23 January 2010

Club Empower

You’ve heard me rant on the power of running clubs. Here’s another dimension: they empower, too. Empowerment is a funny thing. It represents power that exists because you believe it does. In a way, it’s an angle on confidence.

Here in Massachusetts we just sent a guy to Washington who, while he’s been involved in public life for many years, was basically an unknown. Suddenly the world knows his name, because he happens to be that vote #41, and the world knows American politics and knows of the debate on health care. I’ll bet he has occasionally pinched himself throughout this election, wondering how he landed in this critical spot. I’ll bet he has asked himself if he’s truly worthy of being the hinge on which one of the biggest issues in the country revolves. I’ll bet he’s had to come to grips with his level of empowerment, and he’s accepted it.

His case is unusual in that it is so well known, but the basic premise is extremely common, when you stop to think of it. In how many of our daily actions do we take for granted the power we’ve been granted – or have granted ourselves? In how many endeavors are we empowered – or do we empower ourselves – to change the world?

Most of us wouldn’t think of plowing up a strip of land and laying down a highway. Or pouring a footing and building a skyscraper. Or any number of other things. But someone did all these things because somewhere along the way they decided they could.

Heck, I sometimes question where I got the power to stop being a kid, leave home, marry someone (are you KIDDING?), have my own kids (say WHAT)? How is it that I can just walk in and buy a car? Wasn’t I just taking a 7th grade algebra test? (Yes, it was a long time ago, that’s not the point.) Somewhere along the way we empower ourselves by accepting the fact that we can do things that seem, well, grown up, huge, beyond us. Create a corporation for your running club and take legal responsibility as a corporate officer and – gasp – ownership with the IRS? You bet. A little scary, but I could, and I did. And someone on the other end decided that they could, they had the authority to set up the laws under which to do this. Yes, we start getting down to the whole ‘government of the people, by the people’ thing, but that’s not really the point. As we grow and mature, we start to realize that there is no ‘them’, they are we and we are they. And they thrive on we, and vice versa. It’s all about being empowered. As a person. As an entity. And that gets us back to the club.

Who suddenly decides that we’re going to put on a race? Not go to a race that someone else puts on, but make an event that someone comes to. That we’re going to create an event, create a traffic ruckus on the roads, ask people and businesses for money, print t-shirts, pay cops, get EMTs standing by, engrave awards, become the authority that crowns a champion? We do, because as a group we come to recognize that we aren’t visitors in the fabric of our society, we are the fabric. The newspapers don’t exist without news, and it’s up to us to decide to empower ourselves to make some news. I used to think it was hard to become news; now I recognize that the media is just begging us to do so. Empower yourselves, make some news.

Now, my local club, the Highland City Striders, is young compared to venerable old area institutions like the North Medford Club, which has been around since Nero fiddled. And we’re small and relatively unknown, even compared to local pillars like the Central Mass Striders of Worcester (er, that’s Wistuh to the locals) or the legendary Boston Athletic Association just down the road a piece. Who are we to do big things?

Who are we not to?

A few weeks ago we gathered at one member’s graciously opened home for our annual Christmas party and ludicrously goofy gift exchange. There under the tree, along with all the little surprises brought by all, was one monstrous package, which the hostess assured was not part of the party, but a special item for herself. Foolish me, despite being intimately involved with the club’s activities, I didn’t stop to think, and simply believed her.

At the conclusion of our Yankee swap, the last person was instructed to attack this mysterious monstrosity. And there, there, there it was, that $2,500 race show clock that we’d all worked so hard on our summer race in order to raise the money to gain this first material evidence of our arrival on the scene of running clubs (and that I had written the check on the club account for – how silly of me to have not figured that one out!). Nothing says ‘official’ like that big, beautify clock ticking away at the finish line. Cool. We’re official.

Stop to think about it. No one of us would ever dream of dropping that kind of coin on something like this that would bring little benefit to any single one of us. But a bunch of people who just like to run empowered themselves to form a club, go legal and form a corporation, set up a big race, solicit sponsors, do all the yada yada, and now, where no legal entity stood a mere two years prior, stood this big beautiful physical evidence of empowered people taking action, because they decided they could. And now they’re that much more empowered to do even more down the road. Just like our new Senator, I’ll bet many of us have stopped to pinch ourselves and ask how we got to this level of – well – empowerment. I certainly have.

This, in some way, shape, or form, is how the Boston Athletic Association got started. Will the Highland City Striders ever be as much of a pillar, as well known, as well respected, as the BAA? Probably not, but that’s not the point. Everything starts with people who empower themselves to do it.

Hats off to everyone who had a part in this, and hats off to everyone who decides they have the power to take action, build something, accomplish something, do good. Empower yourself, and better yet, band together and multiply your empowerment.

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