The human spirit has an extraordinary capacity for fortitude, determination, perseverance and resilience and it’s remarkable how many people are able to undertake or overcome seemingly impossible challenges by being utterly focused on and committed to their goals.
In last Wednesday’s assembly we heard about Ross Edgley’s amazing feat (the first person to swim the 1,780 miles around Great Britain). It took him 157 days and he swam for up to 12 hours each day, battling strong tides and currents in cold water, braving storms and jellyfish and eating more than 500 bananas! The trick, Edgley says, was not to think about finishing but to embrace the process itself, to become comfortable being uncomfortable. ‘Left alone with your own thoughts, it’d be quite easy to bin it, to talk yourself into quitting. It sounds clichéd but a positive mindset can be the deciding factor. The Marines call it ‘cheerfulness in the face of adversity’. It’s not like a marathon; it’s 157 days. You can’t just grit your teeth and get on with it. ….I ended up telling myself jokes, reciting stories in my head. I would get out and remember laughing at my own jokes…..The Japanese have this word, okugake. It means ‘deep inside’ and it refers to a pilgrimage the monks make. This swim was my okugake. I wanted to learn something, test something, understand more about nutrition and mental fortitude and surviving and test the boundaries of common sense. I didn’t do it for the records. No one asked me to do it, I could have gone on land at any point.’
We also heard about Eid Aljazairli, a Syrian refugee who nearly drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2016. He says, ‘My story starts with the American swimmer Michael Phelps. I was sitting at home late at night and I saw a video of him on YouTube by chance. I saw him swimming and flying. He really inspired me and ignited a passion inside me. After watching two hours of films, I just said to myself: this is something I have to do.’ Within six months, he went from barely being able to swim at all to registering a time of 43 seconds for the 50-metre freestyle: he has now set his sights on qualifying for the Olympic Refugee team in 2020.
The mind is an extraordinarily powerful thing, exemplified in this quote from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure:
‘Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.’
All the more reason to give our young people the firm conviction that ‘they can do it’ and to build their capacity to be resilient, courageous and determined.