What is courage?

Friday I was grading exams (one of the not fun parts of my job). I went home and turned on the stereo. For some reason I put NPR on, rather than music. As I was grading This American Life came on. The episode was called “What Doesn’t Kill You” and was about people who had brushes with death. The first story on there touched me and got me thinking.

Here I want you to listen to the first 20 or so minutes of the show. Go on. Listen to it. Then come on back and finish reading……

OK. Finished? Welcome back. (If you didn’t listen, you really really should.)

I was deeply moved by Tig. That was one of the most rawly honest and courageous pieces of work I have ever heard. To stand up in front of a crowd of strangers and let that pour out. To pour it out in a way that makes people laugh (Truthfully I was laughing, and feeling guilty about finding it funny at the same time). That woman has courage.

Here is another example. Last Friday the Fat Cyclist posted a reminder about what is important. I want you to click on the “crying is for climbing” link. (Made is easy for you and posted the link here to, see how considerate I am). Then I want you to read the post from the day before “has it only been a day”. The back story here is that Elden’s wife had been fighting breast cancer for about 4 years. And they had just found out that it spread to her brain and that she was going to die (its even hard for me to write that, I cannot imagine how hard it was for Elden to write his experience).

Courage is what Elden and Susan did. Courage is confronting what is given and moving forward with love and grace. Courage is being a true husband or wife or dad or mom or friend when you are called on. Courage is doing what needs to be done even when you just feel like curling into a ball and giving up. Courage is what Tig did. Courage is laughing because laughing lets us know we are alive and we are not defined by what is happening  (and because laughing is a good way to say F You to whatever is happening). Courage is taking that experience and transforming it into something that serves as an inspiration for many to, as Fatty asks, “do something good”. Courage cannot necessarily change the outcome, but courage can transform the experience.

I started this blog as a kind of funny, self deprecating, hopefully entertaining, way to record my experience training for Leadville this year. But never ever forget that training for and riding in Leadville doesn’t take courage. Sliding on a luge sled doesn’t take courage either. They both take some “grit, guts and determination” (probably with a healthy dose of stupidity), but they don’t take real courage. Other things do. I am left wondering how I will respond when/if I am ever tested that way.


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