I used to think that it was silly for people to be moved by an event or the performance of others. I guess it was just that I was never able to understand how an event could inspire somebody. Why did some huge occurrence have to take place for an individual bring about the change that they sought? Without a doubt, the 2008 Olympic Marathon changed my outlook on running. More importantly, however, it made me realize the impact that a world event and the stories of those who are tied up in it can have on people.

As a high school freshman, I discovered that running gave me an escape from everyday life. I enjoyed every minute of exploring new trails and roads, testing my limits, and driving myself to become better with each and every run. Running with the cross country squad and track team was easily the highlight of my high school experience. I’ve always loved competition and running is as raw as it gets. There’s no bad luck or unfair referees. It simply comes down to you, your competition, and how far you’re willing to push yourself. With the competition came something more important, the camaraderie. I was excited to come to practice every day to not only have my teammates there to support me, but to be there for them.

Nearly four years later, I turned the page on my high school running career when I walked across the stage and received my diploma. Over the previous year, it had become clear that I didn’t quite have what it would take to compete at the college level. I spent a lot of time wondering why I wasn’t one of the lucky ones, blessed with superior genetics and able to grind out 4-minute miles with relatively little training. Given the envy I had for the individuals who would be running in it, I was reluctant to tune into the Olympic Marathon during the summer after graduation.

As the race unfolded, the commentators transitioned from the long race into talking about the profiles of nearly every runner in the field. I contemplated changing the channel in order to avoid even experiencing even greater jealousy. They covered the Kenyans, the favorites for the race. The Ethiopians and the high expectations that their country had for them were discussed. Finally, the conversation moved on to the Americans. I listened as the stories of the American golden children, Ryan Hall and Dathan Ritzenhein, unfolded. Standouts since high school, these two were the future of American distance running.

The last runner for the Americans was someone who I didn’t recognize. As the commentators began to cover the story of Brian Sell, I couldn’t believe my ears. They talked about his “dismal” high school career in which he appeared to be like any typical runner. In fact, he boasted a high school 2-mile time only seconds faster than that of my own. It was revealed that he had found that he couldn’t compete with the more talented runners when on the track. The marathon, as they explained, was the great equalizer. Guys like Brian were able to compete through sheer hard work and determination. While others put in 120 miles per week, Brian was pounding the pavement for upwards of 160 miles.

It astounded me to think that someone from such humble beginnings could be within striking distance of Olympic gold. I began to think that it could be me in 12 years. While Brian didn’t win the gold, his story changed my way of thinking. A relatively unknown runner until his late 20’s, Brian challenged the way the sport thought of elite runners. He had risen from obscurity to become an Olympian. Was it possible for me to still be a part of this sport?

I was reborn as a runner.

I started running miles that I would’ve never dreamed of in high school. Spending hours at a time out on the back country roads near my home, my weekly mileage climbed to 100 miles per week. Could enough hard work really be a substitute for raw talent? I had to find out. I had to test whether or not Brian’s story would become my story. I signed up for my first ever marathon.

By the time the Grand Rapids marathon rolled around in October 2008, I was only a few months into my new running life. I was nervous as I toed the starting line, knowing that this race would reveal if my lack of talent would keep me from being competitive. The 26 mile race passed like all the other miles from that summer, one step at a time. Reaching the finish line and making my way through the crowd to the race results, I was blown away. I managed to finish in under 3 hours, qualifying for the Boston Marathon. It was nearly unheard of for a first time marathoner to qualify for Boston, especially at 18 years old. To top it off, I managed to take 15th place out of over 2000 runners.

For the following days, my legs were sore but my spirits were never higher. The Olympic marathon that year had inspired me to stay with a sport that I had forgotten how much I loved. I now realize that wasn’t the event itself that inspired me, which I think is likely the case for most people. It’s the stories of those caught up in the events that has an impact on people. Seeing others overcome the same obstacles that we’re facing has a way of encouraging us to persevere.