Monday, July 13, 2009

The best of us!

Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength. Arnold Schwarzenneger
Cowboy hat firmly planted on her head, blond hair flying out from beneath its brim, heels down in her stirrups, body forward, reins gripped firmly in one hand, she burst into the arena on her horse Roundpen and was the fastest rider to round the three barrels and make it back past the starting line. When she walked on stage to claim her prize, a beautiful bronze sculpture of a Barrel Racer and a $100,000 cheque, the announcer asked her, "What's this prize mean to you?"

Tears immediately poured down her cheeks. Her shoulders started to shake. She took the mic, looked up into the blue sky above and said, "A lot better than this morning. My son was killed in a car accident two weeks ago. This one's for him."

For a moment, there wasn't a sound from the 20,000 plus people in the outdoor arena. And then, people stood on their feet, clapped, hooted and hollered as they honoured this mother who had just won the title of Champion Barrel Racer at the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede and endured a moment none of us ever want to experience -- the loss of a child.

We don't know what we don't know.

Earlier, watching her and the nine other women in the semi-final race, I was in awe of their focus, their attention to that seventeen second moment in the arena as their beautiful steeds carried them in a flurry of motion around the barrels. I wasn't thinking of losses, of sorrow and fears and tears and pain.

I was enjoying the race.

So were the riders and their horses.

But, as Tammy Key-Fischer rounded each barrel, she carried with her the pain and sorrow of her loss. Nothing will ever override her loss. Nothing will ever bring back her son. He is gone and all they can do for him now is what they've done. Carry their grief and carry on with living. He is gone and in his stead, they have set up a rodeo scholarship to honour him.

It takes courage. Commitment, Perseverance and endurance to ride into a rodeo ring. It takes love to get a mother onto the podium when all she wants is to grieve the loss of her child.

"He would have wanted this for me," she told the audience.

In life, their are moments when pain overwhelms us, fear grips us, sorrow bends us. We can ride on or stop dead in our tracks. We can let go of our goals and dreams. We can let life have the better of us.

We never know what someone is enduring. We judge them, as in the case of the rodeo, on their ability to ride, to rope, to wrestle. We don't ask ourselves, what's that person going through? What are they enduring? What heartache are they carrying?

We expect them to be on task, professional, first-class.

And when we discover their pain and angst, we applaud them for their fortitude.

Later, as my daughter, Alexis, and I wandered through the art exhibition (our favourite Stampede activity to enjoy together) we chatted with a woman we know in one of the booths. When she heard of Tammy's announcement upon winning the race, she exclaimed, "Oh my. I couldn't imagine doing that. How could she ride after such a loss? I'd still be in bed crying."


Or, perhaps we'd be doing the same thing. Focusing on our dream, putting aside our tears out in public as we carry the grief of loss with us around the arena only letting the tears flow when we are alone, out in the back forty, or at night in our bed.

Tammy Key-Fischer spent ten days at the Rodeo, qualifying through each round to make it to the final event where she and her horse rode to victory. She never mentioned her loss. Never used her sorrow as a crutch or an excuse. And then, in the final moment of glory, with tears streaming down her face, she could honour the one she'd loved and lost with a, "This one's for him."

We can't change the past. Can't bring back what was lost or reconstruct a moment gone to become something else. All we can do is keep doing our best.

Perhaps, for Tammy, the best way to stave off the pain is to keep doing what she knows how to do best. To not surrender. To keep being a winner.

No matter the weather, no matter what life dumps on us, we need to keep our dreams alive so that, in the moment of triumph we can raise our eyes, look towards the sky and exclaim, "This one's for you!"

It's easy to judge a mother for not responding the way we expect. It's easy to admire her too.

Hats off to Tammy Key-Fischer. She is a shining example of how to stay focused on your dream, to keep racing no matter how rough the ride. To keep honouring the best in ourselves and to pay homage to those we love by giving them the best of us in everything we do.

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