A Plea for Help

Psych.

I don’t need any help. I can do it myself. Got these bootstraps that I can pull up. I can do everything myself.

Actually I can’t. And I don’t think any of us can do it all ourselves. And if we can, maybe we shouldn’t.

See, when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s in Buffalo, we still had neighborhoods and we were still neighbors. You didn’t go online to find out what your friends were doing. You knocked on their door and if they didn’t want to come out to play, you negotiated with them. Something like this, “If you bring your hockey net, Tim will bring his goalie pads and Mike will play net. We can get 3 on 3 with a goalie.”

We borrowed sugar. We got babysat. We gave and got rides to the store. It made us talk to each other. We related to each other on a very human level.

We might’ve fight at times but we always made up because we needed each other. We were a community. We had disagreements and we were all different, but we were all in it together. No other options. To need and to be needed. Favors were the currency of my neighborhood. (it had to be because there wasn’t much money to spread around)

It is my opinion that there is this perception in our culture that in asking for help a person becomes something less. Like they couldn’t do it themselves and so they’re just not as good as they should be. I disagree. I think asking for help makes a person stronger. For one, you get the assistance of another person. For two, you give someone else the opportunity to help. You allow someone else to be kind. And you learn to let go of control a little. To be a little vulnerable. To learn to trust that you can be helped.

It’s odd though, because we see it in our sport all the time especially on the trails, but also on Roads and at IronMan as well, people helping people. We see things like volunteers taking off stinky, muddy shoes of perfect strangers. But in my view, more importantly, we see people asking for help from complete strangers. “Can you fill this up with water?”, “Do you have any Immodium?” Vulnerability. Giving someone else a chance to feel important and to help.

We see runners stopping to help other runners on the trail. Providing help and pick me ups to sometimes complete strangers. Runners even calling runners back onto the course if they took a wrong turn… during a race… when they are competing against each other!

This week at Many on the Genny, a 40 mile ultra race, there were so many examples of people asking and accepting help from complete strangers (or from friends. Sometimes it’s harder to ask friends) the biggest of which were the two Race Directors. They asked and willingly accepted hundreds of hours of help from their family and friends in order to make a dream of theirs into a reality. Thank Yous poured into them at the end of the race and they in turn handed out more than they received. At the end of the day, their Race Reports were Thank You notes to the participants and the volunteers. Without their willingness to ask for help to achieve a vision, a truly amazing day for more than 250 people would have never happened. Memories would never would have been made. Life goals never achieved.

Even at the biggest races with the highest performers, Western States, where elites can run 100 miles in 15 hours, they still ask for help from numerous crew members and volunteers.

IMG_7083
Daven Oskvig won the Oil Creek 100 mile, but not without the help of his parents and Aid Station volunteers

And yet, we find it hard to take that trail magic, that running community mentality out in the real world.

I think, actually, that the reason we don’t ask for help, is that we’re a bit afraid of how much we might need it. To be vulnerable and take chance to trust someone. And how much we stand to lose if that trust doesn’t come through. What if we ask for help and we are rejected? Then what? What will that person think of us? Who will they tell? So we just do it ourselves or we don’t do it all.

And in doing so, we miss out on the opportunity to be that much closer and that more more human with someone else.

So, my challenge to you is not to go out and help someone. Helping is easy.

My challenge to you is to ask someone for help. Be a little trusting. Give someone a chance to be important and useful. In this next week, find an opportunity to ask someone to help you with something you have been putting off or dreading.

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