Last weekend, I laced up my Brooks Launch 2s, threw on a ratty old race t-shirt, and chugged what seemed like a half gallon of Arctic water from my Yeti Rambler as I passed through the doorway of my childhood home. It was race day, and I was not even remotely prepared.
At 7:00 on a muggy Eastern Kansas morning, I maneuvered the F-150 in robotic fashion toward a destination only somewhat known, the deeper part of my brain engrossed in a one-sided conversation that could aptly be dubbed WTF Have I Signed Up For? Meanwhile, my passenger sat only two feet away, equally silent — though her silence seemed much more serene, determined.
Sheila and I were on our way to our second race together, and our very first OCR (obstacle course race): the True Grit Challenge 5k.
In the weeks leading up to the race, we nervously shared photos and videos from Oz Events’ Instagram and Facebook accounts, often with nervous giggles that resembled desperate hiccups (at least, on my end of the line). I grew increasingly wary: I’ve been a runner for 14 years, competitive for 9 of those, but this OCR thing was unknown territory. Sheila, on the other hand, who has no history of running, only offered words of support and encouragement in the days prior to our race. We can do this, she texted me. We are warriors!
Though the course was not the most extreme or difficult of OCRs around the country, the back half would have been an agonizing tenth circle of hell if it hadn’t been for Sheila, who pushed and pulled and encouraged through her own exhaustion — she was a beacon not just for myself, but for others, as well. While my mantra was something along the lines of “OMG I’m out of shape – please don’t let me die today,” Sheila’s was an even, confident “We will succeed – we will finish this race.” Her tenacity was nothing short of incredible.
I’ve known Sheila for three years, now; two of those years we spent as colleagues and friends as teachers at the same school. My first impression of Sheila was that she was remarkable: her 2nd grade classroom ran like a well-oiled machine, her own children were respectful and kind, and her faith — that, my friends, could move mountains.
I quickly discovered Sheila to be an unstoppable, striking model of everything that a woman could be — everything a woman should aspire to be.
Sheila is a Woman of Interest (I know — I slipped up a bit on blogging about those) for a number of reasons; truthfully, too many to list in this post. First and foremost, Sheila is a fountain of encouragement. Seriously. In every frustrating situation I’ve endured over the past three years, Sheila has bombarded me with goodwill and heartfelt words of encouragement. Sometimes, these tidbits come from the Bible. Most times, these nuggets of inspiration come from the depths of her beautiful heart.
Perhaps due to this perpetual stream of support she supplies for others, I know Sheila to be resilient. During a physically grueling OCR, nothing could phase her; haybale mountains, cattleguard crossings, log carries — all of these obstacles were merely annoyances to be dealt with prior to crossing the finish line. A year ago, she ran her first half marathon; and though the going got rough, she finished with a smile on her face.
She is the picture of grace. Even in the face of divorce, Sheila has prevailed in her efforts to remain composed, dignified, and kind-spirited. Pettiness is not the stuff she is made of. At her core, she strives to better the lives of others around her, regardless of her personal feelings toward any given individual or situation.
I find myself awed, often, by her ability to go far beyond proclaiming a faith in Christ or her own status as a Christian; Sheila truly embodies the loving, forgiving, and compassionate nature that her faith asks of her. In her, you know that these elements are authentic; usually, they seem effortless.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines grit as “firmness of mind or spirit: unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.” It’s almost as if the entry was composed with Sheila in mind.