Oprah, Graduation and Trail Running

As I prepared to listen to Oprah Winfrey’s Colorado College commencement address this morning, I was sure her message would somehow relate to trail running. Of course I think everything relates to trail running. I wrote a piece about the similarities between baseball and trail running a few years ago, and I often think about life in terms of the sport. The terrain encountered on a trail run is challenging, just like everyday life. The pace constantly changes on the trails, just as it does in life. Trails are full of ascents (high points), and descents (low points), just like life.

Through her dynamic delivery and oratory prowess, I found that my initial thoughts were spot on. Oprah was not only sending graduates into the world armed with tools to prepare themselves for life after college, she was offering advice for trail runners.

Oprah being introduced by Colorado College President Jill Tiefenthaler.

Graduating senior Lee-Ann Palesa Mokoena, Johannesburg, South Africa, who introduced Oprah said, “I’ve called her Mum “O” since I was 14. She’s been an incredible mentor to me.” Mokoena was one of 20 young women Oprah brought to the United States through her Leadership Academy and was now earning her degree in computer science. Trail runners find mentors in coaches, in other athletes, in race directors. Mentorship builds success and transforms individuals into leaders on and off the trails. “Having people in the right position to support you is important,” said Oprah. This of course translates to becoming a mentor yourself and creates a legacy well into the future. “Your legacy is every life you touch. It’s not one thing, it’s everything,” said Oprah.

“I live in the space of radical love and gratitude,” remarked Oprah. “Imagine whatever Oprah’s doing and it’s ten times better than that. I had appreciation for the small steps. (Use) the bumps in the road to the path that is clear.” At any start line of a trail race, there’s always trepidation. Embrace every step and learn from every experience, every result both good and bad. “I’m here to tell you,” said Oprah. “Everything is always working out for me. That’s my mantra and it should be yours.”

The author (left) with ATRA board member Eve Mills – mother to new graduate Nicole Mills (pictured top of page).

“Do what you have to do until you can do what you want to do,” said Oprah. Choosing to build a solid base in training will reap benefits in endurance, speed, and consistency on the trails. Those hard workouts will all be worth it when you set a PR in a race. As well, if you’re getting into trail race directing, you may have to start as an aid station captain, or a finish line volunteer to learn the ropes before you take on the director position.

“You actually get to transform the world every day by your actions,” said Oprah. “Take one transforming step at a time (but know) you can not fix everything. You have a decision, use your life as service. Radically transform every moment you’re in. Ask anyone who is successful, service is everything.” Whether that service comes in terms of stewardship (our theme in 2018), or supporting and advocating responsible trail running (our theme in 2019), the actions we take as trail runners help to preserve our environment and make a long-lasting impact.

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