did my outfit. A positive mentality seemed to be one of the paramount tips to running a marathon. Seems easy enough reading it in a 300 word article, but walking at 5:30 in the morning amongst thousands of other runners to stand behind a long, narrow, white line makes it a little bit harder to maintain this focus.
I found my starting corral. They were separated by colors and mine was green. I also found a tall, sturdy spruce tree that was currently unoccupied. I reached out my hand and leaned on it’s coarse bark as I stretched my quads.
I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by all the people. They walked by with all these little running nicknacks. I saw it all.
Gel packs tucked into tiny pockets in their shorts, small water bottles sitting on lightweight belts strapped around their wastes, and flat Camelbak backpacks that could hold two liters of water with a nozzle that would run right to your mouth.
I don’t know if I was stretching or admiring or nervous, but before I knew it people were beginning to line up.
6:57am. They were getting ready to send off the first wave of elite runners. I don’t remember being all too nervous here. To my left was a man wearing a green jets cap who was well into his fifties. To my right was a younger woman. Tall and slender, she had two tattoos of angel wings on her calves along with some more down her arms that I couldn’t quite make out.
I thought to myself, “I can do this.”
As runners took off we got closer and closer to the starting line, until there I was, a few steps away from running 26.2 miles. I pressed play on my marathon playlist and “Ours” by The Bravery came on. I couldn’t help but think this was the perfect song to start a marathon to.
I crossed the starting line. The adrenaline felt like it was thumping against my heart as a cool rush ran up my head. 25,000 people were running in this marathon, but the amount of people watching must have been twice that. We ran through streets piled with people holding signs, cheering, clapping, smiling.
The surge of energy in those opening miles was palpable. “I was doing it,” I thought to myself, “I was about to run a marathon.”
It took my body till about mile 9 to realize that my novice stretching job was going to have some major repercussions. My calves tightened, I started getting shooting pains in my knees, and for some reason the outside of my left butt cheek was much stiffer than the right. And this was mile 9! I still had 17 miles left to run. I started getting nervous.
“Trust your training.”
“You’re only on mile 10.”
“Just be loose.”
“I can’t stop. It’s not an option.”
“Ow, my knee hurts.”
“Yep. Still on mile 10.”
This cycle of thoughts perpetuated through my head like the yin yang of marathon running. With every negative thought came a positive one to follow it, and for that matter, vice-versa.
Before the marathon, the farthest I had run was just over 17 miles. I thought this was quite the accomplishment at the time, but when your body is beginning to break down and you have another 9 miles to run, well, that’s when you understand what a marathon really takes.
My feet ached, my legs were burning, my left knee was starting to give, I was incredibly thirsty, and I was beginning to worry that I might not be able to finish.
By mile 20 my pace had slowed down dramatically. My focus shifted on just moving my feet forward. All this physical pain had created some of the most significant doubts I had ever faced.
Mile 22, photographers. Shit. I’d say about 90% of me didn’t even care about my slow pace being photographed. But that other 10% wouldn’t have it. My pace quickened, as I covered my facial expression with a neutral tone.
Snap. Snap. Snap. Only 4 miles left.
Honestly I’m not sure what happened in these last few miles. I have a theory that, I just blacked out like Will Ferrell did in Old School during those college debates. But what I do remember, was the most memorable experience for me. It was the final mile.
People lined up and down the streets stretching to the finish line. I unplugged my headphones to hear people cheering, “Come on Chris, you can do it!” “You’re almost there Chris!”
The bib numbers had each runner’s name printed on the side. It was quite extraordinary. With the help of literally thousands of strangers, I was able to keep moving forward, keep pushing. And with each step forward, the finish line grew closer and closer. Till there it was.
Like a nomad who has found water in the desert, the site of that finish line was truly sublime. I crossed that same long, narrow white line I had started at 26 miles back and heard two voices off to my left.
There stood my parents. My dad nodding his head in my direction, and my mom with the most heartfelt smile stretching across her face.
I did it. I had accomplished something that at one time I thought of as profoundly ridiculous.
A friend who had run the marathon as well, and many before this, said to me, “now you know.”
He was certainly talking about what it’s like to run a marathon, but he was also alluding to what is possible when you commit to an outcome.
Running the Philadelphia marathon was an extraordinary experience. It was the discovery and rediscovery of one’s potential. It stripped away every other superfluous circumstance and acted as a connection to and instigator of the visceral possibilities that continually lie within us.
As for my next marathon, who knows what’s possible, but I’m thinking New York.
This post is dedicated to two very loving parents who endlessly support and believe in their truly grateful son.
There have been days where I could not wait to put together a playlist, tie my shoes, and hit the pavement. Then, there have been those other days. Those days have the common pattern of excuses and rationalization. “I’ll just run longer tomorrow.” Or, “I’m too sore today.” I’d have these internal discourses many of which came with these self-imposed deals and agreements.
One thing I have found is that I can be very persuasive when I don’t want to do something. Another thing I’ve learned is that when I do wind up going against my default comfort zone, it always pays off. Most of the time the persuasive arguments I would use to rationalize weren’t all that accurate. I’m beginning to understand that default setting tends to be wrong, a lot.
The biggest tool that has helped me is adapting a simple mindset – be loose. And I’m not just talking about proper stretching techniques (although I learned the hard way how critical that piece is). I’m talking about loosening up, letting yourself flow, and feeling good.
On my long runs I’d hit mile 10 or 11 and running would start to become difficult, mentally and physically. When that happened I would start to tense my body up, huff and puff, and probably had this gruesome look of agony on my face. Then questions would come up, like how am I going to finish if I’m in pain now? Can I really do this? Should I stop?
I was not loose. I would just convert most of my energy to my agony. It wasn’t until that I reminded myself be loose that my mindset shifted. Stop trying so hard on something you can do very naturally. Trust in your abilities. You can do this.
I imagine putting myself on autopilot. My conscious energy is merely a spectator as I simply and loosely coast down winding streets in neighboring towns.
Be loose. Coast. Your mind is merely a witness not a commentator. I wish I meditated more, but I feel the times I loosen up in my run and let my body coast, my mind does as well.
The awesome thing about training for this marathon is what I learn on the road in my running shoes applies to more areas than just exercise.
Interacting with a person for the first time can tend to be very rigid and scripted. Meeting deadlines can be stressful. Having a never ending to-do list can be daunting. But we tend to inhibit our own natural abilities to complete these things when we tense up.
The other week I had to make a couple calls for work about one of our team building activities. I’ve run it a bunch of times and was explaining to a person how to facilitate it on their own. I started writing up a whole script of exactly how the conversation would go.
Then I realized there is no room for flow when you have everything predetermined. I tossed the script, loosened up, and talked about what I knew. And it went fantastically. I just let myself do the talking and the rest of myself was just witnessing the magic happen.
We are each are own greatest inhibitors. Extraordinary is visceral, but unfortunately we also come with this unresolved tension that leads us to question ourselves. What I’ve learned from training for this marathon is don’t.
Try it out. Loosen up. Next time you find yourself in that awkward situation or feeling some tension just let yourself flow. It’s quite amazing what can become possible.