Whenever I’m in Phoenix, I think about going up to Flagstaff and visiting my buddy (and Picky Bars partner) Stephanie Rothstein, but it never happens. The drive is over two hours each way, I usually only have 24-36 hours to visit between ART appointments with Dr. Ball, and besides, I’m in Arizona on the serious business of getting well. While fun, allowing a car to press me into a panini two days in a row is not conducive to healing.
Stars aligned last week when I was in Phoenix and I got to visit her after all. We were both seeing Dr. Ball on Wednesday and he was leaving for a four-day trip so I wouldn’t be getting any treatment for a while.
Steph’s pitch: “You don’t have to drive; you can stay with me since Ben’s out of town. I’ve got access to an ElliptiGo, pool, gym, anything you need,” she said. “You’ve got an ART appointment with Kym on Friday morning and a massage with Monica on Friday night. My brother will drive you back to Phoenix on Saturday.”
In typical Steph style, in five minutes she had my whole life sorted in Flagstaff better than I can manage in my own hometown. The chick is an organizer with a capital O! Of course I feel totally guilty because SHE is the one with the Olympic Trials in 10 days and she’s looking after ME. But that’s just how she rolls. Next thing you know we are driving to Flagstaff baby!
Rewind to 2008
Any time I hang out with Steph, I feel better about the world. When I met her in 2008, we were both injured strangers cross training in this crappy apartment complex “gym” on ancient, neighboring spin bikes.
After some neighborly small talk, Steph busts out a doozie: She’s going to be an Olympian in the marathon in 2012. As in, “Hi, I’m Steph. I’m going to be an Olympian in four years.” I stare at her waiting for the punch line. At the time, she was quite good (2:40 marathon) but she was off the radar. There were lots of women at her current level, she had no contract and little support, no health insurance, she was cleaning houses for extra cash, she was totally injured, and yet she said it like it was a fact. Not just any fact but a FACT, underlined with barbed wire and surrounded by an electric fence.
I had just missed the 2008 Olympic Team by one spot and was suffering a navicular injury that may or may not heal right. I was struggling just to get my ass on the bike in the first place thinking, “Will I ever be good again? What’s the point?” I was simultaneously licking and picking at my wounds and here comes Steph with a busted back and a huge grin talking about how she is going to be an Olympian. I couldn’t decide if I admired her or wanted to smack her with my spin bike’s broken handlebar.
She told me that the only way to make a goal happen was to say it out loud. Still singed from my dream going down in flames, I tried to caution her about making her career all about one goal or she might end up viewing her career as a waste if it doesn’t work out (like I was doing). Next thing you know we’re debating the merits and risks of making specific, bold goals. I still don’t know how she did it, but somehow her raw optimism and passion penetrated my thickened armor and the fighter in me ever-so-subtly stirred.
“I used to be like her,” I thought to myself. “Can I allow myself to be that way again?”
I decided I liked her. The rest of the hour flew by with story telling and joking around and within five minutes of post-workout stretching, she had organized our next four hangouts. Capital O style. I’m the type of person who blows from place to place saying things like “Whoopsie! How’d I get to the grocery store? Hmmm…well while I’m here…what do I want for dinner in 45 minutes?” Now I had an insta-friend that cracked me up who liked to organize?! With a facilitator among us, we might actually get to hang out!
And hang out we did. We watched dollar movies, went wine tasting, danced to Mylie Cyrus in the car (against my better musical judgement), started Picky Bars together, and just generally supported one another. We had the goofiness and vulnerability of high school BFF’s, and it was awesome.
In 2010, Steph reached a dead end in Eugene athletically, and made the tough choice of moving away from everything and everyone she loved to train in Flagstaff, Arizona with Greg McMillan. It was a really hard decision based PURELY on chasing her dreams and once again, her passion both scared and inspired me.
Now as we rolled into her driveway in Flagstaff, Steph was the picture of confidence and fulfillment. Her choice to move to Flag had taken her from pretty good to truly great: a 2:29 marathoner with a legitimate chance of being an Olympian. She was the type of athlete she told me she would be back in 2008.
As we hung out, I tried to play it cool, but she was like this turbo powered Native American dream catcher or something; in her presence you felt anything was possible. She was fit, healthy, beautiful…the spark in her eye made you consider wearing flame resistant clothing for God’s sake. I really felt like it was going to happen and all I could think about was that day on the spin bikes when she got me to start believing again.
Steph’s dream didn’t come true. Last weekend at the Olympic Trials in Houston, on her birthday, she ran 23 miles of the Olympic Trials and had to drop out due to pain in her hip. In her words, “My biggest dream suddenly turned into my biggest nightmare.” I was following twitter updates (since some genius network decided it wasn’t worth playing the race live) and when I heard the news, something cracked and then splintered inside my chest. My heart ached for her. I cried on and off for two days. I cried for her and for Amy Hastings and Deena Kastor and Magda and Dathan and Brett. And I cried for myself because I’m injured and struggling to get myself into the pool every day and the girl that stirred my armored heart four years ago has just realized what I’ve known for four years:
There is a Herculean price to pay for making yourself vulnerable to a dream.