When we started the Platte River Fitness Series, our goal was to improve the physical activity level in our community. There was so much information, so many paradigms about how to get people up and moving. Committees, programs, organizations. It overwhelmed me. What do we do? I decided that I could only do what I knew from personal experience.
I knew that when, at 33, I became involved in road racing, I became more fitness-focused than I had ever been, including my time as a competitive swimmer. It was the necessary training to prepare for a race that was incredibly motivating to me. I had no coach, no teammates, no time my attendance was required. To find my place at the starting line, I had to be accountable for my preparation. Preparation meant adherence to a training program. Each day there was a goal to achieve. Each day a specific mission to be accomplished. I was responsible for my health and my happiness. No one was going to give it to me, and there was no easy way to earn it. I was drawn to racing not because it was an easy fix. I was drawn because it was hard, and that which is hard has the most value. Becoming involved in road racing required that exercise was part of my daily routine because I wasn't just exercising, I was training. Exercising seemed like a chore. Training, however, made me feel competent and noble. Words have power, and "training" made me feel powerful. If this concept helped me get fit, why wouldn't it offer the same gift to others.
There is sometimes a misconception about the Series. The race is not the end, it is a means to an end. The end is health. The end is empowerment. The end is finding our full potential, not just physical, but personal, emotional and spiritual. Physical health is a prerequisite. The real education comes to the mind. To help others make a commitment to lifetime wellness, I knew this was the kind of education we needed to share.
Registering for a race has a financial incentive. It costs something. It also usually offers something validating and affirming. The all-important race shirt. The race shirt says, "I trained, I started and I finished." It proclaims to all, "I did this." "I was here." "I was a part of something bigger than me." I believed that if we could guide people to see races from this perspective, changing the view that racing was only about who can run the fastest, we could use races to create the active culture that was our mission.
We have a fair number of races. We started with three in 2002, one triathlon and two road races. There are 29 in 2014. No one has to do them all, but if trying to do so keeps someone on a healthy path, we are happy. Every race is a separate attempt to reach someone, touch someone, and include someone. Each race is a new opportunity to extend an invitation to someone to find the same magic in races that I found. Every race has a cause it supports, and if someone who supports that cause is inspired by the athletes they meet, then our community wins twice. We win when we support these worthy causes, and we win when someone says "yes" to a new and healthy life.
There has been an evolution in my thinking when it comes to these races. I have come back to what I know to be true. When I first started directing the races, it was all about numbers. It's usually the first question the media asks, "How many?" We absolutely want our events to be well attended. We want our race directors to experience a benefit to their cause and a reward for the incredibly hard work of organizing and hosting a race and that means good attendance. For the organizations and causes, numbers are important. From my perspective, however, and from the perspective of the mission of the PRFS, if we capture one heart, one soul who is ready to make a lifestyle change, we have won. Each person whose life is changed is a powerful force for change in the life of another, and so it goes. I believe that a culture in a community can change, but the change is most lasting, one person at a time.