We often emphasize the importance of grit on this team and rightfully so. I’m not sure exactly what grit is, but it’s probably something you need to ski a 7.5k classic at nationals when it’s snowing so hard you can hardly see the skier who started 15 seconds ahead let alone ski in the track they’ve set. I’d also say it takes grit, whatever that may be, to finish a 20k skate, skiing alone off the back of the pack, fighting against fresh powder, cramping muscles, and a self-inflicted black eye. It definitely takes grit to get out of bed and race a 21K went you spent the entire previous day standing outside helping with high school races in negative wind chill until your limbs become completely numb and then racing four rounds of sprints. But really, all those things are just another day on the UW Nordic team. It’s for that reason that Angela Duckworth’s, “Grit Test” was part of the selection process in choosing the ten Chinese athletes that will be joining our team in the coming year.
To understand the selection process, some of my teammates and I also took this Grit Test. (you can too if you’re interested: https://angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale/). We answered questions along the theme of “Do you often set a goal but end up pursuing a different one?” and “Do new projects and ideas often distract you from old ones?” I scored relatively high, but was unsure what to make of the test. I didn’t feel particularly enlightened as to who I am as person nor what it means to have grit. I equated grit to perseverance for sure but I felt there was more to it than just that.
This week marks several transitions for me and many of my friends. This morning, I ventured up to Happy Jack for my first trail run there of the season. I had been there less than a month earlier to ski but the snow was almost entirely gone and wild flowers now covered the ground instead. As I made my way back to my car, I came to what, at least in the winter, is known as the magic circle: a short loop with ski trails branching from it, named for the phenomenon that you “magically” become a better skier if you ski around it without poles. As I ran, I gazed down a grassy clearing, once a ski trail, and pictured myself skating over imaginary snow. My nostalgia was short-lived as the running trail turned downward and my footsteps quickened to avoid rocks (and sidestep the tired dog who was less excited about the whole running than I was). It’s trail-running season now and I’m excited. There’s a spring in my step and smile on my face. Yes, it’s time to leave my love for skiing behind but more importantly, it’s time to embrace the dry trails, get out, and run!
My excitement for a new running season got me thinking back to grit. To me, there is no shame in moving on to new things and I struggle with the idea that grit means sticking with old “projects” in the face of new and exciting distractions. It’s graduation weekend and I plan to spend it with the friends I have made over the past four years (and longer) as they gather the courage to move on to their next adventures. I’m graduating too, but I’m not moving on. I’ll be here, doing my same old thing, working on the same research projects I started years ago. Maybe that’s grit, the thing that would give you a high score on Angela’s test, but it’s nothing compared to whatever it takes to face something new and unknown.
When Christi and Rachel were confronted with the idea of hosting 10 Chinese athletes on small our team, they had the option to stick with their old ways. They could have denied this opportunity in favor coaching the way they have faithfully done for the last 21 years. According to the test, that would have been grit. Instead, they chose to do something crazy, something they had never done before, full of unknowns and obstacles. That, in my opinion, takes a lot more grit.