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Overcoming Challenges Is An Important Part of Life Success

How the 2013 Boston Bombing Helped Me Overcome Challenges and Shaped Me in Life and Business

Monday, April 18th will be my sixth Boston Marathon and a flood of emotions ensue.  Three years after the Boston Bombing, which was my fourth time running Boston, flashbacks to that terrible day rise up periodically to remind me of just how vulnerable we all are.  Many of us have seen the images from that fateful day – the smoke filled streets, the looks of shock and horror.  We have read the stories of those who have passed, like eight year old Martin Richard who reached for his mom in the last moments of his short life. And we have learned of others who have overcome challenges – physical and mental – created by this event and have come out the other side stronger.

For me, the feelings are still extremely raw, visceral and cutting to my soul.  I cannot look at the images without tears welling up, my heartbeat quickening or tension squeezing my lungs.  The events of April 15, 2013 changed me as a person.  In Matthew [9:17] it reads, ‘nor do they put new wine in old wineskins.’  The new Susan, the one that emerged after the bombing, can never go back to that winsome girl who saw running in its purity; its innocence as an indication that she was out there solely to prove that she was successfully navigating a decade plus since a diagnosis of progressive multiple sclerosis.

This Susan is the one who will be much more diligent, and sadly a little suspicious, on Monday.  It hurts to admit that I am forever shifted however it is true.  The Boston Marathon is likely one of the safest venues in sport at the moment, but that doesn’t erase the memories, ones that elicit the emotions of sadness, disappointment and a slight anxiety that supersede the simple purity of being out there with thousands of other focused individuals, running for twenty-six miles. Overcoming challenges created by traumatic events just isn’t easy.

Susan Sly overcoming challenges at Boston Marathon 612.612I went back to run in 2014.  I had been running a fever and not feeling well but there was no way that I was going to let fear win.  I ruptured a cyst and spent some emotionally agonizing moments in the medical tent, and for the first time in my history as an endurance athlete, I actually walked the last eight miles with another tortured soul whom I met in the aforementioned tent.  Together we walked, limped, shuffled across the famed finish line on Boylston graciously accepting our medals. On that day I vowed to return to Boston so that I could finish feeling much more empowered.

This year, I have been out to train on the course twice.  Although I was a professional athlete briefly years ago, my focus is no longer on speed.  16 years into this MS diagnosis, a career as an entrepreneur, speaker and author, plus a gaggle of kids have changed my priorities.  Additionally, the passing of my dear friend, Ken, who lost his battle with cancer in February, still causes me to feel a tremendous void.  Ken and I ran together for years chatting about life, goals, business and sometimes nothing at all.  He always made me laugh and had a brilliant way of contextualizing often difficult situations so they became much more logical.

This past fall, another friend, Dottie, passed.  Dottie, her sweet husband, Ben, and I had a tradition of having dinner on Boston weekend and then heading to the Runners World VIP party.  Dottie was an American hero.  She had lived for over four decades with cystic fibrosis and was a double lung transplant survivor.  Her strength, stamina and perseverance inspired people all over the world.  We were all there together in 2013 and I also feel a vacancy in my heart; the two people who inspired me to keep running no matter what are now gone.

This year is not about speed, it isn’t about a time; it is about three things – the first is that I am committing my sweat equity to my friend, Joe Andruzzi’s amazing charity.  Secondly, it is to once again face my fears and layer positive memories over top the horrors of 2013; in going back, I have the opportunity to have the race I didn’t have in 2014.  Thirdly, it is to run for Ken and Dottie because they no longer can and that breaks my heart.

I always teach my clients that there are lessons to learn from tragedy, and that if we really look at things objectively, these lessons can translate both to business and life. This is something good and lasting we can take from overcoming challenges. There have been positives that have come out of my experience in 2013.  I am definitely more assertive.  I have no time for nonsense.  I fully appreciate that life is precious, and frankly, someone else’s BS is a complete waste of my time.  2013 was a catalyst for me to move my family to the United States, somewhere that I had wanted to be as long as I can remember.  It helped me to clearly see what is important and what is not.  I would love to tell you that I live into this every day; however, that would be a lie. But candidly, I can say that I live into it a lot more than I used to and I have no doubt in my ability to overcome challenges now or in the future.

Overcome challenges by bouncing back and facing fearsGoing back to Boston forces the memories and it also propels me forward.  Terrorists can never win.  Our innocence as runners and spectators may be lost, but our resolve is much stronger.  This year, I thank the officers who are vigilantly watching over us as we run.  I will high five the spectators for showing up to cheer us on.  I will run with my head held high, knowing that fear has not won.

In life, and business, playing small is like a ravenous cancer to our souls.  I too was a once a person who would remain comfortably uncomfortable in a situation such as a toxic relationship, overweight body, or failing business, often afraid to take action.  In 2000, when I was diagnosed with MS and subsequently lost my business, my marriage ended, and I landed on my brother-in-law’s sofa, bankrupt, sick, a single mom with only $300 in cash to her name – I had no time for fear.

I knew that I only had one direction to go, and that was up.  Exhausted, frustrated, humiliated and most definitely angry, I found strength I didn’t know I had, a strength that could only have come from God, and I turned my life around so that four years later I had started a business, was making a six figure income, healthier than I had been in years and in a loving relationship.  Had I not gone through the extreme loss, I would never have become so strong.  Had I not faced the fear of losing everything, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today – a woman who does not fear loss because she has had the experience and knows how to bounce back. This event actually helped me to have more confidence and be more confident.

Fears will paralyze us.  They will keep us stuck, small and unrewarded.  Whether it is the fear of loss, the fear that someone will attack our liberties, or the fear of criticism, the reality is that scientists have discovered that, as babies, we are only born with two fears – the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises; all other fears are created.

For me personally, I cannot say that I am fearless now; however, I can say that after April 15th, 2013 there are certain things that no longer scare me.  I am not afraid to run Boston.  I am not afraid to speak my mind for risk that someone may not like me.  I am not afraid to release negative people from my life, and I am most certainly not afraid of succumbing to MS.  What I really want to write at this moment is, ‘Screw that!’  You see, after 2013 the biggest fear I released was the fear that people wouldn’t like the real me.  After 2013, my motto became, ‘Real is refreshing.’  With me – what you see is what you get, and frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You CAN overcome challenges. Overcoming challenges is something WE ALL can do!

I encourage you to take a good hard look at your life right now and ask yourself if fear is holding you back from going for your dreams.  I have no doubt that for many of you, whether it is your health, your relationship or your finances, something is paralyzing you.  Ask yourself if the fear of regret is going to be worse than the fear of taking action.  At the end of the day, we all know the answer to that one.  The fear of taking action lasts a moment in comparison to the fear of regret, which lasts a lifetime.




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