If I Can’t then I Must – Reflections on 9th grade chemistry and the four-minute mile

Jennifer Cramner sat across from me in 9th-grade chemistry (names have been changed to protect me!). She was blond, blue-eyed, and had the most amazing teeth (OK, I never actually noticed her teeth, but it would probably be inappropriate to describe what a 15-year-old boy would notice).  Anyway, she was perfect.  I . . .  I was awkward.  So I sat there, every day, daydreaming about what I knew would never be.  

That is until one day, about 3 months into the school year.  We were in the lunch room.  Me with my nerdy buddies, flipping butter pads up on the ceiling tiles; and Jennifer, two tables down, hair gently floating through the air as she turned and laughed with a group of cheerleaders and football players, soundtrack from Pretty Woman playing in the background.  

Then Joe, my best buddy, did the unthinkable.  He walked over and started talking to Jenny!  I was pretty sure that was not going to work out well for poor Joe.  

But you know, it didn’t go down that way.  Turns out miss Jennifer Cramner was actually a pretty cool and sweet girl. She welcomed Joe like he was her best friend.  I was still pretty scared, but that’s all I needed.  Standing up, straightening my oversized tee-shirt intended to hide my scrawny arms, I headed over to join the group.  Day dreams really do come true! 

On May 6, 1954 at Oxford University, Roger Bannister ran the mile in 3:59.4.  Men had tried to break the 4 minute mile mark for hundreds if not thousands of years since the Olympics began.  Most thought it was impossible.  Then Bannister just up and did it.  Two months later, two others broke four minutes and then in 1964, Kansas’ own Jim Ryun, became the first high school athlete to do so.  Today, the sub-four minute mile is the standard for any serious runner.

This past month the climbing community experienced the exact same phenomenon.  On January 14, 2015, the world was captivated as American climbers Kevin Jorgesen and Tommy Caldwell finished a 19 day ordeal that left them standing at the top of the Dawn Wall in Yosemite National Park.  They had completed a 32 pitch, 3000 foot climb, that most had felt was impossible. It took them seven years of work to put it all together.

A few weeks ago, Czech climber Adam Ondra, did the same climb in eight days.  He had never even been in Yosemite until the month before!

So what happened?  Did the Dawn wall just suddenly get easier?  Did man experience an exponential evolutionary change that made his legs move faster?  Did I suddenly look like a 1979 Shawn Cassidy🤔?

What happened in each of those events was that someone had the courage and determination to prove that the impossible really was possible. A visionary refused to accept the status quo or to be ruled by limiting beliefs. 

And once that happened, others also began to believe.

So much of what we are, what we accomplish or don’t accomplish, is determined by what we believe.  We so often put up our own barriers, created by our own limiting beliefs that we just can’t.

Naise (our youth climbing coach) makes his team do burpees whenever they say they can’t.  I love that!  I recently had someone challenge me to adopt the mindset of ‘If I can’t then I MUST’. 

Perhaps a better way of saying that is: “be a Kevin or a Tommy or a Roger or even a buddy Joe.”  Challenge your impossibilities.  Find a way when everyone else says there is none.

Or as we like to say . . . 

Follow Your Bliss,


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