Chasing Cherries, and the Benefits of Ice Cream

By: Shannon Thompson, Sweet Performance

I did a three day camp working with the Callaghan Valley Cross Country Ski Team, on Hornby Island, this spring. Now, you may be excused for wondering where the snow can be found on Hornby Island! Clearly, this was a team cohesion camp, and dry-land excursions were on tap.

My companions on this Hornby excursion, were coaches: Chris, Maria and Graham, media and sponsorship guru Magi, and 5 exceptional skiiers:  Geoffery, Martin, Sebastien, Sam and Paul. Wedged in strategically between bags, groceries and bike tires, we made our merry way from Vancouver and Whistler.  I know everyone has heard the phrase, “it’s about the journey,” in reference to sport. As a competitive, recovering perfectionist, there was a time that I would have rolled my eyes, declaring this cliche true only for those who don’t win! However, my training camp experience has sparked some reflection on this notion.

Upon arrival we all set out for a run, quickly heading in different directions. Magi and I returned to the cabin after about 90 mins, just as the rain began. Quite sometime thereafter,  the boys staggered in, soaking wet.  Apparently they had taken a wrong turn, ending up on the opposite end of Hornby Island. Hitchhiking had been required to get them back on track. Dripping and filthy, they gobbled up all food in sight before collapsing on beds and couches.  Running, rain, friends, wrong turns… food…blissful exhaustion… it got me thinking.

The big goals- they make our hearts beat faster; there is such meaning ascribed to them that they can procure tears; I can feel mine into my fingertips… big dreams have a sensation. Still, what moments stand out when we look back on our lives as athletes? For me, it’s the hitchhiking; it’s the warm and dry afterward, it’s the friends and the stories.

Presently, I’m focusing on two sports: Three Day Eventing (Equestrian) and distance running. I have 27 years of experience in the former, and about 8 years in the latter. As a runner, and a comparatively new one, I’m constantly breaking new ground; as a rider, I’m rediscovering and redefining the passion that shaped my life. Still, despite my differing levels of expertise between the sports, I’ve noticed a common phenomenon: I find greater excitement when a goal appears possible than when it is actually achieved.

Presently, I’m working with a nice young horse named ‘Ella”. About a month ago, her owner John and I brought her to a clinic with a good coach (Jonathan Elliot). Ella is very inexperienced, but she stepped up that day, jumping far more complicated exercises than she ever had. It was so fun… so simply wonderful, to marvel at the progress she made. Even more so, I was struck out of the blue with the possibility of what could be; maybe this could be my next international horse; who knows what is in store for us… and so the new journey continues, and an old dream returns.  It was a sweet, sweet feeling of hope that I enjoyed for sometime afterward.

I’ve had some big successes in horse sport. Certainly some memorable wins. Some were deeply satisfying, and some were simply a relief; they were relief that things went right.
This spring has been a great one for my running. After three years of struggle and inconsistent progress, finally I’ve had a string of personal best races, and major goals attained. I must stress that these were wonderful days, and I experienced a great deal of satisfaction. However, I would describe the achievement of these goals  as a grateful relief, compared to the inspired hope of small training progress.

There are few better days than workouts with friends. The shared jovial dread, the silence in work, the high-fives, the cool down shuffle. Whether it’s Stanley Park sunshine, or  a dark, rainy track , we emerge like those boys: soaking wet, exhausted, hungry and whole; whole in the deepest, happiest, most fulfilled sense of the word. You all know what I’m talking about. If we’ve been able to run a little faster than ever, well… that’s the cherry.

But this is the curious part for me; I must stress for me because I have no idea if this is true for you… I spend so much time in these golden moments of training, yet I’ve constantly looked beyond them to a moment that could come, when a goal is realized. Then, when it comes, when the goal is realized, I am thrilled! Absolutely thrilled. But, it is the cherry.. it is sweet, and short lived. In fact, usually I can find a way it could have been sweeter, redder, bigger.  Then I return to the training (the ice cream if you will!), and I savor it, and it lasts… and I dream about the next cherry.

Now there’s no changing the fact that we all want cherries. I’ve just found that for me it’s all about the ice cream, the journey… and savoring it. It’s about the friends, and pushing one’s self because it’s fun to strive; it’s about misty mornings, and tired satisfaction. For me, and for many others (research has shown) when we love the journey, we get more cherries.

With this, I introduce you to my project: Sweet Performance. The name reflects the best word I know to describe moments of progress, goals realized and hard work rewarded. My ambition is to find the tools within us to shape dreams into reality, to have more cherries, while savoring the ice cream.

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