Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Writing advice from a Sports Trainer

Do what you have to do to eat. But if you want to be a writer you have to write.
 Photo ©2008 MMagallan via Stock.Xchng
One of the hazards (or perks, depending on how you look at it) of working in the service industry is overhearing bits and pieces of guests' conversations. I've picked up conflicting advice on dating, overheard several heated political debates, and have tried to put out of my mind images from sentences I hope never to hear uttered again.

Recently a group of a hundred football players came through. They'd just won their first game of the season against one of our local high schools and most of them were spending the day on the river. After splitting my morning between my breakfast duties and driving shuttles I finally had a chance to clean the lodge.

Usually by this time of day everyone has passed through onto their morning activities and I'm able get through my daily checklist without feeling like I'm underfoot, but on this particular day the sports commentary coming from the TV above the mantlepiece was being ignored by a student who skipped the raft trip and was instead sitting enthralled in the tale of his chaperone.

I didn't get to hear much, but from what I did I learned that the man came from East St. Louis. Having spent some time volunteering there as part of an after-school program during my freshman year of college I had no trouble setting the scene. And like that part of town, it wasn't pretty. It was, however, incredibly intriguing and I found myself working a little slower as the mentor shared about a life that seemed straight out of a Hollywood film. As I walked away with my cleaning supplies I found myself wondering how he had found himself here in Oregon and what made his life so drastically different from some of his family members.

Later on while I was preparing the deck for lunch he came out and struck up a conversation with me. It turns out he's a sports trainer and he works with a lot of the players in his community (both amateur and professional). We started out talking about one of the players who was severely injured in the game the night before. While his teammates were trying to enjoy their victory, he was undergoing surgery. As the captain of three different sports (and he's only a junior this year), he's well loved and respected by his peers. According to the trainer, even if the doctor said he'd never play a sport again, this young man would be the one to prove him wrong. But even if he didn't, he'd do all right for himself. He's just that sort of kid.

There was no mistaking the admiration the trainer had for this young man, and our conversation eventually led into him talking with me about his own journey. By the world's standards he should have been another statistic. Instead he took on the world, put himself through college, started a business that while successful wasn't what he was passionate about, so he sold it and started up his training organization and has never looked back, even when the going was tough. He was living his dream and he couldn't be happier.

That's when he asked about me. 

For the first time in my life I boldly said I'm a writer. I told him how it wasn't what I first set out to do when I started college, but it's what I love. We talked about college, about working with youth, and about what I've been doing this past year. I shared a little about my book and my roughly sketched-out plans for the future.

As I spoke he shook his head and smiled.

"You know what? You're the real thing," he told me. "Don't stop. You keep writing. Don't let anything or anyone hold you back. Do what you have to do to make ends meet right now, but when you get home you make sure you write."

I don't know what encouraged me more, the fact that he called me the "Real thing" or that he took the time to have a real conversation with me. I've gotten so used to the superficial chats with guests that I never would have expected such a huge motivational boost from a complete stranger. In my mind I was just a working grunt. In his mind, I was one of his players who just needed a shove in the right direction.

It was a much needed reminder that my dreams are important, that work doesn't define an individual, and success is rarely what the world describes it as. I'm not the only writer who is working an odd job to put food on the table, so there is no need to feel defensive about it. Unless I use it as an excuse to do anything but write, that is.

Maybe it was his passion that lent me the gumption I needed. Or maybe he just helped me find my own inner fire again. Whatever the case, it was exactly what I needed when I needed it.

I'm still exhausted when I get home from work every day, but now I'm grabbing my laptop or notebook and writing my heart out before I pass out.


  1. You are the real thing, Jen, and you shouldn't ever stop. I'm so amazed to have you as a friend and to be able to watch your journey.

    On a related note, this post has touched on a sore spot in me. It's something I'll have to file away to think about during my next quiet time.

    1. As are you, Jess. I'm continually amazed by all that you take on and how well you are doing (despite your protests to the contrary.) As for the sore spot, I hope you'll be able to work through it to your satisfaction, whatever it is. If its something you'd like to talk about, you know where to find me.

    2. That means a lot. It never seems like enough to me but I'm trying to learn not to discount it when others tell me it is.

      I think I have...but I will definitely be making time to call you, as well.